Why CSS Needs its Own Survey

Post pobrano z: Why CSS Needs its Own Survey

2016 was only three years ago, but that’s almost a whole other era in web development terms. The JavaScript landscape was in turmoil, with up-and-comer React — as well as a little-known framework called Vue — fighting to dethrone Angular.

Like many other developers, I felt lost. I needed some clarity, and I figured the best way to get it was simply to ask fellow coders what they used, and more importantly, what they enjoyed using. The result was the first ever edition of the now annual State of JavaScript survey.

The State of JavaScript 2018

Things have stabilized in the JavaScript world since then. Turns out you can’t really go wrong with any one of the big three frameworks, and even less mainstream options, like Ember, have managed to build up passionate communities and show no sign of going anywhere.

But while all our attention was fixated on JavaScript, trouble was brewing in CSS land. For years, my impression of CSS’s evolution was slow, incremental progress. Back then, I was pretty sure border-radius support represented the crowning, final achievement of web browser technology.

But all of a sudden, things started picking up. Flexbox came out, representing the first new and widely adopted layout method in over a decade. And Grid came shortly after that, sweeping away years of hacky grid frameworks into the gutter of bad CSS practices.

Something even crazier happened: now that the JavaScript people had stopped creating a new framework every two weeks, they decided to use all their extra free time trying to make CSS even better! And thus CSS-in-JS was born.

And now it’s 2019, and the Flexbox Cheatsheet tab I’ve kept open for the past two years has now been joined by a Grid Cheatsheet, because no matter how many times I use them, I still need to double-check the syntax. And despite writing a popular introduction to CSS-in-JS, I still lazily default to familiar Sass for new projects, promising myself that I’ll „do things properly” the next time.

All this to say that I feel just as lost and confused about CSS in 2019 as I did about JavaScript in 2016. It’s high time CSS got a survey of its own.

Starting from scratch

Coming up with the idea for a CSS survey was easy, but deciding on the questions themselves was far from straightforward. Like I said, I didn’t feel confident in my own CSS knowledge, and simply asking about Sass vs. Less for the 37th time felt like a missed opportunity…

Thankfully, the CSS Gods decided to smile down upon me: while attending the DotJS conference in France I discovered that, not only did fellow speaker Florian Rivoal live in Kyoto, Japan, just like me; but that he was a member of the CSS Working Group! In other words, one of the people who knows the most about CSS on the planet was living a few train stops away from me!

Florian was a huge help in coming up with the overall structure and content of the survey. And he also helped me realize how little I really knew about CSS.

Kyoto, Japan: a hotbed of CSS activity (Photo by Jisu Han)

You don’t know CSS

I’m not only talking about obscure CSS properties here, or even new up-and-coming ones, but about how CSS itself is developed. For example, did you know that the development of the CSS Grid spec was sponsored by Bloomberg, because they needed a way to port the layout of their famous terminal to the web?

Did you ever stop to wonder what top: 30px is supposed to mean on a circular screen, such as the one on a smartwatch? Or did you know that some people are laying out entire printed books in CSS, effectively replacing software like InDesign?

Talking with Florian really expanded my mind to how broad and interesting CSS truly is, and convinced me doing the survey was worth it.

„What do you mean, ‘Make the <table> circular’?” Photo by Artur Łuczka

About that divide…

The idea of a CSS survey became all the more important as my new-found admiration for CSS seemed to coincide with a general sentiment that HTML and CSS mastery were becoming under-appreciated skills in the face of JavaScript hegemony.

Myself, personally, I’ve always enjoyed being a generalist in the sense that I happily hop from one side of the great divide to another whenever I feel like it. At the same time, I’m also wholly convinced that the world needs specialists like Florian; people who dedicate their lives to championing and improving a single aspect of the web.

Devaluing the work the work of generalists is not only unfair, but it’s also counter-productive — after all, HTML and CSS are the foundation on which all modern JavaScript frameworks are built; and on the other hand, new patterns and approaches pioneered by CSS-in-JS libraries will hopefully find their way back into vanilla CSS sooner or later.

Thankfully, I feel like a minority of developers hold those views, and those who do generally hold them do so out of ignorance for what the „other side” really stands for more than any well-informed opinion.

So that’s where the survey comes in: I’m not saying I can fill up the divide, but maybe I can throw a couple walkways across, or distribute some jetpacks — you know, whatever works. 🚀

If that sounds good, then the first step is — you guessed it — taking the survey!

Take Survey

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