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README.md

CSS Codeguide

Documentation for coding and maintaining the most transparent CSS. It is bringing the experience of multiple front-end teams.

🚧🚧🚧🚧🚧🚧🚧🚧🚧🚧

⚠️ WORK IN PROGRESS
some parts may be missing
another require revision
stay tuned for major updates!

🚧🚧🚧🚧🚧🚧🚧🚧🚧🚧

Current code guide is designed for experienced developers in the first place, but hopefully could be a great source of knowledge for the beginners.

Basically this documentation is about how to work in team with 250+ style files and feel comfortable about that.

Please be aware, that CSS fundamentals, selector performance or other common topics are not the part of this guide. On the other hand there will be reviewed different aspects of CSS described with practical examples, recommendations and best practicies.

All along the text there will be links to examples folder. In most cases it is invaluable for understanding the picture in total, so check it out before further reading and keep them opened just in case.

Let's get started!

Table of Contents


Intro

Why another Guide

There is quiet a number of style/code- guides already, that can be divided into:

General guides

Address the large audience, covering all (sometimes almost encyclopedic) aspects.
Great for insight and common knowledge, but less practical.

Company|Team-specific guides

Much more specific instructions and recommendations, from the companies or individuals sharing experience with the community.
Practical for sure and make more sense if you work there.

So, why not just use one of them?
Not taking it any further, this current guide focuses on the subject, leaving aside general issues.
At the same time it contains methodology-specific features, BEM, in particular.
The core of it is brevity and common practical experience.

But anyhow, it would be a great thing to at least take a look at other examples before proceeding!

About

Couple welcome words about code guide specifics to take the most from using it:

1. Documentation is written with regards on using CSS preprocessor. As the most popular and widespread one, SASS (SCSS syntax) is used for illustrating purposes.
Please notice, that common conceptions are also valid for vanilla CSS in the first place.

💡
If you are not into preprocessors yet, check out the following popular tools you will most certainly find useful:

2. Current code guide is the result of several front-end teams experience, so it might have project-specific and environment assumptions. To make it more friendly there will be plenty of useful links to cover blank spots and useful tips on some topics.

Here's the legend:
💡 - useful tip
⚡️ - warning or attention required
📃 - code follow-up

3. "I'm reading and yet can not understand a thing!". Well I've been there too. Let's have a talk about it. Waiting for your questions!

4. Feedback is much appreciated as well!
One of the main goals here is to help other front-end teams combat there problems with documentation. So don't hesitate and contact at ease.

Main principles

As it comes from the title, this chapter is about principal ways to do CSS.

There are two major trends nowadays.

The first

...is the oldest school and thus most popular.
It can be described with the following statements:

  • one or several stylesheets in the <head> via the <link> tag
  • normalize.css or reset.css prior to the main CSS
  • some rules may be inlined in <style> to deal with the browser issues
  • the order of rules is extremely important
  • the cascade takes it's toll as well
  • inline styling is far less prominent and used only for specific features

The second

...is heavily influenced by developing of JS frameworks, namely React JS and the following spreading of corresponding CSS conceptions - Radium, CSS modules and some others.

What is this all about?

  • CSS is controlled and maintained via JS
  • inline styles over traditional external ones
  • cascade and rules order almost do not matter

In fact, here is the presentation, covering all relevant moments.

What's more

Of course different combinations of the mentioned practices exist and appear from time to time.
Further in the guide we'll stick to the classic approach.

Two reasons for backing this up:

  1. Traditional system is way more popular and requires more attention
  2. Second model is playing mostly on the JS field and slightly off the topic

This does not mean that supporters of the latter won't find anything useful here.
In many ways CSS remains the same and these systems have many points of contact.

Methodology

Introduction

In a nutshell, CSS methodology prescribes how CSS should be written, therefore defining the scalability, maintainability and architecture in total.
In fact, architecture is often named methodology and vice versa.

It also important to mention that this all does not make any sense if in the end results in productivity deterioration. Consider architecture in terms of convenience and development speed as well.

There is quiet a number of methodologies to choose from:

...and this is only the majority.

Some of them just provide rules and instructions, others propose the whole workflow to acquire.

Current guide takes advantage of common BEM principles and also has few traits from Suit CSS.

If you feel yourself pretty confident around methodologies and BEM in particular, jump right to file-structure section.
Nevertheless it is highly advised to go through this path of knowledge.

Basics

There's more than enough said about BEM, so it's no need to generate duplication.
One important thing to remember, though: like everything else, BEM is a living system, approach, that deals with architecture issues. Since environments evolve, architecture adapts. And so does BEM (or other methodology of your choice).
It has become very natural to see different takes on the same problem using same methodology.

⚡️
This is actually very important, because it helps to grasp further materials in depth.
So don't mind to to read through that part again and again until it becomes clear.

