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A declarative, reactive framework that extends CSS
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Xstyle is a framework for building applications through extensible CSS. With xstyle you can define data bindings, UI elements, variables, extensions, and shims to create modern web applications with an elegantly simple, stylesheet driven approach. Xstyle also includes tools for loading CSS and building and minifying CSS-driven applications.

Much of the functionality in xstyle is still pre-alpha, but this documentation is annotated with the stability of different functions.

Why Extensible CSS with xstyle?

Modern web browsers have increasingly moved towards relying on CSS to define the presentation of the user interface. Furthermore, CSS is fundamentally built on the powerful paradigms of declarative, function reactive programming, providing similar types of expressiveness as dependency injection systems. By adding a few simple CSS constructs, xstyle bridges the gap to provide the capabilities for composition and modular extensions that allow unlimited expression of user interfaces, with a familiar syntax in encapsulated form. Xstyle goes beyond the capabilities of preprocessor because it runs in the browser and extensions can interact with the DOM. Xstyle prevents the common abuse of HTML for UI, by allowing the definition of UI elements with the presentation definition, where they belong.

Getting Started

To start using xstyle's extensible CSS, you simply need to load the xstyle JavaScript library, xstyle.min.js and you can start using xstyle's CSS extensions:

    /* my rules */  
<script src="xstyle/xstyle.min.js"></script>

Or xstyle can be used with an AMD module loader, like RequireJS or Dojo, and load the xstyle/main module. You will also need to make sure you have installed the put-selector package:

    /* my rules */
<script src="dojo/dojo.js"></script>

Using a module loader is beneficial, as it provides for automatic loading of extension modules when they are used in CSS.

Xstyle also includes a CSS loader, for dynamically loading CSS as a dependency of modules. See the AMD Plugin Loader section for more information.

Using Xstyle CSS

Once you have loaded the xstyle script/module, you can begin to use xstyle's extensible CSS.

New Definitions

The key building block in xstyle is an extension for creating new definitions for things like user defined properties. In traditional CSS, all properties, functions, and other constructs are defined by the browser, and stylesheet rules are limited to to using these predefined properties. In xstyle, new properties, functions, and other elements can be defined with extensible meaning. New definitions may be used as shims (to fill in for standard properties on other browsers), they may be compositions of other properties, or entirely new concepts. Since definitions can be constructed using JavaScript modules that can interact with the DOM, there is virtually no limit to the what can be created.

To create a new definition, we simply use the = operator to assign a name to our new definition and assign an expression to indicate what its meaning. For example, xstyle provides a property definition expression that will automatically add a vendor specific prefix (like '-webkit-') to a property. We can create such a property:

transition = prefix;

New properties can be defined anywhere in a stylesheet, including at the top level (amongst rules), within rules (or nested rules), or even directly in property names. At the top level, a new definition makes the definition or property available for use anywhere below the definition. Defining within a rule, the new definition is available only within that rule declaration (or nested rules or extending rules) below the definition. For example, we could use this property definition in a rule, to have xstyle automatically generate vendor specific properties for the transition property (like -webkit-transition):

transition = prefix;
.content {
    transition: color 0.5s;

Since property definitions can be directly within a property name, we could inline the definition to more succinctly write the same transition:

.content {
    transition=prefix: color 0.5s;

When using property definitions for shimming properties, we generally only want to apply the shim (vendor prefixing in the example above) if the standard property is not available. We can conditionally define a new property only if the property has not already been defined (by the browser or a previous definition) with the =? operator. We could update the example above to use the standard 'transition' without prefixing if available:

.content {
    transition=?prefix: color 0.5s;

However, shimming is only the beginning of what we can do with xstyle. We can also create new definitions with custom behavior implemented in JavaScript module, which can in turn create other custom rules or affect interaction with the DOM. This is done by using the module function:

my-custom-property = module('my/module');

We look at how how to implement a module in more detail later.

