Adding Tailwind CSS to a Phoenix project

Koen van Gilst

Koen van Gilst / December 27, 2021

5 min read––– views

Last week the Phoenix team published an installer that allows you to add Tailwind CSS to your project without adding NPM or any other additional dependencies. I gave it a try over the weekend, but I ran into some issues. To make it easier for others I've written this step-by-step guide to get you up and running.

I'm new to Phoenix myself, so I tried to spell out every step I took. Even things that are (probably) obvious to more experienced Phoenix developers. For people that want to skip to the end, here's a link to the result of this tutorial on Github.

Start with a new project

Create a new Phoenix project by running the following command:

mix phoenix_tailwind

Answer yes to install the dependencies and follow the instructions to start the Phoenix app.

Installing Tailwind

Next, we'll add the new Tailwind dependency to our project. In the mix.exs file, add the following to the deps section:

  defp deps do
      {:phoenix, "~> 1.6.4"},
      {:tailwind, "~> 0.1", runtime: Mix.env() == :dev},
      {:phoenix_ecto, "~> 4.4"},
      {:ecto_sql, "~> 3.6"},
      {:postgrex, ">= 0.0.0"},
      {:phoenix_html, "~> 3.0"},
      {:phoenix_live_reload, "~> 1.2", only: :dev},
      {:phoenix_live_view, "~> 0.17.5"},
      # etc...

In config/config.exs specify the Tailwind version you want to use:

    config :esbuild,
        version: "0.13.5",
        default: [
            ~w(js/app.js --bundle --target=es2017 --outdir=../priv/static/assets --external:/fonts/* --external:/images/*),
            cd: Path.expand("../assets", __DIR__),
            env: %{"NODE_PATH" => Path.expand("../deps", __DIR__)}

    config :tailwind,
        version: "3.0.7",
        default: [
            args: ~w(
            cd: Path.expand("../assets", __DIR__)

    # Configures Elixir's Logger
    config :logger, :console,
        format: "$time $metadata[$level] $message\n",
        metadata: [:request_id]

In the assets folder, create a tailwind.config.js file with:

// See the Tailwind configuration guide for advanced usage
module.exports = {
  content: ['./js/**/*.js', '../lib/*_web.ex', '../lib/*_web/**/*.*ex'],
  theme: {
    extend: {}
  plugins: [require('@tailwindcss/forms')]

Run the following command to install the new Tailwind dependency:

mix deps.get

And then run the Tailwind task:

mix tailwind.install
mix tailwind default

Adding a Tailwind watcher

During development we want the Tailwind CLI to keep watching our files for changes. We'll add the following watcher to our config/dev.exs file:

  watchers: [
    tailwind: {Tailwind, :install_and_run, [:default, ~w(--watch)]},
    # Start the esbuild watcher by calling Esbuild.install_and_run(:default, args)
    esbuild: {Esbuild, :install_and_run, [:default, ~w(--sourcemap=inline --watch)]}

Adding minification for production builds

In production we want Tailwind to minify our CSS files. To make this happen, update the following line in the mix.exs file:

  defp aliases do
      setup: ["deps.get"],
      "assets.deploy": ["esbuild default --minify", "tailwind default --minify", "phx.digest"]

Loading Tailwind

We're ready with the configuration on the Phoenix side. All we have to do now is make sure the Tailwind classes get loaded in our main assets/css/app.css file:

@tailwind base;
@tailwind components;
@tailwind utilities;

/* import './phoenix.css'; */

body {
  @apply bg-gray-900;

/* Alerts and form errors used by */

I've had to remove the default styling from Phoenix (i.e. Phoenix.css), as I couldn't get it to work with Tailwind. There's an open issue for this on Github and I'll update this tutorial accordingly if there's a solution.

I've also changed the body styling here to illustrate that the @apply functionality works (and to make the page look nice). Since Tailwind is now taking care of our CSS, we should comment out the following line in assets/js/app.js:

// We import the CSS which is extracted to its own file by esbuild.
// Remove this line if you add a your own CSS build pipeline (e.g postcss).
// import "../css/app.css";

Adding some demo classes

Tailwind is now completely configured and ready to use. Let's take it for a spin and replace some of the default HTML with the following.

In lib/phoenix_tailwind/templates/page/index.html.heex:

<section class="flex flex-col w-screen h-screen justify-center items-center">
  <h1 class="text-6xl font-black text-gray-200">
      class="text-transparent bg-clip-text bg-gradient-to-br from-pink-600 to-red-200"
  <p class="text-gray-200 text-xl mt-4">Let's get started!</p>

In lib/phoenix_tailwind_web/templates/layout/root.html.heex remove the existing header. It should then look like this:

<!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=1.0"/>
    <%= csrf_meta_tag() %>
    <%= live_title_tag assigns[:page_title] || "PhoenixTailwind", suffix: " · Phoenix Framework" %>
    <link phx-track-static rel="stylesheet" href={Routes.static_path(@conn, "/assets/app.css")}/>
    <script defer phx-track-static type="text/javascript" src={Routes.static_path(@conn, "/assets/app.js")}></script>
    <%= @inner_content %>

(Re)start the server

We're now ready to take the new Phoenix app with Tailwind for a spin. Start the server with:

mix phx.server

And visit the page: http://localhost:4000/

You should see the following in your browser:

Screenshot of the end result

I hope you found this tutorial useful and please let me know on Twitter if anything can be improved or is missing.

I was unable to get the Tailwind CSS IntelliSense plugin to work using this setup. It seems to rely on Tailwind being installed in the node_modules folder. There is an open issue for this on Github and I will update this tutorial accordingly if there's a solution.