Naming principles

In respect of naming patterns' variety (dashes, underscores, camel-/snake-/kebab-/etc- case) you may end up with hundreds of variations.

This is why it is important to define these fundamentals before getting feet wet.

Through all the code there's dash-binding syntax being used:

.element
.element-long-name

The same applies to element descendants and everything else.

CSS example:

.media-component {
}

.layout-column {
}

This is also valid for the variables:

SCSS example:

$color-brand-primary: yellow;

$line-height-regular: 1.5;

💡 Please note that variables'-specific naming principles fully covered in the corresponding chapter.

Child elements are determined by '__' - separator:

.element__child
.element__child-long-name
.element__child__grandchild

CSS example:

.section {
}

.section__text {
   font-size: 12px;
}

HTML example:

<section class="section">
    <p class="section__text">
        <span class="section__text__icon"></span>
        Section text
    </p>
</section>

Modifiers and states

To help to get your head around the following:
modifiers - illustrate added or, well, modified features of element
and states - are mostly about interactions.

Examples:
Modifiers: 'decorated', 'large size', 'secondary type' etc.
States: 'disabled', 'in progress', 'hidden for user' etc.

💡 If you are not confident with the type of the feature - just use modifier and change it later when things get clear.

Modifiers are determined by '--' - separator:

.element--mod
.element--complex-name-mod

CSS example:

.header--main {
    background: red;
}

HTML example:

<header class="header header--main">Title</header>

States are determined by is- namespace:

.is-state

CSS example:

.button {
}

.button.is-disabled {
    cursor: default;
}

HTML example:

<button class="button is-disabled">Sorry, can't do</button>

So far it can be very tempting to use .is-disabled on it's own, though it shouldn't happen. Best way to guarantee this is prevent the states from having their own CSS rules. Use them only in combination with component classes.

To clarify some things:
Modifier and State are the same things in terms of BEM, the only thing that differs is the semantics.
This is the reason some other methodologies deviate from BEM pattern.

💡
There are several ways to define modifier-/state- classnames as well!

Pattern A:

.button {
}

/* modifier */
.button--main {
}

/* state */
.button--disabled {
}

/* also a state! */
.button--is-disabled {
}

Pattern B:

.button {
}

/* modifier */
.button.--main {
}

/* state */
.button.--disabled {
}

/* and another way */
.button.--is-disabled {
}

Pros:
A - lesser specificity B - flexible application

Cons: A - hard times combining classes B - common namespace, harder to maintain

Recommendations are pretty straightforward:
use pattern A unless encounter a solid reason for switching to pattern B.

⚡️ There's a bit more about states and modifiers. Check out the markup for the more complex example:

<div class="input [state]">
    <div class="input__name [state]">
        Search
    </div>
    <input class="input__element [state]" type="text" placeholder="Find"/>
</div>

From here there are two popular options for handling state change in CSS (consider the same logic for modification):

  • A - provide state for each component's descendant
  • B - stylize descendants depending on parent's state

This can be illustrated with the following code:

Pattern A:

<div class="input">
    <div class="input__name is-disabled">
        Search
    </div>
    <input class="input__element is-disabled" type="text" placeholder="Find"/>
</div>
.input__name {
    color: #333;
}

.input__name.is-disabled {
    color: #999;
}

.input__element {
    background: #fff;
}

.input__element.is-disabled {
    background: #aaa;
}

Pattern B:

<div class="input is-disabled">
    <div class="input__name">
        Search
    </div>
    <input class="input__element" type="text" placeholder="Find"/>
</div>
.input__name {
    color: #333;
}

.input__element {
    background: #fff;
}

.input.is-disabled .input__name {
    color: #999;
}

.input.is-disabled .input__element {
    background: #aaa;
}

General recommendation is to use Pattern A over Pattern B. However, in some situations (and this one in particular) Pattern B is more beneficial, since it's easier to maintain the code and control states.

Utilities

Another concept to grasp - utility classes.
With some respect to Atomic CSS this is the last stand between your CSS and production code. In other words - they can override other CSS properties and you won't want to override them.

Basic rule - they should complete only one simple task - hiding element, changing font-size - and nothing else. This means one-two declarations and generally no nesting.

Another rule - they can't be mixed with other classes or be included into other components - not in CSS.
Pretty often they get assigned via JS.

And finally, utilities should never be overwritten. Think about them in the key of somewhat !important value.

Utilities are determined by u- namespace:

.u-hidden

CSS example:

.u-hidden {
    display: none;
}

.u-hidden-visually {
    visibility: hidden;
}

HTML example:

<section class="menu js-menu u-hidden-visually">...</section>

JS interactivity

JS-related classnames, which begin with the namespace js- are also called 'JS hooks' sometimes.
Hooks are basically pointers or selectors and thus - can't have CSS rules applied to them.

