Sunday, May 31, 2015

A re-introduction to JavaScript (JS tutorial)

JavaScript
Why a re-introduction? Because JavaScript is notorious for being the world's most misunderstood programming language. While it is often derided as a toy, beneath its deceptive simplicity lie some powerful language features. JavaScript is now used by an incredible number of high-profile applications, showing that deeper knowledge of this technology is an important skill for any web or mobile developer.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

What's the Difference Between Image and Figure Tags in HTML5?

Difference Between Image and Figure Tags

Writing semantic code should be every web developer's goal. With the addition of dozens of new HTML5 tags, it can suddenly be confusing as to which tags you should use, especially since you might have originally learned a different way.

Sunday, May 03, 2015

More Control over Text Decoration

More Control over Text Decoration

Marie Mosley just finished up a revamping of the text-decoration property (and friends) in the Almanac. You're probably aware of this property. For instance, most default browser styles include underlined links by way of text-decoration: underline; - which you can remove with text-decoration: none;.

Friday, May 01, 2015

Designing Front-End Components

Designing Front-End Components

In my experience, I've found that the best pieces of code I've ever used tend to follow the UNIX philosophy of doing one thing very well. Having that kind of focused approach to front-end modules typically isn't the case. Instead, we often develop solutions that are only useful in our specific use. For example, we may put together an entrenched AngularJS directive that uses other directives or relies on data-binding provided by Angular.

What's worse, most often we don't just limit ourselves to the scope of the libraries we're currently using, but to the specific scope of the one project we're working on. This means that now our library can't be extricated from that database without considerable work. For instance, consider that one time you developed a UI component where the user would type tags in plain text and after typing a delimiter (a comma or a space), they would get visual feedback into the tag being accepted. Something like the screenshot above.


Except for the fact that, unless you found what you needed on the open web in the form of a decoupled module, we sometimes commit the crime of tightly coupling the tagging feature to the framework we're using. Or to a library. Or to our application. Or to a specific part of our application.

It would be best if were able to identify what it is that we're trying to accomplish (in this case, improve the UX on an input field for tags), isolate that into its own module, and come up with the simplest possible API. Coming up with a simple API is often a dreadful task, and in this article I'll try to put together advice and explain my thought process while designing them.

Always try and ask yourself, is this actually better for the end user or is it just more productive for me as a developer to do it this way?

A lot of the time, the former simply isn't the case.

Composability isn't just a matter of playing well with the web platform. In practice, playing well with other libraries is just as important. Getting composability right is quite hard, how are you supposed to provide support for every other library out there that may interact with things you are using in the most unexpected ways imaginable? The answer is that you're not. You are not supposed, for example, to account for libraries that arbitrarily remove DOM nodes, move them, or wrap them in some other nodes. You are, however, supposed to make sure you keep the noise your module produces to a minimum, ideally producing zero noise.

There's a number of ways you can keep the noise to a minimum. One of them involves keeping CSS in check.

Turn down the CSS

If you look closely at any of these 4 libraries, rome, insignia, horsey and dragula, you'll notice how simplistic their styling is.

Designing Front-End Components

This is decidedly intentional, and aimed at making it easier to integrate the components with whatever styles your application may have. There's a few rules I follow with regards to styling within components.

  • Shy away from inline styles
  • Always prefix your CSS classes
  • Keep styles to a minimum
  • Distribute plain CSS along with the source

These seemingly simple rules have a deeper meaning, which I'll lay out next.

Shy away from inline styles

Avoiding inline styles is crucial. Inline styles are really hard to override, leading to a lot of unnecessary !important rule-sprinkling. Most of the time, a CSS class will do a better job at grouping a set of styles together, making it easier for the developer to identify what the styles are trying to accomplish, change the component stylistically, and generally have more control over the styles of the component. Not every inline style can be avoided. Positioning styles, such as left top right and bottom, that frequently change over time have a place inline. Coincidentally, the developer is expected not to have a need for modifying these styles, where control is deferred to the library author to do as they intended.

Always prefix your CSS classes

This one should be fairly obvious. Now that we've moved most of the styles in our library to CSS classes, we'll abide by this rule to create a semantic namespace for our component's classes. If you want a deeper reasoning into the topic I suggest you read CSS: The Good Parts, which discusses best practices when it comes to writing and maintaining modular CSS.

This point seems almost trivial, why make such a big deal out of adding rd- at the beginning of every class name? What is a 2 letter prefix on every single class name going to do for me? It's probably not going to do as much for you, as a module author, since every class name will probably have the same prefix. However, when you start taking into account a few modules working in tandem, or an entire array of components working under the same application (which has plenty of styles on its own), creating faux namespaces via prefixing every class in a component becomes a glaringly obvious thing to do.

Namespaces make it faster to figure out what component a class name belongs to, help reduce class name clashes (.dialog anyone?). This not only mitigates the chance that you mess up the existing styles of an application, but it also prevents the styles of that application from unwittingly breaking those of the component.

CSS is a two way street, but with the advent of flying cars we have to be extra careful.

Keep styles to a minimum

Allowing the consumer some control over the styles in a component, and making sure those styles don't clash with others, will only have an impact as long as your component doesn't think too fancily of itself. The more styles you apply to a class name, the harder it'll be for a consumer to style that to their needs. Seriously, think about this. If you are providing me with a tag editing library, why would you include styles for round borders and a box shadow on the input? If the answer is purely stylistic (it looks great!), then chances are those styles never belonged with the library in the first place.

Overstyling components is an easy mistake to make. After all, who wouldn't want to have this sweet sweet transition when the tag input moves after a tag is edited? It just takes a line of CSS! transition: all 0.2s ease-in-out. People will surely love that. It's fine to get fancy, but always strive to make it so that if a consumer doesn't want a style, he can get rid of it with a single line of CSS. If your users need to reset a lot of CSS in order to get a component to look and feel how they need it to, that's on you.

In fewer words, there shouldn't be anything stopping the consumer from styling your component so that it perfectly blends into their designs.

