On CodeKit 2.0

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Chris Coyier on (Updated on )

The following is a guest post by Bryan Jones, the creator of CodeKit. I’ve been using CodeKit for a couple of years now and I’ve talked about it plenty. In my opinion it changed the game in front end development making it easy to use advanced tools that, while powerful, felt out of reach for many. Now CodeKit 2.0 it out, which has followed the landscape of front end development, bringing us more powerful tools that are tough to pull off otherwise. Bryan is going to introduce it, and I’ll interject here and there to share my thoughts as I’ve been using 2.0 the last month or so.

What is CodeKit?

CodeKit is an app that helps you build websites faster. It compiles all the cutting-edge languages like Sass, Less, Stylus and CoffeeScript. It live-refreshes your browsers. It combines, minifies and syntax-checks JavaScript. It even optimizes images. All stuff that speeds up both your website and your workflow.

There are other ways to do these things, but CodeKit’s mission is to take the pain out of the process. You drop your project folder onto the app and get to work. No JSON files to edit, nothing to install or download. No commands to memorize. It just works.

What’s New in 2.0?

For starters I hired a designer (Guy Meyer) so the UI no longer looks like it was repeatedly beaten with a DOS 5.1 manual. The new version is also 1,400% faster thanks to a bunch of optimizations and works a lot better in team environments.

But what you really care about is how it can make you faster. So instead of listing every new feature, here’s the top four that will make a difference right away:

1. Refresh Every Browser

Your website has to look good on lots of devices. You pull it up on an iPhone, an iPad, a Galaxy S3, Chrome, Firefox and even IE 11 on a PC. That’s a lot of refresh buttons to click. CodeKit can do that for you.

CodeKit will now live-refresh all of these devices and more. Make a change to your code and a split-second later, every device updates to show those changes. No plugins, no complex configurations. It works even with advanced sites like WordPress and Drupal. Just click the Preview button in CodeKit and then copy the URL to your other devices. Once you see this in action, you won’t work without it ever again.

Note from Chris: Not only does the page literally refresh when you change something like a template or JavaScript file, the page will do style injection for CSS changes (whether they came from a preprocessor or not). Meaning designing for interactive states is a lot easier.

CodeKit 1 could do style injection too, but now CodeKit has it’s own server built-in (which can forward to MAMP or anything else if you prefer) meaning that literally any browser gets the refreshing and style injection.

2. Bower

Bower lets you quickly install over 7,000 components: jQuery, Modernizr, Bootstrap, even WordPress. Bower is now built-in to CodeKit, so all those resources are just two clicks away. Open the Assets area, select the components you want and click the cloud icon. CodeKit grabs the latest versions from the web, along with any required dependencies, and puts them right in your project.

CodeKit also saves you a ton of work when it’s time to update components. Just open the Assets area and choose the Installed tab. It’ll show you the version of each component in your project and what the latest one available online is. Update them all with a single click, or pick and choose.

Note from Chris: while I haven’t had a chance to use Bower a bunch yet, keeping front end dependencies up to date is the #1 reason I want to.

3. Autoprefixer

Vendor prefixes: the CSS rules that only an IE6 Engineer could love. Autoprefixer makes them painless and it’s now built-in to CodeKit. You just write standard CSS and Autoprefixer adds all the necessary vendor prefixes based on the latest information about each browser. It works seamlessly with Less, Sass and Stylus. It’s also totally configurable: just specify which browsers you need to support and it does the rest.

Note from Chris: I think Autoprefixer is almost as big of a game changer as CodeKit itself, and they are a perfect match for each other. While I’m still a big fan of preprocessors, I’m no longer a fan of using them for prefixing. Autoprefixer is a much better way to handle it. You can learn more about it from it’s creator here.

4. Libsass

You’re reading CSS-Tricks, so you probably write Sass. It takes a few seconds to compile, right? Not anymore. Flip on Libsass in CodeKit and your Sass compiles instantly. Libsass is a new Sass compiler written in C instead of Ruby, so it's like Justin-Beiber-tanking-his-billion-dollar-singing-career fast.

Now, Libsass is a beta, and some advanced Sass features (like namespaces and the new 3.3 syntax additions) aren’t supported yet. But Libsass is advancing rapidly and the goal is to reach complete parity by this summer. Unless you’re doing really complex stuff, you can probably use it today and drastically speed up your work. (We used it on CodeKit’s site and that one has some really bleeding-edge CSS going on.)

Note from Chris: While Bryan correctly joked I prefer Sass, I don’t care tremendously much what you use, because there are things that are very likeable about all the CSS preprocessors. One of the few strikes against Sass is that it’s slow to compile compared to the JavaScript-based preprocessors. Libsass makes Sass the fastest as well, so that’s pretty awesome (if you can use it).

More Cool Stuff

OK, I lied. There’s way too many new features to stop at just four. Here’s four more features you’ll love:

Source Maps

CodeKit can create source maps for Sass, Less, CoffeeScript, JavaScript and TypeScript files. (By the way, CodeKit compiles TypeScript now.) Source maps let you see your original source code in the browser’s web inspector instead of the compiled output, which makes debugging easy.

Zurb Foundation

There’s now a “New Zurb Foundation Project” command that pulls down the latest version of Zurb Foundation from the web and sets it up automatically. This was a really common feature request.


Need to run a custom AppleScript or Bash script when files in your project change? Maybe tell Transmit or Coda to sync to a remote server? Gzip some files? No problem. Just set up a Hook and CodeKit will run whatever you need.

Note from Chris: It would be interesting to see it run Grunt or Gulp. Part of the beauty of Grunt is there are a zillion things it can do – things that can be super specific and probably aren’t a good fit for a core CodeKit feature (e.g. the SVG stuff I described here). I’m not sure if mixing multiple build tools is a good idea or not, but it’s worth thinking about.

CoffeeScript Love

If you write CoffeeScript, CodeKit has two new features you’ll like. First, you can now prepend JavaScript files (like jQuery) directly to your CoffeeScript files. Do it with a drag-and-drop in the app, or an in-file statement. Either way, CodeKit combines it all into one minified JavaScript file.

Secondly, CoffeeLint is built-in now, so you can syntax-check your CoffeeScript files before they ever compile. This is also handy for enforcing particular styles, like how many spaces a line should be indented.

What’s Next?

The short answer is, “Whatever Chris Coyier asks for.” The long answer is that I completely overhauled CodeKit’s architecture so that adding new features no longer requires major surgery. I plan to move quickly and keep iterating. Jekyll support is at the top of my list. Scaffolding and templates are up there too. HTML minifiers. If-else and loops in the Kit language. As Tim Cook would say, “We have some exciting products in the pipeline.”

Get In Touch!

I love hearing from people in the industry, even if they don’t use CodeKit. (Grunt FTW!) Come have a look at our new website. I can’t take credit; Guy Meyer designed and built it, but we’d really like to hear what you think, one professional to another. You can find me on Twitter: @bdkjones