Alvaro Aguirre

Avoiding z-index Nightmares

An easy and scalable way to manage z-index

Throughout my career, in the projects where I've worked, I have never seen an effective way to handle the setting of z-index. It's not uncommon to see z-index: 9999, and it could even be higher, becoming very unscalable.

An effective way to handle z-index and keep them organized to ensure scalability is to store the values of each element to which we assign a z-index in one central place. It could be an object, but in this case, I will be storing them as CSS Variables.

:root {
  --z-index-navbar: 1;
  --z-index-modal: 2;
  --z-index-tooltip: 3;
  --z-index-context-menu: 4;
  --z-index-other-element: 5;

Then, in each element where we want to assign one of these values, we'll simply do

.navbar {
  z-index: var(--z-index-navbar);
.modal {
  z-index: var(--z-index-modal);
.tooltip {
  z-index: var(--z-index-tooltip);
.context-menu {
  z-index: var(--z-index-context-menu);
.other-element {
  z-index: var(--z-index-other-element);

This way, whenever we need to assign a z-index, it would be enough to refer to these variables to know which element will have a higher priority to be above another.