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The 10 Best CSS Tools

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1 Bootstrap It’s hard to think of a website that doesn’t use a CSS framework for improving and maintaining its visual presentation across all the pages. Just like any development tool, CSS frameworks also constantly evolve and improve with time. Bootstrap is a type of CSS framework that is widely used by web designers throughout the world. Actually, it’s one of the stars on the Github and is considered to be the best responsive CSS framework out there.

Designed specifically for the purpose of front-end development, Bootstrap helps in creation of grid systems, web design concepts, buttons, typography, mobile first projects and much more. Although it doesn’t offer any big extras, you can use a good number of third-party plug-ins with it, apart from various regular HTML elements. Other than that, Bootstrap also offers many commonly-known UI elements. Mobile first and RWD (Responsive Web Design) are the core principles of Bootstrap.

The latest version of Bootstrap supports a wide range of browsers (all their latest versions) and responsive web design per se has been actively supported ever since the launch of Bootstrap 2.

So, on the whole, Bootstrap is an extremely popular CSS framework that is used by a large majority of web designers everywhere. Furthermore, you can easily learn it with the help of various online resources including tutorials, videos etc. Furthermore, as mentioned earlier, there is a wide range of plug-ins etc. available for it as well, which make working with Bootstrap framework even easier.

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2 CSS Lint As you must be aware, Linting tools are essentially meant for improving the quality of the code and optimizing it for best performance. These tools consist of certain predefined rules that verify the code, without the actual execution of it. Web designers can be frequently seen overlooking the quality of their CSS codes as well as the unstructured coding styles. But doing so can be very troublesome with regard to the growth of the product, usually leading to many difficulties in finding and fixing the problems. Although you can find many CSS Linting tools by doing a simple Google search, unfortunately most of them are no longer usable or available.

CSS Lint is a CSS code quality tool which is freely available as an open source product and helps in locating and fixing CSS code related problems. Having been released at the Velocity Conference in 2011, CSS Lint has come a long way in establishing itself as the go-to tool for a great multitude of web developers. Not only does it help in basic syntax checking, it also applies a set of rules to the CSS code that seek out any signs of inefficiency and/or certain problematic patterns. All the rules are pluggable and hence you can easily omit the ones you don’t require or write your own. CSS Lint has been written in JavaScript that runs the entire CSS Linting process.

The tool can be easily integrated into your preferred IDE (Integrated Development Environment), thereby making CSS code quality checks a very easy task. As CSS Lint can be run from the command line, you can incorporate it into the build system as well.

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3 PostCSS Counted amongst the handiest web styling tools, this one uses JavaScript powered plug-ins for automating the CSS operations. It productively transforms the syntaxes and extended features into a web-browser optimized and highly useful CSS.

Many reputed organizations use PostCSS on a regular basis including Wikipedia, Google, Github, Facebook, WordPress and others. Distributed under an MIT license and created by Andrey Sitnik, PostCSS is constantly improved by a great multitude of contributors and supporters everywhere.

It has been around since September 2013 and quickly became an integral part of the web developers’ workflow ever since its release. While the tool in itself is very small, comprising of a node tree stringifier, source map generator, CSS node tree API and a CSS parser, its actual magic happens because of the plug-ins. There are more than 100 different plug-ins available in the PostCSS ecosystem. You can do a wide array of things using these plug-ins, including accessing statistics related to the CSS, adding vendor prefixes, integrating the latest CSS syntax and using popular preprocessors such as Stylus, Less or Sass.

Some of the regularly used PostCSS plugins are: PreCSS, Autoprefixer, Stylelint, PostCSS Focus, PostCSS CSSnext, PostCSS CSS Stats, PostCSS CSS Variables, PostCSS SVGO, PostCSS Flexbugs Fixes, PostCSS Style Guide and more.

Developers can even create their own plug-ins and contribute to the PostCSS community, however, abiding by certain guidelines.

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4 Stylelint Every developer knows the importance of creating a fast loading website and how crucial it is to the success of an online business. Research findings clearly indicate that web visitors get impatient even if they have to wait for a few extra seconds for the content to appear. Whenever this happens, the user experience degrades and eventually leads to fewer number of website visitors, and hence fewer conversions, thereby hurting the business overall.

