Optimize CSS using Code Style Guides: Complete Guide


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Guide: Optimize CSS using Code Style Guides: Complete Guide

When designers talk about style guides, they usually mean an agreed manual on the coherent look and feel of a website or an application, with a well-designed color scheme, typography and user interface that is used throughout the project.

There is another type of style guide we can also use it in web development, and it is just as important, but much rarer: style guides for the code itselfCode style guides are for developers rather than designers, and their main goal is to optimize CSS or other code.

Using the correct code style guides commissioning gives us a better organized, consistent code base, improved code readability and more maintainable codeIt’s no coincidence that major tech companies, such as Google, AirBnB or Dropbox, are making good use of it.

In this post, we’ll take a look at how to smartly optimize our CSS using CSS code style guides

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Code style guides versus pattern libraries

There is a certain amount of uncertainty in our industry about what we can call a style guideFor example, A List Apart uses it synonymously with the term pattern library in this article, but we may come across these kinds of definitions in other posts as well.

On the other hand, there are also publications, such as CSS Tricks or Brad Frost’s blog, which distinguishes code style guides from pattern libraries. This latter approach probably brings us closer to a well-optimized website, such as it allows us to treat code and design separately, so we’ll be using this in this post.

Both code style guides and pattern libraries contain a style strategy, but a different kind. Pattern libraries, such as Bootstrap, Zurb Foundation, BBC’s Global Experience Language or MailChimp’s pattern library, provide us with a user interface with pre-made CSS classes, typography, color scheme, sometimes grid system, and other design patterns.

CSS code style guides, such as Evernote’s or ThinkUp’s (or the ones mentioned in the intro) rules about it how to write CSS including things like naming conventions, file structure, sequence of properties, code formatting, and others.

ThinkUp's style Guide

Note that living style guide generators, such as KSS, Styledown or Pattern Lab, generate pattern libraries and not coding style guidesWhile pattern libraries are also very useful and improve the web development process, they do not allow us to optimize the code ourselves.

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Build your CSS code style Guide

The final purpose of a CSS code style guide is to ensure that we can work with a consistent, easy-to-debug code base, written by developers who all follow the same code-style rules. Create a CSS code style guide may take a while, but it’s worth it as we only have to do it once. Then we can use the same style guide across different projects.

It is important to note that the best style guides contains not only the style rules themselves, but also examples of good and bad use, as this way developers can understand the rules more intuitively.

For example, AirBnB shows good and bad examples to developers in the following easily digestible way:

AirBnB's style Guide

File structure

First, we need to come up with a logic by which we will organize our CSS files. For smaller projects, one CSS file may be enough, but for larger ones it is always better to break up the code, and merge the individual files later in production

A little style guides like that of ThinkUp, also warns us against do not use inline or embedded styles unless it is unavoidable; it is also a handy rule worth applying.


Nesting is great feature in CSS, but sometimes things can get out of hand. No one feels particularly happy, especially in the midst of a frustrating debugging process where you run into extra long selectors like this:

.class_1 .class_2 # id_1 # id_2 li a span {color: #bad;}

So it’s always good to set up a reasonable nest limit, GitHub, for example, chose three levels in its style guideBy limiting nesting, we can also force ourselves to write more structured code.

Naming rules

Using coherent naming convention for CSS selectors is crucial if we want to understand our code months or even years later. Many solutions are available, and there is only one strict rule to follow ie a selector name cannot start with a number.

The four common styles used in selector naming are .lowercase, .under_scores, .dash-es, and .lowerCamelCase. It’s okay to choose one, but we have to follow the same logic for the entire project.

Using only semantic selector names is also essential if we want to have meaningful codeInstead of .red-button (which doesn’t show what the button does), it is better to use the .alertbutton name (which says what it does), because in this way we enable developers (and our future selves) to understand what was being said button is doing.

Moreover if we want to change the color from red to something else in the future, we can do it easily and without hassleThere are also pre-made CSS naming conventions, such as the BEM convention (Block, Element, Modifier), which result in a consistent naming structure with unique and meaningful names.

BEM naming convention

Formatting rules

Code formatting includes things like using whitespace, tabs, indentation, spaces, line breaks, etc. There isn’t really a common good or bad method in formatting, the only rule of thumb is to choose coherent lines that result in readable code, and follow through.

For example, Dropbox requires developers to put spaces after the colon in ownership statements, while Evernote uses two spaces for indentation. We can set up as many formatting rules as we like, but never more than it is possible to conceive

Declaration Order

Things ordered are always easier to see through, as well Order CSS Declarations (properties with their values) according to a logical rule results in a more organized code

For example, take a look at the WordPress property ordering rules, it defines the following simple but logical ordering baseline in which properties are grouped by their meaning:

  1. Screen
  2. Positioning
  3. Box model
  4. Colors and typography
  5. Others

Units and values

Deciding how we want to use units and values ​​is not only important to get a consistent code look, but if we don’t we can end up with something strange

Imagine a site that alternately uses px, em, and brake length measurements. Not only does it look bad in the code editor, but most likely some of the elements will be surprisingly small or large on that site.

We also have to make decisions about color values ​​(hexadecimal, rgb or hsl), and whether we want to use shorthand properties and according to which rules. There is a statement that is included in every CSS code style guide I came across, ie do not specify units for 0 values (really, just don’t).

.class {// good margin: 0;

// badmargin: 0px;

// badmargin: 0em;

// badmargin: 0rem;}


Comment code is essential in all languages, but in CSS it not only facilitates debugging and documentation creation, but also divides CSS rules into logical groupsWe can use the / *… * / or the //… notation style for comments in CSS, the important thing is to stay consistent with comments throughout our project.

For example, idiomatic CSS makes for a meaningful commenting system that even uses some basic ASCII art, resulting in beautifully organized code:

Idiomatic CSS Comments

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