Posts Gentle Intro to System Default Monospace Fonts (Part 1/2)

Gentle Intro to System Default Monospace Fonts (Part 1/2)

A week ago (on May 4. 2021), Stack Exchange announced that they are switching to system fonts as their default font stack. This change impacts the way body texts look, as well as the font family used in code blocks. In the following blog post I’ll discuss system default monospace fonts, leaving system sans serif fonts for some other time.

Why monospace fonts

If you program at all, you’ve probably noticed that no matter which code editor you use, the default editor font will always be a monospace font. This class of fonts enhances readability for programming because it visually aligns each character with equal spacing. (However, monospace fonts are not suitable for general text reading, as we are actually trained to read and recognize words faster by taking advantage of the differences in character width.)

System defaults

Here are the system default monospace fonts on Windows 10, macOS, Google Android, and most Linux distributions.

Operating systemDefault monospace font
Windows 10Consolas
macOSSF Mono
LinuxDejaVu Sans Mono
AndroidRoboto Mono

System default fonts can change over time, and to some degree reflect the aesthetics of a generation’s typography. For instance, Microsoft’s Consolas is designed in the 2000s as a replacement for the (way-too-old-school-looking) Courier New. Apple on the other hand has changed their system default monospace fonts first from Monaco to Menlo in 2009 (Snow Leopard), and then from Menlo to SF Mono in 2018 (El Capitan).

Perhaps the Linux community has been the most consistent in this regard, using DejaVu Sans Mono at least as a safe default fallback on most distributions that I know of. However, individual distros may ship their own fonts to better integrate with the rest of the system. For instance, the default monospace font on Ubuntu is Canonical’s own Ubuntu Mono.

The importance of system default monospace fonts

The default monospace font not only lives in code editors and terminals, but also quite prevalently in modern browsers. Many websites, such as StackOverflow and GitHub, use CSS rules to target the font family to show in code blocks. A simple example would be:

font-family: Menlo, Consolas, "Ubuntu Mono",
             "Roboto Mono", "DejaVu Sans Mono",

A more specific example would be how the entire Stack Exchange family (which includes StackOverflow) defines its monospace options:

    "Cascadia Mono", "Segoe UI Mono",
    "Ubuntu Mono",
    "Roboto Mono",
    Menlo, Monaco, Consolas,

Here, ui-monospace targets SF Mono on macOS and iOS devices, and the last entry monospace is the final fallback font on each system (Reference).

Concluding words

That’s all for Part 1, feel free to visit Part 2 for a subjective comparison!

This post is licensed under CC BY 4.0 by the author.