Utilities are simple HTML classes typically scoped to a single CSS property, like border-style or background-color. Utilities can be used additively to style an object from scratch or to override a style defined in component CSS.

Introducing utilities

Utilities are simple HTML classes typically scoped to a single CSS property, like border-style or background-color. Utilities can be used additively to style an object from scratch or to override a style defined in component CSS. Utilities allow designers and developers to build and test new designs and components without abstracting their work into traditional semantic names or altering production CSS.

They also make it possible to create element-specific overrides without writing high-specificity variants into component CSS.

Utility naming

Most USWDS utilities are built to assign a single CSS property a single value. Our utilities are named .[base]-[value], where [base] is often the name of the CSS property the utility targets and the parts of the utility name are separated by a hyphen. For example, margin-top-2. Our utility classes are designed to make sense at a glance to anyone familiar with standard CSS properties.

For a complete list of the utilities and their bases, see each utility’s documentation page, or the Modules table, below.

The utility values are drawn from your project theme-settings tokens but can be extended to include additional values drawn from our palette of common units (like px, em, ch, and percentages) as well as the broader USWDS system palette of colors, grid spacing, and font scale. (Each utility’s Advanced settings section provides more information on customization.)

USWDS utility Sass
.bg-primary-darker background-color: color('primary-darker')
.bg-red-50v background-color: color('red-50v')
.text-underline text-decoration: underline
.margin-x-auto margin-left: auto;
margin-right: auto;
.padding-bottom-1 padding-bottom: units(1)

Utilities package, modules, and settings

USWDS provides a useful default set of utilities that developers can extend and modify in their project’s settings to suit their project’s needs and their development preferences.

Utilities are included by default as part of the uswds bundle package that most projects use. (Read more about packages here.)

If you unbundle your project’s packages, include utilities with the uswds-utilities package. This package includes all of the USWDS utilities available to the design system. Each utility is configured differently — some have responsive and state variants enabled. Each utility’s default output is documented on its documentation page.

The entire package is 198 KB uncompressed.

Include the uswds-utilities package in your project’s Sass entry point with a module forward:

@forward "uswds-utilities";


You can further customize utility output with USWDS settings. Add settings from the table below to your uswds-core module initialization. Here’s an example:

@use "uswds core" with (
  $utilities-use-important: true,
  $theme-utility-breakpoints: (
    "mobile-lg": false,
  $color-settings: (
    "output": true
    "responsive": false
    "active": false
    "focus": false
    "hover": false
    "visited": false
  $color-palettes: (
Name Variable Default Type Description
Utilities use !important $utilities-use-important false boolean

Output all utilities with !important. This can be necessary if you intend utilities to override existing styles.

Utilities uselist $output-these-utilities default list

Include a list of all utility modules to output. Ex: ("align-tems", "border", "margin", "padding"). default includes all utilities.

Utility breakpoints $theme-utility-breakpoints map

Set which mobile-first breakpoints are output for the utilities.

Utility breakpoints "card" false
Utility breakpoints "card-lg" false
Utility breakpoints "mobile" false
Utility breakpoints "mobile-lg" true
Utility breakpoints "tablet" true
Utility breakpoints "tablet-lg" false
Utility breakpoints "desktop" true
Utility breakpoints "desktop-lg" false
Utility breakpoints "widescreen" false
Global color palettes $global-color-palettes palettes

Any palettes added to this list will output in the the following utilities: background-color, border-color, color, text-decoration-color.

Utility settings $[utility-module]-settings map

Control the output of a [utility-module] and its responsive and state variants.

Utility settings "output"
Utility settings "responsive"
Utility settings "active"
Utility settings "focus"
Utility settings "hover"
Utility settings "visited"
Utility palettes $[utility-module]-palettes "palette-[utility-module]-default" palettes

Utilities output with the values set in the palettes list.

Utility manual values $[utility-module]-palettes "palette-[utility-module]-manual-values" map

Utilities output with the tokens and values set in the manual values map.