Rule Definitions

We can also create a new definitions as composition of other properties, like a rule declaration. Such definitions can be used as properties or they can be referred to like elements in element generation (see below). For example, we could create a new definition based on absolute positioning:

absolutely = {
    top: 50px;
    left: 50px;
    position: absolute;

We could then style a class, using our new definition, simply by including the definition in the rule:

.my-class {

We can also override properties from our definition:

.my-class {
    top: 60px;

But, we can do this shorthand, by putting values directly in the "absolutely" property. The values are then assigned to the composite properties in order of declaration. For example:

.my-class {
    absolutely: 60px 70px;

Would be the same as:

.my-class {
    top: 60px;
    bottom: 70px;

We can use the rule-based definitions within our rule definitions to effectively extend definitions:

absolutely-green = {
    background-color: green;

(this functionality is not fully implemented)

Element Generation

With xstyle, you can declare the creation of elements within rules, allowing for the creation of complex presentation components without abusing HTML for presentation. This not only simplifies the creation and composition of UI components, it helps to keep cleaner semantics in HTML, and provides better encapsulation.

To create an element, we use the => operator, followed a selector designating the tag of the element to create along with class names, id, and attributes to assign to the element. For example, we could create a <div> with an class name of "tile" inside of any element with a class name of "all-tiles":

.all-tiles {
    => div.tile;

You can create elements with ids and attributes as well, using standard selector syntax. This will create a div with an id of "help" and a title of "Information":

.all-tiles {
    => div#help[title=Information];

Element generation can also take advantage of a few CSS selector combinators as well. We can use spaces to create child elements and use commas to separate different elements to create. For example, we could create a two row table:

table.two-row {
        tr td,
        tr td;

We could also generate text nodes inside elements with quoted strings. We could create an h1 header with some text like:

header {
    => h1 'The header of the page';

This functionality is implemented and has received testing.

Nested Rules

With xstyle, you can nest CSS rules, allowing for multiple definitions using a given selector prefix. For example, suppose we want to define several rules for elements within .my-form. We can do so with nested rules:

.my-form { input { /* this rule's selector is equivalent to .my-form input / } selector { / this rule's selector is equivalent to .my-form select */ } }

Using nesting rules can reduce typing, add better organization, and make it easier to refactor stylesheets.

This functionality is implemented and has received testing.

Nested Element Generation

Nesting rules is particularly useful in combination with element generation, as we can define the CSS for the generated elements without having to manually create and synchronize an element identifier or selector with another CSS rule.

.content {
        h1 'Green Header' {
            color: green;
        p 'Blue Paragraph {
            color: blue;

We can nest element generation and CSS rules in any combination that we want, allowing us to create sophisticated UI elements in a single modular unit.

This functionality is implemented and has received testing.


Properties can be used as variables that can be referenced from other properties in CSS stylesheets. For many, this concept may be very familiar from CSS preprocessors, and the recent addition in modern browsers according to the W3C specification. To create a variable property, we define our property by assigning it 'var'. For example, we could create a variable:

highlight-color=var: blue;

To reference the variable and use the value in another property, xstyle uses the standard W3C syntax, referencing the variable with a var(variable-name) syntax:

.highlight {
    background-color: var(highlight-color);

A variable can be declared at the top level, as well inside rules. A variable can referenced that is within the current rule or any parent rule (see nested rules) including the top level.

This functionality is implemented but only lightly tested.

Data Binding

We can combine property definitions with element generation to create data bindings. With data bindings, an element can be generated and the contents can be bound to a variable. A basic example of a data binding would be to create a variable with a string value:

firstName = 'John';

div.content {
    => span(firstName);

The contents of the span that was created would then be set to the value of firstName. Changes in the value of the firstName would automatically be updated in the span's contents.

We can also bind variables to inputs, and then the binding will work two ways, not only can changes in the variable be reflected in the input, but user edits to the value will be updated to the variable. For example:

firstName = 'John';

div.content {
    => input[type=text](firstName);

This provides the foundation for wiring components to data sources. We can also assign variables to modules, providing an interface between JavaScript-driven data and the UI. We bind a variable to a module like this:

person = module('data/person');

We can then bind to the object returned from the module. We use a / operator to refer to properties of an object:

form.content {
        label 'First Name:',
        label 'Last Name:',

Attribute Binding

All elements have default binding. For input elements, bindings are bound to the input's "value" attribute, for other elements, to the text content of the element. However, you can also bind to specific attributes of an element as well. This accomplished by placing the paranthesis embedded binding reference in an attribute selector generator. For example, we could bind the href of an anchor element to a variable:

targetUrl = 'http://target/';
.content {
    => a[href=(targetUrl)];

This functionality is implemented and has been lightly tested.

