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Dropbox (S)CSS Style Guide

“Every line of code should appear to be written by a single person, no matter the number of contributors.” —@mdo



  • Avoid using HTML tags in CSS selectors
    • E.g. Prefer .o-modal {} over div.o-modal {}
    • Always prefer using a class over HTML tags (with some exceptions like CSS resets)
  • Don't use ids in selectors
    • #header is overly specific compared to, for example .header and is much harder to override
    • Read more about the headaches associated with IDs in CSS here.
  • Don’t nest more than 3 levels deep
    • Nesting selectors increases specificity, meaning that overriding any CSS set therein needs to be targeted with an even more specific selector. This quickly becomes a significant maintenance issue.
  • Avoid using nesting for anything other than pseudo selectors and state selectors.
    • E.g. nesting :hover, :focus, ::before, etc. is OK, but nesting selectors inside selectors should be avoided.
  • Don't !important
    • Ever.
    • If you must, leave a comment, and prioritise resolving specificity issues before resorting to !important.
    • !important greatly increases the power of a CSS declaration, making it extremely tough to override in the future. It’s only possible to override with another !important declaration later in the cascade.
  • Don’t use margin-top.
    • Vertical margins collapse. Always prefer padding-top ormargin-bottom on preceding elements
  • Avoid shorthand properties (unless you really need them)
    • It can be tempting to use, for instance, background: #fff instead of background-color: #fff, but doing so overrides other values encapsulated by the shorthand property. (In this case, background-image and its associative properties are set to “none.”
    • This applies to all properties with a shorthand: border, margin, padding, font, etc.


  • Four spaces for indenting code
  • Put spaces after : in property declarations
    • E.g. color: red; instead of color:red;
  • Put spaces before { in rule declarations
    • E.g. .o-modal { instead of .o-modal{
  • Write your CSS one line per property
  • Add a line break after } closing rule declarations
  • When grouping selectors, keep individual selectors on a single line
  • Place closing braces } on a new line
  • Add a new line at the end of .scss files
  • Trim excess whitespace


  • All selectors are lower case, hyphen separated aka “spinal case” eg. .my-class-name
  • Always prefer Sass’s double-slash // commenting, even for block comments
  • Avoid specifying units for zero values, e.g. margin: 0; instead of margin: 0px;
  • Always add a semicolon to the end of a property/value declaration
  • Use leading zeros for decimal values opacity: 0.4; instead of opacity: .4;
  • Put spaces before and after child selector div > span instead of div>span

Sass Specifics

Internal order of a .scss file

  1. Imports
  2. Variables
  3. Base Styles
  4. Experiment Styles


// Modal

@import "../constants";
@import "../helpers";

$DBmodal-namespace: "c-modal" !default;
$DBmodal-padding: 32px;

$DBmodal-background: #fff !default;
$DBmodal-background-alt: color(gray, x-light) !default;

.o-modal { ... }

// Many lines later...

// EXPERIMENT: experiment-rule-name
.o-modal--experiment { ... }
// END EXPERIMENT: experiment-rule-name


  • Define all variables at the top of the file after the imports
  • Namespace local variables with the filename (SASS has no doc level scope)
    • eg business_contact.scss$business_contact_font_size: 14px;
  • Local variables should be $snake_lowercase
  • Global constants should be $SNAKE_ALL_CAPS


  • Use the defined color constants via the color function
  • Lowercase all hex values #fffff
  • Limit alpha values to a maximum of two decimal places. Always use a leading zero.


// Bad
.c-link {
  color: #007ee5;
  border-color: #FFF;
  background-color: rgba(#FFF, .0625);

// Good
.c-link {
  color: color(blue);
  border-color: #ffffff;
  background-color: rgba(#ffffff, 0.1);


Wrap experiment styles with comments:

// EXPERIMENT: experiment-rule-name
.stuff { ... }
// END EXPERIMENT: experiment-rule-name

Rule Ordering

Properties and nested declarations should appear in the following order, with line breaks between groups:

  1. Any @ rules
  2. Layout and box-model properties
  • margin, padding, box-sizing, overflow, position, display, width/height, etc.
  1. Typographic properties
  • E.g. font-, line-height, letter-spacing, text-, etc.
  1. Stylistic properties
  • color, background-*, animation, border, etc.
  1. UI properties
  • appearance, cursor, user-select, pointer-events, etc.
  1. Pseudo-elements
  • ::after, ::before, ::selection, etc.
  1. Pseudo-selectors
  • :hover, :focus, :active, etc.
  1. Modifier classes
  2. Nested elements

