Optimize Styling Using Tailwind CSS

Learn how to optimize styling using Tailwind CSS and its configuration file.

Configuring Tailwind CSS

In order to use the powerhouse that is Tailwind CSS, you must first configure its configuration file. By default, the configuration file tailwind.config.js is optional, and every part of the file is optional as well. By knowing how the parts of the file are used, we can optimize creating reusable styles for development.

module.exports = { content: [], theme: { extend: {}, }, safelist: [], } 
Optimize Tailwind CSS

The tailwind.config.js file plays an important role in setting up the design system as well as all possible utilities and classes we can use.

I’ll be talking about the following core parts of tailwind.config.js:

  1. Content
  2. Theme
    • Screen
    • Colors
    • Spacing
    • Core Plugins

Content Configuration in Tailwind

The content section should contain the paths to all of the HTML templates, JS components, and any other files that contain Tailwind class names. Tailwind CSS needs to know all the used Tailwind class names in order for it to generate the CSS for those styles. Any unused classes will not be generated, optimizing file size for the stylesheets.

module.exports = { content: [ './pages/**/*.{html,js}', './components/**/*.{html,js}' ], // ... } 

Paths are written as glob patterns, making it easy to match all files in your project using wildcard characters. These paths are relative to your project root, not the tailwind.config.js file.

  • Use * to match anything except slashes and hidden files
  • Use ** to match zero or more directories
  • Use comma separated values between {} to match against a list of options

Rules to remember when configuring the content section.

  • Be as specific as possible with the paths for best performance. Adding too broad of paths using wildcard characters may affect performance and may cause Tailwind to scan the node_modules
  • Include any JavaScript files that manipulate your HTML to add classes
  • Never include CSS files in your content configuration

For more information on content configuration please refer to Tailwind CSS Documentation.

Theme Configuration in Tailwind

The theme section contains anything related to the visual design of your site.

This section includes—but is not limited tothe following options:

  • Colors
  • Fonts
  • Type scales
  • Border settings
  • Breakpoints

You will be able to use classes directly into your HTML files without having to create specific classes or inline styles for specific tags.


The default breakpoints are based on common device resolutions. Configuring the breakpoints will change the min-width in a media query. You will be able to use the keys as prefixes on classes on HTML code.

module.exports = { theme: { screens: { 'sm': '640px', // => @media (min-width: 640px) { ... } 'md': '768px', // => @media (min-width: 768px) { ... } 'lg': '1024px', // => @media (min-width: 1024px) { ... } 'xl': '1280px', // => @media (min-width: 1280px) { ... } '2xl': '1536px', // => @media (min-width: 1536px) { ... } } } } 

To add a specific style for a certain breakpoint, you will need to prefix the utility with the breakpoint name, followed by the : character:

<img class="w-16 md:w-32 lg:w-48" src="..."> 

By default, similar to other frameworks, Tailwind uses a mobile-first breakpoint system. This means that utilities with no prefixes will start targeting mobile and up. Overriding larger breakpoints using the prefix.

The example above tells us that w-16 applies right before the md breakpoint, followed by the lg breakpoint.


The colors section contains the global color palette to be used on the project. Multiple shades of the same color can also be configured by grouping them together using the nested color object syntax.

module.exports = { theme: { colors: { transparent: 'transparent', black: '#000', white: '#fff', gray: { 100: '#f7fafc', // ... 900: '#1a202c', }, // ... } } } 

These can be used as colors for text color utilities, border color utilities, and more.

<p class="text-gray-100 bg-white border-black"></p> 


The spacing section allows the customization of global spacing and sizing scale on the project.

Examples on how these are set on tailwind.config.js

module.exports = { theme: { spacing: { px: '1px', 0: '0', 0.5: '0.125rem', 1: '0.25rem', 1.5: '0.375rem', 2: '0.5rem', 2.5: '0.625rem', 3: '0.75rem', 3.5: '0.875rem', 4: '1rem', 5: '1.25rem', //…. 80: '20rem', 96: '24rem', }, } } 

These can then be used on your HTML as classes that affect options such as:

  • padding
  • margin
  • width
  • height
<div class="p-10 w-80 m-10 h-4"></div> 

Core Plugins

More keys can be used under the theme section, which can be found in the Tailwind CSS Core plugins. Here is a list of some of the core plugins:

  • borderRadius
  • animation
  • backgroundImage

Tailwind CSS comes with a default theme configuration. There are 5 different ways to customize the default theme depending on your objective, but we’ll focus on three.

  1. If you want to use an option on the default theme but want to add more on top of it, you can extend that option. Any configurations under the extended objects will be appended into the default theme.
  2. module.exports = { theme: { // .. extend: { screens: { '3xl': '1600px', } } } } 
  3. An option in the default theme can be overridden. By directly adding an option under the theme section it will replace the default option. Any keys not added will automatically use the default configurations of those options.
  4. module.exports = { theme: { opacity: { '0': '0', '20': '0.2', '40': '0.4', '60': '0.6', '80': '0.8', '100': '1', }, // the default opacity configurations will be overridden extend: { screens: { '3xl': '1600px', } // the screen options will remain and will have an added ‘3xl’ } } // the rest of the theme options will remain } 
  5. You can disable an entire core plugin. There is a proper way of doing that by setting that option to false under the corePlugins configuration rather than to set it under the theme section as an empty object. Both will have the same results but having them all in corePlugins will make tracking easier and consistent.
  6. module.exports = { corePlugins: { opacity: false, } } 

Safelisting Classes in Tailwind

To get the best file size possible we mainly rely on having it in the content configuration, but it depends on how your project is set up. For example, if classes are fed through an endpoint or if certain classes are not be located on your content, you might need to do some customizing on Tailwind.

module.exports = { content: [ './pages/**/*.{html,js}', './components/**/*.{html,js}', ], safelist: [ 'bg-red-500', 'text-3xl', 'lg:text-4xl', { pattern: /bg-(red|green|blue)-(100|200|300|400|500|600|700)/, variants: ['hover', 'focus'], }, ] // ... } 

Useful Tailwind Resources

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Meet John Flores

Front-End Developer


John is a Front-End Developer who is passionate about design and development. Outside of work, John has wide range of hobbies, from his plant collection, being a dog daddy, and a foodie.

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