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What is Bootstrap and How Do I Use It?

What is Bootstrap and How Do I Use It?

 /  226 responses

If you have any sort of interest in web development, you’ve likely heard of Bootstrap. According to the official website, Bootstrap is the most popular HTML, CSS, and JS framework for developing responsive, mobile first projects on the web. Sounds great! Now how do I use it?

It would be easy to send you over to their Getting Started page and call it a day. Their setup guide is indeed a host of useful information – links to CDNs, explanations on how to install with Bower, npm, and Composer, information on integration with Autoprefixer and LESS, a bunch of templates, licenses, and translations – but it is certainly not a step by step guide to getting started (which very well might be in the spirit of autodidactism).

When I discovered Bootstrap a few years ago, responsive design was still gaining in popularity, and not necessarily the expected norm. Having only ever made websites from scratch, I was a little confused about the entire concept of a framework. I’d imagine it’s even more confusing for beginners who are now expected to learn responsive design concepts and Bootstrap and JavaScript libraries, in addition to HTML, CSS and JS.

This guide is meant as a first look into Bootstrap for beginners, so won’t be going into LESS and Sass integration, which are more intermediate/advanced concepts. While it’s written for the current, stable version Bootstrap 3, the concepts will remain the same for future versions.


  • Learn what a front-end framework is and how it can be useful
  • Understand how to properly include Bootstrap’s CSS and JavaScript and begin customizing


  • Basic knowledge and understanding of HTML and CSS

What is Bootstrap?

Bootstrap can be boiled down to three main files:

Additionally, Bootstrap requires jQuery to function. jQuery is an extremely popular and widely used JavaScript library, that both simplifies and adds cross browser compatibility to JavaScript.

Everything else you might happen across while studying the Bootstrap documentation – Grunt, Gulp, Sass, LESS, bower, npm, etc – is not necessary to get started with Bootstrap. These are task runners, preprocessors, installation aids, and package managers, so don’t be discouraged if you don’t know how to use any of them yet.

Why is a framework important? Do I need to use one?

You absolutely don’t need to use a framework – I recently wrote an article called You Don’t Need a Framework: Understanding the Fundamentals of Responsive Design, which I would recommend reading if you want to learn more about responsive design. However, frameworks are very popular and have many benefits, so it’s important to learn how to work with them.

Some of the ways that frameworks can help you:

  • Prevent repetition between projects
  • Utilize responsive design to allow your website to adapt to various screen sizes – mobile, desktop, and everything in between
  • Add consistency to design and code between projects and between developers
  • Quickly and easily prototype new designs
  • Ensure cross-browser compatibility

Generally, every web project you work on will need to be responsive and work properly on all the major browsers, and likely have some fallbacks for older browsers. Bootstrap has a huge open source community that works on covering this so you don’t have to. Additionally, when multiple developers all know the same system, they can work in better harmony – and it also makes it easier for newcomers on a project to get up to speed.

The grid is probably one of the most essential aspects of the framework. It’s the basis on which the entire layout is created. Beyond that, Bootstrap’s core CSS will also add helpful styling to forms, tables, buttons, lists, and images, as well as fully functioning navigation bars, while the core JavaScript will add helpful code for creating modals, carousels, alerts, popups, dropdowns, and accordions.

Let’s begin!

Building a Basic Template with Bootstrap

Bootstrap comes with a few very simple examples to start from, but it’s just as easy to start from “scratch”, so that’s what we’ll do. First, I’ll use only Bootstrap to lay out the foundation, then we’ll add our own custom style on top to make something fun and trendy.

Step one is to download Bootstrap. The zip file will come with css, fonts, and js directories. Unzip that and save the files in some directory. Bootstrap doesn’t come with any HTML, but they have a “Hello, World!” page to start on the documentation, so we’ll use that as index.html.

Hello, World!

