ID vs Class in CSS: Differences Between Selectors

ID vs Class in CSS

ID vs Class in CSS: Differences Between Selectors

CSS is almost synonymous with front-end web development as it allows developers to customize the appearance of web pages. At the heart of this process are CSS selectors, which target specific HTML elements. The two most commonly used selectors in CSS are ID and Class.

Understanding the difference between them is crucial to effectively using CSS for web development. In this article, we’ll take a deep dive into ID vs Class in CSS and explore their differences and use cases. 

By the end, you’ll have a comprehensive understanding of how to use each selector and which one is best suited for a specific use case. Whether you have prior experience with CSS or are just starting out, understanding the nuances of ID vs Class in CSS is critical to creating beautiful, functional websites. So, let’s dive right into it!

ID vs Class in CSS: Side-by-Side Comparison

Selector TypeUsed to select a single unique element on a pageSelects one or more elements with a shared class name
Selector SyntaxIs preceded by a ‘#’ symbolPreceded by a ‘.’ symbol
CascadeHas a higher specificity; takes precedence when styling the same elementSelectors have a lower specificity; their styles can be overridden by ID selectors
HTML MarkupIs assigned to a single element using the ‘id’ attributeCan be assigned to multiple elements using the ‘class’ attribute
JavaScriptAccesses a single using the ‘getElementById()’ methodCan access one or more elements using the ‘getElementsByClassName()’ method
Speed of Loading PagesPages using more ID selectors generally load faster than those using more class selectorsPages using more class selectors generally load slower than those using more ID selectors
Combining SelectorsCannot be combined with any other selectorsClasses can be combined with other selectors, such as element selectors and pseudo-classes

ID vs Class in CSS: What’s the Difference?

Selector Type

The main difference between ID and Class is in how they target elements. In essence, ID selectors are like fingerprints to web elements, acting as unique identifiers that can only be assigned to a single element on a web page.

This means that if you assign an ID to one element on your page, no other element should share this same ID elsewhere on the page. Class selectors, on the other hand, can be used to style multiple elements at once, making them a time-saving choice for developers.

With an ID selector, you can apply very specific styles to a single element, whereas a class selector allows you to apply a general style to a group of elements that share similar attributes.

Selector Syntax

Not only do ID and Class selectors differ in selector type, but they also have unique syntax. If you’re using an ID selector in CSS, you’ll need to precede it with a hash symbol ‘#’. In contrast, if you’re using a Class selector, you’ll need to use a period ‘.’ before the selector name.

So, for example, if you’re styling a navigation menu, you might use a Class selector like .navbar-item {} and all elements with this ‘navbar-item’ class will have their styles applied simultaneously. 

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A CSS ID selector uses the ID attribute of an HTML element to select one unique element on a page.

©Miha Creative/Shutterstock.com

On the flip side, a unique ID selector like #navbar {} would be perfect for targeting a single element, such as the page navigation menu wrapper. Using the correct syntax for these selectors is crucial to ensure that your styles are applied accurately and efficiently, without interfering with other elements on the page. Also, knowing these differences can save you time and prevent headaches during the development process.


If you’re a web developer, you’ve probably heard the term “cascade” thrown around in CSS circles. Essentially, the cascade is a set of rules that determines how the styles for an element are applied. When it comes to ID vs Class selectors in CSS, knowing and understanding how the cascade applies to ID and Class selectors is important.

Why, you ask? ID and Class have different priorities (or precedence) when used to style an element; the ID selector takes priority over the Class selector. 

This means that if you have a style defined for a certain element using both an ID and a Class selector, the ID selector will override the Class selector, even if the Class selector was defined more recently. This can be both a blessing and a curse, as it allows you to be very specific with your styles.

But it can also lead to some unexpected behavior if you’re not careful. Understanding this is, therefore, important as it can help you create more efficient and organized stylesheets and save you hours of debugging your code.

HTML Markup

Another key difference between ID and Class selectors in CSS is their markup in HTML. As we’ve seen, an ID selector can only be assigned to a single element, while a Class selector can be assigned to multiple elements.

This is because an ID selector is intended to be a unique identifier for a specific element on the page. To see how this is translated to HTML markup, let’s say you wanted to style the navigation bar on a web page. Using HTML, you might use an ID selector like so: <div id=”navbar”>

Conversely, if you had several items in your navigation bar that you wanted to style the same way, you could use a Class selector like this: <div class=”navbar-item”>. By understanding the differences in HTML markup between ID and Class selectors, you can use these selectors more effectively and speed up your web development process.


