Book Image

Less Web Development Essentials

By : Bass Jobsen
Book Image

Less Web Development Essentials

By: Bass Jobsen

Overview of this book

Less is a CSS preprocessor that essentially improves the functionality of simple CSS with the addition of several features. The book begins by teaching you how Less facilitates the process of web development. You will quickly then move on to actually creating your first layout using Less and compiling your very first Less code. Next, you will learn about variables and mixins and how they will help in building robust CSS code. In addition, you'll learn how to keep your code clean and test it by using style guides. We will then move on to the concept of Bootstrapping and the strength of using Less with Twitter Bootstrap. Going one step further, you will be able to customize Twitter's Bootstrap 3 using Less. Finally, you will learn how to integrate Less into your WordPress themes and explore other web apps that use Less. By leveraging this powerful CSS preprocessor, you will be able to consistently produce amazing web applications while making CSS code development an enjoyable experience.
Table of Contents (15 chapters)
Less Web Development Essentials
About the Author
About the Reviewers


After the introduction of HTML 4.01 in 1999, the Web changed fast. Many new devices such as tablets and mobile phones saw the light of day. Mobile Internet became faster, cheaper, and more stable. The W3C started the HTML5 working group in 2007. In December 2012, W3C designated HTML5 as a candidate recommendation. HTML5 works with CSS3. Today, all major browsers (Chrome, Safari, Firefox, Opera, IE) offer HTML5 support.

The impact of CSS3 has been huge. Nowadays, CSS3 is not only used to style your HTML documents, but CSS3 also plays an important role in the responsibility of your designs. Last but not least, CSS3 extends CSS with features such as animations and transitions.

We don't need external flash components for complex animation. Take a look at or look at the funny owl in the following screenshot:

The owl in the preceding screenshot has been built with HTML5 and CSS3 alone. The live version can wink and look by pressing the buttons.

Responsive designs allow you to build one version of your website with only one code base which functions well and looks good on different devices such as mobile phones, tablets, and desktops. There won't be any technical reason to build different mobile and desktop versions, as shown in the following screenshot:

With all this new stuff, the work of the CSS (or web) developer becomes more complex. A web developer needs to know about complex CSS3, the difference between browsers and devices, animations, and other style effects. Writing correct and functional CSS code will be the first thing; keeping this code readable, maintainable, and working on all major browsers will be the second thing. CSS files grow and become untidy in the development and maintenance processes. CSS doesn't have the ability to modify the existing values or reuse common styles. Also, doing math or defining variables is not possible in CSS. This is where Less comes into the frame.

Less (Leaner CSS) is a dynamic stylesheet language designed by Alexis Sellier. Started in 2010, it is now maintained and extended by the Less core team. Less helps you make your CSS code maintainable, reusable, and prevent code duplications.

In this book, you will learn how to write, compile, and understand Less. We will help you do faster and more cost-effective web development. You will get practical tips to integrate Less in your current and new projects. After reading this book, you will write clear and readable CSS3 with Less. Instead of spending your time on debugging your complex CSS code for a specific device or browser, you can pay more attention to your real design tasks.

Your clients will be happy with your advanced and stable designs. This will reduce the development and maintenance time and hence the cost of designing.

Less extends CSS with functions and variables. In a semantic sense, valid CSS is also valid Less. The initial versions of Less were written in Ruby; now, Less is written in JavaScript.

Less is called a CSS precompiler. This means that the end product will be used for production. The end product in this case will be valid, compact, and readable CSS code. Besides, the precompiling Less code can also compile in real time. Less offers server-side and client-side options to do this. Real-time client-side compilation via LESS.js in a modern web browser makes testing easy. Server-side compilations offer opportunities to build applications with Less as well as create dynamic CSS.

Also, others know the power of Less. Projects such as Twitter's Bootstrap and Roots, a WordPress starter theme, both rely on Less. These projects build clear and extendable frameworks with Less. You can't ignore this proof. Stop writing cumbersome CSS with bugs and browser defects and learn about Less by reading this book.

