lesscssIn the early days of the World Wide Web (WWW), browsers were served static HTML pages. Page design back then was simple; only a few font families were supported, HTML was more or less “RTF + hyperlinks”, and the ability to incorporate graphics into the Web page was considered as cutting-edge. A lot of people would like to skip over the time that followed shortly thereafter, when Web sites had garish backgrounds and browsers introduced the infamous (and thankfully non-standard) <blink>and <marquee> tags. Content that was important or emphasized were highlighted by these and other similar HTML tags to draw people’s attention to them.

The raise of CSS

Over time, of course, people began to realise that while formatting tags such as <i> or <b> and content tags such as <em> or <strong> were usually rendered identically by the browser, they were supposed to be entirely different, semantically speaking. Strongly emphasizing a particular bit of text did not necessarily mean making it bold; a similar effect might be obtained by highlighting the text instead, and in certain circumstances, perhaps more desirable.

Enter Cascading Style Sheets, or CSS. By completely decoupling the semantics of HTML tags from the way they were presented in the browser, CSS enables both Web designer and Web user to customize the way that HTML pages look and feel. Given the same HTML input, but two different stylesheets, a browser may well render the pages entirely different. With CSS, you can modify almost every single HTML tag to mean precisely what you want them to mean, while allowing your HTML content to be almost free of formatting directives. CSS also gives you the option to control – and if need be, change wholesale – the look and feel of your entire website using a single file.

Less CSS the preprocessor

Well and good, but CSS by itself can be quite verbose, even though it’s supposed to cut down on the verbosity of your HTML output. It can also be tedious to modify, if the changes are significant enough. In this regard, CSS is not very different from the C programming language (and in fact, HTML5 + CSS3 is apparently Turing-complete). And just as C has the C pre-processor that greatly enhances it, CSS has Leaner CSS (LESS) as one of its pre-processors.

LESS is a super set of CSS, so you don’t have to unlearn anything to use it. It provides a number of useful features and capabilities that make CSS much, much easier to deploy. It also goes a long way into making CSS a full-fledged programming language, with the inclusion of variables, functions and operations.

If you have ever found CSS to be useful but difficult to work with, LESS can make your life much easier. Check LESS out at http://lesscss.org for a more in-depth tutorial at what its feature set is, how you can use it, its GitHub site and a reference manual. Once you start using LESS, you will never go back to normal CSS – and that’s a good thing.

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