<!DOCTYPE html>
<html lang="en">
    <meta charset="utf-8">
    <meta http-equiv="X-UA-Compatible" content="IE=edge">
    <meta name="viewport" content="width=device-width, initial-scale=1">
    <title>Bootstrap 101 Template</title>
    <link href="css/bootstrap.min.css" rel="stylesheet">
    <!--[if lt IE 9]>
      <script src="https://oss.maxcdn.com/html5shiv/3.7.2/html5shiv.min.js"></script>
      <script src="https://oss.maxcdn.com/respond/1.4.2/respond.min.js"></script>
    <h1>Hello, world!</h1>

    <script src="https://ajax.googleapis.com/ajax/libs/jquery/1.11.3/jquery.min.js"></script>
    <script src="js/bootstrap.min.js"></script>

Easy enough to start. We have our basic doctype, html, head and body tags. The meta name="viewport" tag is particularly important for responsive design – it ensures that your website has a 1:1 ratio with the viewport (screen size).

Beyond that, we’re just adding Bootstrap core CSS in the <head>

<link href="css/bootstrap.min.css" rel="stylesheet">

jQuery via Google CDN before the closing </body> tag…

<script src="https://ajax.googleapis.com/ajax/libs/jquery/1.11.3/jquery.min.js"></script>

and Bootstrap core JavaScript.

<script src="js/bootstrap.min.js"></script>

Bootstrap JavaScript and custom JavaScript must go below jQuery to function! Additionally, we can link to jQuery via Google’s URL because it reduces load on our live server, but you can download it if you want to work locally.

Well, that’s all you need to get started with Bootstrap! Let’s check out our awesome new site.


Navigation Bar

Although we have nothing, in no time at all we can get copying and pasting from the docs and have a nice, functioning website. First and foremost, we add in the quintessential Bootstrap top navigation bar. I made a simplified version of their navbar example. Place this code right below your opening <body> tag.

<nav class="navbar navbar-inverse navbar-static-top">
	<div class="container">
		<div class="navbar-header">
			<button type="button" class="navbar-toggle collapsed" data-toggle="collapse" data-target="#bs-example-navbar-collapse-1" aria-expanded="false">
				<span class="sr-only">Toggle navigation</span>
				<span class="icon-bar"></span>
				<span class="icon-bar"></span>
				<span class="icon-bar"></span>
			<a class="navbar-brand" href="#">Balance Web Development</a>
		<div class="collapse navbar-collapse" id="bs-example-navbar-collapse-1">
			<ul class="nav navbar-nav navbar-right">
				<li><a href="#">About</a></li>
				<li class="dropdown">
					<a href="#" class="dropdown-toggle" data-toggle="dropdown" role="button" aria-haspopup="true" aria-expanded="false">Services<span class="caret"></span></a>
					<ul class="dropdown-menu">
						<li><a href="#">Design</a></li>
						<li><a href="#">Development</a></li>
						<li><a href="#">Consulting</a></li>
				<li><a href="#">Contact</a></li>

It seems like a confusing mess, but it’s not so complicated. In the first line, I’m defining the entire bar as a navbar, choosing a dark color scheme with navbar-inverse, and electing to use navbar-static-top, as opposed to a fixed (sticky) header.

<nav class="navbar navbar-inverse navbar-static-top">

A container sets a max-width on the content within your full-width navbar.

<div class="container">

The navbar-header class contains the “brand” information, where you can put your logo or company name. We’re making a website for fictional tech company Balance Web Development (well, it’s better than their old site!).

The button is hidden on desktop, and becomes a dropdown hamburger menu on mobile (each <span class="icon-bar"> is a line in the hamburger).

<div class="navbar-header">
	<button type="button" class="navbar-toggle collapsed" data-toggle="collapse" data-target="#bs-example-navbar-collapse-1" aria-expanded="false">
		<span class="sr-only">Toggle navigation</span>
		<span class="icon-bar"></span>
		<span class="icon-bar"></span>
		<span class="icon-bar"></span>
	<a class="navbar-brand" href="#">Balance Web Development</a>

The rest of the code is a right-aligned unordered list that servers as both our desktop and mobile menu.

Jumbotron Header

I decided I want one of those big, space-wasting, attention-grabbing headers, which is called a jumbotron in Bootstrap terms. Not much to see here, just a jumbotron with a container and some copy.

<div class="jumbotron">
	<div class="container">
		<h1>Ready. Set. Code.</h1>
		<p>Are you ready to boilerstrap your cross-compatible buzzword? We're Sassy, flat and semantic, so what are you waiting for?</p>
		<p><a class="btn btn-primary btn-lg" href="#" role="button">Download Free Trial »</a> <a class="btn btn-primary btn-lg" href="#" role="button">Learn more »</a></p>

There’s some extra space we don’t want, but I want to see how far Bootstrap can get us without overriding styles. As you can see, we already have a pretty nice, adaptable layout without having written a single line of CSS.


