Picking Up SCSS

sass-web-compiler-visual-studio-pluralsight

Last week, during our work discussion, we came to this point where we argued if “fast first, slow later” or “slow first, fast later” is suitable in our working environment.

In startup mode, everything comes at you quickly, and you tend to react fast. So in the first two years of setting up the Innovation Team in Changi Airport, our software development team had been working very hard and very fast to meet the deadline. Now, our company is switching from startup mode to scale-up mode where we need to shift towards doing things right more often than doing things fast.

Hence, we are working on setting up a set of suitable development and design principles in our development team. Applying SCSS to refactor our CSS is part of this time-consuming, difficult, and tiring process.

Installing Web Debugger in VS2015

After the introduce of Web Essentials 2015, features such as compiling SCSS files have been moved to another extension called Web Compiler in Visual Studio.

Hence, to get started in VS2015, we need to first download Web Compiler via Tools > Extensions and Updates.

Installing Extensions in VS2015.png
Installed Web Compiler in Visual Studio 2015

We will need to restart Visual Studio after the installation. Once the Visual Studio is restarted, we then can start using SCSS in our web projects.

By using Web Compiler, every time we save the .scss file, it will auto compile it to be a corresponding .css file (with minified version as well!).

Another feature that I like in this extension is that Visual Studio will specify whether the SCSS files are “Compiled successfully” or there is any SCSS error, as shown in the screenshot below.

SCSS Error Reporting in VS2015.png
Visual Studio will provide friendly error messages for SCSS too!

Refactor CSS into SCSS

Previously, besides using CSS from Bootstrap, we mostly handcrafted our CSS. Recently, it had become quite hard to maintain. So I started to refactor the CSS files from one of our web projects into SCSS.

Firstly, I created a new set of blank SCSS files while keeping the existing CSS files untouched. Secondly, I change the CSS reference of the website to use the new CSS files generated by the Sass pre-compiler. By doing this, I can choose to slowly refactor the existing CSS.

Change I Love #1: Introduction of Variables

Taking just brand colour as an example, currently our CSS files have it all over the place. The same shade of blue appears a lot of times. It is incredibly hard and time consuming to make changes in our web projects using plain CSS.

Previously, for example, we have the following CSS.

.btn-main {
    background-color: #28c8f0;
    border-color: #28c8f0;
}

The primary colour #28c8f0 is used in other classes throughout the whole CSS. Hence, we can just define it as a variable $primary-color: #28c8f0; and then use it

.btn-main {
    background-color: $primary-color;
    border-color: $primary-color;
}

In the future, if we want to change the primary colour to another colour, we just need to change it at one place without worrying if we miss out any part of the CSS not updated.

Change I Love #2: DRY with Mixin

Don’t Repeat Yourself (DRY), if we are using plain CSS, we normally find ourselves reusing the same set of codes throughout the CSS files. So, by using mixins in SCSS, there will always be one and only one set we need to remember and reuse.

Before using SCSS:

.customized-width-250 {
    margin-top: 4px;
    border: 1px solid #ffffff;
    border-radius: 5px 5px 5px 5px;
    font-weight: bold;
    height: 30px;
    min-width: 250px; 
}

.customized-width-120 {
    margin-top: 4px;
    border: 1px solid #ffffff;
    border-radius: 5px 5px 5px 5px;
    font-weight: bold;
    height: 30px;
    min-width: 120px; 
}

.customized-width-60 {
    margin-top: 4px;
    border: 1px solid #ffffff;
    border-radius: 5px 5px 5px 5px;
    font-weight: bold;
    height: 30px;
    min-width: 60px; 
}

Now, by using mixin, we can easily remove the duplicates for easy maintenance.

@mixin customized-controls ($width) {
    margin-top: 4px; 
    border: 1px solid #ffffff; 
    border-radius: 5px 5px 5px 5px; 
    font-weight: bold; 
    height: 30px;
    min-width: $width;
}

.customized-width-250 {
    @include customized-controls(250px);
}

.customized-width-120 {
    @include customized-controls(120px);
}

.customized-width-60 {
    @include customized-controls(60px);
}

Change I Love #3: Loops and Conditional

On our website, we need to display representative image for each of the countries available on the portal.

If we are using plain CSS, we need to do the following for each country. For example, for Australia, we have the follows.

.country-box-australia {
    background-image: url("/images/device-country-australia.png");
}

Now we have 9 countries on our portal. So we need to repeat the lines above for 9 times. If the images are moved to another folder, then we need to update the CSS at 9 places.

In SCSS, we can use list and each loop to make the CSS more readable.

$portal-countries: australia, france, hong-kong, japan, malaysia, new-zealand, south-korea, taiwan, thailand;

@each $country in $portal-countries {
    .country-box-#{$country} {
        background-image: url('/images/device-country-#{$country}.png')
    }
}

As you see above, it also makes use of Interpolation #{} to make the code even cleaner.

Change I Love #4: Color Functions

This is helpful especially when we do the hover effect for buttons. Previously, we always needed to ask the Design Team to give us two colour codes for buttons. One for non-hover and one for hover.

So with the Color Functions in SCSS, we can now do as follows.

a {
    text-decoration: none;
    color: $primary-color;

    &:hover, &:focus {
        text-decoration: none;
        color: darken($primary-color, 20%);
    }
}

We then can have a consistent look-and-feel throughout the whole website.

Oh ya, the & character above is used to reference parent selector.

Change I Love #5: Partials

We can also have partials by starting the name of the partials with an underscore.

Because of partials, we can organize our SCSS files properly according to their functionality.

Conclusion

I believe that now given the fact that our company is already in a scale-up mode, if we keep doing everything in a hacking way, we will easily end up with technical debt soon. Having technical debt means that we will need to spend extra development work in the future because the best overall solution is not implemented in the beginning.

That is why I always welcome opportunities to learn and improve my skills. This includes learning from my teammates via our countless conversations because the conversations kept me inspired and kept me going. The team had made me a better developer. Picking up SCSS is one of the examples and it is only the beginning.

Learning Materials

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s