Distribute plain CSS along with the source

Packaging the CSS in a component has always been a debated topic. Some argue that it should be bundled with the JavaScript, so that consumers get everything by simply including your module. Complicated solutions exist too, such as Webpack allowing you to require CSS, whatever that may mean. My preferred approach is to compile CSS in every build from whatever source code I have, which has been Stylus for a long time now. I can then distribute that CSS, along with the source *.styl file(s), directly on GitHub. Nowadays my builds create a tag on git, and publish updates to both Bower and npm.

As far as consuming these modules goes, I'll typically install them from npm, include them with Browserify, and import any CSS into my Stylus bundle. Meanwhile, other users could just take the *.css files directly, whatever floats their boat.

I asked people on Twitter what specific concerns they had regarding modular front-end component design. One of the questions I got was about how to deal with CSS, which we've just covered. The other questions were concerned with clean, well-abstracted API design, as well as effectively structuring modular code. These two go hand-in-hand.

Be the API you wish to see in the world

Even though it may not seem that way, whenever I set out to build my own component I start by scouring the web for existing, usable alternatives to writing my own. Typically this yields a mixture of things I like and things I don't like, and helps shape the ideas I have about designing an API of my own. If you sift through a few libraries that sort of do what you want, you should be able to come up with a decent set of needs and use cases other people have, and add those to your own. Once you have that, the next step involves coming up with an API that's the most common denominator for all of those use cases.

In the simplest possible use case, there should be little or no configuration involved.

When it comes to components for the front-end, I think the recipe that best fits most use cases is having an API consisting of a single function that takes a DOM element, and an entirely optional configuration object. You should be able to come up with a reasonable default behavior for your component that will just work by indicating the DOM element to use. Beyond that, a configuration object will provide the consumer with customization for the appearance of the component, as well as assist them in covering the more advanced use cases.

I think Rome is a great case study of this approach.

Designing Front-End Components

Rome just takes an HTML input, and the consumer is ready to go. Clicking on the provided element will pop a simple calendar right below the input, and the user can choose a date from the calendar. This is the most basic use case and shouldn't involve any configuration whatsoever. Therefore, it doesn't. The consumer may definitely have more advanced use cases than this. They may want to hide the time, as only the date matters to them. This is, again, a very common thing to wish for, so Rome makes sure that's easy to do: rome(input, { time: false }).

Some use cases are clearly more complicated than others, and they don't deserve a pinpointed solution such as a configuration flag, but rather a more generic solution. The example below changes the calendar so that only a certain date range is deemed valid and selectable. While an arguably advanced use case, having the ability to determine a valid date range is sure to up often enough in a date picker that being able to handle these directly as configurable options makes sense.

rome(input, { min: '2013-12-30', max: '2014-10-01' });

The most important aspect of API design is to find the right abstractions, though. Suppose a library user creates an issue because they want to allow users to choose dates in summer, spring, or autumn, but not winter. You might be thinking "well, I could just create a configuration option called seasons with an array of the valid seasons". That sounds like a perfectly acceptable solution. It meets the user's needs, and it's abstracted enough to work for any season.

You've got to ask yourself, though. Would you use such an option? Would you find it simple? Most importantly, what happens when the next user comes along asking for a way to make the second week of each month invalid? Sundays? An specific point in time? Will you add a configuration option for each of these use cases? Of course not. Will you just cater to the needs of those who better align with the needs you have today for the library? Or will you go for a more generalized approach that just determined if any given date is valid?

In the case of Rome, the answer was to create a dateValidator option that allowed consumers to determine whether any given date was valid.

rome(input, {
  dateValidator: function (d) {
    var m = moment(d);
    var y = m.year();
    var f = 'MM-DD';
    var start = moment('12-21', f).year(y).startOf('day');
    var end = moment('03-19', f).year(y).endOf('day');
    return m.isBefore(start) && m.isAfter(end);
  }
});

Yes, min and max are effectively shadowed by this option, and internally they could very well function as an alias for dateValidator. That's perfectly okay. Easy of use of an API endpoint should roughly match how frequently use cases come up in a given area.

In the same vein, you should strive to reutilize parts of the API effectively. Originally, Rome didn't have a way to "link" two calendars, a common feature enabling the user to choose a "start date" and an "end date" for some sort of event or query. Given that I already had the generic dateValidator configuration property in place I could come up with a few validators that would determine if dates are valid for a given calendar based on the selection in some other calendar. Effectively building ranges, but without changing the public API, besides exposing the validators themselves.

rome(left, {
  dateValidator: rome.val.beforeEq(right)
});

rome(right, {
  dateValidator: rome.val.afterEq(left)
});

Rome even goes as far as to provide the consumer with the ability to rename all CSS classes.

The API behind the API

Once we get past the API used to create a calendar using Rome, we get back an object containing an API of its own. This object can be used to interact with the calendar after it has been created. When following this pattern I like providing, as an starting point, a destroy method which removes any DOM elements and unbinds any event listeners produced when instantiating the component. This makes sure you play well with single page applications, highly dynamic views, and other advanced use cases. The other method I find quite necessary to include is a .find method on the public API that returns these instance API objects. Typically you'd do something like rome.find(input) and get back the calendar API associated with that input, or null if there wasn't any calendar associated to it yet.

Beyond these two methods, the API behind the API should be mostly in charge of exposing parts of the component you'll sometimes want to trigger manually. In the case of Rome, besides displaying the calendar when clicking or focusing on the input, the consumer may want to add a keyboard shortcut to display the calendar, and the API should be perfectly fine supporting that use case. Beyond these simple methods, the most crucial aspect of the API behind the API is events. Emitting a few events at important milestones, such as when a calendar is displayed or a date is selected, allows the consumer to have fine grained hooks and control over what the user does, and to manipulate the outcome of those actions every step of the way. These events could be handled through synthetic events on the DOM element itself, or using a library to convert your API into an event emitter. You can use crossvent and contra.emitter respectively for these two approaches.

I tend to keep the API behind the API really simple beyond that. Following a declarative configuration style is typically going to work wonders for your component, as there will be far less coding involved for the library consumer.

wrapping('up')

As far as keeping your code modular effectively, you should treat every function in your code the same way as we discussed for the public API itself. Strive to make it simple, to identify common patterns and use cases and abstract away just enough so that you can accommodate for the most frequent use cases in the most elegant way, and then handle the least frequent use cases a bit differently. You should try and put together methods that make logical sense. Make an effort to give functions names that are as descriptive as possible (but not too verbose), and keep everything that doesn't fit the name you gave a function in some other function.