Besides HTML, JavaScript, too, can be used to access elements with ID and Class selectors. For instance, if you wanted to access all elements with the Class selector assigned to them, you could use JavaScript as such: document.getElementsByClassName(“navbar-item”).

This can come in handy when you want to manipulate or modify multiple elements on your web page at once. To access a single element in the page, you could use the JavaScript code document.getElementById(“navbar”) to access the element with the ID selector assigned to it (“navbar” in this case).

Speed of Loading Pages

The number of IDs and classes used in the HTML and CSS can make a difference in page load speed. As a rule of thumb, pages with more IDs tend to load faster than those with more classes. This is because IDs are unique and can be accessed more quickly by the browser, while classes require more processing power to apply to multiple elements.

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The CSS class selector matches elements based on the contents of their class attribute.


When a web browser encounters an ID selector, it stops searching for other elements with that ID, since they are supposed to be unique. However, when it encounters a class selector, it has to search for all the elements in the DOM that match that class, which can take more time.

That being said, the difference in page loading speed between using IDs and classes may not always be noticeable or significant, especially on modern browsers and devices.

It’s, therefore, important to prioritize code readability and maintainability over small performance gains when deciding whether to use IDs or Classes. Optimizing images and reducing server response time can actually have a greater impact on page speed than the use of IDs or Classes.

Combining Selectors

Classes offer more flexibility than IDs in CSS. While classes can be combined with other selectors, such as element selectors, attribute selectors, and pseudo-classes, IDs can’t be combined with any other selectors.

For instance, if you want to select all the anchor tags with a class of “navbar-item” within a given div, you can use the class selector in combination with the descendant selector, using: “div .navbar-item a“. But if you want to select all the anchor tags with a specific ID within a div, you have to use the ID selector alone, like this: “#navbar“.

This limitation is due to the fact that IDs are meant to be unique identifiers for a single element on the page, whereas classes are meant to be used for grouping similar elements together. It’s important to keep in mind that the overuse of ID selectors can lead to specificity issues, making it harder to override styles.

ID vs Class in CSS: 6 Must-Know Facts

  1. Classes can be used to apply the same style to multiple elements, which is useful for creating a consistent look and feel across your website.
  2. IDs are case-sensitive, while classes are not.
  3. It’s best practice to use classes when you need to apply a style to multiple elements on a web page, whereas IDs are best suited for targeting one specific element.
  4. Using an ID selector to style a web page can make it challenging to override the style with a class selector or another ID selector.
  5. The specificity of a selector is determined by the number of IDs, classes, and element selectors that make up the selector. The more specific a selector, the higher its priority.
  6. A selector can be both an ID selector and a class selector at the same time. For example, if an element has both an ID and a class, it can be targeted using both selectors.

ID vs Class in CSS: Which One Is Better? Which One Should You Choose?

Before deciding what CSS selector to use between ID and Class for a given element, you will want to take several factors into account. As we’ve seen, IDs have a higher specificity and priority in the cascade, making them ideal for specific elements that require a distinct style from other elements on the page, such as the navigation bar.

Meanwhile, classes are more versatile and can be applied to multiple elements, making them useful for styling similar elements, such as navigation links. It’s recommended to use IDs for applications where there are numerous unique elements on the page.

Where consistency is needed, such as when dealing with large projects involving multiple developers, applying styles using classes would be the better choice. Finally, where page load speed is a concern, just recall that pages using more ID selectors generally load faster than those using more class selectors, and vice versa.

With all that being said, always remember that the choice between ID and Class selectors is dependent on your specific use case, and it is important to weigh the benefits and drawbacks of each vis-à-vis your objective.

ID vs Class in CSS: Differences Between Selectors FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

What's the difference between an ID and a Class selector in CSS?

The main difference is that an ID selector is a unique identifier, used to select a single element, while a Class selector can be used to apply the same style to multiple elements.

Can I use both an ID and a Class selector on the same element?

Yes, you can use both an ID and a Class selector on the same element. This is useful for targeting unique elements, as well as applying the same style to multiple elements.

How does the cascade affect the selection of elements?

An ID selector has a higher priority than a Class selector, which means it will take precedence if both selectors are used to style the same element.

Can I use multiple classes on the same element?

Yes, you can use multiple classes on the same element. This is useful for creating more complex or specific styling rules that apply to multiple elements.

Are there any performance benefits to using ID and Class selectors?

Yes, using ID and Class selectors can improve performance as they are more efficient than other types of selectors.

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