The reason to use this approach is the separation of concerns. It's easier to debug and maintain the markup apart from the script logic.

Of course, it's a bit different story when using frameworks like React or Angular, so this point can be just passed.

CSS example:

// may present in stylesheet 
// but no styling applied
// .js-test {}

HTML example:

<a class="link js-test">Pseudo-link</a>

JS example:

document
    .querySelectorAll('.js-test')
    .classList.add('u-hidden');

One extra recommendation - use a descriptive classname enough. For instance, .js-navigation is just an element hook, whereas .js-navigation-open is pointing to a corresponding trigger of sort.

Mixins (not a preprocessor thing yet)

Mixing in terms of methodology means blending properties of one component to another.
Say, you have a list item, but you also need it to be selectable item.
There are different ways of achieving this, certainly.

The "mixin" way allows to avoid extra styling. On the other hand, it's harder to maintain layout and there's probability of getting into code mess. Also, if you rely on component approach, this is not what you need to acquire.

Description here is given for understanding principles. But this approach is not recommended.
Simply put - avoid until unavoidable.

CSS example:

.list-item {
    padding: 2rem 0;
}

.selectable-item {
    outline: 1rem solid #f00;
}

.list-item.selectable-item {
    outline-offset: 1rem;
}

HTML example:

<ul>
    <li class="list-item selectable-item">
        List-Item selectable content
    </li>
</ul>

Structure of СSS/preprocessor file

CSS structure is the kernel of the architecture.
Different methodologies propose different ways of organizing CSS files.
Pros and cons of these approaches are beyond the topic, so let's touch it slightly and focus on structure of single CSS file.

Principles described below can be successfully adopted and integrated into existing system.

Files organizing

📃 Code follow-up

The very basic option is to organize all code within one file.
This approach will work fine for small or/and one-time projects, that do not require maintainability whatsoever.

root/
    styles.css

For the sake of the guide goals and sanity this approach is not considered any further.

Consider file a CSS component.
Components form the system:

css/
    navigation.css
    header.css
    layout.css
    ...

Large components may consist of multiple parts for the sake of readability:

css/
    header/
        header-layout.css (*)
        header-logo.css
        header-navigation.css
        ...
    ...

(*) notice the main component prefix, "header-" in this case. This is optional, but may solve search issues in IDE.

It can also be convenient to separate core modules - "atoms" and "molecules" - components, that consist of other components or unique and used just once:

css/
    base/
        icon.css
        logo.css
        navigation.css
        ...
    project/
        shopping-cart.css
        article-section.css
        ...
    ...

Pure CSS modules rely on full encapsulation on all levels:

css/
   header/
       header.css
       Header.jsx
   article/
       article.css
       Article.jsx
   ...

Code organization within a file

📃 Code follow-up

Organization here is mostly about comments and consistency.
Generally, as you can see, CSS component structure is pretty straightforward:

Please notice, that except for Component title all other parts can be omitted, according to the situation:

File data is the privilege of the team preferences, it might be excessive when working alone.

CSSG is not needed when component consists of one element and almost "flat" in terms of cascade.

Variables have nothing to do with CSS yet (except for --custom-properties) and pretty much optional if there are no local overrides or any other local properties.

Layout is basically a component wrapper or skeleton, which might have modifiers applied to the descendants. It makes most sense when component itself is relatively complex.

Parts, Modifiers and States however are also optional, when component consists of one element, like button or link and relatively plain.

💡 Media-query-specific rules are not decoupled from the main ones. There's more about media-queries handling in one of the following chapters.

Comments

Comments are vital and sadly often underestimated.

In total, all code, that potentially might raise questions later, should be commented.
Comments have to be short, capacious and up-to-date. Avoid excessive (unnecessary) commenting.

There are generally two types of comments:

  • Structural comments - were briefly introduced in previous chapter
  • All other comments - will be covered right away!

Structural comments

📃 Code follow-up

These comments help to keep your CSS (modules) organized, consistent and way more readable. Consider each inner level a deeper nested element or modifier - this metaphor helps to get the image.

Level 1 is typically a component / file title.

/* Level 1
---------------------------------------------------------------------------------- */

/* code */

/* /Level 1
---------------------------------------------------------------------------------- */

At the moment there might be questions:

  • where exactly to place the code?
  • is the block padding a normal thing?

As it comes to practical side - this is the matter of choice, habit and team preferences.
This may work for you...

/* Element title
---------------------------------------------------------------------------------- */
.element {
    
}
/* /Element title
---------------------------------------------------------------------------------- */

...as fine as this:

/* Element title
---------------------------------------------------------------------------------- */

.element {
    
}

/* /Element title
---------------------------------------------------------------------------------- */

For this code guide we'll stick with the second option.