List Binding

Not only can we bind scalar values to elements, we can also bind lists or array to elements to generate a list of children elements corresponding to each item in an array. We bind arrays just like we do scalar values. For example, we could easily output an array of strings as a list like:

.content {
    => ul(arrayOfItems);

Xstyle will iterate through the array, outputting a <li/> element for each item, with the contents corresponding to the item value. Different elements have different rendering for arrays, <ul> and <ol> elements will have have <li> children, <select>'s will have <option> children, and most others will have <div> children.

You can also declare your own rendering of children by defining an "each" property for the targeted element. The value of the each property should be a generating selector (just as we use with the => operator). The item for each iteration in the array can be referenced with the "item" reference. For example, we could generate a paragraph tag for each item:

.content {
    => div(arrayOfItems) {
        each: p(item);

This makes it possible to render arrays of objects. For example, we could render a table of objects, where the first column corresponds to the "name" property of the items in the array, and the second column corresponds to the "age" property:

.content {
    => table(arrayOfPeople) {
        each: tr {
            => td(item/name), td(item/age);


Data bindings can include more than just a plain variable reference, we can also write expressions that include other JavaScript operators. For example, we could bind to the value of concatenation of two strings (again a live binding, automatically updated if either variable or property changes): {
    => span(person/firstName + person/lastName);

This functionality is implemented and has been lightly tested.

Creating Components

Together these features can be used to create components with CSS.

my-component { => h1 (label), p (content); label = 'Default Label'; content = 'Default Content'; }

body { => my-component { label: 'My Label'; } }

Extending Rules

With xstyle, you can define that a CSS rule "extends" another rule, thus inheriting all the properties and behavior from another rule. To extend another rule, start the rule text with an extends() call, providing the base rule as the parameter:

.base-rule {
    color: red;
    background-color: blue;

.sub-rule {
    extends(.base-rule); /* all the properties from base-rule will be inherited */

The rule that is extending can define its properties that override the rules inherited from the base rule, for example:

.sub-rule {
    color: yellow; /* color is yellow, but we have inherited background-color of blue */ 

This functionality is mostly implemented but only lightly tested, and may not be complete.

Extensions and Shims

Xstyle allows one to define additional extensions to CSS. These extensions can be used for creating custom components or for filling in missing functionality in browsers. Xstyle's default stylesheet provides shims for a few commonly used properties that are missing in some older browsers, including box-shadow, transform, and border-radius. For example, we can write:

@import "xstyle/shims.css";
.my-class {
    box-shadow: 10px 10px 5px #888888;
    transform: rotate(10deg);

Here, we can use newer CSS properties like 'box-shadow' and 'transform' and Xstyle will shim (or "polyfill" or "fix") older browsers for you, transforming these to MS filters for older versions of Internet Explorer.

Xstyle is plugin-based so that new shims and extensions can be selected and combined without incurring additional CSS parsing overhead. Xstyle is designed to allow for plugins to be registered to handle different CSS properties, so that the shims and extensions that are applied can be explicitly controlled for each stylesheet.

Definition Modules

While xstyles provides predefined expressions for new definitions, we can also define new definitions with our own custom JavaScript modules. To define a new property with a JavaScript module, we use the module('module-id') as the property definition:

my-new-property = module('package/module-id');

If you are using an AMD loader, xstyle will load the target module id and use this to handle the property. If you are not using an AMD module loader, you can still simply include a script with a define call:

define('package/module-id', { /* module property definition */ });

The module can return an object (or provide an object to the define call), that has methods that to be called when the property is used in stylesheets. The following methods are defined:

module.put(value, rule, name) - This is called whenever the property is used within a rule. The value argument is the property value in the rule, and the rule argument is the Rule object.
module.receive(callback, rule, name) - This is called when a property is accessed from a binding, to receive the current value. The callback should be called wheneve the value is changed in the future. module.forElement(element) - If the value of a property is dependent on the element that the rule is being applied, the module object may provide a forElement(element) function that would return an object with the same methods as described here for the module. It should be noted that there is additional processing overhead, since every element needs to be processed individually with this approach.
module.get(name) - This is called when a property is accessed using the my-new-property/sub-property syntax., args,...) - This is called when the definition is used a function, like my-new-property()

