Tag Archives: less

SILT: Canvas/SVG, jQuery, LESS update

Cover art for my latest mix on boroboro.com. Instead of just photos I'll probably do more stuff like this, as it is fun and enticing.

Whew, a little bit longer than expected between updates, but the reasons for this are soon to be told. First, some things:

  • For my next work project, I’m having to visualize and lay out semi-complex graphs (DAGs, as far as I can discern). I started looking at a Flash-based kit for a similar project in 2008, but these days Canvas-based solutions like the Javascript InfoVis Toolkit are popping up.
    But, as I soon learned, Canvas isn’t really the right tool for this job. the right way to go seems to be SVG, despite iffy browser support. This fantastic article by the Opera browser team has me thinking I’ll use Graphviz+dot+SVG+jQuery. I’m excited and I’ll probably write about it again the future.
  • Speaking of jQuery, I’m learning me all the JavaScript tricks by looking directly at the jQuery source. Nothing like a lean, mean piece of code to teach oneself The Right Way. Reminder: don’t forget to update to jQuery 1.4, which has been a dream so far.
  • LESS is still treating me right; did some rapid development recently, and it worked gloriously. Some observations:
    • One issue I had with LESS recently was getting the mixin syntax working with IE’s filter syntax. The equal signs throw the compiler off. I was doing terrible IE things because I was doing cross-browser pure CSS gradients.
    • I use the LESS –watch option to achieve incron-like effects when dealing with small CSS projects. Unfortunately the –watch option means having to start lessc before doing work (not a big deal) and having to monitor it for when you have errors in your file (it pauses and waits for a return key, kind of a big deal).
    • I just read about less.js, a javascript implentation done by the LESS dudes for on-the-fly, in-browser LESS action, and plenty of new features. Here’s the github page. It’s due the end of this month, but I’m in no hurry.

And if you’ve been missing me, listen to more mixes. Two up since the last Superdrivel edit, a downtempo one and an uptempo one.

LESS and incron: CSS at its finest

less is, once again, more.

less is, once again, more.

Web development is full of challenges. That’s my nice way of saying writing CSS blows. CSS is powerful, but at the cost of being too fine grained and low level for easy development. It’s like the assembly of web design. Other developers are all-too-aware of the situation and have come up with a few solutions, including CSS frameworks, which reduce the amount of from-scratch code and provide a system (e.g., Blueprint or the 960 grid system), versus the freeform mess of raw CSS, and CSS extensions, like LESS, which is the topic of the day.

Act One: L-E-S-S spells bliss

If you aren’t using something like this yet, you might as well be punching yourself in the crotch every time you code.

I have also messed with Sass, which was not as “Syntactically Awesome” as LESS, and xCSS, which was overkill (but I might revisit it later). LESS is good because:

  • Any standard CSS file is a valid LESS file – easy to only use the features you need
  • Just as powerful as Sass, offering variables, functions, nesting, CSS-specialized math operations
  • Aptana CSS highlighting works great:
    1. Go: Window->Preferences
    2. General->Editors->File Associations
    3. Add file type: *.less
    4. Add editor: Aptana CSS Editor (right at the top)

I mean, look at this syntax:

@left_column_width: 300px;
@column_margin_width: 15px;

/** Palette **/
@light_blue: #d0dae3;
@pastel_blue: #7492ac;
@med_blue: #1e5d97;
@dark_blue: #0b3c68;

@light_orange: #f6b860;
@pastel_orange: #dfab62;
@med_orange: #e9951f;
@dark_orange: #a1630c;

/** Colors **/
@top_nav_color: @light_blue;
@top_nav_hover_color: @light_orange;
@header_color: @pastel_blue;

#header {
	clear:both;
	float:left;
	width:100%;
	border-bottom:1px solid @dark_blue - #111;
	background: @header_color;
	padding-bottom: 12px;
	margin-bottom: 7px;
	
	.page-title {
		float:left;
		clear:none;
		display:inline;
	}
}

/***** Two column layout a la   *********
****** http://matthewjamestaylor.com/blog/ultimate-2-column-left-menu-pixels.htm  *****/

/* column container */
.colmask {
	position:relative;
    clear:both;
    float:left;
    width:100%;			
	/*overflow:hidden;*/	
}

/* 2 column left menu settings */
.leftmenu {
    background:#fff;
	overflow:hidden;
	.colright {
	    float:left;
	    width:200%;
		position:relative;
		left: @left_column_width + (2 * @column_margin_width);
	    background:#fff;
	}
	
	.col1wrap {
	    float:right;
	    width:50%;
	    position:relative;
	    right: @left_column_width + (3 * @column_margin_width);
	    padding-bottom:1em;
	}
	
	.col1 {
	    margin:0 @column_margin_width 0 (@left_column_width + (4 * @column_margin_width));
	    position:relative;
	    right:100%;
	    /*overflow:hidden;*/
	}
	
	.col2 {
	    float:left;
	    width: @left_column_width ;
	    position:relative;
	    right: @left_column_width + @column_margin_width;
	}
}

Now you have an easily customizable two column layout and color scheme. Change your values in one place and they gracefully propagate. If you wanted to change the colors or column width before, you would have to change dozens of values. Really, stop what you’re doing, change your CSS file’s extension to .less, and become a happier person.

Act Two: Incron

So the only problem that I ran into is the bump in the workflow: compiling from LESS to CSS. This is where incron comes into play. Incron monitors files for changes and can trigger actions as specified by you with a cron-like syntax we can all love. I have a little Gentoo development box I use; I put incron on it and set it to run lessc whenever my LESS file changed. Just install/emerge incron, run incrontab -e and add one line:

	/path/to/less/files/mystyles.less IN_MODIFY lessc $@

Now you’ll have a file called my_styles.css and everything will be hunky dory. Of course this could easily be extended to do more powerful things with your styles, like move them into the right place or give them fancy names or version them or whatever. The potential here is also not limited to LESS, so consider it an investment. If this intrigues you, I think this tutorial should be all you need for now.

Well, web development is a big basket of ugly and this only addresses one aspect. There’s still cross-browser grossness and JavaScript debugging horror. But LESS helps. LESS helps.