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CCSS [Component CSS] is an architecture which simplifies the CSS authoring experience for large web applications.


Large web applications generally have a lot of CSS files and many developers working on them simultaneously. With the advent of so many frameworks, guidelines, tools and methodologies (OOCSS, SMACSS, BEM, ...), developers need a CSS architecture that is maintainable, manageable, and scalable.

As a frontend engineer, I believe that component-based web development is the way forward. Web components are a collection of standards that are working their way through the W3C. They allow us to bundle up markup and styles into reusable HTML elements which are truly encapsulated. What this means is we need to start thinking about component based CSS development. While the browser makers are implementing these standards, we can use soft-encapsulation in the meantime.


As a developer, use it when you are setting up the CSS architecture for a complex web application.


  1. Elements
  2. Principles
  3. Directory Structure
  4. Naming Conventions - Simplified BEM
  5. Architecture & Design
  6. Example
  7. Contributing
  8. Resources

Elements of CCSS

Below are the major elements used either fully or in a modified way to achieve the best configuration for the CCSS architecture.


SMACSS stands for Scalable and Modular Architecture for CSS. It is more of a style guide than a rigid framework. Read about SMACSS for background on the structure as CCSS uses it.


BEM stands for “Block”, “Element”, “Modifier”. It is a front-end methodology which is a new way of thinking when developing web interfaces. The guys at Yandex came up with BEM and more information can be found here.


SASS is CSS with superpowers. Highly recommend it but you can also use LESS if you prefer that. Please refer to the SASS documentation for more information.


Compass has no class definitions, it is an extension of SASS which provides a lot of utilities. It is used for general useful mixins, and sass compilation. Compass mixins should nearly always be used in cases where vendor prefixes are required. This again is a nice to have and Bourbon, on the first look is a great alternative.

Principles of CCSS


Write small and independent components which are reusable. A reusable css component is one which does not only exist on a specific part of the DOM tree or require the use of certain element types. If necessary, extra HTML elements should be used to make a component reusable.

Modular and Isolated

Components should have everything necessary to a certain part of the UI and have a single focus. It should also be isolated, meaning it should not directly modify or depend on another component.

Isolation is more important than code reuse across components as it can increase dependencies and tight coupling, eventually making the CSS less manageable.


When authoring CSS in a way that aims to reduce the amount of time spent writing it, one should think of it in a way to spend more time changing HTML classes on elements for modifying or adding styles. It is much easier for all developers to author CSS when it is like assembling lego blocks than to fight the CSS war. CSS classes are the building blocks which should be used to compose styles.


Predictable means when you author CSS, your rules behave as you expect. This is important for large applications which have many pages. Avoid using overly complicated selectors and generic class names, as these can lead to unpredictable CSS.


Most people assume CSS is self-explanatory. In fact, this is usually not the case! CSS components must have clear documentation which describe what they do and how they should be used.

Directory Structure

Below is an example directory structure for easier visualization, I have also included an example setup in this repo.

    ├── bootstrap.css
    ├── ext
    │   ├── bootstrap
    │   │   ├── _settings.scss
    │   │   └── bootstrap.scss
    │   └── font-awesome
    │       └── font-awesome.scss
    ├── font-awesome.css
    ├── images.css
    ├── main.css
    └── scss
        ├── _config.scss
        ├── base
        │   ├── _animation-classes.scss
        │   ├── _base-classes.scss
        │   ├── _base.scss
        │   └── images.scss
        ├── components
        │   ├── directives
        │   │   ├── _empty-state.scss
        │   │   ├── _legend.scss
        │   │   └── _status-message.scss
        │   ├── pages
        │   │   ├── _404.scss
        │   │   └── _redirect.scss
        │   └── standard
        │       ├── _alarm-state.scss
        │       ├── _graph-message.scss
        │       └── _panel.scss
        ├── main.scss
        ├── mixins
        │   ├── _animation.scss
        │   ├── _bem.scss
        │   └── _icon.scss
        └── themes
            └── _light.scss

Only edit/author the files in the scss/ folder. This allows for updating external libraries easily which are in the ext/. Many applications start out with an external CSS framework like Bootstrap or Foundation, so I added them in the example setup in the ext/ folder. It's absolutely fine to have all the CSS written from scratch; everything else mentioned above still applies.

