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How To Learn CSS

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How To Learn CSS

How To Learn CSS

Rachel Andrew



I get a lot of people asking me to recommend to them tutorials on various parts of CSS, or asking how to learn CSS. I also see a lot of people who are confused about bits of CSS, in part because of outdated ideas about the language. Given that CSS has changed quite substantially in the last few years, this is a really good time to refresh your knowledge. Even if CSS is a small part of what you do (because you work elsewhere in the stack), CSS is how things end up looking as you want them on screen, so it is worth being reasonably up to date.

Therefore, this article aims to outline the key fundamentals of CSS and resources for further reading on key areas of modern CSS development. Many of those are things right here on Smashing Magazine, but I’ve also selected some other resources and also people to follow in key areas of CSS. It’s not a complete beginner guide or intended to cover absolutely everything. My aim is to cover the breadth of modern CSS with a focus on a few key areas, that will help to unlock the rest of the language for you.

Language Fundamentals

For much of CSS, you don’t need to worry about learning properties and values by heart. You can look them up when you need them. However, there are some key underpinnings of the language, without which you will struggle to make sense of it. It really is worth dedicating some time to making sure you understand these things, as it will save you a lot of time and frustration in the long run.

Selectors, More Than Just Class

A selector does what it says on the tin, it selects some part of your document in order that you can apply CSS rules to it. While most people are familiar with using a class, or styling an HTML element such as body directly, there are a large number of more advanced selectors which can select elements based on their location in the document, perhaps because they come directly after an element, or are the odd rows in a table.

The selectors that are part of the Level 3 specification (you may have heard them referred to as Level 3 selectors) have excellent browser support. For a detailed look at the various selectors you can use, see the MDN Reference.

Some selectors act as if you had applied a class to something in the document. For example p:first-child behaves as if you added a class to the first p element, these are known as pseudo-class selectors. The pseudo-element selectors act as if an element was dynamically inserted, for example ::first-line acts in a similar way to you wrapping a span around the first line of text. However it will reapply if the length of that line changes, which wouldn’t be the case if you inserted the element. You can get fairly complex with these selectors. In the below CodePen is an example of a pseudo-element chained with a pseudo-class. We target the first p element with a :first-child psuedo-class, then the ::first-line selector selects the first line of that element, acting as if a span was added around that first line in order to make it bold and change the color.

See the Pen first-line by Rachel Andrew (@rachelandrew) on CodePen.

Inheritance And The Cascade

The cascade defines which rule wins when a number of rules could apply to one element. If you have ever been in a situation where you can’t understand why some CSS doesn’t seem to be applying, it’s likely the cascade is tripping you up. The cascade is closely linked to inheritance, which defines which properties are inherited by the child elements of the element they are applied to. It is also linked to specificity, different selectors have different specificity which controls which wins when there are several selectors which could apply to one element.

Note: To get an understanding of all of these things, I would suggest reading The Cascade and Inheritance, in the MDN Introduction to CSS.

If you are struggling with getting some CSS to apply to an element then your browser DevTools are the best place to start, take a look at the example below in which I have an h1 element targeted by the element selector h1 and making the heading orange. I am also using a class, which sets the h1 to rebeccapurple. The class is more specific and so the h1 is purple. In DevTools, you can see that the element selector is crossed out as it does not apply. Once you can see that the browser is getting your CSS (but something else has overruled it), then you can start to work out why.

See the Pen specificity by Rachel Andrew (@rachelandrew) on CodePen.


The DevTools in Firefox showing rules for the h1 selector crossed out
DevTools can help you see why some CSS is not applying to an element (Large preview)

The Box Model

CSS is all about boxes. Everything that is displayed on the screen has a box, and the Box Model describes how the size of that box is worked out — taking into account margins, padding, and borders. The standard CSS Box Model takes the width that you have given an element, then adds onto that width the padding and border — meaning that the space taken up by the element is larger than the width you gave it.

More recently, we have been able to choose to use an alternate box model which uses the given width on the element as the width of the visible element on screen. Any padding or border will inset the content of the box from the edges. This makes a lot more sense for many layouts.

In the demo below, I have two boxes. Both have a width of 200 pixels, with a border of 5 pixels and padding of 20 pixels. The first box uses the standard box model and so takes up a total width of 250 pixels, the second the alternate Box Model and so is actually 200 pixels wide.

See the Pen box models by Rachel Andrew (@rachelandrew) on CodePen.

Browser DevTools can once again help you with understanding the box model in use. In the below image, I use Firefox DevTools to inspect a box using the default content-box box model. The tools tell me this is the Box Model in use, and I can see the sizing and how the border and padding is added to the width I assigned.


The Box Model Panel in Firefox DevTools
DevTools help you see why a box is a certain size, and the box model in use (Large preview)

Note: Prior to IE6, Internet Explorer used the alternate Box Model, with padding and borders insetting content away from the given width. So for a while browsers used different Box Models! When frustrated by interoperability issues today, be glad that things have improved so we aren’t dealing with browsers calculating the width of things differently.

