Getting started

For developers

The UI components are built on a solid HTML foundation, progressively enhanced to provide core experiences across browsers. All users will have access to the same critical information and experiences regardless of what browser they use, although those experiences will render better in newer browsers. If JavaScript fails, users will still get a robust HTML foundation.


There are a few different ways to use the Design System within your project. Which one you choose depends on the needs of your project and how you are most comfortable working. Here are a few notes on what to consider when deciding which installation method to use:

Download the Design System if:

Use the Design System npm package if:


  1. Download the USWDS zip file from the latest release and open that file.

    After extracting the zip file you should see the following file and folder structure:

     ├── css/
     │   ├──
     │   ├── uswds.min.css
     │   └── uswds.css
     ├── fonts/
     ├── img/
     ├── js/
     │   ├──
     │   ├── uswds.min.js
     │   └── uswds.js
     └── scss/
  2. Copy these files and folders into a relevant place in your project’s code base. Here is an example structure for how this might look:

     ├── assets/
     │   ├── uswds-1.0.0/
     │   ├── stylesheets/
     │   ├── images/
     │   └── javascript/
     └── index.html

    You’ll notice in our example above that we also outline a stylesheets, images and javascript folder in your assets folder. These folders are to help organize any assets that are unique to your project.

  3. To use the Design System on your project, you’ll need to reference the CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) and JavaScript files in each HTML page or dynamic templates in your project. (We also provide Sass (SCSS) files in the zip file which you can compile to CSS. See Sass.)

    Here is an example of how to reference these assets in your index.html file:

     <!DOCTYPE html>
       <meta charset="utf-8">
       <meta http-equiv="X-UA-Compatible" content="IE=edge">
       <title>My Example Project</title>
       <link rel="stylesheet" href="assets/uswds-1.0.0/css/uswds.min.css">
       <script src="assets/uswds-1.0.0/js/uswds.min.js"></script>

We offer both files, the CSS and the JavaScript, in two versions — a minified version, and an un-minified one. (In the examples above, we are using the minified files.) Use the minified files in a production environment or to reduce the file size of your downloaded assets. And the un-minified files are better if you are in a development environment or would like to debug the CSS or JavaScript assets in the browser.

And that’s it — you should now be able to copy our code samples into your index.html and start using the Design System.

Install using npm

npm is a package manager for Node based projects. The U.S. Web Design System maintains a uswds package for you to utilize both the pre-compiled and compiled files on your project.

  1. Install Node/npm. Below is a link to find the install method that coincides with your operating system:

    Note for Windows users: If you are using Windows and are unfamiliar with Node or npm, we recommend following Team Treehouse’s tutorial for more information.

  2. Make sure you have installed it correctly:

     npm -v
     3.10.8 # This line may vary depending on what version of Node you've installed.
  3. Create a package.json file. You can do this manually, but an easier method is to use the npm init command. This command will prompt you with a few questions to create your package.json file.

  4. Add uswds to your project’s package.json:

     npm install --save uswds

The uswds module is now installed as a dependency. You can use the un-compiled files found in the src/ or the compiled files in the dist/ directory.

├── dist/
│   ├── css/
│   ├── fonts/
│   ├── html/
│   ├── img/
│   ├── js/
└── src/
    ├── fonts/
    ├── img/
    ├── js/
    ├── stylesheets/
    └── templates/

Importing assets

Since you are already using npm, the U.S. Web Design System team recommends leveraging the ability to write custom scripts. Here are some links to how we do this with our docs website using npm + gulp:

Link to npm scripts example in uswds-site

Link to gulpfile.js example in uswds-site


The Design System is easily customizable using the power of Sass (Syntactically Awesome Style Sheets). The main Sass (SCSS) source file is located here:


Global variables are defined in the node_modules/uswds/src/stylesheets/core/_variables.scss file. Custom theming can be done by copying the _variables.scss file into your own project’s Sass folder, changing applicable variable values, and importing it before uswds.scss.

Below is an example of how you might setup your main Sass file to achieve this:

@import 'variables.scss'; # Custom Sass variables file
@import 'node_modules/uswds/src/stylesheets/uswds.scss';

You can now use your copied version of _variables.scss to override any styles to create a more custom look and feel to your application.

The Design System uses gulp-autoprefixer to automatically add vendor prefixes to the precompiled stylesheets (css/uswds.min.css and css/uswds.css) however prefixes will not be applied when using the Sass source files directly. If your project requires the use of Sass and vendor prefixes we recommend incorportaing a plugin such as Autoprefixer into your build process.


require('uswds') will load all of the U.S. Web Design System’s JavaScript onto the page. Add this line to whatever initializer you use to load JavaScript into your application.