Eventually, you should start to notice how the very methods you want to promote to public API citizenship map quite logically to what you already have. For example, when I was developing dragula I already had cancel, remove, and end methods by the time I wanted to promote them to "API behind the API" level, which made it a very natural decision to make for me.

Lastly, I'd mention that keeping the dependency count low will make your modules more attractive to the public eye, as they'll become more decoupled from everything else and easier to integrate into whatever your potential consumers are doing.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Grid Item Animation Layout

Grid Item Animation Layout

A responsive, magazine-like website layout with a grid item animation effect that happens when opening the content.

Today we'd like to share a simple animated grid layout with you. The responsive layout has a sidebar and grid items that animate to a larger content area when clicked. In the first demo the content area fills the grid (inspired by a concept by Virgil Pana) and in the second demo, the whole layout moves to the left while the grid item is expanding (inspired by this Dribbble shot by Sam Thibault).

The expanding element (which is a dummy element and not the grid item itself) is not animating in width and height but instead its original dimensions are already of the expanded size and we simply scale it down initially. By setting classes, we control the transitions of all the elements: the grid item elements' disappearance and the content elements' appearance (and vice versa when we close an opened content panel).

Grid Item Animation Layout

The layout is responsive down to mobile using a media query technique that involves setting the breakpoints based on the grid item size and the sidebar. For this we use Sass, which allows us to set these kind of variables easily. The approach we are using here is mainly mobile-first, but we also do some specific restructuring for small screens.

* Please note that this layout uses some modern techniques that involve viewport units, transitions, flexbox and other properties that will only work in modern browsers.

The second demo is a bit more experimental and it might not behave as expected in all browsers. Internet Explorer seems to have some issues with transitions on transforms that use calc().

This layout is focused on the expansion effect of the grid item and many elements are simple dummies (the loader, the filter in the top bar and the "load more" in the footer of the grid).

The main markup looks as follows:


The Sass files of this project are divided into a main style file and two partials, one for the base styles and one for the media queries. Each of the demos will have a unique style Sass file (style1.scss and style2.scss) where we initiate some variable and redefine some styles if necessary (as in demo 2). There are many ways of organizing your project in Sass; this was one convenient way to do it for these two demos. If you'd like to use one of them, make sure to refactor your style declarations. If you are not familiar with Sass, you can simply use and adjust the generated CSS files.

An example for the main demo Sass file is as follows:

$item_width: 300px;
$sidebar_width: 300px;
$color_primary: #fafafa;
$color_secondary: #fff;
$color_link: #81c483;
$anim-time: 0.5s;

@import "base";
@import "mediaqueries";

The variables needed in the base and the media queries Sass files are defined here.

Grid Item Animation Layout

The media query breakpoints are defined by the amount of items we want to be visible in the grid and the sidebar (no prefixes shown):

/* Viewport sizes based on column number and sidebar */
$viewport_xs:  $item_width + $sidebar_width; /* 1 column */
$viewport_s:  $item_width * 2 + $sidebar_width; /* 2 columns */
$viewport_m:  $item_width * 3 + $sidebar_width; /* 3 columns */
$viewport_l:  $item_width * 4 + $sidebar_width; /* 4 columns */
$viewport_xl:  $item_width * 5 + $sidebar_width; /* 5 columns */
$viewport_xxl:  $item_width * 6 + $sidebar_width; /* 6 columns */

@media screen and (min-width: $viewport_xs) {
 html, 
 body, 
 .container, 
 .main {
  height: 100vh;
 }

 .main {
  height: 100%;
  margin-left: $sidebar_width;
 }

 .content__item {
  font-size: 1em;
 }

 .grid__item {
  padding: 45px 45px 30px;
 }
}

@media screen and (min-width: $viewport_s) {
 .grid {
  display: flex;
  flex-wrap: wrap;
 }

 /* 2 columns */
 .grid__item {
  width: 50%;
  border: none;
 }

 .grid__item::before {
  top: 5px;
  right: 5px;
  bottom: 5px;
  left: 5px;
  border: 1px solid rgba(74,74,74,0.075);
  transition: opacity 0.3s;
 }

 .grid__item:hover::before,
 .grid__item:focus::before {
  border: 3px solid rgba(129,196,131,0.5);
 }

 .grid__item--loading.grid__item::before {
  opacity: 0;
 }
}

@media screen and (min-width: $viewport_m) {
 /* 3 columns */
 .grid__item {
  width: 33.333%;
 }
}

@media screen and (min-width: $viewport_l) {
 /* 4 columns */
 .grid__item {
  width: 25%;
 }
}

@media screen and (min-width: $viewport_xl) {
 /* 5 columns */
 .grid__item {
  width: 20%;
 }
}

@media screen and (min-width: $viewport_xxl) {
 /* 6 columns */
 .grid__item {
  width: 16.66%;
 }
}

/* small screen changes for sidebar (it becomes an off-canvas menu) */
@media screen and (max-width: $viewport_xs - 1px) {
 .sidebar {
  transform: translate3d(-100%,0,0);
 }
 .sidebar.sidebar--open {
  transform: translate3d(0,0,0);
 }
 .sidebar.sidebar--open ~ .main {
  pointer-events: none;
 }
 .top-bar {
  padding: 22px 15px 10px 60px;
 }
 .menu-toggle {
  display: inline-block;
 }
 .sidebar .close-button {
  opacity: 1;
  top: 15px;
  right: 15px;
  pointer-events: auto;
 }
 .title--full {
  font-size: 2em;
 }
 .content__item {
  padding: 80px 20px 40px;
 }
 .close-button {
  padding: 10px 20px;
 }
 .close-button::before {
  content: '';
  position: absolute;
  top: 0;
  right: 0;
  background: $color_secondary;
  border-bottom: 1px solid $color_primary;
  width: 100vw;
  height: 50px;
  pointer-events: none;
  z-index: -1;
 }
}

This technique can come in handy when dealing with grid layouts. Optimally, we'd not have that last media query at all if we want to strictly follow a mobile-first approach. But since these styles are exclusively valid only for small screens, we don't want to be redefining and overwriting styles for larger screens.