There is a good explanation of the Box Model and Box Sizing on CSS Tricks, plus an explanation of the best way to globally use the alternate box model in your site.

Normal Flow

If you have a document with some HTML marking up the content and view it in a browser, it will hopefully be readable. Headings and paragraphs will start on a new line, words display as a sentence with a single white space between them. Links for formatting such as em does not break up the sentence flow. This content is being displayed in Normal Flow, or Block Flow Layout. Each part of the content is described as “in flow”; it knows about the rest of the content and so doesn’t overlap.

If you work with rather than against this behavior, your life is made much easier. It is one of the reasons why starting with a correctly marked up HTML document makes a lot of sense, as due to normal flow and the inbuilt stylesheets that browsers have which respect it, your content starts from a readable place.

Formatting Contexts

Once you have a document with content in normal flow, you may want to change how some of that content looks. You do this by changing the formatting context of the element. As a very simple example, if you wanted all of your paragraphs to run together and not start on a new line, you could change the p element to display: inline changing in from a block to an inline formatting context.

Formatting contexts essentially define an outer and an inner type. The outer controls how the element behaves alongside other elements on the page, the inner controls how the children should look. So, for example, when you say display: flex you are setting the outer to be a block formatting context, and the children to have a flex formatting context.

Note : The latest version of the Display Specification changes the values of display to explicitly declare the inner and outer value. Therefore, in the future you might say display: block flex; (block being the outer and flex being the inner).

Read more about display over at MDN.

Being In Or Out Of Flow

Elements in CSS are described as being ‘in flow’ or ‘out of flow.’ Elements in flow are given space and that space is respected by the other elements in flow. If you take an element out of flow, by floating or positioning it, then the space for that element will no longer be respected by other in flow items.

This is most noticeable with absolutely positioned items. If you give an item position: absolute it is removed from flow, then you will need to ensure that you do not have a situation in which the out of flow element overlaps and makes unreadable some other part of your layout.

See the Pen Out of Flow: absolute positioning by Rachel Andrew (@rachelandrew) on CodePen.

However, floated items also are removed from flow, and while following content will wrap around the shortened line boxes of a floated element, you can see by placing a background color on the box of the following elements that they have risen up and are ignoring the space used by the floated item.

See the Pen Out of flow: float by Rachel Andrew (@rachelandrew) on CodePen.

You can read more about in flow and out of flow elements on MDN. The important thing to remember is that if you take an element out of flow, you need to manage overlap yourself as the regular rules of block flow layout no longer apply.

Layout

For over fifteen years we have been doing layout in CSS without a designed for the job layout system. This has changed. We now have a perfectly capable layout system which includes Grid and Flexbox, but also Multiple-column Layout and the older layout methods used for their real purpose. If CSS Layout is a mystery to you, head on over to the MDN Learn Layout tutorial, or read my article Getting Started With CSS Layout here on Smashing Magazine.

Do not imagine that methods such as grid and flexbox are somehow competing. In order to use Layout well, you will sometimes find a component is best as a flex component and sometimes as Grid. On occasion, you will want the column flowing behavior of multicol. All of these are valid choices. If you feel you are fighting against the way something behaves, that is, in general, a very good sign that it might be worth taking a step back and trying a different approach. We are so used to hacking at CSS to make it do what we want, and so we are likely to forget that we have a number of other options to try.

Layout is my main area of expertise and I’ve written a number of articles here on Smashing Magazine and elsewhere to try and help tame the new Layout landscape. In addition to the Layout article mentioned above, I have a whole series on Flexbox — start with What Happens When You Create a Flexbox Flex Container. On Grid By Example, I have a whole bunch of small examples of CSS Grid — plus a video screencast tutorial.

In addition — and especially for designers — check out Jen Simmons and her Layout Land video series.

Alignment

I’ve separated Alignment out from Layout in general because while most of us were introduced to Alignment as part of Flexbox, these properties apply to all layout methods, and it is worth understanding them in that context rather than thinking about “Flexbox Alignment” or “CSS Grid alignment.” We have a set of Alignment properties which work in a common way where possible; they then have some differences due to the way different layout methods behave.

On MDN, you can dig into Box Alignment and how it is implemented for Grid, Flexbox, Multicol, and Block Layout. Here on Smashing Magazine, I have an article specifically covering alignment in Flexbox: Everything You Need To Know About Alignment In Flexbox.

Sizing

I spent much of 2018 speaking about the Intrinsic and Extrinsic Sizing specification, and how it relates to Grid and Flexbox in particular. On the web, we are used to setting sizing in lengths or percentages, as this is how we have been able to make Grid-type layouts using floats. However, modern layout methods can do a lot of the space distribution for us — if we let them. Understanding how Flexbox assigns space (or the Grid fr unit works), is worth your time.

