How to Get a CSS Variable with JavaScript and Set One Too

While working on a redesign, I needed a way for JavaScript to get the value of a CSS variable to determine the state of a page. Lucky for us, there is a browser compatible and easy method.

It's common to see global root level variables used.

:root {
  --display-moon: none;
}

I prefer to use a utility CSS framework these days like Tailwind that sets my global properties. I then set component level variables to keep my scope limited.

.hero-wrapper {
  --display-moon: none;
}

In my case, I was using a combination of the prefers-color-scheme and class selectors to set variables based on whether the user wanted a dark or light theme. With prefers-color-scheme, the user's browser can set the default when the page loads. I needed a way to know what the browser defaulted to. Since I was showing a moon SVG on dark mode, I could look at the variable I had attached to the moon.

With JavaScript, it's easy to query an element's CSS variables.

getComputedStyle(document.querySelector('.hero-wrapper'))
  .getPropertyValue('--display-moon');

I could use this to set a variable that tells me the initial state by checking to see if the CSS variable is none or block.

const initialDarkMode =
  getComputedStyle(document.querySelector('.hero-wrapper'))
    .getPropertyValue('--display-moon') === 'block';

If I had my variables set to the root instead of an HTML element, the code would be similar but without the querySelector.

const initialDarkMode =
  getComputedStyle(document.documentElement)
    .getPropertyValue('--display-moon') === 'block';

In my case, JavaScript never needs to set the CSS variable. If I ever needed to set a CSS variable that's easy too.

document.documentElement.style
  .setProperty('--display-moon', 'none');

A root element can use the document.documentElement. With an HTML element, use the document.querySelector or a different element selector method.

Matt Ferderer

Full Stack Software Developer focused on JavaScript and C#. Love to share & help others make amazing things. Have a project you need help on? Let's talk!

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