Have a look at the layout and the effect and dig into the source, we really hope you find this template useful and inspiring!

View Demo or Download the files

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Keeping it simple: coding a carousel

coding a carousel

One of the things that drives me crazy in our "modern development" world is our fetish of over-complicating things. We build solutions, and then we add layers and layers of complexity for the sake of "making them easier to maintain". In many cases, this is a fool's errand as the layers of complexity and with them the necessary documentation make people not use our solutions. Instead, in many cases, people build their own, simpler, versions of the same thing and call it superior. Until this solution gets disputed and the whole dance happens once again.

In this article I want to approach the creation of a carousel differently: by keeping it as simple as possible whilst not breaking backwards compatibility or have any dependencies. Things break on the web. JavaScript might not be loaded, CSS capabilities vary from browser to browser. It is not up to us to tell the visitor what browser to use. And as good developers we shouldn't create interfaces that look interactive but do nothing when you click them.

So, let's have a go at building a very simple carousel that works across browsers without going overboard. You can see the result and get the code on GitHub.

The HTML structure of a carousel

Let's start very simple: a carousel in essence is an ordered list in HTML. Thus, the basic HTML is something like this:

  1. 1
  2. 2
  3. 3
  4. 4

Using this, and a bit of CSS we have something that works and looks good. This is the base we are starting from.

The basic CSS

The CSS used here is simple, but hints at some of the functionality we rely on later:

.carouselbox {
  font-family: helvetica,sans-serif;
  font-size: 14px;
  width: 100px;
  position: relative;
  margin: 1em;
  border: 1px solid #ccc;
  box-shadow: 2px 2px 10px #ccc;
  overflow: hidden;
}

.content {
  margin: 0;
  padding: 0;
}

.content li {
  font-size: 100px;
  margin: 0;
  padding: 0;
  width: 100%;
  list-style: none;
  text-align: center;
}

The main thing here is to position the carousel box relatively, allowing us to position the list items absolutely inside it. This is how we'll achieve the effect. The hidden overflow ensures that later on only the current item of the carousel will be shown. As there is no height set on the carousel and the items aren't positioned yet, we now see all the items.

coding a carousel

The carousel visuals in CSS

A lot of carousel scripts you can find will loop through all the items, or expect classes on each of them. They then hide all and show the current one on every interaction. This seems overkill, if you think about it. All we need is two classes:

  • We need a class on the container element that triggers the functional display of our carousel. This one gets applied with JavaScript as this means the look and feel only changes when the browser is capable of showing the effect.
  • We need a class on the currently visible carousel element. This is the odd one out. All the others don't need any classes.

We can hard-code these for now:

  1. 1
  2. 2
  3. 3
  4. 4

All we need to show and hide the different carousel items is to change the height of the carousel container and position all but the current one outside this height:

.active {
  height: 130px;
}

.active li {
  position: absolute;
  top: 200px;
}

.active li.current {
  top: 30px;
}

You can see this in action here. Use your browser developer tools to move the current class from item to item to show a different one.

coding a carousel

Interaction with Javascript

To make the carousel work, we need controls. And we also need some JavaScript. Whenever you need a control that triggers functionality that only works when JavaScript is executed, a button is the thing to use. These magical things were meant for exactly this use case and they are keyboard, mouse, touch and pen accessible. Everybody wins.

In this case, I added the following controls in our HTML:

  1. 1
  2. 2
  3. 3
  4. 4

Now, here is where the hard-liners of semantic markup could chime in and chide me for writing HTML that is dependent on JavaScript instead of creating the HTML using JavaScript. And they'd be correct to do so. There is nothing that stops me from wrapping this chunk of HTML in a DOM call or innerHTML write-out. However, as buttons are meant to trigger JS functionality, I think it is easier to just keep that in the HTML and allow us thus to style them with much less hassle. As a security precaution, we hide them in the non-active state and show them when the "active" class has been applied:

.active .buttons {
  padding: 5px 0;
  background: #eee;
  text-align: center;
  z-index: 10;
  position: relative;
}

.carouselbox button {
  border: none;
  display: none;
}

.active button {
  display: block;
}

.offscreen {
  position: absolute;
  left: -2000px;
}

The offscreen parts are there to explain what these buttons really mean as the triangle is not enough for some people.

All that is left to make the carousel work is the JavaScript. And here it is:

carousel = (function(){
  var box = document.querySelector('.carouselbox');
  var next = box.querySelector('.next');
  var prev = box.querySelector('.prev');
  var items = box.querySelectorAll('.content li');
  var counter = 0;
  var amount = items.length;
  var current = items[0];
  box.classList.add('active');
  function navigate(direction) {
    current.classList.remove('current');
    counter = counter + direction;
    if (direction === -1 && 
        counter < 0) { 
      counter = amount - 1; 
    }
    if (direction === 1 && 
        !items[counter]) { 
      counter = 0;
    }
    current = items[counter];
    current.classList.add('current');
  }
  next.addEventListener('click', function(ev) {
    navigate(1);
  });
  prev.addEventListener('click', function(ev) {
    navigate(-1);
  });
  navigate(0);
})();
As you can see, by relying on CSS and its built-in crawling of the DOM, there is no need for any loop whatsover. Here's what's going on in this script:
  • We grab all the HTML elements we need with querySelector.
  • We set the counter to 0 – this is the variable that keeps track of which item of the carousel is currently shown.
  • We read the amount of items in the carousel and store them in a variable – this allows us to loop the carousel.
  • We set the current item as the first one in the carousel. The current variable will contain a reference to the element currently visible. All we do when the carousel state changes is remove the CSS class from it and shift it to the other one.
  • We add the class of active to the container element to change its styling and trigger the CSS functionality explained earlier.
  • The navigate method takes a parameter called direction which defines if we should go backwards (negative values) or forwards in the carousel. It starts by removing the current class from the current carousel item, thus hiding it. We then modify the counter and make sure it doesn't go beyond the amount of items available or below 0. In each case we move to the other extreme, thus making the carousel an endless rotating one. We define the new current item and add the class to show it.
  • We apply event handlers to the buttons to navigate forwards and backwards.
  • We show the first carousel item by calling navigate with 0 as the value.
Pretty simple, isn't it? By allowing CSS to do what it is good at, our JavaScript more or less is only about keeping state and shifting classes around.