Here on Smashing Magazine, I’ve written about Sizing in Layout in general and also for Flexbox in How Big Is That Flexible Box?.

Responsive Design

Our new layout methods of Grid and Flexbox often mean that we can get away with fewer media queries than we needed with our older methods, due to the fact that they are flexible and respond to changes in viewport or component size without us needing to change the widths of elements. However, there will be places where you will want to add in some breakpoints to further enhance your designs.

Here are some simple guides to Responsive Design, and for media queries, in general, check out my article Using Media Queries for Responsive Design in 2018. I take a look at what Media Queries are useful for, and also show the new features coming to Media Queries in Level 4 of the spec.

Fonts And Typography

Along with Layout, the use of fonts on the web has undergone huge change in the last year. Variable Fonts, enabling a single font file to have unlimited variations, are here. To get an overview of what they are and how they work, watch this excellent short talk from Mandy Michael: Variable Fonts and the Future of Web Design. Also, I would recommend Dynamic Typography With Modern CSS and Variable Fonts by Jason Pamental.

To explore Variable Fonts and their capabilities, there is a fun demo from Microsoft plus a number of playgrounds to try out Variable Fonts — Axis Praxis being the most well known (I also like the Font Playground).

Once you start working with Variable Fonts, then this guide on MDN will prove incredibly useful. To learn how to implement a fallback solution for browsers which does not support Variable Fonts read Implementing a Variable Font With Fallback Web Fonts by Oliver Schöndorfer. The Firefox DevTools Font Editor also has support for working with Variable Fonts.

Transforms And Animation

CSS Transforms and Animation are definitely something I look upon a need-to-know basis. I don’t often need to use them, and the syntax seems to hop right out of my head between uses. Thankfully, the reference on MDN helps me out and I would suggest starting with the guides on Using CSS Transforms and Using CSS Animations. Zell Liew also has a nice article that provides a great explanation to CSS transitions.

To discover some of the things that are possible, take a look at the Animista site.

One of the things that can be confusing about animations, is which approach to take. In addition to what is supported in CSS, you might need to involve JavaScript, SVG, or the Web Animation API, and these things all tend to get lumped together. In her talk, Choose Your Animation Adventure recorded at An Event Apart, Val Head explains the options.

Use Cheatsheets As A Reminder, Not A Learning Tool

When I mention Grid or Flexbox resources, I often see replies saying that they can’t do Flexbox without a certain cheatsheet. I have no problem with cheatsheets as a memory helper to look up syntax, and I’ve published some of my own. The problem with entirely relying on those is that you can miss why things work as you copy syntax. Then, when you hit a case where that property seems to behave differently, that apparent inconsistency seems baffling, or a fault of the language.

If you find yourself in a situation where CSS seems to be doing something very strange, ask why. Create a reduced test case that highlights the issue, ask someone who is more familiar with the spec. Many of the CSS problems I am asked about are because that person believes a property works in a different way to the way it works in reality. It’s why I talk a lot about things like alignment and sizing, as these are places where this confusion often lives.

Yes, there are strange things in CSS. It is a language that has evolved over the years, and there are things about it that we can’t change — until we invent a timemachine. However, once you have some basics down, and understand why things behave as they do, you will have a much easier time with the trickier places.

Smashing Editorial
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Source: Smashing Magazine, How To Learn CSS

2018: A Smashing Year In Review

dreamt up by webguru in Uncategorized | Comments Off on 2018: A Smashing Year In Review

2018: A Smashing Year In Review

2018: A Smashing Year In Review

Rachel Andrew



As we come to the end of 2018, I spoke to some of the Smashing team, to get some thoughts on what the past year has been like for Smashing Magazine. We’re a small and fully remote team, communicating via Slack and Notion. Many of us only work part-time for Smashing, however, in many ways, I think that is one of our strengths.

We’re not just the publishers of an online magazine or conference organizers, we are people who work in the web industry. Among the team, products have been launched, books are being written, conferences have been spoken at, and websites launched that have nothing to do with Smashing Magazine itself. I love that. It stops us being insular, and I hope this helps us to constantly broaden our reach — bringing people together from all over the world to share ideas and inspiration as we all work together to build a better web.

As Editor in Chief of Smashing Magazine, I look after the content that goes out on the online magazine, and also our upcoming print magazine for members. This year, we have published almost every weekday — that represents over 290 articles! That’s a whole lot of content on subjects from privacy and accessibility to CSS and WordPress. While I read every article that goes out, I do not have the expertise to know everything about all of these subjects. I couldn’t do my job without the help of our talented editors who work with individual authors: Alma Hoffmann (Design), Chui Chui Tan (UX Design), Drew McLellan (Coding), Jim Dabell (Mobile), Marko Dugonjić (Typography), Michel Bozgounov (Graphics), and Rey Bango (Coding). Plus thanks to Iris Lješnjanin, Markus Seyfferth, Yana Kirilenko, Cosima Mielke, Andrew Lobo and Ricardo Gimenes for their hard work and efforts.

