It’s always the stacking context.

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In “What the heck, z-index??,” Josh Comeau makes the analogy of layer groups in design software like Photoshop or Figma to stacking contexts in CSS. If you’ve got an element in a layer group A in Photoshop that is below layer group B, there is nothing you can do to push a child of A on top of anything in B, aside from moving the whole layer group A above B, or getting rid of the groupings.

Nothing is going to put that moustache on top of the dog unless you get it out of that stacking context or move the whole stacking context.

Here’s a reduced case:

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There is no z-index value that is going to get “Big Thing” on top of the tan <main> element there. But as Josh notes in the article, there are a variety of solutions, such as preventing a stacking context from triggering unnecessarily, or doing a little DOM shuffling to make things work. Like in the example above, “Big Thing” doesn’t need to be a child of the header — and if it wasn’t, the stacking context wouldn’t be as relevant.

If you’re a fan of your tools helping you diagnose this kind of thing, read to the bottom of Josh’s article for a few interesting ones.

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