Getting fancy

The showing and hiding of the items by positioning them in a container with overflow hidden should work in any browser in use these days – even the ones who should be retired. And as all we do is add and remove CSS classes, we can now tap into the beautiful features browsers have these days. Using transition, opacity and transformation, we can add a pretty effect with a few lines of CSS:

.active li {
  position: absolute;
  top: 130px;
 
  opacity: 0;
  transform: scale(0);
  transition: 1s;
}

.active li.current {
  top: 30px;
 
  opacity: 1;
  transform: scale(1);
  transition: 1s;
}

coding a carousel
The beauty of this is that the performance handling, the timing (in case you click too fast) is handled by the browser for us. No need to count FPS or juggle timeouts. As CSS is a one-off state, this also means that browsers that do not support these features simply don't show them instead of throwing an error.

Bullet-proofing our Javascript

When a browser in use doesn't support some JavaScript feature we use, things get trickier. We get an error and things break. Thus, it makes sense to test for the things we use and move on only when there is support for them. In this code, we rely on classList and querySelector, so let's just check for this:

if (!document.querySelector || !('classList' in document.body)) {
    return false;
}

We could get much more paranoid and ensure that all the DOM elements are available before proceeding but this is overkill. If a maintainer forgets to add the carouselbox class to the main element, the error thrown is pretty obvious.

Bonus round: stacking with CSS

One last trick to mention is that if you were to stack all the elements of the carousel visually and only use opacity to blend them then there is a problem with links. You'd always get the link of the first item, no matter which one is shown.

The trick to work around that is user pointer-events: none in your CSS:

.active li {
  position: absolute;
  top: 130px;
 
  pointer-events: none;
  opacity: 0;
  transform: scale(0);
  transition: 1s;
}

.active li.current {
  top: 30px;
 
  pointer-events: auto;
  opacity: 1;
  transform: scale(1);
  transition: 1s;
}

You can see this workaround in action here.

Where to go now

The natural drive as a developer now is to enhance this to allow users to define a different starting element to show, to define lots of preset effects that can be chosen with the data attribute, to allow for non-looping carousels and to define an API to allow other components on the page to interact with the carousel. And an API to create and remove and shuffle items of the carousel. And, and and... All of these are great exercises, but let's ask ourselves: who do we do that for?

We have such amazing functionality built into the platform of the web now. Maybe it is time to stop writing the perfect generic re-usable widget and just stick with simple things and let people extend them when they need to? Who knows, by not doing the work for them, people might learn to be better coders themselves.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Understanding Variable Scope in Sass

Variable Scope in Sass
In this article, we'll take a deeper look at variables and variable scope in Sass. The scope of a variable describes the context within which it's defined and therefore where it's available to use.

To start, I'll cover which scopes Sass supports. Then, I'll explain two useful flags we can use to customize the value of a variable. Finally, I'll briefly present the available functions for checking whether a variable exists or not.

Sass Variable Scope

Sass supports two types of variables: local variables and global variables.

By default, all variables defined outside of any selector are considered global variables. That means they can be accessed from anywhere in our stylesheets. For instance, here's a global variable:

$bg-color: green;

On the other hand, local variables are those which are declared inside a selector. Later, we'll examine how we can customize that behavior. But for now, let's see our first example.

Here we define a mixin and then the btn-bg-color variable within it. This is a local variable, and is therefore visible only to the code inside that mixin:

@mixin button-style {
    $btn-bg-color: lightblue;
    color: $btn-bg-color;
}

Next, we can call the mixin as follows:

button { @include button-style; }

The resulting CSS:

button { color: lightblue; }

Imagine, however, that we also want to use this variable (not the mixin) in another selector:

.wrap { background: $btn-bg-color; }

This would give us the following error:

Undefined variable: "$btn-bg-color".

That was to be expected, right? We tried to access a mixin variable, which is locally scoped. Don't worry though, as mentioned above, we'll fix this issue in an upcoming section.

Nested Selectors

It's worth also mentioning that if we declare a variable inside a selector, any other nested selector can access it. Here's an example:

.wrap {
    $bg-color: red;
    &:after {
        background: lighten($bg-color, 10%);
    }
}

This compiles to:

.wrap:after { background: #ff3333; }

However, look at the example below where we define a function, then use that function along with a nested selector:

@function my-function() {
    $text-color: black;
    @return $text-color;
}
     
.wrap {
    color: my-function();
    &:after{
        background: $text-color;
    }
}

If we try to compile this, we'll get the same error discussed before. Again, that happens because we can't access the text-color variable. It isn't directly defined within the parent selector, but inside the function that our selector calls.

Variable Names

Global and local variables can have the same names. To demonstrate that behavior, we'll work on a fourth example:

$text-color: tomato;
 
@mixin button-style {
    $text-color: lime;
    color: $text-color;
}
     
@mixin link-style {
    $text-color: black;
    color: $text-color;
}

Here we've defined three different variables (text-color) with the same name. The first one is a global variable, while the other two are local.

Here are some styles making use of them:

button { @include button-style; }
a { @include link-style; }
.wrap { background: $text-color; }

And the generated CSS:

button { color: lime; }
a { color: black; }
.wrap { background: tomato; }

Is that what you were expecting?

Keep in mind that we won't see these styles unless we compile with the current version of Sass (3.4). For example, supposing that we use Sass 3.3, our CSS output would look like this:

button { color: lime; }
a { color: black; }
.wrap { background: black; }

Notice the difference in the background color of the .wrap selector. This happens because according to the earlier Sass versions (same for LibSass), if we locally redefine the value of a global variable (e.g. text-color), this will be the variable's new (global) value. So, in our example the compiled styles depend on the order we declare the variable and the mixins.

The default flag

This flag allows us to set the value of a variable in case it hasn't already been set or its current value is null (treated as unassigned). To better explain how we can take advantage of it in a real scenario, let's suppose that we have a project with the following structure:

Project-Name/
├── ...
├── css/
│ └── app.css
└── scss/
├── _config.scss
├── _variables.scss
├── _mixins.scss
└── app.scss

The app.scss file looks like this:

@import "config";
@import "variables";
@import "mixins";
     
button { @include button-style; }
 
// more styles

Let's see the contents of the partial files.