In Between Timezones

On a personal note, this year has once again involved a lot of travel, as I continue to tour around speaking about new CSS and CSS Layout. That has included talks and workshops for Smashing. In total (with speaking engagements, workshops and CSS Working Group meetings), I have traveled 272,865 kilometers while visiting 45 cities and 15 countries. That amounts to spending 146 days on the road.

Here’s a fun fact: My weekly standup post in our Smashing Slack usually starts with sharing the timezones I’m going to be in that week. Well, next year will involve more travel, and I’ll be bringing my new CSS Layout workshop to San Francisco, Toronto, and New York.

As for the magazine, I hope we can continue to publish great content from authors — those who are experienced writers but also folks writing for the first time. We are very happy to work with you to shape an article for publication. Personally, writing has helped boost my career more than anything else I have done. I love to help other people get started. So, if you have an idea, read this and then send over an outline.

Please don’t hesitate. Some of our most popular posts have been beginner guides to a technology, so don’t feel you need to have solved a big problem, or have some brand new technique in order to contribute. A nice technique, demonstrated and explained well, is worth a lot to someone who has just hit that same issue.

Anyway, enough from me! What were the highlights of the year for everyone else here at Smashing?

Vitaly Friedman: A Transitional Year

2018 was a quite busy and adventurous year for me, with a good number of ups and downs, challenges, surprises, and rewards. I was honored to have had the opportunity to run trainings, workshops and even offer consultancy to the European Parliament, EPAM, OTTO, Sipgate, Axel Springer and Wondrous, among others. I was happy to support dozens of local meet-ups and conferences around the world with the kind help of our Smashing Members.

Earlier this year, I explored how we can improve the level of education for front-end and design. While speaking at universities and schools, I was also teaching to get a sense of what’s required to set up a proper design school. In February, I taught at the New Digital School in Porto, Portugal, for a week, while exploring the state of front-end and responsive interface design in a class of 20 students. In June, I helped dear friends from the Projector Design School in Kyiv, Ukraine, set up Berlin Design Campus, an initiative for Ukrainian students to explore how digital agencies and designers work and live in Berlin. In October, I participated in a week-long co-working co-living campus in Mokrin, Serbia.

Specifically, I was exploring the state of design and front-end in uncommon locations, mostly second- and third-largest cities: Porto and Braga in Portugal (thanks Tiago!), Yerevan in Armenia (thanks Sona and Sargis!), Gdansk in Poland (thanks Patrycja!), Salzburg in Austria (thanks Markus!), Moscow and Saint Petersburg in Russia (thanks Julia, Daria, Alex, Andrey, Vadim and Alexey!), Split and Labin in Croatia (thanks Toni, Antonio and Domagoj!), Belgrade and Mokrin in Serbia (thanks Tatjana and Marija!), Belfast in Northern Ireland (thanks Tash and Oliver!), Manila in Philippines (thanks Sophia!), Tallinn in Estonia (thanks Artur!).

Much of the time in the second half of the year was spent with wonderful people at the European Parliament in Brussels, where Nicolas and Manuel were kind enough to invite me to work on refinements and improvements of UIs for election sites, media library, and a few smaller sites. That was quite a bit of traveling, with the absolute worst highlight of the last years being a massively delayed 47-hour trip to the Philippines due to a closed runway at the Manila airport (thanks for bearing with me through this, dear Sophia and the crew!)

Over the course of the year, I have spoken at 17 conferences, and was privileged to meet many — many! — remarkable people. It ended up with conversations I will remember for years to come. Some of these conversations changed me for the better as a person and professional, so I was happy to receive constructive criticism on MCing skills, writing, as well as code and design. I managed to wrap my head around the intricacies of CSS Grid Layout and Service Workers but also spent a lot of time learning about network protocols and the underlying layers of the Internet. I also attended 6 workshops to stay afloat of what’s happening in our industry these days and sharpened up my front-end/UX/communication skills. In September, I was honored to participate in the Mozilla Tech Speakers coaching, along with Ada Rose Edwards and Marc Thiele, mentoring and giving feedback to dozens of new speakers (here’s a review of the event by Havi Hoffman).

In terms of the Smashing Universe, we spent quite a bit of time revising our workflows and streamlining our processes for conferences, books, and the Smashing Membership. With fantastic event management skills of Mariona Ciller, Amanda Tamny Annandale and Charis Rooda, we’ve run 5 conferences this year: in London, San Francisco, Toronto, Freiburg and New York.

For the first time, we experimented with a ’no-slides’ format in Toronto (every speaker presented “live” on stage in front of a large screen shwoing how they build and design — with performance and accessibility audits to live designing/coding/sketching sessions on stage. In fact, that’s the format we are going to continue exploring in 2019.