But generally it does not matter.
Choose the style and stick with it. Working in team implies identical code-styling, and different code examples should look like written by one person.

Level 2 is for structure per se. Variables, Layout, component parts: Head, generic Right part, Content section etc.

/* Level 2
-------------------------------------------------- */

/* code */

/* /Level 2
-------------------------------------------------- */

Level 3 and Level 4 normally would be used seldom. However, you may consider them for more complex component structures, something like part of a part of a part.

Level 3:

/* Level 3 */

/* code */

/* /Level 3 */

Level 4:

/* Level 4 */
/* code */

Common rules for structural comments:

  • Respect level order - Level 2 should be placed only inside Level 1, Level 4 only inside Level 3 etc.
  • Indentation is prohibited, that means each new comment block organizes a "caret return" (this will be demonstrated later)

To improve readability use 2 whitespaces between level 1 and level 2 blocks. Use 1 whitespace between all others.
Again, it's only a recommendation. Stick with what works best for you.

Here is an example:

/* Module
---------------------------------------------------------------------------------- */

/* Module - Core
-------------------------------------------------- */

.module {

}

/* /Module - Core
-------------------------------------------------- */


/* Module - Part 1
-------------------------------------------------- */

/* Base */

.module__part-1 {

}

/* /Base */


/* Modifications */

.module__part-1--modifier {

}

/* /Modifications */

/* /Module - Part 1
-------------------------------------------------- */


/* Module - Part 2
-------------------------------------------------- */

.module__part-2 {

}

/*/ Module - Part 2
-------------------------------------------------- */

/* /Module
---------------------------------------------------------------------------------- */

💡

It's not convenient to type these slashes and dashes by hand or copy-paste the pieces of code all the time.
There's a bunch of tools to bring fun to the boredom.

For instance, there are snippets from IDE cross-project live templates repo. Based on Live Templates they are compliant with most of Jetbrains products.

⚡️

Snippets for Sublime Text is the work in progress.

Document author

Having this piece of code at the top of the file immediately answers many questions, especially when the file is to be seen for the first time.

/**
* author:       S Griffin | IM : contactme69 | e-mail : wdybih@gmail.com
* spec:         http://link
* created:      11/02/2013
*
* comments:		It's a nice example of CSS styleguide
* @project class:	.somecode
* @project colors:	#f0f0f0, #ffe1e1
**/

Seems redundant, but you've got the idea.
Long intro is not always welcome (for instance in teams with history), so it's just a suggestion. Fields can easily be added ot removed at the every stage of code-style integration.

There's also a snippet for that in live templates repo.

CSSG

CSSG stands for CSS-O-Gram, meta-language for documenting markup structure with CSS comments.

The main idea behind this conception is to bring extra transparency to the common CSS codebase.

Here's an example:

/*
cssg

	media                       --special | --custom
	    media__header
	        ...
	        
	    media__content
	        a . media__link
	            <icon>
	            
	        media__text
	            ...

*/

It's pretty easy to start and hard to resist hereafter.

Seems obvious now, but there's a snippet for that as well in the live templates repo.
In fact, there's a common bs (bootstrap) template that just gets you ready with all basic things.

Helpers: TODO / FIXME

Many IDEs obtain nice feature providing support (at least code highlighting) for TODO or FIXME comment keyword.

This code guide suggests providing additional info along with the directives.
Consider the following:

Author name - allows to easily detect responsible person, even having Git annotate.

/*
    TODO: stewie.griffin@acmecorp.com
*/

Crux of the matter - allows get the whole picture with ease.

/*
    TODO: replace with variables
*/

/*
    FIXME: this value does not belong here
*/

Due date - it us pretty useful to understand the urgency or/and point of no return for this current code.

/*
    FIXME: 17.08.2015
*/

Of course these things could be easily combined:

/*
    TODO: stewie.griffin@acmecorp.com - cleanup with the feature "PhotoMarks" - 21.09.2015
    check and fix dependent components
*/

One extra healthy point here is to limit the number of "todo" expressions due to better organization.

How to comment code

So far it should be pretty clear how to create structure in CSS file, leave author notes and prepare ground for the code landing.

Since code appears, your main concern with regards to styleguide, will be code maintainability. Respect some basic rules and you will be safe:

  • leave comments to improve readability
  • avoid unnecessary comments that harm readability
  • too many 'TODO'-s - it's time to refactor the whole thing

Also, there is a couple of best practices, that worth mentioning:

  • always comment magic numbers and tricky approaches
  • separate variables' and values' concerns

Some clarification is needed here:

Always comment "magic numbers" and tricky approaches

Not mentioning typical hacks, some rules deserve being noticed. If values like z-index: 14; or margin: -137px auto; make total sense today - try to figure it out after a month (clue - you'll never do).