The last thing I’ll do is add in some main content, which will be be in the form of a grid. Grids are rows…

<div class="row">

that contain columns.

<div class="row">
  <div class="col-md-6"></div>
  <div class="col-md-6"></div>

Bootstrap works on a 12-column system, so as long as you add up to 12, you’re golden. The above example will contain two 50% width columns (6/12), which will stack on mobile and become 100% width.

<div class="container">
	<div class="row">
		<div class="col-md-4">
			<span class="glyphicon glyphicon-cloud" aria-hidden="true"></span>
			<h3>Cloud Computable</h3>
			<p>Donec id elit non mi porta gravida at eget metus. Fusce dapibus, tellus ac cursus commodo, tortor mauris condimentum nibh.</p>
		<div class="col-md-4">
			<span class="glyphicon glyphicon-floppy-disk" aria-hidden="true"></span>
			<h3>Backwards Compatible</h3>
			<p>Etiam porta sem malesuada magna mollis euismod. Donec sed odio dui. Lorem ipsum dolor.</p>
		<div class="col-md-4">
			<span class="glyphicon glyphicon-console" aria-hidden="true"></span>
			<h3>GUI Free</h3>
			<p>Vestibulum id ligula porta felis euismod semper. Fusce dapibus, tellus ac cursus commodo, tortor mauris condimentum nibh.</p>

Here you can see I have three four-of-twelve columns, and as 3 x 4 = 12, everything works out.


I’ve also added in a few glyphicons for decoration. Glyphicons is the built-in icon set that comes with Bootstrap. If you don’t load your fonts, or if you move them to a different directory, these icons won’t work.

<span class="glyphicon glyphicon-floppy-disk" aria-hidden="true"></span>

Using a glyphicon will always be that same code, and only the glyphicon-floppy-disk class will change.

I am now satisfied with the foundation of my layout.

Adding Custom Styles to Bootstrap

Not bad for getting this far without touching a line of style. It’s professional, responsive, and browser friendly. It’s definitely not creative or unique, though. After laying down a foundation, you’ll want to add your own personal design.

If you know LESS or Sass, you can play around in Bootstrap’s extensive customization area and download your own version of Bootstrap. We happen to be using “vanilla CSS”, which is CSS without a preprocessor. Fortunately, you can just add an additional stylesheet below Bootstrap’s core

Don’t modify the Bootstrap core – you’re much better off overriding the existing styles.

<link href="css/bootstrap.min.css" rel="stylesheet">
<link href="css/custom.css" rel="stylesheet">
<link href='https://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Montserrat:400,700' rel='stylesheet' type='text/css'>

I added a link to a Google font called Montserrat. If you’ve never used a Google Font before, all you have to do is add the font stylesheet to your head and change the font-family of your desired element.

Now we finally begin styling. In just a few minutes, I’ll be able to transform my boring, generic Bootstrap layout into a fun, flat layout. First, I’m going to get rid of that pesky space between the navbar and the jumbotron.

.navbar {
	margin-bottom: 0;

A few simple styles to the main tags. I’m loading in the Montserrat font on the entire page, I’ve made the headers bold, and I’ve made the background dark and the text light.

body {
	background: #3E4649;
	color: #f7f7f7;
	font-family: 'Montserrat', sans-serif;
h2 {
	font-weight: bold;
p {
	font-size: 16px;
	color: #cdcdcd;

I’m going to make the jumbotron green and centered.

.jumbotron {
	background: #27A967;
	color: white;
	text-align: center;
.jumbotron p {
	color: white;
	font-size: 26px;

I’m going to turn the buttons into “ghost buttons”, which are buttons that are transparent with a border. I’m also adding a margin so they’ll stack properly on mobile.

.btn-primary {
	color: #fff;
	background-color: transparent;
	border-color: white;
	margin-bottom: 5px;
.btn-primary:hover {
	color: #27A967;
	background-color: white;
	border-color: white;

I’m going to make the navbar a different shade of dark, make the links lighter, and change the background color on hover.