Editor’s Note: If this format sounds interesting to you, you can watch all of the SmashingConf talks on Vimeo.

Nadieh Bremer presenting at SmashingConf Toronto (watch on Vimeo)

After many months of work, we finally published “Smashing Book 6” and “Form Design Patterns” by Adam Silver, but quite a bit of time was spent on the next upcoming books that will be published in the next years. For the Membership, we were able to secure Scott Whitehead and Bruce Lawson to help evolve the Membership program.

On a more personal level, I will vividly remember vacations to Morocco (Marrakesh, Fez and the Sahara desert trip) and Sardinia (Northern part) earlier this year. Also, on a sad note, I’ve moved out from Vilnius, Lithuania, where I’ve resided for the past 3 years.

Overall, I see 2018 as an important “transitional” year which took a lot of time, effort, and hard work. It feels like it’s been a transitional year between how things used to be and what’s coming up next. With this in mind, I couldn’t be more excited to see what 2019 will bring us! Expect a few new books coming up, Smashing Magazine Print edition, four Smashing Conferences (San Francisco, Toronto, Freiburg, New York) and many wonderful Smashing TV sessions!

Markus Seyfferth: Never Stand Still

Change happens everywhere and all the time — in all organizations, agencies, and businesses. If you don’t thrive change on your own, then there comes a time when change takes place on its own and things get out of control.

Looking back on the year 2018, we’ve undergone changes to even better fit the needs of our readers. We published the Smashing Book 6: New Frontiers in Web Design, a book packed into the probably the most beautiful cover that we have had designed so far. It’s a book that sheds light on all kinds of upcoming challenges that await web designers and developers in the near future.


A photo of the Smashing Book 6
Smashing Book 6 (photo credit Marc Thiele)

We also published Form Design Patterns, a book that focusses on building all sorts of accessible and resilient web forms, and how to make them pretty (thanks to progressive enhancement) — a book that I personally learned a lot from. We’ve also started working on two new books that we’ll be publishing early next year: “Art Direction on the Web” by Andy Clarke, and “Inclusive Components” by Heydon Pickering. I am eagerly looking forward to holding both of them in my hands!

At the end of last year, we did something that we usually wouldn’t do because it would be too much of a risk. We launched a fully redesigned site: we migrated the entire magazine, the Job Board, and our Smashing Shop onto a new platform, and also launched our Membership initiative to reduce advertising on the site and to make Smashing more independent from ads in the long run. All of this took place at the same time. Was it worth it? A definite “Yes!” We’ve seen a noticeable uptrend in our analytics and many positive outcomes. At around mid-2018, we had already crossed the 1,000 members mark, and we look forward to breaking the next big mark in the next year (always with the long-term goal of getting fully independent within the next three years)!

That’s right; Smashing Membership continues to evolve. In the upcoming months, we’ll be introducing a new print magazine for our Members — something that is both visually appealing and also most useful to read. Rachel will be building the print magazine mostly with print.css, so I’m really looking forward to seeing how this will turn out and whether we can reuse some of it for our upcoming books!

And that’s not the only sort of change that is still ongoing at Smashing. We also tried a new live coding and design conference format at this year’s SmashingConf in Toronto; we thought that the old format had gotten a bit too much of the same, something that makes SmashingConf a bit too similar with what others already do. After all, we want to run conferences that contain content that we ourselves find most useful and interesting, and the new live format brings precisely that! It did take quite a bit of a risk though, and we’re thrilled that it turned out to be a tremendous success! So we are going to double down with this new format in the next year.

Last but not least, we also moved our smashingconf.com site to Netlify just recently, but that happened mostly in the background, so if no one really noticed the change, I guess that’s a good thing.

Yes, 2018 was a year full of transitions, but I guess you never can afford to stand still anyway? 😉

Bruce Lawson: Joining The Team

Before the end of the first year of Smashing Membership, we reached a thousand members — thank you so much, everyone! Those extra-special people who were with us for the whole year received a little thank you in the post.

I joined Scott in October, which allowed us to increase the number of Smashing TV webinars (which are free to Members and Smashing Members, of course). We’ve had sessions on coding Machine Learning, Designing with Ethics, the State of the Web in South-East Asia, and statistical techniques for collecting user data without compromising privacy. (All are recorded and available to members, if you have FOMO!)

When we set up Membership, we promised that it would be an inclusive place where lesser-heard voices (in addition to big names) would be beamed straight to your living room/ home office/ sauna over Smashing TV. While we’ve been speaking at other non-Smashing events, we’ve watched other sessions from lesser-known talents in our industry. With only $5 to $9 a month, your Membership subscription allows us to bring you even greater content, pay all our contributors fairly, and reduce advertising on the site.

Next year, we’ll be increasing the number of webinars again. Lined up is a course on how to make Progressive Web Apps, Internationalization, Semantic HTML, Houdini, as well as a monthly show hosted by me and Vitaly with industry guests. We sincerely hope you’ll join us!