.project-class {
    margin-top: 13px; // pixel-moving, probably?
    font-size: 1.66rem; // reason for non-standard value
    }

Values and Variables - separation of concerns

When using variables it is important to pay attention to values that just do not fit. Generally it's a bad idea to combine variables with regular units.

Avoid situations like this:

$offset = 10px;

.project-class {
    padding: $offset ($offset + 3px); // by design
	}

Preprocessor syntax specifics

Preprocessors introduce JS-style of comments:

/* traditional comment */
.foo {
}

// "inline" comment
.bar {
}

"Inline" comments can be used in the absolutely same manner along with the "block" comments. Possible, but not desired outcome of that:

//
// Foo component
.foo {
    overflow: hidden !important; // need this to override inline

    color: $color-main;


    /* parent context */
    .bar & {
        padding: 1rem;
    }
}

/*
    todo: replace Foo with Tar
*/
.bar {
    padding: 0 calc(100% - 980px); /* page restrictions */
}

This example is exaggerated on purpose. The point is - to prevent visual pollution some code-guide conventions required.

Here's the proposition:

  1. Everywhere but inside of curly braces (consider "rule scope") use "block" comments. Practical examples can be found earlier in this chapter.
  2. On the contrary, use "inline" comments only inside of curly braces. This will come more and more handy with intensive using of preprocessor features - nesting, "&" - selection etc.

With this in mind, let's "fix" the previous example:

/* Foo
-------------------------------------------------- */

.foo {
    overflow: hidden !important; // need this to override inline

    color: $color-main;

    // parent context
    .bar & {
        padding: 1rem;
    }
}

/* /Foo
-------------------------------------------------- */


/* Bar
-------------------------------------------------- */

/* TODO: replace with Tar */

.bar {
    padding: 0 calc(100% - 980px); // page restrictions
}

/* /Bar
-------------------------------------------------- */

Don't mind the "&"-usage, nesting and all other formatting specifics yet. This is the scope of the following chapter.

Mandatory commenting

Some CSS rules deserve to be commented. This practice has been proved by time. There is pretty brief list of such rules, which sure is not dogmatic.
Each uncommented property is a time bomb, and the countdown exponentially speeds up with the project size.

Take a look at the recommended list and feel free to augment it with the problematic properties of your choice.

position
This one seems pretty harmless right up to the moment of debugging nested containers case and having trouble putting some element to the uppper level.
Whilst position: absolute / fixed / static seems to be pretty self-explanatory, position: relative needs most attention.

Usually it is sufficient to use comment like this:

.foo {
    position: relative; // context for .bar
} 

z-index
It might be a good idea to keep track of all z-index usages with Z-index map, that can be simply a variables set:

$z-index-base: 0;
$z-index-dropdown: 500;
$z-index-modal: 1000;
$z-index-notification: 2000;

... or the map:

$z-index: (
    base: 0,
    dropdown: 500,
    modal: 1000,
    notification: 2000
);

Thus when met in code - they won't require extra comments.
However, this won't apply for the local context. Consider:

.foo {
    position: relative; // context for .bar
}

.boo {
    // ...
}

.bar {
    position: absolute;
    z-index: 1; // always above .boo
}

margin (with negative value)
Using negative values for margins implies something hacky that can't be achieved with normal simple methods. It requires as well a lot of attention and testing. It is better be documented as well.

.foo {
    padding: $offset-n;
    margin: -$offset-n; // compensating paddings
}

overflow: hidden
Overflow is a "no-way-back" for some children elements. That's why in most cases it stands as the last hope for proper sollution. But generally it is not clear whether it's cropping the background or something different.

.bar {
    // ...

    overflow: hidden;
    overflow-y: scroll;
}

.boo {
    // ...

    height: $boo-height;

    overflow: hidden; // assuring the correct height
}

translate3d(0) or -webkit-backface-visibility
Generally it is recommended to move specific fixes as such to the preprocessor mixin. This will take care of all misunderstanding. If this is not possible, use comment to distinguish hacks from regular intentions.

.foo {
    transform: translate3d(0); // fixes Chrome glitch ...
}

// or (preferred)

.boo {
    @include gpu-fix();
}

To recap

Follow a common rule:

Do not rely on your memory or memory of your colleagues

Just comment suspicious values.
Thank yourself later.