Many different factors impact the web performance, including bloated codes, FTP requests, heavy media files and more. How a CSS file is written and how the stylesheet gets loaded inside the web browser can have a major impact on those few precious milliseconds that may decide whether the visitor click away to the competition or stays on the website.

Stylelint is a popular and ambitious CSS Linter or CSS Linting tool that works with an open source tool called PostCSS (detailed above), helping in creation of highly efficient CSS. As you may be aware, a Linter is essentially a program that sifts through the code and gets rid of any potential errors.

Stylelint has more than 150 rules that help you enforce stylistic conventions, limit language features and catch errors. It understands the CSS-like syntaxes and offers support for all the latest CSS syntax. There have been more than 10,000 tests for covering the rules and internals. Furthermore, it has a fairly large and consistently growing community owing to the fact that it’s actively used by big corporations, including WordPress, Facebook, GSA, Wikimedia, Github and others.

With Stylelint, you can:
- Enforce best coding practices
- Seek out errors such as duplicate selectors, invalid hex colours, typos and more
- Offer support for new age and cutting-edge CSS syntax
- Enforce various coding style conventions, for instance consistent spacing in every CSS rule and more
- Automatically take care of minor warnings with the help of ‘stylefmt’ a tool that formats CSS rules
- And much more

What really sets Stylelint apart is its versatility. You can easily use it with:
- Stylelint PostCSS plugin
- A plugin for any text editor of your liking, for instance, Sublime Text, Atom etc.
- A plug-in for any build tool of your liking, such as gulp, webpack and others
- Stylelint Command Line Interface (CLI)
- Stylelint Node API

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5 Bourbon While there are many different mixin libraries available out there, Bourbon serves as a truly amazing resource for the Sass developers. It’s essentially a free of cost mixin library for development of automated values and vendor prefixes, using functions such as modular-scale(). It’s essentially targeted at making your life easier and more efficient as a style sheet author.

Please note, Bourbon is not a type of scripting library, but instead a highly detailed tool you can use with Sass. Hence, you should know how to work with Sass in order to make Bourbon work for you. However, it would be well worth spending the time learning its workings as it can significantly improve your workflow.

It uses a minimalistic approach and works as a serious tool to help you create quality CSS code that cares a lot about semantics. Bourbon library is such that it encourages best practices for creation of scalable codes. Apart from being a mixin library, Bourbon has actually grown into a small size suite of projects that are regularly worked upon and maintained by ‘thoughtbot’ designers.

On the whole, it’s a lightweight and simple SCSS framework for Sass web development, with the purpose of contributing to the modern day web design. As far as syntactically awesome stylesheets or Sass is concerned, it serves as a CSS extension language with the purpose of making advanced style creations extremely easy for the Webmasters.

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6 Chrome developer tools Also referred to as Chrome Devtools, these are actually a godsend for both web developers and designers everywhere. While writing the CSS sheets, it can often get very difficult to maintain track of the styles applied to the different elements. Hence, it can lead to confusion regarding why the new CSS rules you’ve been writing haven’t gotten implemented. This is where Chrome Devtools comes into the picture and makes this process very smooth, clearly showing you each and every CSS rule applied to any specific element on the web page, including the inheritances from the parent elements.

Furthermore, it enables you to make changes in the console itself, making it extremely easy to experiment with new settings before committing any changes to the HTML or CSS files.

Chrome Devtools have another very important application, which is inspection and analysis of the website designs you really like. Any time you feel curious about the applied styles to popular websites such as Facebook or Twitter, you can easily inspect their styles with the help of Chrome Devtools.

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7 Codepen Having to regularly refresh the web page so as to go through the changes made is one of the most irritating aspects of writing CSS (for that matter writing any code). Although there are many different tools that can help you auto-refresh the web browser (for instance LiveReload and BrowserSync), they usually require you to set up a development environment for each and every project. This can be very tedious especially when all you want to do is carry out some quick experiments only.

CodePen comes as a free of cost tool which can instantly set up a development environment for JavaScript, CSS and HTML, along with the preview panel that gets auto-refreshed every time you save any changes. This works very well for quick testing of new CSS features, which can thereafter be transferred to the project.