Use another framework or package manager

If you’re using another framework or package manager that doesn’t support npm, you can find the source files in this repository and use them in your project. Otherwise, we recommend that you follow the download instructions. Please note that the core team isn’t responsible for all frameworks’ implementations.

If you’re interested in maintaining a package that helps us distribute the U.S. Web Design System, the project’s build system can help you create distribution bundles to use in your project. Please read our contributing guidelines to locally build distributions for your framework or package manager.

CSS architecture

For more information, visit: 18F’s CSS Front End Guide

JS customization

Unfortunately, customizing the JavaScript for the USWDS currently requires NodeJS and a module bundler like Browserify or Webpack. We apologize for this inconvenience, and are working to resolve it in a future release of the Design System.

The JavaScript for the USWDS is separated into components in the same manner as the visual interface which is all initialized with event handlers when the DOM is ready. These components are accessible as CommonJS modules that can be required in other JavaScript files which then must be built for the browser. The components are currently not accessible in the global browser scope, but can be extended to be included by requiring components and setting it to a global scope:

window.uswds = require('./components');

Each component has a standardized interface that can be used to extend it further. The components store a HTML class name (e.g. .usa-accordion-button[aria-controls]) that’s used to link HTML elements with the JS component, so when a component is initialized, it will search through the current HTML DOM finding all elements that match its class and inialize the component JavaScript for those elements. The primary methods each component has are as follows:

Some components have additional methods for manipulating specific aspects of them based on what they are and what they do. These can be found in the component’s JS file.

Customization and theming

The Design System can be customized to use different typography, colors and grid systems. The easiest way to do this is to use Sass and override the Design System’s global variables. If it isn’t possible to use Sass, do theming by overriding the CSS rules in the Design System set.

To start theming through Sass, copy the core/variables file into your own project’s Sass folder, changing applicable variable values, and importing it before the WDS. Below is an example of customizing the import of the Design System’s all.scss file.

// src/main.scss
@import 'path/to/my/scss/files/main/scss/my-custom-vars';
@import 'lib/uswds/src/stylesheets/all';
// path/to/my/scss/files/main/scss/my-custom_vars.scss

// Colors
$color-primary: #2c3e50;
$color-secondary: #ad2020;
$color-secondary-dark: #b0392e;

// Typography
$font-serif: 'Georgia', 'Times', serif;
$h2-font-size: 2rem;
$h3-font-size: 1.75rem;
$heading-line-height: 1.4;

// Grid/breakpoints
$small-screen:  540px !default;
$medium-screen: 620px !default;
$large-screen:  1120px !default;

Set the base asset path (fonts and images)

If you copy the USWDS dist directory to a folder on your project or your fonts and images are in the same folder, set the location of the directory with $asset-path: path/to/my/assets/. The default is set to $asset-path: ../. This will be appended to the font and image path variables so you only need to set this variable. You can also set the font and image paths individually:

$font-path: path/to/my/fonts;
$image-path: path/to/my/images;

NOTE: If you plan on upgrading to newer versions of the Design System in the future, or are not using your own forked version of the Design System, try to avoid making changes in the Design System folder itself. Doing so could make it impossible to upgrade in the future without undoing your custom changes.

Main variables that can be customized

Where things live

Browser support

We’ve designed the Design System to support older and newer browsers through progressive enhancement. The current major version of the Design System (1.0) is designed to support the newest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Internet Explorer 9 and up. The next major release (2.0) will follow the 2% rule: we will officially support any browser above 2% usage as observed by Currently, this means that the Design System version 2.0 will support the newest versions of Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Internet Explorer 11 and up.


The Design System also meets the WCAG 2.0 AA accessibility guidelines and conforms to the standards of Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act. We’re happy to answer questions about accessibility — email us for more information.


We’re using Fractal to generate an interactive component library for the Design System. You can run it locally after npm install with:

npm start

Then, visit http://localhost:3000/ to see the Design System in action.

Optional: To re-build when code changes are made, run the following command from the project directory in a separate terminal window:

npm run watch

Template compatibility

Many of our Fractal view templates are compatible with Nunjucks (for JavaScript/Node), Jinja (Python), and Twig (PHP) out of the box. Components that reference other components use a Fractal-specific {% render %} tag that will either need to be implemented in other environments or replaced with the appropriate {% include %} tags.

Need installation help?

Do you have questions or need help with setup? Did you run into any weird errors while following these instructions? Feel free to open an issue here:

You can also email us directly at

Contributing to the code base

For complete instructions on how to contribute code, please read These instructions also include guidance on how to set up your own copy of the Design System style guide website for development.

If you would like to learn more about our workflow process, check out the Workflow and Issue label Glossary pages on the wiki.

If you have questions or concerns about our contributing workflow, please contact us by filing a GitHub issue or emailing our team.