Saving bytes can make files impenetrable, blocking learning
The Max CSS website, created by designer and developer Dan Eden, is encouraging developers to provide links to an uncompressed version of CSS documents. The site notes that while it's never been easier to learn how to build and design websites, modern technology – including CSS compression – can make live files impenetrable to inquiring minds, scuppering access to an avenue of learning.
"For a long time, I've been getting more curious about how other developers structure and document CSS, but the most interesting sites minify their files," explained Eden. He said that while inspectors enable you to see well-formatted rules, they "don't provide insight into the author's thinking or process," and increasing use of LESS and SASS means compression is now the norm. "This makes it hard for up-and-coming designers and developers to learn best practices in structuring their CSS. They might also miss helpful tricks or blindly copy and paste rulesets into their own CSS without realising what it is they're actually copying." Structure, said Eden, is important to ensure CSS remains maintainable into the future.
Opera Developer Relations Manager Chris Mills told .net he agreed with the sentiment but didn't think "persuading developers to do this is a very realistic or worthwhile pursuit". Instead, Mills recommended teaching aspiring developers how to make code more readable on finding obfuscated code, using the likes of ProCSSor or Opera's Dragonfly's prettifier. However, one half of The Standardistas and Senior Lecturer in Interactive Design at the University of Ulster Christopher Murphy thought CSS Max was a great idea, reminding him of a project he'd devised when teaching PHP: "I uploaded both an index.php file, which executed the PHP – and as such didn't show the various PHP commands and comments – and an index.txt file, which allowed students to look behind the scenes and see how the PHP was written and was functioning."
He strongly encouraged developers to adopt the CSS Max initiative: "I'm old enough to have acquired the majority of my working knowledge through 'View Source'. The generous spirit of designers and developers, sharing their thinking freely through HTML comments, allowed me to build on a solid foundation of knowledge. This process, providing both working files (compressed) and reference files (uncompressed and commented) reflects our teaching approach, and I'd urge the designers and developers of today to embrace it. Our industry has been shaped by a culture of sharing, and Max CSS could continue that, which can only be a good thing."