Why z-index doesn’t work even though you set z-index: 99999;

A common complaint I hear from developers is “Why isn’t z-index working?” Usually they’re having trouble getting an element to appear over other element.

They know that higher z-index means closer to the viewer’s screen, so they set z-index: 99999;

But still, the element does not appear above other elements.

This problem is caused because some parent of the element has a z-index set. A child element can never have a higher z-index than it’s parent element.

Z-index is not a global layer system; it exists within the scope of each element. All elements begin on the same global scope, but when a z-index value is defined the scope resets for it’s children.

Example time! In the following example, the blue box has a z-index: 1;, while the green box has z-index: 2;. The red box is a child of the blue box.

See the Pen uKAIy by Ian Jennings (@ianjennings) on CodePen.

The red box has z-index: 999; but appears below the green box, even though the red box has a higher z-index. This is because the red box is a child of the box with a red border that has z-index: 1;.

Because the parent element (blue box) has a z-index: 1, the child element will never be rendered higher than z-index: 2. Every child element will exist between z-index values of 1 and 2, but never greater. A child element can never have a higher z-index than it’s parent.

However, this is only true in the scope of each parent element individually. When two parents have the same z-index, one is rendered in front of the other.

In the following example, both blue boxes have z-index: 1;. The red box has z-index: 999 and is a child of the box on the left.

See the Pen rCiLA by Ian Jennings (@ianjennings) on CodePen.

Even though both elements have the same z-index the boxes are rendered in reverse order. This means that the first box is actually rendered behind the second box.

Boxes with the same stack level in a stacking context are stacked back-to-front according to document tree order.


Because both the green and blue boxes have the same z-index, the blue box is once again rendered “under” the green box. And again, because the red box is a child of the blue box, it is also rendered under the green box.

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