Syntax & formatting

Basic formatting

todo: code follow-up

Let's define the very basics for formatting.
Most of these rules are supported by linters in various IDEs:

  • 4 spaces for indentation step
  • new line for each declaration ('block'-notation)
  • new line for each selector
  • two lines between rules
  • every declaration ends with semicolon
  • single space between the property and value
  • no space between property name and semicolon
  • double quotes where needed (dropped for single font-family names)
  • prefer shorthands over multiple properties
  • curly braces: opening on the line with selector, closing on the new line after all rules
  • single space between selector and curly brace

This can be simply illustrated with the following code:

.foo {
    margin: 0;
    padding: 1rem 2rem;
    background: #333 no-repeat url("images/foo.png");
    font-family: "Custom Font", Arial, sans-serif;
}

.bar-first,
.bar-second {
    position: relative;
    background: transparent;
}

.tar {
    visibility: hidden;
}

Grouping of properties

Grouping is one extra step on the organization ladder.

There are at least 3 possible ways to handle declarations in the rule scope:

  1. No particular order (that's not helping)
  2. Alphabetical order
  3. Grouping by some attribute

Alphabetical order is the "better than nothing" option. It is mostly useful for developers who seldom touch CSS. But for the long run there is a room for improvement.

Grouping of properties allow faster allocating of certain properties. Simply put, you know that "position" should be on top along with other position-related properties, i.e. "top", "left" etc. So you look for it in certain places instead of going through the list with no particular understanding.

Properties can be divided into following groups or categories:

  1. Position
  2. Display
  3. Flex
  4. Box model
  5. Background
  6. Color
  7. Typography
  8. Visibility
  9. Transform
  10. Animation
  11. Anything else

Of course there can be different exceptions, so feel free to extend the list basing on this starting point.

...

.class {
	position: relative;
	right: 0;
	left: 0;
	z-index: 77;

	display: inline-block;
	width:100%;
	height: 100%;
	overflow: hidden;
	margin: 0;
	padding: 4px 5px 5px;

	border: #ccc solid 1px;
	border-top-color: #999;
	background: #fff;
	background-image: url(/images/icon.png);

	color: #333;
	line-height: 15px;
	font: 12px Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif;
	}

Vendor prefixes

It is much better to rely on autoprefixer with this one. Anyhow, here is recommended style:

.foo {
	-webkit-user-select: none;
	-moz-user-select: none;
	-ms-user-select: none;
	user-select: none;
}

.bar {
	-webkit-animation-duration: 1s;
	animation-duration: 1s;

	-webkit-animation-name: myAnimation;
	animation-name: myAnimation;
}

Best practices

The following list summarizes frequently used best practices for writing and maintaining CSS:

  • prefer rem-s or/and pixel values over em-s
  • prefer component approach over random and overall
  • keep component-specific styles in separate files
  • break-up complex components

Preprocessor-related:

  • keep global variables in one or multiple variable-only files
  • avoid local/custom variables
  • if needed, keep them clearly commented and separated from globals
  • avoid variable mutations

Indentation

Typically indentation used in stylesheets to illustrate the cascade, or how HTML is structured.

Something like this:

.menu {
    margin: 0;
}

    .item {
        margin: 10px 0;
        padding: 10px 20px;
        
        background: #ddd;
    }
    
        .item a {
            text-decoration: none;
        }
        
            .item a:hover {
                text-decoration: underline;
            }

This might work for a micro-stylesheet, but will fail in anything bigger, and here's why:

  • indentation system should stick to HTML structure, otherwise it will only be confusing, which makes maintaining a tedious task
  • reading comfort decreases with every other indented block, so everything after 3 indent levels considered hard to read
  • imagine appearing of wrapper for menu element, and remember to indent the whole structure in order to match the principles
  • hard times understanding whether it is the direct descendant of the element or a cascade taking place
  • and so on...

Generally, relying on the current guide principles, this recommendations will be out of scope. Component approach, BEM naming principles and even CSSG make indentation totally useless.

Revised version of the same code sample could look like (structural comments dropped for brevity):

/* 
cssg

menu
    menu__item +

        item
            a . item__link
*/

.menu {
    margin: 0;
}

.menu__item {
    margin: 10px 0;
}

.item {
    padding: 10px 20px;
            
    background: #ddd;
}

.item__link {
    text-decoration: none;
}

.item__link:hover {
    text-decoration: underline;
}

Consider using preprocessor, isolating code in separate files and you'll never want to use traditional indentation again.

💡 if you are using vanilla CSS, the following tip might be helpful: Use indentation only for pseudo-elements, pseudo-classes and in context- (browser-) specific cases.

Notice also, that there is no empty line between main selector and descendants.

.item {
    padding: 10px 20px;
            
    background: #ddd;
}

.item__link {
    text-decoration: none;
}
    .item__link:before {
        content: "link: ";
    }
    .item__link:hover {
        text-decoration: underline;
    }
        .item__link:hover:before {
            color: transparent;
        }
        
.item__image {
    padding: 10px;
}

@-rules

There is nothing extraordinary about syntax here. Same indentation, formatting etc. with only one extra indentation level.

