March 23, 2009

Two basic CSS Mistakes – CSS

Filed under: Blog Articles — Tags: — Deb Foley @ 11:14 pm

Between Newbies posting here lately and spammers claiming to work for big companies but with absolutely shoddy code, it came to me the most common problems with people using CSS. Right off let me say that for newbies this should not be embarrassing, I suffered this problem as well when I started.

Beginners basically beginners are hesitant to use CSS, so they commonly try to work with it bit by bit. Wrong approach – just do it. This is usually seen when someone uses CSS just to effect fonts. Another form is tables with CSS. Yes you can do so but it defeats the purpose. Take this to heart, don’t go half way, just jump in.

Thinking it is HTML: Forget what you learned about HTML, this in not HTML it is CSS, another language. All to often you see beginners writing CSS like it is HTML. Just replacing the Font tag with a class name on every paragraph or such.

The idea is to use external style sheets. Every page is linked to this sheet, make a change to this sheet and every page reflects the change. By using styles inside of the  tags, you add wasted code and have to make changes on every element on every page. If you merely define the paragraph tag than every paragraph will have that style, no need to ever ad class or ID’s

Do not mix, it just makes things confusing for everyone. I see many spammers with HTML attributes, inline styles in tags next to these with Block styles in the header and even a link to an external style sheet. These are god awful monsters to control. I am Webmaster of a site that is like that, the simplest changes will almost always break the site. Beware and avoid such sites and those who build them.

If you have any CSS, put it all in external style sheets and most any HTML attributes can and should be done in the CSS as well. Remember this is not HTML you are dealing with, do not just replace HTML attributes with styles in the code. If you are going to use CSS it will only bring and advantage if you learn to write CSS as CSS and not as a HTML attribute replacement.

Classes: Beginners always write classes, then you will see a dozen paragraphs with identical class names. Again this is due to this HTML style of writing we learned first and how we had to write fonts into everything. CSS is not that way.

With CSS you can and should use ID’s. Why? Well ID’s for CSS can also be used as reference points for scripts and internal links, you need not name extra elements. Also for instance you name the upper element with an ID  <div id=?content?>, everything in that ID can be defined specifically using that ID. So rather than 5 paragraphs with 5 classes, you need put define what a paragraph within an ID should look like. #content p { } will define any paragraph in a DIV named ?content? to have a specific style, any other paragraph in another section will not use that style as it is not in that ID.

This way you can use a default style for paragraphs, but say that paragraphs in you content are shown differently than paragraphs in a footer. By using classes, you are creating far more work for yourself. Simply create a default and then redefine any elements by adding it to a ID description. In this way define links found in one ID element to look different from links in another ID element.

Now this may seem a bit hard to follow, but keep it in mind. CSS is about minimize code. Ask yourself if you can not make things easier and smaller. A class can be used as often as you wish. An ID can be used only once per page. So use ID’s as often as possible, then when you go to use a class, ask yourself if it is really something you need. Ask yourself if you need to use it multiple times or if it is not easier just to say, anything in a element with this name should look this way. Why repeat 5 classes in 5 paragraphs when you can say that a paragraph in a element called ?content? should look this way, whether 5 or 25 paragraphs.

So in short as a review:

  • Do not a use CSS inline styles as a replacement for Font tags.
  • Use external style sheets, do not mix HTML attributes, inline styles, block styles (styles in the head tags) and external style sheets. Just use external style sheets for all CSS and HTML attributes.
  • Do not use Classes for everything. Use ID’s whenever possible. It is possible to create web sites with few if any classes at all.
  • Define  elements with a ID preamble to it so that those styles only go active when the defined element is in a specifically named ID.

Feel free to view my styles and source code. Once you take these tips to heart, you will discover that CSS is much easier to understand then you believed.

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