The example components/ directory is well-suited for an AngularJS application, but can be customized for other frameworks or applications. More information is in the Architecture section.

In the HTML page, include all the .css files from the style/ folder, which contains all the compiled CSS (from Grunt, Compass, etc.). Never alter them.

Naming Conventions - Simplified BEM

  • u-className Global base/utility classes
  • img-className Global image classes
  • animate-className Global animation classes
  • ComponentName Standard Components (B)
  • ComponentName-elementName Component's Element (E)
  • ComponentName--modifierName Component's Modifier (M)

Note the UpperCamelCase Component name to indicate that it is the master element; this denotes that it is the boundary of the component. Element and modifier names are elementName and modifierName, respectively. Do not use - to separate out component names, as these signify the start of an element/element name.

Architecture and Design


Grunt is a great task runner that can automate many common chores (such as compiling CSS or validating HTML). There are also other task runners; an ideal workflow involves using one to watch files under development and recompile the CSS when changes are made.

File organization

Please take a look at the directory structure which is derived from SMACSS. Notice the ext/ directory, which contains all external frameworks (like Bootstrap). To keep upgrading easy, these should not be modified; instead, overrides and extensions should be placed in the base/ directory.

base/ is where global base styles used application wide exists.

_base.scss Base styles for element selectors only. These are sort of "CSS resets".

_base-classes.scss These are all utility classes used application wide across many pages, views, and components. Prefix class names with u-

images.scss Use this as a SCSS compilation source. It should define and inline all site images as Data URIs. /app/styles/images.css is generated from this file.

_animate.scss All application-wide animation classes.

_bootstrap-overrides.scss Framework overrides only. Sometimes the level of specificity of framework selectors is so high that overriding them requires long specific selectors. Overriding at a global level should not be done in the context of a SCSS component, instead all global overrides go here.


Any unit of reusable CSS not mentioned above is considered a "component". We use AngularJS so I categorized them to 3 types of CSS components: view/page, directive, and standard; and hence the directory structure which is derived from SMACSS. In the example setup in the GitHub repository, I created explicit folders to be clear. If your application is small, you may put them in one folder. All components follow the modified BEM naming convention in combination with the CamelCase. This got me great wins in encouraging other team members to follow BEM style syntax. It also avoided a lot of confusion when moving away from using the typical BEM style with the -, --, and __ symbols which generate class names like module-name__child-name--modifier-name!

It is also important that the CSS class definition order in a component reflects the html view. This makes it easier to scan, style, edit and apply classes easily. Finally, it's a good idea to have an extensive style-guide for the web application and follow guidelines for CSS and SASS (avoid @extends).


Refer to the code for an example setup of the CSS.

Here is an example component in SASS.

.ProductRating {
  // nested element
  @include e(title) {
  // nested element
  @include e(star) {
    // nested element's modifier
    @include m(active) {

It compiles to the following CSS:

.ProductRating {
// nested element
.ProductRating-title {
// nested element
.ProductRating-star {
// nested element's modifier
.ProductRating-star--active {

Your HTML might look something like below.

<div class="ProductRating">
  <img alt="Company logo" class="img-logo">
  <h3 class="ProductRating-title">Title</h3>
  <div class="u-starHolder">
    <span class="ProductRating-star ProductRating-star--active"></span>
    <span class="ProductRating-star ProductRating-star--active"></span>
    <span class="ProductRating-star ProductRating-star--active"></span>
    <span class="ProductRating-star"></span>

Refer to the simplified BEM mixin which uses reference selector to achieve this and is simpler than @at-root. Working with BEM became much easier in version Sass 3.3+, which gives us the ability to write maintainable code that is easy to understand.


Contributions in the form of issues/PRs for adding more examples, improvements with post processing, clarifications, etc. are most helpful.

Resources and Credits



CSS architecture for web applications







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