The Rule object has the following properties and methods that can be used by the module:

setValue(name, value) - This performs the action of adding a new property value to a rule. If there are any definition for the property, there are then executed. getCssRule() - This gets the browser CSSOM rule object for the this rule. You can apply additional CSS properties directly by setting properties on the style object:

getCssRule().style.color = 'red';

Shim Module Examples

Let's look at a simplified example from shims.css to see how we could shim the 'box-shadow' property to use an IE filter:

box-shadow = module('xstyle/shim/ie-filter');

Here we defined that the CSS property 'box-shadow' should be handled by the 'xstyle/shim/ie-filter' module. The ie-filter module converts the CSS property to an MS filter property so that we can enable a box shadow in IE. Now, we could later create a rule that uses this property:

.my-box: {
    box-shadow: 10px 10px 5px #888888;

However, we often want the shims to be conditional. For shims, we usually only want to apply the shimming module if the property is not natively supported. We can do this with the default and prefix property values. The rule in shims.css looks like this:

box-shadow=? prefix, module(xstyle/shim/ie-filter);

This extension rule includes multiple, comma separated values. The first value is 'prefix'. This indicates that first Xstyle should check if the 'box-shadow' is supported by the browser with a vendor prefix (like -webkit- or -moz-). If it is, then the vendor prefix is added to the CSS property to enable it. Finally, if 'box-shadow' is not supported in standard form or with a vendor prefix, then the ie-filter module is loaded to apply the MS filter.

Included Extension Stylesheets

The shims.css stylesheet also defines shims for pseudo selectors including hover and focus. By @import'ing shims.css into a stylesheet, these shims will be defined and we can using. The rule definitions are transitive, so if stylesheet A @import's stylesheet B, which @import's shims.css, both A and B stylesheets will have the shims applied. If another stylesheet C is later independently loaded and it doesn't import any stylesheets, none of the shims will be applied to it.

Available Shims (and limitations)

The following experimental shim modules come with Xstyle:

  • shim/transition - This provides animated CSS property changes to emulates the CSS transition property.
  • shim/boxOffsets - This provides absolute positioning in older versions of IE to emulate bottom and right CSS properties.

Available Extensions

The following (mostly experimental) extension modules come with Xstyle:

  • ext/pseudo - This modules provides emulation of hover, focus and other pseudos that are not present in older versions of IE.
  • ext/scrollbar - This module provides scrollbar measurement so that elements can be sized based on the size of the scrollbar.
  • ext/supported - Matches elements that have native support in the browser. For example: range:unsupported { /* styling for browsers that don't support range / } range:supported { / styling for browsers that do support range */ }

  • ext/widget - This module can instantiate widgets to be applied to elements that match a rule's selector. This is designed to instantiate widgets with the form of Widget(params, targetNode), and can be used to instantiate Dojo's Dijit widgets.


One of the extensions included in xstyle is a property for declaring widgets that follow the Dojo widget API (like Dijit widgets). In xstyle/ext.css this is defined as the "widget" property. The value of the "widget" property should be a nested rule with property definitions corresponding to the properties that should be passed to the widget. There should also be a "type" property that indicates the id of the module with the widget to load. For example, we could create progress bar using dijit/ProgressBar, by defining it in a rule:

.my-progress-bar {
    widget: {
        type: dijit/ProgressBar;
        maximum: 20;
        value: 10;


This functionality is partially implemented.

