A CSS preprocessor is a scripting language that is compiled into the CSS syntax. It’s a little bit like learning a new language that is similar to CSS but also has some additional features.
The biggest advantage to using a CSS preprocessor is that it allows you to reuse pieces of code that you have already written. This results in cleaner code since the likelihood of making a mistake is reduced. If you write one snippet of code and test it, and it works, that same snippet will continue to work whenever you use it. That’s the beauty of a CSS preprocessor.
It can also help you to be more organized as you write large chunks of code. Having some of the redundant pieces of code already written in the same way will help your code to be better organized and easier to understand.
You can also share these snippets of code that you write, as well as being able to share libraries. If you need to use code that others have created, this will save you time and effort that you can spend on other unique aspects of your project. It is also possible to share the snippets you create. You can share them globally, allowing anyone to use them. For better collaboration, you may also share them with your team, ensuring that these snippets of code are consistent throughout the entire project.
Benefits of CSS Preprocessor
Using a CSS preprocessor also has two advantages over using CSS.
There are certain things you can do on the fly in a CSS preprocessor, such as calculations and conditions. You can also do things like modifying colors so that you don’t have to hard code these things into CSS.
A CSS preprocessor also solves the browser compatibility issues that are inherent in CSS. When you compile your CSS preprocessor, you can add in the programming language that enables you to use the code across browsers.
The two most popular CSS preprocessors are Sass and LESS. There’s a third one, called Stylus that is not as popular as the two major ones.
Sass promotes itself as “the most mature, stable, and powerful, professional grade CSS extension language in the world.” That sounds pretty good. It allows variables, partials, mix-ins, nesting, inheritance, operators, and more.
LESS says that it adds “features that allow variables, mix-ins, functions, and many other techniques.” It runs inside Node, in the browser, and inside Rhino.
Stylus boasts selectors, variables, operators, mix-ins, functions, interpolation, and more.
The advantage to choosing Sass or LESS is that you have more of other people’s work to choose from.
As with any new technology, there are drawbacks. One of the biggest drawbacks is that debugging takes longer. Since debugging is already harder than programming, this can be a true disadvantage. It can also be time-consuming to compile, and performance may be compromised.
Once you add a CSS preprocessor to a tech stack, it can be difficult to remove, so it’s important to consider all the pros and cons before deciding to use one.