Firstly, the variables.scss file contains our variables:

$btn-bg-color: lightblue !default;
$btn-bg-color-hover: darken($btn-bg-color, 5%);
     
// more variables

Notice the default flag assigned to the btn-bg-color variable.

Secondly, the mixins.scss file includes our mixins:

@mixin button-style ($bg-color: $btn-bg-color, $bg-color-hover: $btn-bg-color-hover) {
    background-color: $bg-color;
    // more styles
    &:hover {
        background-color: $bg-color-hover;
        // more styles  
    }
}
     
// more mixins

Then, the generated app.css file will be as follows:

button { color: lightblue; }
button:hover { background-color: #99cfe0; }

So, our buttons come with default styles. But let's suppose that we want to have the option to overwrite them by applying our custom values. To do this, we can reassign the desired (default) variables in the config.scss partial file:

$btn-bg-color: chocolate;
// more variables

Setting the value of this variable to chocolate will result in ignoring the corresponding value (lightblue) that has received the default flag. Therefore, the generated CSS changes as we can see below:

button { color: chocolate; }
button:hover { background-color: #bc5e1b; }

Note: in case we haven't added the default flag to the btn-bg-color variable, our CSS would be, due to the cascading nature of CSS, as follows:

button { color: lightblue; }
// hover styles

The global flag

This second flag helps us change the scope of a local variable.

Do you remember the error we saw in our first example? Well, that happened because we tried to use the btn-bg-color variable in the .wrap selector. Let's modify our example to include this new flag. Here are the new styles:

@mixin button-style {
    $btn-bg-color: lightblue !global;
    color: $btn-bg-color;
}

button { @include button-style; }

.wrap { background: $btn-bg-color; }

As you can see below, thanks to this flag, the CSS compiles without any errors:

button { color: lightblue; }
.wrap { background: lightblue; }

The global flag is useful, but bear in mind that it's not always good practice to change a variable's scope.

Checking if a Variable Exists

Sass provides two introspection functions for testing whether a variable exists or not. We can use the variable-exists and/or global-variable-exists functions to check if our local and/or global variables exist respectively.

For example, here's a common use case where we define a variable containing the absolute path to a Google Font. Then, we choose to import that font in our stylesheets, but only if the relevant variable has been instantiated.

$google-font: "http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Alegreya";

@if(global-variable-exists(google-font)) {
    @import url($google-font);
}

The result:

@import url("http://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Alegreya");

Conclusion

In this article, I introduced you to the concept of variable scope in Sass. To make things clearer we looked at different examples, so hopefully you now have a good understanding of how scope works. You can find all the examples of this article in this SassMeister gist.

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

Simple Inheritance with JavaScript

Simple Inheritance with JavaScript

JavaScript uses a different approach than C# or C++ to create an object-oriented language. It is a prototype-based language. The concept of prototyping implies that behavior can be reused by cloning existing objects that serve as prototypes. Every object in JavaScript decends from a prototype which defines a set of functions and members that the object can use. There is no class. Just objects. Every object can then be used as a prototype for another object.

This concept is extremely flexible and we can use it to simulate some concepts from OOP like inheritance.

Implementing Inheritance

Let's visualize what we want to create with this hierarchy using JavaScript:

Simple Inheritance with JavaScript

First of all, we can create ClassA easily. Because there are no explicit classes, we can define a set of behavior (A class so…) by just creating a function like this:

var ClassA = function() {
    this.name = "class A";
}

This "class" can be instantiated using the new keyword:

var a = new ClassA();
ClassA.prototype.print = function() {
    console.log(this.name);
}

And to use it using our object:

a.print();

Fairly simple, right?

The complete sample is just 8 lines long:

var ClassA = function() {
    this.name = "class A";
}
 
ClassA.prototype.print = function() {
    console.log(this.name);
}
 
var a = new ClassA();
 
a.print();

Now let's add a tool to create "inheritance" between classes. This tool will just have to do one single thing: clone the prototype:

var inheritsFrom = function (child, parent) {
    child.prototype = Object.create(parent.prototype);
};

This is exactly where the magic happens! By cloning the prototype, we transfer all members and functions to the new class.

So if we want to add a second class that will be a child of the first one, we just have to use this code:

var ClassB = function() {
    this.name = "class B";
    this.surname = "I'm the child";
}
 
inheritsFrom(ClassB, ClassA);

Then because ClassB inherited the print function from ClassA, the following code is working:

var b = new ClassB();
b.print();

And produces the following output:

class B

We can even override the print function for ClassB:

ClassB.prototype.print = function() {
    ClassA.prototype.print.call(this);
    console.log(this.surname);
}

In this case, the produced output will look like this:

class B 
I'm the child

The trick here is to the call ClassA.prototype to get the base print function. Then thanks to call function we can call the base function on the current object (this).

Creating ClassC is now obvious:

var ClassC = function () {
    this.name = "class C";
    this.surname = "I'm the grandchild";
}
 
inheritsFrom(ClassC, ClassB);
 
ClassC.prototype.foo = function() {
    // Do some funky stuff here...
}
 
ClassC.prototype.print = function () {
    ClassB.prototype.print.call(this);
    console.log("Sounds like this is working!");
}
 
var c = new ClassC();
c.print();

And the output is:

class C 
I'm the grandchild 
Sounds like this is working!

More Hands-on with JavaScript

It might surprise you a bit, but Microsoft has a bunch of free learning on many open source JavaScript topics and we’re on a mission to create a lot more with Project Spartan coming. Check out my own:


And some free tools: Visual Studio Community, Azure Trial, and cross-browser testing tools for Mac, Linux, or Windows.

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

CSS3 Multi-column Layouts

CSS3 Multi-column Layouts

The CSS multi-column layout uses new CSS properties which allow designers to break a layout into blocks. The two main properties which control the number of columns are: column-count and column-width.

Related Properties

  • column-width
  • column-count
  • column-gap
  • column-rule
  • column-rule-width
  • column-rule-style
  • column-rule-color
  • column-span
  • column-fill
  • columns

Degradation

Column properties are ignored by browsers which don't support them. To deal with that issue, create a single column layout for unsupported browsers and multiple columns with browsers that support them.

