10 Tips For Using CSS Frameworks: How Not To Break Your Website
Cascading style sheets (CSS) remain the safest and most effective way to set the visual style for websites and web applications. Over time, this form of programming has evolved considerably and now gives developers some fantastic tools with which to make the web engaging and approachable.
Besides saving developers a considerable amount of time re-writing the same blocks of mundane code, CSS frameworks automatically set foundations for websites that draw on best practices and provide cross-browser compatibility.
CSS frameworks are invaluable to web developers, but they still present a possibility for mistakes to be made, if you’re not careful. A little tweak here, an additional line of code there, and before you know it, your website or app is on its knees!
In this post, we’ve got 10 tips for using CSS frameworks. Here’s how not to break your website.
1. Learn CSS (Properly)
Sound daft? Not really. With frameworks like Bootstrap presenting themselves as complete solutions for front end website development, one would be forgiven for thinking that purely a basic knowledge of CSS is enough.
Not so. You’ll always need to get ‘under the hood’ of your website and, unless you have a deep understanding of what the lines of code you’re looking at are doing, you’ll make mistakes. Don’t cut corners – learn CSS.
2. Be Aware of Backwards Compatibility
Mistakes are often made in the initial design of websites. As those websites grow and develop over time, the introduction of new code can break the older stuff. Equally, cloning old code when you’re branching out on new developments is incredibly risky.
Rather than cloning, always work with the latest versions of frameworks and fix old code that doesn’t play nicely with your newer work.
3. Use A Template
There’s nothing wrong with getting help when starting a new web development project. Most CSS frameworks come with a fantastic array of templates you can quickly implement and then tweak to suit the application. Why waste time starting with a blank page?
4. If You’re Not A Designer, Find One
As much as we sometimes wish it were the case, CSS frameworks don’t possess the ability to turn us all into designers. If your strengths lie in code and you don’t consider yourself to be a great designer, it pays to find someone who knows how to turn CSS into a thing of beauty.
Without a designer, you’ll only delve deeper into code in search of ways to improve the look and feel of a website and mistakes will inevitably be made as a consequence.
5. Use CSS Framework Source Code Sparingly
Building an entire website or app from a CSS framework may save a great deal of time, but it isn’t advisable. Frameworks should be a guiding hand to lay basic foundations, but the less source code you use, the easier it will be to build and scale the website as time moves on.
6. Treat Frameworks As Digital Buffets
Just as you should only use the CSS framework source code you need, the same goes for their vast feature sets.
7. Treat Forums With Caution
If you change a piece of CSS code within your framework only to see a vital page come crashing down, you can do a lot worse than approach the huge community of developers online for some assistance.
When you do, tread with caution. There are many ways to write the same piece of code and if you take the wrong piece of advice, you may end up simply papering over the cracks rather than implementing a solid fix. Look for common answers to your particular issue.
8. Pick A CSS Meta Syntax
In order to generate static CSS for display, it pays to use a CSS meta syntax like LESS. This will provide you with programming constructs such as nesting blocks, real variables and encourage literate, stable coding – i.e. code you (or others) can easily hunt through and fix if something goes wrong.
9. Develop In Sandboxes
If you’re developing on a live environment, you’re asking for trouble, but the same goes when it comes to trialling new ideas with CSS. Even if you fancy tweaking the most innocuous element of your chosen CSS framework, make sure you do a trial run within a sandbox environment. Only commit to live code once you are 100% sure you haven’t broken anything.
10. Read Every Piece Of Documentation
Last tip, and it’s a simple, if laborious one. Always read all of the framework documentation and refer to it whenever you get stuck. If you’re familiar with other CSS frameworks, don’t assume they’re all the same. A deep working knowledge will enable you to tweak and develop without making mistakes.
Websites are sophisticated, complex layers of interconnected pages, databases and user interface elements. CSS helps make all of this stuff approachable for the user, but given the role it plays in the overall makeup of a website, even the smallest of changes can have dire consequences.
CSS frameworks like Compass and SASS save time and improve website compatibility, but always lean on the tips above to avoid taking them for granted and inadvertently breaking your website.
Read more about Web Application Development.