Amanda Annandale: A Year Of Firsts

2018 was a year of firsts, new cities, new attendees, new speakers, and even a couple new formats. We had more than a few challenges in store, but if you have any experience with the Smashing Team, you’ll know that we thrive on challenges.

We started the year in London (our first time in the capital city and the first time in England in a couple of years). The sold-out conference took place in LSO’s St. Luke’s Church, and bathed in sunlight. This performance-based conference brought in a new crowd of attendees and speakers — all discussing why Performance Matters, the common pitfalls, and the tips and tricks for improving the day to day user experience. With Una Kravets and Patrick Hamman as MCs, the experience was new and empowering.

In April, the Smashing team headed back to San Francisco. The weather was wonderful as we returned to the bay, with 14 speakers, 8 workshops, and nearly 500 attendees. Held at the Palace of Fine Arts, Mina Markham walked us through the process of redesigning Slack, while Joe Leech broke down the process of “Designing Powerful User Experiences With Psychology.” We toured the area, competed with each other at the arcade, and came together to find new ways to solve new processes and challenges.


A photo of Amanda at a desk at the conference
Backstage at Smashing Conf Toronto (Photo credit: Marc Thiele)

A couple of months later, SmashingConf experimented with its boldest change: no slides! All of the presenters, from Aaron Draplin to Rachel Andrew, tossed out their ‘normal’ presentation format and showed the attendees how they work. The experience was enlightening, showing how similar we all are in our work processes in some ways, while approaching things from an entirely different angle in others. In fact, we loved it so much that we’ve decided 2019 should be the year of No Slides!

The end of the summer is when Smashing goes home. Set on the foothills of the Black Forest, at the infamous Markethall, SmashingConf came back to Freiburg, Germany with 14 speakers. Chui Chui Tan spoke about Designing for Global Audiences while Josh Clark talked about Design in the Era of the Algorithm. In addition, we had a new experience adding community lightning talks to our program. No matter what changes though, there’s nothing like hosting SmashingConf Freiburg and bringing people to our home.

And finally, we ended the year in the city that never sleeps — and lived up to the name! In New York City, we had 14 speakers, 8 workshops, a packed speaker panel, a couple of retro parties, and events that kept everyone busy for four days. Smashing challenged the sold-out audience with an engaging group of speakers from John Maeda to Debbie Millman and Sara Soueidan. No matter how many times we go back, the experiences always change us in a way.

But, then again, that’s how the Smashing team always feels at the end of a season: challenged, moved, and driven. We’ve learned from over 30 speakers, met over 1500 attendees, flown to 5 cities, eaten lots of incredible food, and had countless wonderful experiences. Now, the team is ready to create, improve, and progress to see what 2019 has in store for us!

Marc Thiele: Moving Closer Together

If you ask me, I think that this year went by really quickly. When I look back, I see five Smashing conferences, which took place in London, San Francisco, Toronto, Freiburg and New York, as well as many improvements which we’ve achieved in the background.

Editor’s note: Marc has taken photos of many of our conferences, you can find the albums on his Flickr account.

When I say background, I mean that maybe readers, attendees or folks who visit Smashing Magazine don’t even recognize the work we do behind the curtains. Of course, there are final products that are presented in the articles published on Smashing Magazine, the Smashing Books, or projects that have been brought to your attention via Smashing TV or while attending a Smashing conference or workshops, but there is a small team of people who work hard to continue improving workflows and experiences for our cherished customers. What you often don’t see is see the messy middle and the bumpy journey we are on — from talking about a new idea to the final product. There actually is a lot of work, a lot of failure, and many discussions and conversations involved.

From the end of April onwards, we had many meetings and conversations to see where we can improve the work that we do. Defining clear roles and tasks, checking how the many different parts of the Smashing Universe can grow closer together, and also looking for new, exciting ideas to bring to life. There are also many new faces on board of the Smashing boat — fresh energy to move forward — and I am very much looking forward to seeing the results of their passion and input. Expect the quality you know from the magazine and the events and an even better Smashing Membership, Smashing TV, and maybe the one or other new idea.

So, when I personally speak about 2018, I tend to say that this year was not too good and felt strange for a reason that I can’t really grab and describe. Perhaps it is the overall mood and spirit that comes from what you see when you turn on the news, read the newspaper in the morning or talk to your neighbor? All I know is that it is important to stay positive and have a positive look into the future. I ran three very successful beyond tellerrand shows in Munich, Dusseldorf and Berlin, and I’ve seen the success we had with all the Smashing conferences and the improvements we’ve accomplished for the overall Smashing experience.

My wish for the upcoming new year: let’s meet — even more. Let’s share ideas and what we’ve learned. Let’s not just meet on the web, but in real life. It is wonderful to teach and share and to see other people taking what they’ve learned from you and take it further to create, inspire and teach others with it. One more thing that also is important: Stay curious and ask questions. Never fear to ask a question as you “might look stupid asking.” If you have a question, then it’s stupid not to ask.

