Is It Time for a Rethink? – A Listing Aside







The mobile-first design methodology is nice—it focuses on what actually issues to the person, it’s well-practiced, and it’s been a typical design sample for years. So creating your CSS mobile-first also needs to be nice, too…proper? 

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Properly, not essentially. Traditional mobile-first CSS growth is predicated on the precept of overwriting fashion declarations: you start your CSS with default fashion declarations, and overwrite and/or add new types as you add breakpoints with min-width media queries for bigger viewports (for a superb overview see “What’s Cell First CSS and Why Does It Rock?”). However all these exceptions create complexity and inefficiency, which in flip can result in an elevated testing effort and a code base that’s tougher to take care of. Admit it—how many people willingly need that?

By yourself tasks, mobile-first CSS could but be one of the best software for the job, however first you have to consider simply how acceptable it’s in mild of the visible design and person interactions you’re engaged on. That can assist you get began, right here’s how I’m going about tackling the components you have to look ahead to, and I’ll focus on some alternate options if mobile-first doesn’t appear to fit your undertaking.

Benefits of mobile-first#section2

A number of the issues to love with mobile-first CSS growth—and why it’s been the de facto growth methodology for therefore lengthy—make a number of sense:

Improvement hierarchy. One factor you undoubtedly get from mobile-first is a pleasant growth hierarchy—you simply give attention to the cell view and get creating. 

Tried and examined. It’s a tried and examined methodology that’s labored for years for a cause: it solves an issue very well.

Prioritizes the cell view. The cell view is the easiest and arguably an important, because it encompasses all the important thing person journeys, and sometimes accounts for a greater proportion of person visits (relying on the undertaking). 

Prevents desktop-centric growth. As growth is completed utilizing desktop computer systems, it may be tempting to initially give attention to the desktop view. However fascinated with cell from the beginning prevents us from getting caught afterward; nobody desires to spend their time retrofitting a desktop-centric web site to work on cell gadgets!

Disadvantages of mobile-first#section3

Setting fashion declarations after which overwriting them at greater breakpoints can result in undesirable ramifications:

Extra complexity. The farther up the breakpoint hierarchy you go, the extra pointless code you inherit from decrease breakpoints. 

Larger CSS specificity. Types which have been reverted to their browser default worth in a category identify declaration now have the next specificity. This could be a headache on giant tasks once you need to maintain the CSS selectors so simple as doable.

Requires extra regression testing. Adjustments to the CSS at a decrease view (like including a brand new fashion) requires all greater breakpoints to be regression examined.

The browser can’t prioritize CSS downloads. At wider breakpoints, traditional mobile-first min-width media queries don’t leverage the browser’s functionality to obtain CSS information in precedence order.

The issue of property worth overrides#section4

There’s nothing inherently flawed with overwriting values; CSS was designed to do exactly that. Nonetheless, inheriting incorrect values is unhelpful and might be burdensome and inefficient. It may possibly additionally result in elevated fashion specificity when you need to overwrite types to reset them again to their defaults, one thing which will trigger points afterward, particularly in case you are utilizing a mixture of bespoke CSS and utility lessons. We gained’t be capable to use a utility class for a mode that has been reset with the next specificity.

With this in thoughts, I’m creating CSS with a give attention to the default values far more lately. Since there’s no particular order, and no chains of particular values to maintain monitor of, this frees me to develop breakpoints concurrently. I focus on discovering frequent types and isolating the precise exceptions in closed media question ranges (that’s, any vary with a max-width set). 

This strategy opens up some alternatives, as you’ll be able to have a look at every breakpoint as a clear slate. If a part’s structure seems to be prefer it ought to be primarily based on Flexbox in any respect breakpoints, it’s wonderful and might be coded within the default fashion sheet. But when it seems to be like Grid could be a lot better for big screens and Flexbox for cell, these can each be carried out solely independently when the CSS is put into closed media question ranges. Additionally, creating concurrently requires you to have a superb understanding of any given part in all breakpoints up entrance. This can assist floor points within the design earlier within the growth course of. We don’t need to get caught down a rabbit gap constructing a fancy part for cell, after which get the designs for desktop and discover they’re equally complicated and incompatible with the HTML we created for the cell view! 