Less is open source and licensed under the Apache license. At the time of writing this book, the latest version is 1.7. The source code of Less will be maintained on GitHub. Everybody will be allowed to contribute to it. You can use Less free of charge.

What this book covers

Chapter 1, Improving Web Development with Less, shows how CSS3 brought advanced functions such as gradients, transitions, and animations to web designers. It also explains how, on the other hand, CSS code became more complex and difficult to maintain. Less helps you make your CSS maintainable, reusable, and prevent code duplications.

Chapter 2, Using Variables and Mixins, explains why variables allow you to specify widely-used values in a single place and then reuse them throughout the style sheet, thus making global changes as easy as changing one line of code. Mixins allow you to embed all the properties of a class into another class by simply including the class name as one of its properties. The chapter also explains what parametric mixins are and how to use them.

Chapter 3, Nested Rules, Operations, and Built-in Functions, explains the use of nested rules for making inheritance clear and for making shorter style sheets. The chapter also explains how to create complex relationships between properties and how to use the built-in functions of Less.

Chapter 4, Avoid Reinventing the Wheel, teaches you how Less code and mixins can become complex because they handle different browsers and devices. The chapter also explains prebuilt mixins and other sources that help you (re)use them.

Chapter 5, Integrate Less in Your Own Projects, teaches you how to organize your files for new projects or get the projects you maintain ready for using Less.

Chapter 6, Bootstrap 3, WordPress, and Other Applications, explains what Bootstrap is and shows the strength of using Less with Bootstrap. The chapter also teaches you how to build web applications with Less or integrate it in your WordPress themes.

What you need for this book

To understand and get the full benefit of the contents of this book, we expect you to have built a website with CSS previously. A basic understanding of CSS will be required. Understanding CSS selectors and CSS precedence will help you get the most out of this book. We will introduce these CSS aspects briefly in the first chapter as well. Understanding the basics of using functions and parameters in functional languages such as JavaScript will be valuable, but it is not required. Don't panic if you know nothing about functions and parameters. This book contains clear examples. Even without any (functional) programming knowledge you can learn how to use Less, and this book will help you do this. The most important skill will be the willingness to learn.

All chapters of this book contain examples and example code. Running and testing these examples will help you develop your Less skills. You will need a modern web browser such as Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox to run these examples. Use any preferred text or CSS editor to write your Less code.

Who this book is for

Every web designer who works with CSS and who wants to spend more time on real designing tasks should read this book. It doesn't matter if you are a beginner web designer or have used CSS for years; both will profit from reading this book and will learn how to utilize Less. We also recommend this book for teachers and students in modern web design and computer science. Less does not depend on a platform, language, or CMS. If you use CSS, you can and will benefit from Less.


In this book, you will find a number of styles of text that distinguish between different kinds of information. Here are some examples of these styles, and an explanation of their meaning.

Code words in text, database table names, folder names, filenames, file extensions, pathnames, dummy URLs, and user input are shown as follows: "Note that in this case, an ID is a unique selector starting with #; the selector [id=] for the same HTML element counts as an attribute."

A block of code is set as follows:

.box-shadow(@style, @c) when (iscolor(@c)) {
  -webkit-box-shadow: @style @c;
  -moz-box-shadow:    @style @c;
  box-shadow:         @style @c;
.box-shadow(@style, @alpha: 50%) when (isnumber(@alpha)) {
  .box-shadow(@style, rgba(0, 0, 0, @alpha));

When we wish to draw your attention to a particular part of a code block, the relevant lines or items are set in bold:

.box-shadow(@style, @c) when (iscolor(@c)) {
  -webkit-box-shadow: @style @c;
  -moz-box-shadow:    @style @c;
  box-shadow:         @style @c;
.box-shadow(@style, @alpha: 50%) when (isnumber(@alpha)) {
  .box-shadow(@style, rgba(0, 0, 0, @alpha));

Any command-line input or output is written as follows:

# lessc -c styles.less > styles.css

New terms and important words are shown in bold. Words that you see on the screen, in menus or dialog boxes for example, appear in the text like this: "Clicking on the Next button moves you to the next screen."


Warnings or important notes appear in a box like this.


Tips and tricks appear like this.

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