.navbar-inverse {
	background: #2E2F31;
	border: 0;
.navbar-inverse .navbar-nav li a {
	color: #f7f7f7;
	font-size: 16px;
.navbar-inverse .navbar-nav li a:hover {
	background: #27A967;

The dropdown menu has its own classes, so I’m also going to change the background color on these and add a little padding.

.dropdown-menu {
	background: #2E2F31;
	border-radius: 0;
	border: 0;
.dropdown-menu li a {
	padding: 10px;
.navbar-inverse .navbar-nav .dropdown-menu li a:hover {
	background: #2C463C;

Back in my HTML, I’m going to wrap a section tag around my grid, and call it call-to-action. I’m also going to create a glyphicon-large class and add it to each icon span.

<section class="call-to-action">
<!-- .rows and .columns -->
  <span class="glyphicon glyphicon-cloud glyphicon-large" aria-hidden="true"></span>
<!-- /.rows and .columns -->

The final touches to my code are going to be centering the bottom call-out, adding margin-bottom to the p tags so they stack properly on mobile, and making my glyphicons bigger.

.call-to-action {
	text-align: center;
.call-to-action p {
	margin-bottom: 30px;
	font-family: sans-serif;
.glyphicon-large {
	font-size: 100px;

With one small page worth of code, I’ve completely transformed my layout. From here, you can be much more creative.

Of course, I also put the demo up as a Codepen.

See the Pen Start Bootstrap by Tania (@taniarascia) on CodePen.


Hopefully you learned a bit about Bootstrap and frameworks from this tutorial. This is hardly scratching the surface of what Bootstrap is capable of – but you can take it from here. The documentation is enormous, and if ever you can’t figure out how to do something, chances are a quick Google search will point you in the right direction.

I would encourage you to play around and make your own framework for personal projects to aid in your understanding of responsive design.


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I'm Tania. I turn down every ad, affiliate, and sponsor request I get. I write free resources that help thousands of people successfully become devs. If you enjoy my content, please consider supporting what I do.

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  • Steve says:

    Very helpful. Thanks so much for taking the time!

  • Nitish Kumar says:

    It's really very good explanation. Thank You!

  • Paul says:

    This was perfect. People like you make the world a better place. Thanks for spending your time on this.

  • Alice Nguyen says:

    Omg this helps me so much! Exactly what I am looking for. Thank God I found your tutorial!

  • Vinicius says:

    Good Job Tania

  • Dimitri says:

    Thank You for this beautiful explanation. Greets.

  • couchflyer says:

    I just discovered Tania's pages. You must be gulping all the coffee around! Way to go. Thanks for it all

  • Rohan says:

    How can we add commenting section in our website?
    Do we require any database?
    If so, how can i manage to get it?

  • Samir says:

    Good for beginners
    Thanks Tania

  • hannah says:

    How do you publish it? Do you just need to purchase a hosting service then upload files?

    • Jordan says:

      You don't have to purchase a hosting service, if you do a quick google search for how to publish a website I'm sure you'll get tons of results, but I'll give you a quick rundown here. First you'll need a server, you can google how to set up an http web server or you can find an online one either paid or free. I've found 000webhost is a nice free one if you aren't looking to do anything serious yet, I haven't worked to much with paid hosting services but bluehost is pretty nice. If you use a hosting service there will probably be a folder on the server called www or public_html, if you're using your own webserver it will be whatever folder you specified. In there you're going to put all of your web files. The most important thing is to name your home page file index.html(or index.php if you get into that), your web server will automatically point to that file if no other filename is specified, other than that, you can reference the other files from your index file. Good Luck!

  • Prabha says:

    It's really good for beginners
    Thank you

  • Joshua Huff says:

    Would you happen to have a revised article for Bootstrap 4.1.3? This article works out perfect using the same 3.3.7 you used when writing it, but there's no such luck when using it in the latest version of Bootstrap.

    Anyway, this is a fantastic and very helpful piece, so thank you very much for putting your time and effort into it! I'll definitely be coming back here for more tutorials.

  • ivar says:

    hi. im jsut new in this bootstrap. i just DL the Bootstrap v3.3.7 and extract to my desktop. then created html named index.html then i just copy paste those codes. and nothing happened just the hello world comes out correct. please help.. tnx

  • Andrew Garza says:

    Just an FYI regarding issues with the Nav Bar not displaying as shown in the tutorial. This tutorial was written before Bootstrap 4. Download files from Bootstrap v3.3.7 and it will display as shown.