Typical example:

.item {
    flex: 1 0 100%;
}

@media screen and (min-width: 40em) {
    .item {
        flex: 1 1 auto;
    }    
}

Or:

.foo {
    border: 1px solid black;
    padding: 1px;
}

@supports (box-shadow: 0 0 2px black inset) {
    .foo {
        box-shadow: 0 0 2px black inset;
        
        /* override the rule above the @supports rule */
        border: none;
        padding: 2px;
    }
}

Regarding @media-rules there are two simple practices of writing:

  1. Specific rules for each selector (as in the first example)
  2. Common block for all selectors in the end of file or logical section

Guidance here is simple as well: use the first approach until second one is required. Usually the latter is less convenient and more error-prone.

Syntax using preprocessors

As it was mentioned, this documentation is written with regards of SASS (SCSS syntax) syntax.

Nowadays it's hard to imagine writing and maintaining CSS without preprocessor engaged. It's a powerful tool for everyday frontend development. However, power is also responsibility, so it is important to sustain balance of productivity and language intricacy.

Guide recommendations is to limit usage of preprocessor features to the following (in order of relevance):

  • Variables
  • Nesting (& - specific syntax)
  • Mixins (includes)
  • SASS helper functions

📃 Check the examples folder for the descriptive code samples. Variables and Mixins will be used through this chapter as well.

Common formatting rules

Following SCSS syntax, preprocessor formatting is mostly identical to the CSS syntax.

Here is the basic example of preprocessor syntax (structural comments are dropped for brevity):

.component-name {
    @include trunc();
    
    margin: $offset-n 0;
    padding: $offset-xs;
    
    color: $color-text;
    
    &:hover {
        color: $color-text-light;
    }
}

.component-name__descendant {
    text-decoration: underline;
}

Here is somewhat complex version of this example:

.component-name {
    @include trunc();
    
    position: relative;
    
    margin: $offset-n 0;
    padding: $offset-xs;
    
    color: $color-text;
    
    &:hover {
        color: $color-text-light;
    }
    
    // component overlay
    &:after {
        @include cover();
        
        content: "";
        
        display: none; // hidden on mobile
    }
    
    @include respond($mq-desktop) {
        &:after {
            display: block;
            
            background: opacify($color-brand-secondary, .8);
        }
    }
}

.component-name__descendant {
    text-decoration: underline;
    
    @include respond($mq-desktop) {
        font-size: $font-size-l;
    }
}

Compared to the CSS formatting, there are some differences, or better say, complements:

  • variables' usage
  • mixins' usage
  • sass functions' usage
  • nesting specifics

We'll go through all these points in the following sections.

Variables naming

💡 Depending on the preprocessor, variable name might need to begin with the key symbol, like $ or @. In Stylus, however, this is optional. Due to the SASS syntax let's stick with the $-based naming.

It makes more sense for variables naming to inherit from classnames naming, following the same methodology pattern. Here is the basic example:

$color-light: #666;

$font-size-s: .6rem;

$offset-xxl: 4rem;

The naming pattern is:

[$]-[property-name]-[type] 

It can be extended further according to the project needs:

$color-main-dark: #3a1101;

or

$bg-color-secondary-75: #ea02dd;

...following the pattern:

[$]-[property-name]-[type]-[grade]

The latter might be more applicable to colors, since they are tricky to handle and usually require diverse approach.

Variables can be used to define another variables! This may be useful for creating offset- or typographic- system. A piece of a good advice will be - keep at simple, avoid complicated calculations.

One of the best practices of using variables for defining variables will be (no big surprise!) creating color scheme.

Variables maintenance

todo

💡 Some complicated calculations might require local variables usage. In order not to mess with global variable namespace better idea would be to encapsulate them:

.textarea {
    $textareaSumHeight: 3 * $font-size-n * $line-height-regular + (2 * $offset-s);
    $textareaSumBorderWidth: 2 * $form-border-width;
    
    @include form-element();
    
    height: calc(#{$textareaSumHeight} - #{$textareaSumBorderWidth});
    padding: $offset-s;
    
    width: 100%;
}

Please mind the order of local variables. They should be defined at the very top of the declarations list.

Naming is also different (camelCase in this, hm, case, but can be any other). The main intention is to differ local vars from the globals. This also can be achieved with the prefixes.

