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Is There Too Much CSS Now?

Is There Too Much CSS Now?

As front-end developers, we’ve wished for a lot of things over the years — ways to center things in CSS, encapsulate styles, set an element’s aspect ratio, get finer-grained control over our colors, select an element based on its children’s properties, manage layers of specificity, allow elements to respond to the width of their parents… the list goes on and on.

And now that we got all we wished for and more, some of us are asking — do we now have too much CSS?

If you, like me, came up in web development during CSS’s infancy, the idea of having too much of it seems ludicrous.

At the time, the browser was a devious foe to be defeated through sheer cunning and arcane incantations. Today, the perfect property is waiting and just a copy-paste away on MDN.

These are all potentially very useful, and would’ve all been big news during the CSS drought of past years. But in today’s context they have to fight for attention with much larger announcements, like the has() selector or CSS nesting!

It just seems that talking about The New Hot Thing™️ is always a good way to get views and gain popularity. What I care more about is practicality, not how shiny a feature looks at the moment.

This may seem like a negative attitude, but I think it’s understandable. Nobody can be expected to keep up with so many new features!

Another unintended (or maybe, intended?) consequence is that the more complex CSS becomes, the more it raises the bar for any new company wanting to develop a browser engine — to say nothing of the added workload when it comes to maintaining and documenting all these new features. 

Many have made the very reasonable point that this kind of behavior would be best handled by a new HTML element instead of managing toggle state purely through CSS, and that CSS may not be the best medium to ensure accessibility issues are properly addressed. 

When CSS takes over something that was previously handled through JavaScript, this is generally seen as a good thing, as it often reduces the amount of code the browser has to load. So, I’m cautiously optimistic about CSS Toggles and trust that the CSS Working Group will properly address the concerns of the community. But there may yet come a day when we start to worry that CSS may be expanding beyond its borders and encroaching on HTML and JavaScript’s responsibilities.

And maybe this is what needs to change: maybe we should drop the expectation that CSS developers have to know all of CSS? 

This expectation stems from the days where CSS was an afterthought, that little annoying syntax you had to learn to make your button blue and bold just like the client asked. But I think we need to accept that today’s CSS might just be way too vast for a single person to master, especially in addition to other front-end duties.

Many “niche” features you only need to learn if you have a specific use case. I think it’s a good thing we have more features. Just like any other programming language, new developers don’t need to learn them all at once

And that’s where I, myself, land in the end. I’ve made my peace with the fact that I will probably never use — or even know about — all possible CSS features. And this is coming from someone who runs a survey about CSS!

But these new features will surely be useful to someone. Someone will write blog posts about them, create cool CodePens with them, give talks about them. That person will be a cool, young, energetic developer who still have all their hair. In other words, it won’t be me — and that’s fine. 

And maybe you’re worried that this new developer will be overwhelmed by all the stuff they have to learn at once. But do keep in mind all the things they won’t have to learn about, precisely because it’s been replaced by these newer alternatives. I know I’d take that deal anytime.

But think about it: in the past couple years, not only have we seen a huge increase in the number of devices we need to cater to, we’ve also started to recognize that we all consume the web in slightly different manners, whether due to disabilities, current context, or just personal preferences. Shouldn’t CSS adapt to this new reality?

Now, I have to confess this has all made me feel a bit nostalgic… so excuse me while I go clear a couple floats, just for old time’s sake.


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