Note: To make sure you can use multiple columns, each property needs to be written three times: Once with the -moz prefix, once with the -webkit prefix, and once without the prefix.

Syntax

Here are some examples of how you would use the multi-column properties:

Here's how to use column-count:



Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Ut eu augue orci. Morbi tristique a felis et varius. Sed augue nunc, cursus sed congue sit amet, mollis sed risus. Aliquam sit amet fringilla nisl. Vivamus ullamcorper odio magna, ut sagittis justo accumsan at. Donec turpis turpis, sagittis vel nisl eget, sodales ullamcorper eros. Etiam ut velit non sapien tincidunt ultrices in et nisi.

You use the column-width property to set the smallest column width. If you don't set the column-count, the browser will take over and create as many columns as necessary to fit the width. Here's the code:



Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Ut eu augue orci. Morbi tristique a felis et varius. Sed augue nunc, cursus sed congue sit amet, mollis sed risus. Aliquam sit amet fringilla nisl. Vivamus ullamcorper odio magna, ut sagittis justo accumsan at. Donec turpis turpis, sagittis vel nisl eget, sodales ullamcorper eros. Etiam ut velit non sapien tincidunt ultrices in et nisi.

Here is an example which makes use of column-count, column-gap, and column-rule:


Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Ut eu augue orci. Morbi tristique a felis et varius. Sed augue nunc, cursus sed congue sit amet, mollis sed risus. Aliquam sit amet fringilla nisl. Vivamus ullamcorper odio magna, ut sagittis justo accumsan at. Donec turpis turpis, sagittis vel nisl eget, sodales ullamcorper eros. Etiam ut velit non sapien tincidunt ultrices in et nisi. Phasellus fringilla quam rutrum, semper neque pretium, fermentum justo. Suspendisse convallis, purus vitae mollis semper, est justo pretium neque, sit amet convallis nisi justo vel justo. Integer vestibulum, felis vel ultricies ornare, diam risus viverra odio, at tempus elit tellus quis purus. Sed porta, eros vel vehicula sollicitudin, nisi orci maximus magna, vitae commodo dui magna nec libero.

CSS3 Multi-column Layouts

Height Balancing

With the CSS3 Column specification the browser automatically sets the column height so the content in each column are similar. That said, you might want to set the height manually using the CSS height or max-height properties and then build your layout accordingly.

Resources


Tuesday, March 31, 2015

A Baseline for Front-End [JS] Developers: 2015

A Baseline for Front-End [JS] Developers
It's been almost three years since I wrote A Baseline for Front-End Developers, probably my most popular post ever. Three years later, I still get Twitter mentions from people who are discovering it for the first time.

In some ways, my words have aged well: there is, shockingly, nothing from that 2012 post that has me hanging my head in shame. Still, though: three years is a long time, and a whole lot has changed. In 2012 I encouraged people to learn browser dev tools and get on the module bandwagon; CSS pre-processors and client-side templating were still worthy of mention as new-ish things that people might not be sold on; and JSHint was a welcome relief from the #getoffmylawn admonitions – accurate though they may have been – of JSLint.

It's 2015. I want to write an update, but as I sit down to do just that, I realize a couple of things. One, it's arguably not fair to call this stuff a "baseline" – if you thought that about the original post, you'll find it doubly true for this one. One could argue we should consider the good-enough-to-get-a-job skills to be the "baseline". But there are a whole lot of front-end jobs to choose from, and getting one doesn't establish much of a baseline. For me, I don't want to get a job; I want to get invited to great jobs. I don't want to go to work; I want to go to work with talented people. And I don't want to be satisfied with knowing enough to do the work that needed to be done yesterday; I want to know how to do the work that will need to get done tomorrow.

Two, my world has become entirely JavaScript-centric: knowledge of the ins and outs of CSS has become less and less relevant to my day-to-day work, except where performance is concerned. I know there are plenty of very smart front-end developers for whom this isn't true, but I have also noticed a growing gulf between those who focus on CSS and those who focus on JavaScript. That's probably a subject for another blog post, but I bring it up just to say: I am woefully unequipped to make recommendations about what you should know about CSS these days, so I'm not going to try.

In short: if this list of things doesn't fit your vision of the front-end world, that's OK! We're both still good people. Promise.

JavaScript

Remember back in 2009 when you read that HTML5 would be ready to use in 2014, and that seemed like a day that would never come? If so, you're well prepared for the slow-but-steady emergence of ES6 (which is now called ES2015, a name that is sure to catch on any day now), the next version of JavaScript. Getting my bearings with ES6 – er, ES2015 – is hands-down my biggest JavaScript to-do item at the moment; it is going to be somewhere between game-changing and life-altering, what with classes, real privacy, better functions and arguments, import-able modules, and so much more. Those who are competent and productive with the new syntax will have no trouble standing out in the JS community. Required reading:

  • Understanding ES6, a work-in-progress book being developed in the open by Nicholas Zakas.
  • BabelJS, a tool that lets you write ES6 today and "compile" it to ES5 that will run in current browsers. They also have a good learning section.
  • ES6 Rocks, with various posts that explore ES6 features, semantics, and gotchas.

Do you need to be an ES6/ES2015 expert? Probably not today, but you should know at least as much about it as your peers, and possibly more. It's also worth at least entertaining the possibility of writing your next greenfield project using ES6; the future will be here before you know it.

New language features aside, you should be able to speak fluently about the asynchronicity of JavaScript, and using callbacks and promises to manage it. You should have well-formed opinions about strategies for loading applications in the browser and communicating between pieces of an application. You should maybe have a favorite application development framework, but not at the expense of having a general understanding of how other frameworks operate, and the tradeoffs you accept when you choose one.

Modules & Build Tools

There's no debate that modules should be the building blocks of client-side web applications. Back in 2012, there was lots of debate about what kind of modules we should use for building apps destined for the browser – AMD or CommonJS. The somewhat-gross UMD wrapper arose to try to avoid answering the question while still allowing code reuse – because hey, what's a few more bytes between friends?

I don't feel like this debate is anywhere near resolved, but this is the area where I feel like we've seen the largest transformation since my 2012 article, though perhaps that's a reflection of my personal change of heart. I'm not ready to say that I'm done with AMD, but let's just say I'm floored by how practical it has become to develop and deploy web applications using CommonJS, including modules imported with npm.