  • shashi says:

    Thank you so very much Tania Rascia. I sure appreciate the information on this page. You deserve more than a coffee! One of these days…

  • Sharan Salian says:

    If Nav bar margin doesn't go away use:

    .navbar{margin-bottom: 0px !important}

    !important overrides the default styling in bootstrap

  • Abdullah says:

    I have got the clue :), its: " <span class="glyphicon glyphicon-off" aria-hidden="true"></span> " , just before " Balance</a> ", ….

    don't forget to indent the "Balance" little after the </span> tag to have that nice space 😉

  • Abdullah says:

    I forgot, Just one question, I couldn't put the Glyphicon (the start button icon) before the navbar like yours.

  • Abdullah says:

    I can say Great, Great, Great, tutorial, please keep the good work 🙂

  • Eduardo says:

    Tenkiu Tania very useful info for begin, you deserve an star from universe

  • Antonio says:

    This is really good! Thank you so much

  • rouyun says:

    waaa~ I'm using bootstrap without knowing the basics TT .. Copy paste then edit xD But thank you for this tutorial, I finally learned what those line of codes purpose.

  • asmamaw says:

    it is good but cannot dounlod it

  • Ezazul Haq says:

    Today is my First on Bootstrap and this post really helped me in understand background. Also have an idea, importance of Bootstrap and how to implement Bootstrap.

    Thank you for sharing.

  • Anonymous says:

    Nice site!!!!

  • yesumani says:

    its really awesome tuts all thank you.

  • Peter says:

    Thanks, very helpful, good introduction, no bullshit, I like this much!

  • Matthew Pollock says:

    Hi Tania,

    We have a kind of old-fashioned layout site which has just been made responsive by using bootstrap: http://www.globalpropertyguide.com I am the (non-IT knowledgeable) owner. During the course of designing there was a dispute between designer and programmer. The designer said that even with this design, the column widths could be tweaked so that standard ad sizes (e.g. 300×250) will fit. The programmer said, no way! Bootstrap divides the space into units of 12 so that (in effect) the column is either too big or too small for the ads. The result is that we have ended up with a site on which it is difficult to display standard ad sizes.

    Who is correct? And in case that the designer was correct, where to get help to re-arrange this site?

    If our programmer is right, I assume that the design that we have is simply not implementable in Bootstrap.

  • Anonymous says:

    Will you marry me????

  • me says:

    thank you.

  • justsomeone says:

    >>that servers as both

    Intended word: serves

  • justsomeone says:

    Great site!

    >>I would encourage you play around

    Missing word: "to"

  • SwDZemfmzK says:

    gFrMoZvFrX zEARmRtypn GXkehtgmsy NXvCDPoLVq nwLUBzNLmy UWjIwXctcb BguPZnoPcL XDbBmiMTtD YBrDtMVSlM MlWiAsIDbK

  • xiaoxinyi says:

    Thank you Tania ,you helped me a lot.

  • Abdullah says:

    Hi Tania 🙂

    lovely post, I liked it very much … I am always used to DIY way of doing things, and your tut matching my favorite

    I have one problem in the nav menu
    even i made sure of linking the css file to the html index, I could not get it to apply the full styles … its shows only the nav menu hyperlinked and the old fashion "blue" color, the menu can be expanded and collapsed anyway …
    but without the black background and "white" color …

    • Abdullah says:

      I found that the class navbar has no specific background-color in the CSS file, which will default to white, right?
      I add the attribute background-color: #000; to the end of the class as an attribute … it works fine

      on the other hand there is still a problem … the navigation bar does not show similar to yours .. it does not show the links in one row, instead it shows the links in one column, click on "Services" expand the sub-menu and push the "Contact" link down …

      what I miss here 🙂


      • Abdullah says:

        by the way, can I just use a table columns to align the links in a row across the header …?

  • gms says:

    Thank you. That was a very helpful piece of work.
    It will help me finish a web app I've even working on.

  • Dev says:

    Thank you! This was really helpful 🙂

  • Ram says:

    Thank you for a very nice tutorial!

  • Joy says:

    Thanks, it was a very helpful lesson. Hope to get to your site soon.