UI Development

What is a CSS preprocessor? Part 1

Ok, let’s get the basics out of the way first. What is a CSS Preprocessor? As you start mastering CSS, you will realize sooner or later that we need more flexibility and power to your stylesheets. That is when a CSS Preprocessor enters the playground. Imagine CSS with a X-Men like mutation and you will end up with CSS Preprocessor, simply put it is CSS with Superpowers. Mozilla defines it as below,
A CSS preprocessor is a program that lets you generate CSS from the preprocessor’s own unique syntax. There are many CSS preprocessors to choose from, however most CSS preprocessors will add some features that don’t exist in pure CSS, such as mixin, nesting selector, inheritance selector, and so on. These features make the CSS structure more readable and easier to maintain. -MDN
CSS Pre-processors have way back become essential front-end development tools. Induced with advanced features, they assist programmers write readable code. The reason to call them preprocessor is quite self-explanatory, all the jazzy fun style code eventually gets compiled/processed to CSS before rendering on browser.
Age old websites have been using these 2 preprocessors for a while.
  • LESS
  • SASS/SCSS
There are few other popular preprocessors like,
  • POSTCSS
  • Stylus
  • Compass
Which one to choose and implement depends on your project requirements! 😉 Will list out pros and cons for each of them in the next part and I leave it upto you to make the best call.
It is an undeniable fact that the first function of CSS Preprocessors is to empower css and specifically add more functionalities to the CSS files. Our major goal is to avoid wasting time and energy of the developers. It may also enhance the functionalities with items like variables, operators, functions, and various such assets. They also spike up UI Developer’s productivity and increase the overall productivity of the team. Following are few pros of using them,
Necessity – CSS itself looks very primitive and at some point in a very large web application, you may definitely desire you’re writing low-level artificial language within the modern programming world. Lots of individuals may argue that in such a mammoth project, you have got to breakdown the whole CSS into small files and modules. But in doing such, there’ll be a huge chunk of repetitive code in each module that would be prevented if you went for a giant CSS file. Moreover, there are various maintenance issues that crop up due to this. That’s where CSS Preprocessors are extremely powerful, they’re going to empower developers by opening up the scope of code reusability. Moreover, the syntax and the format of the code are pretty much same as CSS and has a minimal learning curve. Furthermore, there’s a high scope of easy extensibility and scalability. Most vital, the productivity levels are going to be top-notch with excess bandwidth to spend on more important things in a developer’s schedule.
Features – the provision of variable has saved time of the developers who want to alter a specific color or parameters for a particular component or altogether in every screen/webpage. Previously, they’d to go for find and replace but now, they will change the variable and this affects the rest of the color dependencies automatically. Mixins are a group of definitions for straightforward code writing. Extends are super useful for sharing definitions instead of copying. The colour operators facilitates developers to play with colors effortlessly with different colors like never before. Moreover, there are If/Else statements, loops, mathematical operations, and functions that are quite common in programming languages.
Don’t Repeat – the major principle of CSS Preprocessor is that to reduce code repetition in a very large CSS file to completely zero. In fact, it follows DRY principle which stands for Don’t’ Repeat Yourself. As you can skip quite significant a part of repetitive CSS coding and you’ll save lots of your time. Thanks to this, the execution time also goes down and therefore the coding is more efficient in all aspects.
Modularity – In most of the online applications, the structure elements remain the identical throughout. Concept of reusable modules is emphasised through CSS Preprocessors. For instance, we can now change color codes across multiple selectors using variables, tweak fonts, and visual effects by fiddling far fewer parameters compared to any basic css. There’s no need to search and replace throughout the file.
Structured – one amongst the most reasons for using CSS Preprocessors and its popularity has got to be its code organizing feature. You’ll make your CSS code more organized especially with CSS preprocessors like SASS and LESS. Nested coding is the most fun and loveable part of CSS Preprocessor, which makes code readable and debugging a less of a hassle. This comes in handy while implementing BEM principle.
.parent {
   h1 { }
   span { }
   a { }
   .child {
     .sub-child { }
   }
 }
Streamlining – CSS Preprocessor comes with a novel feature by which developer joins multiple stylesheets into one. This can be a critical feature in a very large web application. You’ll create small CSS files for various screens and pages and import them within the main CSS file for maintaining modularity. Moreover, this helps better in debugging and maintenance. If you import the most file on the web site, you’ll get all the connected internal files further.
Albeit, using popular CSS Preprocessors is simple once you have got gathered knowledge of writing CSS. It also opens you the prospect for multiple developers to figure on a CSS file simultaneously. you’ll acquire threads and begin writing codes directly without having to jot down everything another time.

 

About The Author

Dheeraj Sampath

Developer by trade, Internet junkie by choice and a video gamer by passion! Melophile and Selenophile. Mostly harmless.