With much love for all that RequireJS has contributed to the module conversation, I'm a bit enamored of webpack right now. Its features – such as easy-to-understand build flags – feel more accessible than RequireJS. Its hot-swap builds via its built-in dev server make for a fast and delightful development story. It doesn't force an AMD vs. CommonJS decision, because it supports both. It also comes with a ton of loaders, making it fairly trivial to do lots of common tasks. Browserify is worth knowing about, but lags far behind Webpack in my opinion. Smart people I trust tell me that systemjs is also a serious contender in this space, but I haven't used it yet, and its docs leave me wanting. Its companion package manager jspm is intriguing, allowing you to pull in modules from multiple sources including npm, but I'm a bit wary of combining those two concerns. Then again, I never thought I'd break up with AMD, yet here I seem to be, so we'll see.

I still long for a day when we stop having module and build tool debates, and there is a single module system and sharing code between arbitrary projects becomes realistic and trivial without the overhead of UMD. Ideally, the arrival of ES6 modules will bring that day – and transpilers will fill in the gaps as the day draws closer – but I find it just as likely that we'll keep finding ways to make it complicated.

In the meantime, front-end developers need to have an opinion about at least a couple of build tools and the associated module system, and that opinion should be backed up by experience. For better or worse, JavaScript is still in a state where the module decision you make will inform the rest of your project.

Testing

Testing of client-side code has become more commonplace, and a few new testing frameworks have arrived on the scene, including Karma and Intern. I find Intern's promise-based approach to async testing to be particularly pleasing, though I confess that I still write most of my tests using Mocha – sometimes I'm just a creature of habit.

The main blocker to testing is the code that front-end devs tend to write. I gave a talk toward the end of 2012 about writing testable JavaScript, and followed up with an article on the topic a few months later.

The second biggest blocker to testing remains the tooling. Webdriver is still a huge pain to work with. Continuous automated testing of a complex UI across all supported browsers continues to be either impossible, or so practically expensive that it might as well be impossible – and never mind mobile. We're still largely stuck doing lightweight automated functional tests on a small subset of supported browser/device/OS combinations, and leaning as hard as we can on lower-level tests that can run quickly and inexpensively. This is a bummer.

If you're interested in improving the problem of untested – or untestable – code, the single most valuable book you can read is Working Effectively with Legacy Code. The author, Michael Feathers, defines "legacy code" as any code that does not have tests. On the topic of testing, the baseline is to accept the truth of that statement, even if other constraints are preventing you from addressing it.

Process Automation

You, hopefully, take for granted the existence of Grunt for task automation. Gulp and Broccoli provide a different approach to automating builds in particular. I haven't used Broccoli, and I've only dabbled in Gulp, but I've definitely come to appreciate some of the limitations of Grunt when it comes to automating complex tasks that depend on other services – especially when that task needs to run thousands of times a day.

The arrival of Yeoman was a mere 45 days away when I wrote my 2012 post. I confess I didn't use it when it first came out, but recently I've been a) starting projects from scratch using unfamiliar tech; and b) trying to figure out how to standardize our approach to developing third-party JS apps at Bazaarvoice. Yeoman really shines in both of these cases. A simple yo react-webpack from the command line creates a whole new project for you, with all the bells and whistles you could possibly want – tests, a dev server, a hello world app, and more. If React and Webpack aren't your thing, there's probably a generator to meet your needs, and it's also easy to create your own.

Given that Yeoman is a tool that you generally use only at the start of a project, and given that new projects don't get started all the time, it's mostly just something worth knowing about. Unless, of course, you're also trying to standardize practices across projects – then it might be a bit more valuable.

Broccoli has gotten its biggest adoption as the basis for ember-cli, and folks I trust suggest that pairing may get a makeover – and a new name – to form the basis of a Grunt/Yeoman replacement in the future. Development on both Grunt and Yeoman has certainly slowed down, so it will be interesting to see what the future brings there.

Code Quality

If you, like me, start to twitch when you see code that violates a project's well-documented style guide, then tools like JSCS and ESLint are godsends, and neither of them existed for you to know about them back in 2012. They both provide a means to document your style guide rules, and then verify your code against those rules automatically, before it ever makes it into a pull request. Which brings me to…

Git

I don’t think a whole lot has changed in the world of Git workflows since 2012, and I'd like to point out Github still hasn't made branch names linkable on the pull request page, for f@#$s sake.

You should obviously be comfortable working with feature branches, rebasing your work on the work of others, squashing commits using interactive rebase, and doing work in small units that are unlikely to cause conflicts whenever possible. Another Git tool to add to your toolbox if you haven't already is the ability to run hooks – specifically, pre-push and pre-commit hooks to run your tests and execute any code quality checks. You can write them yourself, but tools like ghooks make it so trivial that there's little excuse not to integrate them into your workflow.

Client-Side Templating

This may be the thing I got the most wrong in my original post, for some definition of "wrong". Client-side templating is still highly valuable, of course – so valuable that it will be built-in to ES2015 – but there can be too much of a good thing. It's been a hard-earned lesson for lots of teams that moving all rendering to the browser has high costs when it comes to performance, and thus has the "generate all the HTML client-side" approach rightfully fallen out of favor. Smart projects are now generating HTML server-side – maybe even pre-generating it, and storing it as static files that can be served quickly – and then "hydrating" that HTML client-side, updating it with client-side templates as events warrant.

The new expectation here – and I say this to myself as much as to anyone else – is that you are considering the performance implications of your decisions, and maybe not restricting yourself quite so thoroughly to the realm of the browser. Which, conveniently, leads to…

Node

You say you know JavaScript, so these days I expect that you can hop on over to the Node side of things and at least pitch in, if not get at least knee-deep. Yes, there are file systems and streams and servers – and some paradigms that are fundamentally different from front-end dev – but front-end developers who keep the back end at arm's length are definitely limiting their potential.

Even if your actual production back-end doesn't use Node, it's an invaluable tool when it comes to keeping you from getting blocked by back-end development. At the very least, you should be familiar with how to initialize a Node project; how to set up an Express server and routes; and how use the request module to proxy requests.

via rmurphey.com by