5 Tips for Starting a Front-End Refactor

For the last two weeks, I've been working on a really large refactor project at Gusto and I realize that this is the first time that a project like this has gone smoothly for me. There haven't been any kinks in the process, it took about as much time as I thought it would, and no-one appears to be mad at me. In fact, things have gone almost suspiciously well. How did this happen and what was the issue?

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Sponsor: Media Temple

Media Temple is my web host here at CSS-Tricks. I still remember what it was like buying my first web hosting, pointing a domain name to it, FTPing into that server, and having the files I put there appear in the web browser. Powerful stuff, kids. Watch out or you might try to turn it into a career!

I've upgraded my server a few times since then, but it's still a pretty standard grade Media Temple server that happily hosts this site with little trouble. When there is anything weird, I use the same support system to get help as is available to anybody else, and they always go out of there way to investigate what's going on and explain what's up.

A Look Back at the History of CSS

When you think of HTML and CSS, you probably imagine them as a package deal. But for years after Tim Berners-Lee first created the World Wide Web in 1989, there was no such thing as CSS. The original plan for the web offered no way to style a website at all.

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I haven’t experienced imposter syndrome, and maybe you haven’t either

In recent years it’s become trendy to discuss how we all apparently suffer from this imposter syndrome - an inability to internalize one's accomplishments and a persistent fear of being exposed as a “fraud”.

I take two issues with this:

  • it minimizes the impact that this experience has on people that really do suffer from it.
  • we’re labelling what should be considered positive personality traits - humility, an acceptance that we can’t be right all the time, a desire to know more, as a “syndrome” that we need to “deal with”, “get over” or “get past”.

It's not an officially recognized syndrome (yet?), but you can have medical diagnoses that are like imposter syndrome. A general feeling that you're faking it or don't know as much as you should isn't it.

Prettier + Stylelint: Writing Very Clean CSS (Or, Keeping Clean Code is a Two-Tool Game)

It sure is nice having a whole codebase that is perfectly compliant to a set of code style guidelines. All the files use the same indentation, the same quote style, the same spacing and line-break rules, heck, tiny things like the way zero's in values are handled and how keyframes are named.

It seems like a tall order, but these days, it's easier than ever. It seems to me it's become a two-tool game:

  1. A tool to automatically fix easy-to-fix problems
  2. A tool to warn about harder-to-fix problems

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The Art of Comments

I believe commenting code is important. Most of all, I believe commenting is misunderstood. I tweeted out the other day that "I hear conflicting opinions on whether or not you should write comments. But I get thank you's from junior devs for writing them so I'll continue." The responses I received were varied, but what caught my eye was that for every person agreeing that commenting was necessary, they all had different reasons for believing this.

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A Bit on Buttons

Here's three recent things that have come across my desk in recent days regarding buttons. One, an accessibility flub that needed to be fixed. Two, an article about the fundamental differences between links and buttons but how they can look too similar for our own good. Three, the logical extreme of the button element: never use them outside of forms unless injected with JavaScript.

Writing Smarter Animation Code

If you've ever coded an animation that's longer than 10 seconds with dozens or even hundreds of choreographed elements, you know how challenging it can be to avoid the dreaded "wall of code". Worse yet, editing an animation that was built by someone else (or even yourself 2 months ago) can be nightmarish.

In these videos, I'll show you the techniques that the pros use keep their code clean, manageable, and easy to revise. Scripted animation provides you the opportunity to create animations that are incredibly dynamic and flexible. My goal is for you to have fun without getting bogged down by the process.

We'll be using GSAP for all the animation. If you haven't used it yet, you'll quickly see why it's so popular - the workflow benefits are substantial.

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Let There Be Peace on CSS

Cristiano Rastelli:

In the last few months there’s been a growing friction between those who see CSS as an untouchable layer in the “separation of concerns” paradigm, and those who have simply ignored this golden rule and have found different ways to style the UI, typically applying CSS styles via JavaScript.

He does a great job of framing the "problem", exploring the history, and pointing to things that make this seem rather war-like, including one of my own!

As Cristiano also makes clear that it's not so much a war but a young community still figuring out things, solving problems for ourselves, and zigzagging through time waiting for this to shake out.

So, here are my suggestions:

  1. Embrace the ever-changing nature of the web.
  2. Be careful with your words: they can hurt.
  3. Be pragmatic, non dogmatic. But most of all, be curious.
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