Xstyle includes built tools that serve several purposes. First, they provide CSS aggregation, combining @import'ed stylesheets into parent stylesheets to reduce requests. Second, it will perform CSS minification, eliminating unnecessary whitespace and comments. Xstyle will also isolate extensions into a special property that allows the xstyle parser to run signficantly faster with built stylesheet. To run the build tool, run the build.js with node, providing a path to a stylesheet or directory of stylesheets to process, and a target to save the stylesheet to. For example, if we want to build app.css, we could do:

node build.js app.css ../built/app.css

The xstyle build tool is also capable of inline resources like images directly in the stylesheet with data: URLs. This can be very useful for reducing the number of requests. To mark resources for inlining, simply append a hash of #inline to the URL of the resource. For example, if we had a background image pointing back.png, we could write the following rule

.content {
    background: url(back.png#inline);

When the build tool runs, this URL will be transformed to a data URL, and no extra request will be necessary to fetch this background image. While this can reduce the number of requests, this is best used for images that are small and very likely to be used. Since the URL is inline in the stylesheet, it increases the load time of the stylesheet, and if the image might not be used or is large, this may be more detrimental than the improved overall load time afforded by the reduced requests.

When used as an AMD plugin, xstyle can also integrate with a Dojo build, automatically including CSS dependencies of modules in a build. To run utilize xstyle in a Dojo build, you need to include the xstyle AMD build plugin. This can be specified in your build profile:

plugins: {
    "xstyle/css": "xstyle/build/amd-css"

After that, you can simply run a build as normal, and the CSS dependencies will automatically be inlined in the built layer.

While inlining CSS text in a JavaScript built layer is the easiest approach, and can also help reduce the number of requests, it is generally preferable to keep CSS in stylesheets, and leverage browser's optimized patterns for loading stylesheets. This can be accomplished as well with the integrated Dojo build. You simply need to specify a target stylesheet in the layer definition in the build profile:

layers: [
    name: "path/to/targetModule.js",
    targetStylesheet: "./someStylesheet.js", // relative to target module

When the build runs, any CSS dependencies that are encountered in modules will then be added to someStylesheet.js, rather than inlined in the JavaScript build layer. One can still use the #inline URL directive to inline resources in combination with the AMD build plugin.

AMD Plugin Loader

You can also use Xstyle as a CSS loader plugin for AMD loaders like Dojo and RequireJS. To use the CSS loader, use the AMD plugin syntax, with xstyle/css as the plugin loader and the path to the stylesheet afterwards:

require(['xstyle/css!path/to/stylesheet.css'], function(){
    // after after css is loaded

Note, that simply using the plugin loader will not load xstyle, and trigger parsing of the stylesheet, so you will not be able to use the extensions, unless you have specifically included the xstyle module as well.

This functionality is implemented and has been well tested.

Import Fixing

Another feature Xstyle provides is reliable @import behavior. Internet Explorer is not capable of loading multiples levels deep @imports. Xstyle provides @import "flattening" to fix this IE deficiency.

Xstyle also normalizes @import once behavior. If two stylesheets both @import the same sheetsheet, Xstyle ensures that the @import'ed stylesheet is only imported once (by the first stylesheet) and the second @import is removed. This is a powerful feature because it allows stylesheets to @import another stylesheet without worrying about overriding another stylesheet that expected to come after the target sheet due to it's @import statement.


The has-class module provides decoration of the root <html> element with class names based on feature detection. The has-class module works in conjunction with the has() module in Dojo (dojo/has) to detect features, and adds a class name for matches with a "has-" prefix. For example, if we wanted to create a CSS rule that was conditional on the detection of the "quirks" feature, first we would need to register this feature detection with the has-class module:

define(['xstyle/has-class'], function(hasClass){

And then we could create a rule that uses this conditional class name:

html.has-quirks .row {
    /* rule only applied if in quirks mode */
    height: auto;

We can also base rules on the absence of a feature. In converse, we could create a rule for when quirks mode is not present:


And then use this in the selector:

html.has-no-quirks .row {
    /* rule only applied if in quirks mode */
    width: auto;

We can also base rules on a numerical feature values. We could create a rule that just matches IE7 with:


Or version IE8 through IE10:


xstyle is freely available under either the terms of the modified BSD license or the Academic Free License version 2.1. More details can be found in the LICENSE. The xstyle project follows the IP guidelines of Dojo foundation packages and all contributions require a Dojo CLA. If you feel compelled to make a monetary contribution, consider some of the author's favorite charities like Innovations for Poverty Action or the UNFPA.

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