With this, I wish everyone a wonderful journey over to 2019 and I am looking forward to meeting you in 2019!

Alma Hoffmann: Reflections

Working at Smashing Magazine has been a very rewarding experience. Each time one of the articles I have edited gets published, I think I am happier than the authors.

One article, in particular, that was very meaningful to me was written by Trine Falbe and titled “Ethical Design The Practical Getting-Started Guide.” We all talk about ethical design, but not often we are provided with a way to get started. It is a good article to reflect upon as the current year ends and the new starts.

Thank you, Smashing, for keeping me around!

A Truly Smashing Year

Reading all of this certainly makes me proud to be part of the Smashing team. At the heart of everything Smashing, is an absolute focus on you, our readers, members, and conference attendees. We hope that the things we do demonstrate that, and we are always happy to listen and to learn when we get it wrong!

I’m excited for the things we will be sharing in 2019, and along with all of the team I am always happy to hear your feedback. What can we do better? What do you want to learn? How can we help? We will be opening up a survey for some more formal feedback early in 2019, but our door (or email inbox at least) is always open!

Smashing Editorial
(il)

Source: Smashing Magazine, 2018: A Smashing Year In Review

New Year, New Beginnings (January 2019 Wallpapers Edition)

dreamt up by webguru in Uncategorized | Comments Off on New Year, New Beginnings (January 2019 Wallpapers Edition)

New Year, New Beginnings (January 2019 Wallpapers Edition)

New Year, New Beginnings (January 2019 Wallpapers Edition)

Cosima Mielke



Maybe you’ve already started into the new year when you read this, maybe you’re still waiting for the big countdown to begin. No matter what: Let’s welcome 2019 with a fresh wallpaper!

To give you a little inspiration boost, artists and designers from across the globe once again tickled their creativity and designed unique wallpapers for you to indulge in. All of them come in versions with and without a calendar for January 2019 and can be downloaded for free — just like every month since more than nine years already. At the end of this post, we also compiled some January favorites from past years that are too good not to share. Have an exciting new year!

Further Reading on SmashingMag:

Please note that:

  • All images can be clicked on and lead to the preview of the wallpaper,
  • You can feature your work in our magazine by taking part in our Desktop Wallpaper Calendar series. We are regularly looking for creative designers and artists to be featured on Smashing Magazine. Are you one of them?

Let The Magic Begin

“When the noisy holidays stay behind us, and everything calms down to a peaceful setting, it is a perfect moment for the magic to step in and start making our wishes, hopes, and decisions come true. Happy January, everyone!” — Designed by PopArt Web Design from Serbia.

Let the Magic Begin

New Year

“The dawn of January the 1st of 2019 is the beginning of a new year which gives dreams, hopes and a lot more to billions of people around the world.” — Designed by Sweans Technologies Ltd. from London.

NEW YEAR

A New Beginning

“I wanted to do a lettering-based wallpaper because I love lettering. I chose January because for a lot of people the new year is perceived as a new beginning and I wish to make them feel as positive about it as possible! The ideia is to make them feel like the new year is (just) the start of something really great.” — Designed by Carolina Sequeira from Portugal.

A New Beginning

Intense Winter

“Winter brings both Christmas & New Year together. A season which provides time for comfort, food, warmth, and touch of a friendly hand and for a talk beside the fire.” — Designed by Call Taxi Software from India.

Intense Winter

New Year, New Chances

“The climate is changing very fast. 2019 is a new chance to save the earth, the people and the animals who suffer from global warming.” — Designed by Melissa Bogemans from Belgium.

New year, new chances

A Cold But Happy 2019

“January is a cold but cozy month so i tried to make my illustrations in cold and cozy colors. Blue and white as the cold colors and red darkblue as the cozy colors. I made some small details like reindeers, clouds snowflakes and trees to make it look better.” — Designed by Vince Teckmans from Belgium.

A cold but happy 2019

Cold… Penguins!

“The new year is here! We waited for it like penguins. We look at the snow and enjoy with it!” — Designed by Veronica Valenzuela from Spain.

Cold penguins

Hidden Gem

“Kingfishers are called ‘ijsvogels’ (ice-birds) in Dutch. Not because they like winter cold, but because of the intense blue and teal colors…” — Designed by Franke Margrete from the Netherlands.

Hidden Gem

Snowman

Designed by Ricardo Gimenes from Sweden.

Snowman

Freezy Hope For 2019

“I took this photo while walking around the city where I live. It’s located in the Vosges, France. It was cold but without snow. White color is coming from freezy touchs of the fog remaining on everything. I found it amazing. White is a color for hope. Let’s have a pleasant year 2019” — Designed by Philippe Brouard from France

Freezy hope for 2019

Oldies But Goodies

The past New Year’s editions have brought forth some timeless wallpaper goodies that work equally well in 2019. Please note that they don’t come with a calendar. May we present…

Open The Doors Of The New Year

“January is the first month of the year and usually the coldest winter month in the Northern hemisphere. The name of the month of January comes from ‘ianua’, the Latin word for door, so this month denotes the door to the new year and a new beginning. Let’s open the doors of the new year together and hope it will be the best so far!” — Designed by PopArt Studio from Serbia.