Mixins

Mixins (paired with includes) are pretty useful and often save the day. To maintain your stylesheets sane and clear keep close to this set of rules:

  • Mixin should do one thing and do it good
  • Avoid large set of parameters (up to 3 is optimum)
  • Provide defaults for the variables
  • Use them wisely: restrain amount of available helpers to a minimum
  • Avoid one-line mixins

Good example:

@mixin cover ($position: absolute) {
    position: $position;
    top: 0;
    bottom: 0;
    left: 0;
    right: 0;
    }

Not good examples:

// many variables to handle
@mixin common-font ($font-family, $font-size, $line-height, $font-style) {
    font: $font-style #{$font-size}/#{$line-height} $font-family, sans-serif;
}

// no default value
// name does not match the function
@mixin color ($color) {
    color: $color;
    background-color: black;
}

// single-line mixin
@mixin float-left () {
    float: left;
}

Here's usage examples illustrating formatting specifics:

.foo {
    @include cover(fixed);
    
    z-index: $z-index-modal;
}

.bar {
    @include cover();
    @include trunc();
    
    color: $color-text-light;
}

.tar {
    color: $link-color;
    
    &:hover {
        @include link-hover();
        
        color: $link-color-hover;
    }
}

Stick to the rules:

  • Define includes on top of the declaration list
  • 1 blank line between includes and other code
  • Same is valid for the nested elements

⚡️ There can be an exception to the common practice! Consider the mixin, containing media-query rule - in most cases you won't want it to be on top of the ruleset. To separate them from the others, you might want to introduce special namespace, like media-[mixin-name]. But usually they just stand out due to their syntax:

.foo {
   @include cover();
   
   padding: 2rem;
   
   @include media-respond-to($breakpoints-desktop) {
       padding: 4rem;
   }
}

Extends

As it was noticed, mixins are preferred over extends.

Why is that?

Basically, for saving yourselves from debugging convoluted code. Extends backed by nesting often lead to something excessively unwelcome.

So if there is no really hard need, avoid using extends.

💡 What's more? In short, it is all about the strings repeatability and compression algorithms. Fact is, mixins provide a lot of repeating code blocks here and there, which altogether result in bigger size of uncompressed CSS file compared with the same file, generated with the help of extends. But results of the gzip-compressed files are the opposite, because of gzip specifics. Here is great article covering other valuable points.

Here is the list of articles totally worth reading before touching extends:

Nesting

Avoid using unnecessary nesting and deeper than 3 levels. We use nesting only for:

  • Pseudo elements
  • Context classes
  • Refactoring/redesign issues

All other cases rely on MCSS. One more thing we want to mention is never use composite class names using nesting. It makes impossible to find classes in your project.

/* awful */
.module {
    ...

    &_block {}
}

/* bad */
.module {
    ...

    .module_block {}
    }

.module:after {
    ...
    }

.module_block:hover {
    ...
    }

/* good */
.module {
    ...

    &:after {
        ...
        }
    }

    .module_block {
        &:hover {
            ...
            }
        }

Do not use & as a child in nesting except context classes.

/* bad */
.block {
    .module & {
        ...
        }
    }

/* good */
.block {
    .ie9 & {
        ...
        }
    }

Sometimes you make refactoring/redesign of some code. Common practice for that is to use modificators, such as __v2 or __redesign. In this way you can use nesting for all selectors inside. Also it is possible to use & before selectors to show this is nesting. Just choose your own way and follow it everywhere. Note: We are not using &.

/* good */
.block.__v2 {
    // ...
    // very long code, we don't see parent on the screen

    .module {
        ...
        }

    // ...
    }

/* good */
.block.__v2 {
    // ...
    // very long code, we don't see parent on the screen

    & .module {
        ...
        }

    // ...
    }

Do not use structural comments inside nesting. If you want to do that - check out your logic, something wrong with it.

/* bad */
.block {
    /* Module
    -------------------------------------------------- */
    .module {
        ...
        }
    /* /Module
    -------------------------------------------------- */
    }

/* good */
/* Module
-------------------------------------------------- */
.block {

    .module {
        ...
        }

    }
/* /Module
-------------------------------------------------- */

What's next?

Congrats, you did it, great job!

I hope you did some notes along the reading or even implemented some best-practices described here. If not - here's a nice starting list of what you can start or proceed with:

  • Analyze your (your team) needs. Through the flaws and error-prone areas in your code get the list of what has to be improved in the first place.
  • Remember your product needs and environment specifics! You most probably will not need all techniques and features from this document.
  • Start with module approach. Break your code into smaller chunks until it feels right and comfortable.
  • Consider methodology (BEM or BEM-specific of your choice) your companion on this not-so-light path.
  • Choose the preprocessor. SCSS is the main recommendation.
  • Establish a set of mixins that your modules can share.
  • Incorporate tools for linting your CSS. Generally it takes some time to make it look fit for the first time. But later on it goes smoothly!

And the last, but simply the most important thing, that defines the success:

Common code should look like it has been written by one person.


Thank you for reading!

This is the living document, content is regularly updated, so come back in a month or so. And star or watch this thing just in case!

Your questions are welcome in the issues. You also can try reach author and main maintainer via email.

Content of the current guide is under MIT License.