Is It Time for a Rethink? – A Record Aside

Is It Time for a Rethink? – A Record 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 growing your CSS mobile-first also needs to be nice, too…proper? 

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Nicely, not essentially. Traditional mobile-first CSS improvement 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 great 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 initiatives, mobile-first CSS might but be the perfect software for the job, however first it is advisable consider simply how acceptable it’s in gentle 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 it is advisable look ahead to, and I’ll focus on some alternate options if mobile-first doesn’t appear to fit your mission.

Benefits of mobile-first#section2

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

Growth hierarchy. One factor you undoubtedly get from mobile-first is a pleasant improvement hierarchy—you simply give attention to the cell view and get growing. 

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 a very powerful, because it encompasses all the important thing person journeys, and infrequently accounts for a larger proportion of person visits (relying on the mission). 

Prevents desktop-centric improvement. As improvement is finished utilizing desktop computer systems, it may be tempting to initially give attention to the desktop view. However eager about cell from the beginning prevents us from getting caught in a while; nobody needs to spend their time retrofitting a desktop-centric website to work on cell units!

Disadvantages of mobile-first#section3

Setting fashion declarations after which overwriting them at larger 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. 

Increased 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 initiatives once you need to preserve the CSS selectors so simple as attainable.

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

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

The issue of property worth overrides#section4

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

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

This method opens up some alternatives, as you possibly can have a look at every breakpoint as a clear slate. If a part’s structure appears prefer it ought to be primarily based on Flexbox in any respect breakpoints, it’s effective and may be coded within the default fashion sheet. But when it appears like Grid can be significantly better for big screens and Flexbox for cell, these can each be performed completely independently when the CSS is put into closed media question ranges. Additionally, growing concurrently requires you to have a great understanding of any given part in all breakpoints up entrance. This will help floor points within the design earlier within the improvement 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 advanced and incompatible with the HTML we created for the cell view! 

Although this method isn’t going to go well with everybody, I encourage you to present it a strive. There are many instruments on the market to assist with concurrent improvement, comparable to Responsively App, Blisk, and lots of others. 

Having stated that, I don’t really feel the order itself is especially related. In case you are comfy with specializing in the cell view, have a great understanding of the necessities for different breakpoints, and like to work on one system at a time, then by all means persist with the basic improvement order. The essential factor is to determine widespread types and exceptions so you possibly can put them within the related stylesheet—a form of handbook tree-shaking course of! Personally, I discover this a bit of simpler when engaged on a part throughout breakpoints, however that’s not at all a requirement.

Closed media question ranges in apply #section5

In basic mobile-first CSS we overwrite the types, however we will keep away from this through the use of media question ranges. As an instance the distinction (I’m utilizing SCSS for brevity), let’s assume there are three visible designs: 

  • smaller than 768
  • from 768 to under 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 aim is to: 

  • Solely set types when wanted. 
  • Not set them with the expectation of overwriting them in a while, many times. 

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 particular breakpoint. We’ll be a lot much less prone to introduce undesirable alterations, and our regression testing solely must give attention to the breakpoint now we have truly 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 may 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 a substitute of including a desktop media question and utilizing unset or “0” for the padding worth (which we would wish with mobile-first), we will wrap the cell padding in a closed media question (since it’s now additionally an exception) so it received’t get picked up at wider breakpoints. On the desktop breakpoint, we received’t must set any padding fashion, as we would like the browser default worth.

Bundling versus separating the CSS#section6

Again within the day, protecting 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 now not the massive deal it was once. This enables us to separate the CSS into a number of recordsdata by media question. The clear good thing about that is the browser can now request the CSS it presently wants with the next precedence than the CSS it doesn’t. That is extra performant and may 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 below Protocol, it means HTTP/2 is getting used. 

Word: 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., Title), and test the Protocol column.

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

Additionally, in case your website remains to be utilizing HTTP/1…WHY?!! What are you ready for? There may be glorious person assist for HTTP/2.

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

Within the following instance of a web site visited on a cell breakpoint, we will see the cell and default CSS are loaded with “Highest” precedence, as they’re presently wanted to render the web page. The remaining CSS recordsdata (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 should obtain the CSS file and parse it earlier than rendering can begin.

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

The media queries and variety of separate CSS recordsdata will differ from mission to mission primarily based on mission necessities, however would possibly look just like the instance under.

Bundled CSS

<hyperlink href="" rel="stylesheet">

This single file accommodates 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 screen and (max-width: 767.98px)" rel="stylesheet"><hyperlink href="pill.css" media="display screen and (min-width: 768px) and (max-width: 1083.98px)" rel="stylesheet"><hyperlink href="desktop.css" media="display screen 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 presently wants. Out of the 5 recordsdata listed above, two will likely be downloaded with Highest precedence: the default file, and the file that matches the present media question. The others will likely be downloaded with Lowest precedence.

Relying on the mission’s deployment technique, a change to at least one file (cell.css, for instance) would solely require the QA workforce to regression check on units in that particular media question vary. Evaluate that to the prospect of deploying the only bundled website.css file, an method that will usually set off a full regression check.

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

I don’t assume anybody needs to return to that improvement mannequin once more, however 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 explicit system—any system—over others. Because of this, specializing in the CSS in its personal proper, all the time aware 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. 

Generally, simplifying CSS rule creation at any time when we will is in the end a cleaner method than going round in circles of overrides. However whichever methodology you select, it must go well with the mission. Cell-first might—or might not—turn into the only option for what’s concerned, however first it is advisable solidly perceive the trade-offs you’re moving into.