Spent a little time with "Syntactically Awesome StyleSheets" tonight (sass). I wrote up a preliminary new design for this blog, and used all of the features in the sass tutorial. My impressions as I went through this process:

  • no virtualenv for ruby afaik :(
  • debian's haml is outdated, and sudo gem install haml doesn't seem to overwrite the /usr/bin sass
  • but installing locally was ridiculously easy and gem's output is helpful; virtualenv blows my PATH away so had to add a postactivate adding the local ruby bin path..
  • after 2 seconds realized I rely on vim's excellent CSS highlight file to not make mistakes (is it line-spacing or line-height...); this is the best sass.vim i could find
  • macros and variables are a breath of fresh air
  • nesting/indentation feels right at home
  • nesting stuff like :font (family, size) or :background(position, repeat, image) doesn't really feel right in the context of the rest of the document
  • my mind context-switches to css (or js) mode from python mode and it becomes very hard to turn off the urge to put ;'s at the end of lines
  • what's the deal with : and = for setting styles? if a sigil that has no css significance was chosen for variables, you could just interpolate by default
  • I realized that sigils and interpolation don't really feel right to me, and the =/+ syntax for macros is attractive but fairly arbitrary
  • love being able to do color and spatial arithmetic
  • I like it when I guess syntax (nesting div > h2,h3,h4 > ...) and it works

My experiment involved applying style to markup that I didn't want to touch, so some of sass' macroing became really convenient, since I couldn't rely on creating classes and spreading them about the markup to distribute common styles. Grabbing any colour palatte off COLOURlovers and naming them with variables made it really easy to swap them around during the design phase; in fact, this probably saved me a lot of time. I wish they were available for use in firebug somehow.

As a non-ruby programmer, I can definitely feel the ruby heritage in sass. For one, it does make your CSS a lot cleaner looking. I have a real soft spot for this almost zen-like focus on beauty and self improvement I perceive in some of the ruby community's major projects. When I released django-selector last night, one of the first reactions was "What's the point?", and my first thought was (innocently) "a ruby developer would see the point."

The dark side of its ruby heritage is in its liberal use of sigils and in particular its bizarre sigil design choices. For instance, you can specify attribute families, like background-color, background-position, etc. like this:

    color: #fff
    position: top left
    repeat: repeat-x

This seems okay at first (though it overloads the meaning of that nesting), but then you discover that when you want to nest CSS pseudo-classes (like a:hover or a:visited), you have to add another sigil:

  color: blue
    background-color: #eee

I can't help but wonder if the 'attribute family' sigil had been chosen as & instead of :, wouldn't you be able to use the much-more natural :hover syntax without an explicit sigil? The decision to make ! the variable sigil is also an unfortunate choice, although as far as sigils go I think it's the most attractive I've seen. If it had been something else ($ perhaps), it wouldn't overlap with vanilla CSS values like !important, and you wouldn't need to differentiate between : and = or have explicit interpolation (except perhaps to group for arithmetic).

Mar 9 2010