Although this strategy isn’t going to swimsuit everybody, I encourage you to present it a strive. There are many instruments on the market to assist with concurrent growth, reminiscent of Responsively App, Blisk, and plenty of others. 

Having mentioned that, I don’t really feel the order itself is especially related. In case you are snug with specializing in the cell view, have a superb understanding of the necessities for different breakpoints, and like to work on one system at a time, then by all means follow the traditional growth order. The essential factor is to establish frequent types and exceptions so you’ll be able to put them within the related stylesheet—a type of guide tree-shaking course of! Personally, I discover this just a little simpler when engaged on a part throughout breakpoints, however that’s in no way a requirement.

Closed media question ranges in follow #section5

In traditional mobile-first CSS we overwrite the types, however we are able to keep away from this by utilizing media question ranges. As an example the distinction (I’m utilizing SCSS for brevity), let’s assume there are three visible designs: 

  • smaller than 768
  • from 768 to beneath 1024
  • 1024 and something bigger 

Take a easy instance the place a block-level factor has a default padding of “20px,” which is overwritten at pill to be “40px” and set again to “20px” on desktop.

Traditional min-width mobile-first

.my-block {
  padding: 20px;
  @media (min-width: 768px) {
    padding: 40px;
  @media (min-width: 1024px) {
    padding: 20px;

Closed media question vary

.my-block {
  padding: 20px;
  @media (min-width: 768px) and (max-width: 1023.98px) {
    padding: 40px;

The delicate distinction is that the mobile-first instance units the default padding to “20px” after which overwrites it at every breakpoint, setting it 3 times in whole. In distinction, the second instance units the default padding to “20px” and solely overrides it on the related breakpoint the place it isn’t the default worth (on this occasion, pill is the exception).

The purpose is to: 

  • Solely set types when wanted. 
  • Not set them with the expectation of overwriting them afterward, repeatedly. 

To this finish, closed media question ranges are our greatest pal. If we have to make a change to any given view, we make it within the CSS media question vary that applies to the precise breakpoint. We’ll be a lot much less prone to introduce undesirable alterations, and our regression testing solely must give attention to the breakpoint we have now really edited. 

Taking the above instance, if we discover that .my-block spacing on desktop is already accounted for by the margin at that breakpoint, and since we need to take away the padding altogether, we might do that by setting the cell padding in a closed media question vary.

.my-block {
  @media (max-width: 767.98px) {
    padding: 20px;
  @media (min-width: 768px) and (max-width: 1023.98px) {
    padding: 40px;

The browser default padding for our block is “0,” so as an alternative of including a desktop media question and utilizing unset or “0” for the padding worth (which we would wish with mobile-first), we are able to wrap the cell padding in a closed media question (since it’s now additionally an exception) so it gained’t get picked up at wider breakpoints. On the desktop breakpoint, we gained’t have to set any padding fashion, as we wish the browser default worth.

Bundling versus separating the CSS#section6

Again within the day, retaining the variety of requests to a minimal was essential as a result of browser’s restrict of concurrent requests (usually round six). As a consequence, using picture sprites and CSS bundling was the norm, with all of the CSS being downloaded in a single go, as one stylesheet with highest precedence. 

With HTTP/2 and HTTP/3 now on the scene, the variety of requests is not the massive deal it was. This permits us to separate the CSS into a number of information by media question. The clear good thing about that is the browser can now request the CSS it at present wants with the next precedence than the CSS it doesn’t. That is extra performant and might scale back the general time web page rendering is blocked.

Which HTTP model are you utilizing?#section7

To find out which model of HTTP you’re utilizing, go to your web site and open your browser’s dev instruments. Subsequent, choose the Community tab and ensure the Protocol column is seen. If “h2” is listed underneath Protocol, it means HTTP/2 is getting used. 

