MobileInterview

Hampton Catlin on building Sass

Not content with inventing Sass and Haml, Hampton Catlin is also behind Wikipedia Mobile and is technology VP at startup Moovweb. He talks past glories and future hopes to Martin Cooper

This article first appeared in issue 236 of .net magazine – the world's best-selling magazine for web designers and developers.

.net: Why did you come up with Sass?
HC: I remember CSS2 came out and I was expecting it to support nesting. None arrived. No one was even discussing it. I also wanted colour manipulation and variables. I hated that I’d have to pick my colour relationships outside of the styling process. I decided to do something about that and convinced Nathan Weizenbaum to help me build it. Nathan came in and immediately brought far more powerful concepts into the language than I was even considering – and his work has pushed it to be a fully-fledged language.

.net: Why did you stop design designing Sass after version two?
HC:
My day-to-day work with Sass dropped off as my work on other projects and companies increased. I’ve never been the most advanced Sass user, so my input on the language’s finer points became less valuable. People like Chris Eppstein were stepping up, and he is an amazingly talented guy who knows every corner of Sass and generates fantastic ideas for mind-melting abilities.

People don’t see my career as a manager and builder of products, though you’ve probably used something I’ve built. My energy has gone into designing and building Wikipedia Mobile, and several mobile games and apps that have sold enough that I’ve been able to travel and work on other projects. In the last two years I’ve helped grow San Francisco-based mobile startup Moovweb from six people to more than 60, managing our technology group and product development efforts.

.net: What are your future hopes for Sass?
HC:
I really want Sass to integrate with your preferred language or framework. And to that end Moovweb has been sponsoring libsass, the C/C++ port of Sass, and we’ve had a full time dev on it for a year now.

We just recently released version 1.0 which is small, lightweight, and compatible with Sass 3.1. It’s trivial to compile in any environment. We’re actively looking for people to jump in on the project and help us build adapters for all of the major languages and frameworks to get the Gospel of Sass out there!

.net: When should people use Sass and when should they use LESS?
HC:
If LESS had existed when I was working on Sass I probably would have stopped, because it does what I originally wanted Sass to do. Furthermore, if Nathan and Chris hadn’t been involved in Sass, then Sass would have ended up being extremely similar to LESS. However, as luck has it, none of those things ended up happening.

Sass has been under active development for six years at this point, and each feature added is deeply debated and considered before being included. So, the power and polish that Sass brings just isn’t there in LESS. The real advantage that LESS had was its port to JavaScript right as the JavaScript fad was exploding. But, that’s why I’m putting so much effort into libsass, to ensure that Sass is even more widely available than a JavaScript-based language. You just can’t beat Sass when it comes to power and polish, thanks to six years of hard work by an active community.

.net: Why do you think Haml hasn’t gained the same following and traction as Sass?
HC:
Certainly Haml doesn’t have the user base that Sass has. But, it’s worth noting that Haml is eight years old at this point, and still has an active and growing community. When Haml first came out, there was a slew of alternative markup languages for web apps. Haml one was of many. The rest have faded away. Haml, on the other hand, has been ported to every major language and framework and still enjoys widespread usage.

When I first developed Haml, I never considered that other people would use it. I simply wanted something for myself that would produce beautiful output and allow me to focus on structural logic and code quality. I wanted a markup language that encouraged me to write beautiful HTML as fast as possible. Understandability of the source was one of the lesser goals, and this has resulted in some people who absolutely hate Haml. For every person who has come to me to say: “Haml has changed my life,” there is an equal and opposite person who thinks it’s like nails on a chalkboard. Typically, I shrug it off in the spirit of Dr Frank-N-Furter from Rocky Horror who said it best … “I didn’t make him for YOU!”
 

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