Good CSS needs plenty of analysis, technical skills and constant tinkering, apart from having an eye for good CSS design. Regardless of whether you wish to optimize your website for mobile platform, want to increase the efficiency of the site’s resources or simply cut down on any unnecessary code, there are usually efficient methods available to improve your existing CSS. CodePen works as one such excellent tool that helps you improve the robustness, elegance and consistency of your CSS, making sure that the users get the most optimum experience while using the website.

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8 Bulma While Bootstrap has served as an excellent CSS framework for long, and also created the way for various CSS frameworks to get launched and blossom in the web development world, it’s always a good idea to switch it up slightly. In their quest of other efficient CSS frameworks, especially the Flexbox-based kinds, we designers often stumble upon Bulma, the work of Jeremy Thomas.

Bulma is a free-of-cost and open source CSS framework that works very well to help you save ample time and energy while writing CSS. It has gained immense popularity over a period of time owing to its easy to use and learn features.

First of all, Bulma comprises of top-notch UI components such as panel, navigation bar, tabs, boxes and much more as it was primarily designed to provide developers with attractive and clear user interface (UI).

Thereafter, it’s highly modular, implying that you can import only the required features and get started right away without any delay.

Lastly, it has extremely readable classes, which obviously serves as a major advantage for some web developers.

Some of the most recognized features of Bulma are:
Modular – As it’s built with Sass, you only need to import the features you require for your project.
Responsive – It’s a mobile first framework, quite like Bootstrap.
Flexbox based – Bulma makes creation of vertically aligned items and grid items an extremely easy affair.
Well documented – Although this might seem like a boring reason, you can never underestimate the importance of documentation in the CSS frameworks.
Solid foundation – Bulma consists of all the forms, buttons, tables, typography and the basic CSS essentials you’d expect from any such tool.

On the whole, Bulma is a simple-to-use and easy-to-understand CSS Framework that comprises of all the necessary features to help web developers and designers create efficient and create online web products.

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9 CSSNano This one is a modular and modern-day compression tool that is written over the PostCSS ecosystem, enabling the web developers to use many different powerful features to sufficiently and efficiently compact their CSS files.

CSSNano takes a nicely formatted CSS of the developer and runs it past several focused optimizations, so as to make sure that the eventual result is small-sized enough for the production environment. CSSNano carries out safe optimizations on the CSS file by default, apart from offering an advanced level preset and techniques that can be used for maximizing the compression.

As mentioned above, CSSNano is built on top of PostCSS, a tool for easy transformation of styles with JavaScript. It enables you to insert CSSNano into the build step, alongside other efficient processors, in order to lint your CSS for all kinds of errors.

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10 TestMyCSS A free to use online optimization tool, TestMyCSS comprises of tons of different features. It carries out efficient checks for best practices, validation errors, redundancy and unused CSS. It has been created in a manner that you can start using it instantly by just typing in the URL of a website’s CSS file. Once you do that, TestMyCSS would run it through and get rid of any unwanted items, carrying out all possible improvements on the file. Not just that, it also provides you with helpful hints on:
- Simplification of complex selectors
- Unnecessary class specificity
- Inappropriate and unwanted use of the universal selectors
- Duplicate CSS selectors and properties that you should get rid of
- Unwanted IE fixes
- Qualified ID or Class rules with tag names, for instance, a.primary-link
- The total number of !important declarations found in the CSS code
- Prefixed CSS properties that no longer require the vendor prefixes

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Creativity is what all the successful designers are well-known by in the marketplace. However, it’s also their knowledge of many different programming languages, technologies and platforms that enable them to bring their creative design concepts to life. Knowing that the world of design continues to evolve rapidly, and becomes more and more difficult to keep pace with, it becomes imperative for web designers to stay on top of all such developments.

This need of staying constantly updated is critical if you wish to develop websites that take your imagination limits to the hilt and allow you to become an inspiration for the other budding designers out there.

You can no longer afford to be ordinary when it comes to the new-age website designs. Your website should be able to impress and immediately grab the attention of your target audience. After all, it’s not just you who is vying for their attention! It implies that the prospective visitors will only arrive and stay on your website if it satisfies their requirements in entirety, in the best possible way.

This is where Cascading Style Sheets or CSS come into the picture.

What is CSS?