Notice: to view the Protocol in your browser’s dev instruments, go to the Community tab, reload your web page, right-click any column header (e.g., Identify), and verify the Protocol column.

Chrome dev tools, Network tab filtered by document, Protocol column
Notice: for a summarized comparability, see ImageKit’s “HTTP/2 vs. HTTP/1.”

Additionally, in case your web site continues to be utilizing HTTP/1…WHY?!! What are you ready for? There’s wonderful person help for HTTP/2.

Separating the CSS into particular person information is a worthwhile job. Linking the separate CSS information utilizing the related media attribute permits the browser to establish which information are wanted instantly (as a result of they’re render-blocking) and which might be deferred. Based mostly on this, it allocates every file an acceptable precedence.

Within the following instance of an internet site visited on a cell breakpoint, we are able to see the cell and default CSS are loaded with “Highest” precedence, as they’re at present wanted to render the web page. The remaining CSS information (print, pill, and desktop) are nonetheless downloaded in case they’ll be wanted later, however with “Lowest” precedence. 

Chrome dev tools, Network tab filtered by css, Priority column

With bundled CSS, the browser must obtain the CSS file and parse it earlier than rendering can begin.

Whereas, as famous, with the CSS separated into totally different information linked and marked up with the related media attribute, the browser can prioritize the information it at present wants. Utilizing closed media question ranges permits the browser to do that in any respect widths, versus traditional mobile-first min-width queries, the place the desktop browser must obtain all of the CSS with Highest precedence. We will’t assume that desktop customers all the time have a quick connection. As an example, in lots of rural areas, web connection speeds are nonetheless sluggish. 

The media queries and variety of separate CSS information will differ from undertaking to undertaking primarily based on undertaking necessities, however would possibly look much like the instance beneath.

Bundled CSS

<hyperlink href=" site.css" rel="stylesheet">

This single file incorporates all of the CSS, together with all media queries, and it will likely be downloaded with Highest precedence.

Separated CSS

<hyperlink href="" rel="stylesheet"><hyperlink href="cell.css" media="display and (max-width: 767.98px)" rel="stylesheet"><hyperlink href="pill.css" media="display and (min-width: 768px) and (max-width: 1083.98px)" rel="stylesheet"><hyperlink href="desktop.css" media="display and (min-width: 1084px)" rel="stylesheet"><hyperlink href="print.css" media="print" rel="stylesheet">

Separating the CSS and specifying a media attribute worth on every hyperlink tag permits the browser to prioritize what it at present wants. Out of the 5 information listed above, two might be downloaded with Highest precedence: the default file, and the file that matches the present media question. The others might be downloaded with Lowest precedence.

Relying on the undertaking’s deployment technique, a change to 1 file (cell.css, for instance) would solely require the QA workforce to regression check on gadgets in that particular media question vary. Examine that to the prospect of deploying the one bundled web site.css file, an strategy that will usually set off a full regression check.

The uptake of mobile-first CSS was a extremely essential milestone in internet growth; it has helped front-end builders give attention to cell internet functions, somewhat than creating websites on desktop after which making an attempt to retrofit them to work on different gadgets.

I don’t assume anybody desires to return to that growth mannequin once more, nevertheless it’s essential we don’t lose sight of the problem it highlighted: that issues can simply get convoluted and fewer environment friendly if we prioritize one specific system—any system—over others. Because of this, specializing in the CSS in its personal proper, all the time conscious of what’s the default setting and what’s an exception, looks like the pure subsequent step. I’ve began noticing small simplifications in my very own CSS, in addition to different builders’, and that testing and upkeep work can also be a bit extra simplified and productive. 

Basically, simplifying CSS rule creation each time we are able to is in the end a cleaner strategy than going round in circles of overrides. However whichever methodology you select, it must swimsuit the undertaking. Cell-first could—or could not—turn into your best option for what’s concerned, however first you have to solidly perceive the trade-offs you’re moving into.


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