Utility manual values [token name] [token value]


Each utility module referenced in the settings section, above, can accept one of the utility module names outlined in the following table. The more utilities your project uses, the larger the utilities CSS will be.

The size of each module will change based on its module settings. For instance, if a module is set to output responsive classes and state variants, it will be much larger than if it includes only the base classes and no variants.

Utility module name Class base Gzip size Default full size
add-aspect add-aspect- 0.08 KB 0.44 KB
add-list-reset add-list-reset 0.02 KB 0.12 KB
align-items flex- 0.04 KB 0.24 KB
align-self flex- 0.06 KB 0.31 KB
background-color bg- 1.0 KB 5.4 KB
border border- 4.35 KB 23.5 KB
border-color border- 4.35 KB 23.5 KB
border-radius border- 1.61 KB 8.7 KB
border-style border- 0.03 KB 0.14 KB
border-width border- 0.56 KB 3 KB
bottom bottom- 0.18 KB 0.96 KB
box-shadow shadow- 0.06 KB 0.33 KB
circle circle- 0.19 KB 1 KB
clearfix clearfix 0.02 KB 0.09 KB
color text- 0.37 KB 2 KB
cursor cursor- 0.07 KB 0.39 KB
display display- 0.28 KB 1.5 KB
flex flex- 0.06 KB 0.33 KB
flex-direction flex- 0.02 KB 0.1 KB
flex-wrap flex- 0.02 KB 0.1 KB
float float- 0.02 KB 0.1 KB
font font- 2.41 KB 13 KB
font-family font-family- 0.37 KB 2 KB
font-feature text- 0.03 KB 0.14 KB
font-style text- 0.02 KB 0.11 KB
font-weight text- 0.1 KB 0.54 KB
height height- 0.11 KB 0.6 KB
justify-content flex- 0.18 KB 0.95 KB
left left- 0.08 KB 0.44 KB
letter-spacing text-ls- 0.05 KB 0.28 KB
line-height line-height- 1.61 KB 8.7 KB
margin margin- 0.8 KB 4.35 KB
margin-horizontal margin- 4.02 KB 21.75 KB
margin-vertical margin- 4.02 KB 21.75 KB
max-height maxh- 0.12 KB 0.65 KB
max-width maxw- 0.13 KB 0.72 KB
measure measure- 0.18 KB 0.98 KB
min-height minh- 0.13 KB 0.72 KB
min-width minw- 0.07 KB 0.4 KB
opacity opacity- 0.24 KB 1.3 KB
order order- 0.26 KB 1.4 KB
outline outline- 0.03 KB 0.18 KB
outline-color outline- 0.56 KB 3 KB
overflow overflow- 0.09 KB 0.46 KB
padding padding- 4.02 KB 21.75 KB
pin pin- 0.06 KB 0.35 KB
position position- 0.04 KB 0.21 KB
right right- 0.09 KB 0.47 KB
square square- 0.14 KB 0.73 KB
text-align text- 0.03 KB 0.16 KB
text-decoration underline- 0.06 KB 0.32 KB
text-decoration-color text- 2.33 KB 12.6 KB
text-indent text-indent- 0.19 KB 1 KB
text-transform text- 0.04 KB 0.2 KB
top top- 0.07 KB 0.4 KB
vertical-align text- 0.06 KB 0.32 KB
whitespace text- 0.04 KB 0.2 KB
width width- 0.56 KB 3 KB
z-index z- 0.04 KB 0.22 KB

Latest updates

Meaningful code and guidance updates are listed in the following table:

Date USWDS version Affects Breaking Description
2022-05-04 N/A
  • Guidance

Added margin-horizontal and margin-vertical utility modules. More information: uswds-site#1583

2022-04-28 3.0.0
  • Styles

Replaced the outdated text: $output-all-utilities with updated: $output-these-utilities. More information: uswds#4631

2022-04-28 N/A
  • Guidance

Added documentation for using the uswds-utilities package, customizing utilities settings, and understanding utility modules. More information: uswds-site#1538

2021-06-16 2.12.0
  • Styles

Added state color tokens to default utilities. More information: uswds#4198