As informed above, CSS is the short form of Cascading Style Sheets. It’s basically a stylesheet language employed for describing how a document written in a markup language (such as HTML) would be presented inside a web browser. Although it’s most often used for defining the visual side of the user interfaces (UIs) and web pages written in XHTML and HTML, it can also be applied to XML documents, including XUL, SVG and plain XML, and also has applicability to rendering in terms of speech or some other media.

Combined with JavaScript and HTML, CSS can be termed as a cornerstone technology implemented by majority of websites for creation of visually engaging user interfaces, for various mobile applications, user interfaces and webpages for many web-based applications.

The primary reason behind the usage of CSS is to separate the content and presentation parts from each other, including several critical presentation aspects like fonts, colors and layout. Such separation improves the content accessibility and provides better control and flexibility in terms of how presentation characteristics are specified, enabling multiple HTML pages to share their formatting specifics by detailing the relevant CSS in separate .CSS files. This greatly reduces the repetition and complexity in the overall structuring of a website’s content.

Separating the content and formatting aspects in this way allows the presentation of the same markup page in multiple styles, for distinct rendering methods like by voice (through screen reader or speech-based browser), in print, on Braille-based devices and on screen. It also enables the display of webpages in different ways depending on the viewing device’s screen size. A distinct style sheet can also be specified by the readers, in the form of a CSS file stored on the computer itself, overriding the CSS specified by the author of a website/webpage.

You can easily and quickly change a document’s graphic design by making some edits to few lines of a CSS file, instead of changing the markup in all those documents. The specification of CSS decides the priority scheme which would be used for application of style rules in case there are more than one rule matches for a specific element. It’s the World Wide Web Consortium W3C that is responsible for maintenance of the CSS specifications.

On the whole, CSS is not only easy to understand and learn, but also offers a good amount of control on the presentation aspect of an HTML document. As specified earlier, in most cases, CSS is used in combination with markup languages such as HTML or XHTML.

Benefits of CSS

Saves plenty of time – You need to write a CSS file only once and then use the same for multiple HTML pages. It’s easy to define a style for every HTML element and then instantly apply it to multiple webpages in one go.

Better styling of HTML – CSS has lot many more attributes compared to HTML, and hence can deliver a better look for the HTML pages.

Faster page loads – With CSS, there is no need of writing HTML tag attributes multiple times. You just need to specify one CSS rule of a tag and then apply it to all its occurrences. This means less amount of code, which automatically translates into quick download times.

Compatibility across multiple devices – Style sheets allow for content optimization across multiple devices. You can use the same HTML document for creating many different versions of your website, each one being presented differently. This is extremely helpful in better presentation of websites for desktop environments, smart phones and other handheld devices.

Easy to maintain – CSS makes it easy to implement global changes by simply changing the style. Once you do that, all pertinent elements of all the concerned webpages would get updated automatically.

Platform independent – CSS scripts provide for consistent platform independence apart from support for all the latest web browsers.

Off-line web browsing – Using CSS, web apps can be stored locally through an off-line cache. This facilitates easy viewing of websites in off-line mode. Maintenance of this cache also makes sure that the websites are loaded much faster and have an overall better performance.

Global web standards – HTML attributes are getting deprecated regularly and web designers are being increasingly advised to use CSS. Hence, it makes good sense to start using CSS for all the HTML pages, thereby ensuring their compatibility with the future web browsers.

About CSS Tools

A website that has a well-organized and clean CSS will not just load far more quickly compared to other portals, but also provide visitors a very satisfying experience overall. Such CSS would also improve the website’s chances of featuring high up above the rest in the search engine rankings.

But all this is easier said than done!

A regular web design project must go through a number of iterations and multiple necessary changes to come out clean. This is both a time-consuming as well as difficult process. In fact, cleaning up Cascading Style Sheets is so very tedious that web designers often consider cutting creative corners to somehow get done with it. However, as expected, cutting corners always leads to a final website which is world apart from the result you had actually envisioned.

In order to make sure that you don’t compromise with your web designs in any way, primarily because of the difficulties related to CSS, there are some very good CSS tools you can take help of, to make your life a whole lot easier. Using such CSS tools would allow you to stay constantly focused on your creativity, and least bothered about whether your final design would be compatible across multiple browsers or not, whether it would render effectively on various devices or not and whether the styling would be consistent across all the pages of the website, or not.