Here’s a comprehensive example:

.c-btn {
    @extend %link--plain;

    display: inline-block;
    padding: 6px 12px;

    text-align: center;
    font-weight: 600;

    background-color: color(blue);
    border-radius: 3px;
    color: white;

    &::before {
        content: '';

    &:focus, &:hover {
        box-shadow: 0 0 0 1px color(blue, .3);

    &--big {
        padding: 12px 24px;

    > .c-icon {
        margin-right: 6px;


  • As a general rule of thumb, avoid nesting selectors more than 3 levels deep
  • Prefer using nesting as a convenience to extend the parent selector over targeting nested elements. For example:
    .block {
        padding: 24px;
        &--mini {
            padding: 12px;

Nesting can be really easily avoided by smart class naming (with the help of BEM) and avoiding bare tag selectors.


Block: Unique, meaningful names for a logical unit of style. Avoid excessive shorthand.

  • Good: .alert-box or .recents-intro or .button
  • Bad: .feature or .content or .btn

Element: styles that only apply to children of a block. Elements can also be blocks themselves. Class name is a concatenation of the block name, two underscores and the element name. Examples:

  • .alert-box__close
  • .expanding-section__section

Modifier: override or extend the base styles of a block or element with modifier styles. Class name is a concatenation of the block (or element) name, two hyphens and the modifier name. Examples:

  • .alert-box--success
  • .expanding-section--expanded

BEM Best practices

Don't @extend block modifiers with the block base.

  • Good: <div class="my-block my-block--modifier">
  • Bad: <div class="my-block--modifier">

Don't create elements inside elements. If you find yourself needing this, consider converting your element into a block.

  • Bad: .alert-box__close__button

Choose your modifiers wisely. These two rules have very different meaning:

.block--modifier .block__element { color: red; }
.block__element--modifier { color: red; }

Selector Naming

  • Try to use BEM-based naming for your class selectors
    • When using modifier classes, always require the base/unmodified class is present
  • Use Sass’s nesting to manage BEM selectors like so:
    .block {
        &--modifier { // compiles to .block--modifier
            text-align: center;
        &__element { // compiles to .block__element
            color: red;
            &--modifier { // compiles to .block__element--modifier
                color: blue;

Namespaced Classes

There are a few reserved namespaces for classes to provide common and globally-available abstractions.

  • .o- for CSS objects. Objects are usually common design patterns (like the Flag object). Modifying these classes could have severe knock-on effects.
  • .c- for CSS components. Components are designed pieces of UI—think buttons, inputs, modals, and banners.
  • .u- for helpers and utilities. Utility classes are usually single-purpose and have high priority. Things like floating elements, trimming margins, etc.
  • .is-, .has- for stateful classes, a la SMACSS. Use these classes for temporary, optional, or short-lived states and styles.
  • ._ for hacks. Classes with a hack namespace should be used when you need to force a style with !important or increasing specificity, should be temporary, and should not be bound onto.
  • .t- for theme classes. Pages with unique styles or overrides for any objects or components should make use of theme classes.

Separation of Concerns (One Thing Well™)

You should always try to spot common code—padding, font sizes, layout patterns—and abstract them to reusable, namespaced classes that can be chained to elements and have a single responsibility. Doing so helps prevent overrides and duplicated rules, and encourages a separation of concerns.

// Bad code
// HTML:
// <div class="modal compact">...</div>
.modal {
    padding: 32px;
    background-color: color(gray, x-light);

    &.compact {
        padding: 24px;

// Good code
// HTML:
// <div class="c-modal u-l-island">...</div>
// <div class="c-modal u-l-isle">...</div>

// components/_modal.scss
.c-modal {
    background-color: color(gray, x-light);

// helpers/_layout.scss
.u-l-island {
    padding: 32px;

.u-l-isle {
    padding: 24px;

Media Queries

Media queries should be within the CSS selector as per SMACSS

.selector {
      float: left;

      @media only screen and (max-width: 767px) {
        float: none;

Create variables for frequently used breakpoints

$SCREEN_SM_MAX: "max-width: 767px";

.selector {
      float: left;

      @media only screen and ($SCREEN_SM_MAX) {
        float: none;


Dropbox’s (S)CSS authoring style guide







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