Open the Doors of the New Year

Start Somewhere

“If we wait until we’re ready, we’ll be waiting for the rest of our lives. Start today – somewhere, anywhere.” — Designed by Shawna Armstrong from the United States.

Start Somewhere

Winter Leaves

Designed by Nathalie Ouederni from France.

Winter Leaves

Boom!

Designed by Elise Vanoorbeek from Belgium.

Boom.

January Fish

“My fish tank at home inspired me to make a wallpaper with a fish :)” — Designed by Arno De Decker from Belgium.

January Fish

Angel In Snow

Designed by Brainer from Ukraine.

Angel in Snow!

Happy Hot Tea Month

“You wake me up to a beautiful day; lift my spirit when I’m feeling blue. When I’m home you relieve me of the long day’s stress. You help me have a good time with my loved ones; give me company when I’m all alone. You’re none other than my favourite cup of hot tea.” — Designed by Acodez IT Solutions from India.

Happy Hot Tea Month!

Dare To Be You

“The new year brings new opportunities for each of us to become our true selves. I think that no matter what you are — like this little monster — you should dare to be the true you without caring what others may think. Happy New Year!” — Designed by Maria Keller from Mexico.

Dare To Be You

White Mountains

“In Central Europe, we’ve had a very warm beginning of winter. I hope there will be lots of powder for snowboarding soon. I’d love to see the French Alps again as white as in 2015 when I took this photo.” — Designed by Annika Oeser from Germany.

White Mountains

Winter Getaway

“What could be better, than a change of scene for a week? Even if you are too busy, just think about it.” — Designed by Igor Izhik from Canada.

Winter Getaway

Be Awesome Today

“A little daily motivation to keep your cool during the month of January.” — Designed by Amalia Van Bloom from the United States.

be awesome today

Japanese New Year

Designed by Evacomics from Singapore.

Japanese New Year

A New Start

“The new year brings hope, festivity, lots and lots of resolutions, and many more goals that need to be achieved. This wallpaper is based on the idea of ‘A New Start’.” — Designed by Damn Perfect from India.

A New Start

The Way To Get Started

“January is all about renewing efforts and making plans, but sometimes we need little reminders that plans don’t matter if you don’t do anything about them. Initially, I was inspired by the idea of a fresh sheet of paper, which became the background for some great words from Walt Disney.” — Designed by Resa Barillas from the United States.

The Way To Get Started

Three Wise Men Of The East

“In Belgium remember the Three Wise Men of the East is a tradition. It involves children going from door to door, dressed up as the three Wise Men. They sing a little song, in exchange for sweets and/or money. The design is very minimalistic and ‘flat’. I hope you like it :)” — Designed by Jeroen Bartels from Belgium.

Three Wise Men of the East

Rest Up For The New Year

“I was browsing for themes when I found this “Festival of Sleep” that takes place on the 3rd, and I’m a big fan of sleep… Especially in these cold months after the holiday craziness, it’s nice to get cozy and take a nice nap.” — Designed by Dorothy Timmer from Central Florida, USA.

Rest Up For The New Year

Hello Summer In Australia

Designed by Tazi Designs from Australia.

Hello Summer in Australia!

Join In Next Month!

Please note that we respect and carefully consider the ideas and motivation behind each and every artist’s work. This is why we give all artists the full freedom to explore their creativity and express emotions and experience throughout their works. This is also why the themes of the wallpapers weren’t anyhow influenced by us, but rather designed from scratch by the artists themselves.

Thank you to all designers for their participation. Join in next month!

Smashing Editorial
(il)

Source: Smashing Magazine, New Year, New Beginnings (January 2019 Wallpapers Edition)

Will PWAs Replace Native Mobile Apps?

dreamt up by webguru in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Will PWAs Replace Native Mobile Apps?

Will PWAs Replace Native Mobile Apps?

Will PWAs Replace Native Mobile Apps?

Suzanne Scacca



A developer friend of mine has decided to build a progressive web app for his new company. When I asked why he opted for a PWA instead of a native app, he said:

“Because the PWA is the future of the web.”

I thought that was an interesting sentiment. Until he mentioned it, I was of a similar mindset as Aaron Gustafson when he discussed the battle between the native app and PWA. In other words, I thought it really just came down to choice; not whether one was better than the other.

Now that the idea has been planted, though, I can’t help but notice a bunch of people proclaiming their support for the PWA over the native app. Not only that, many of them have gone as far as to say that the PWA will replace the native app entirely.

I’d like to see if that argument holds any water.

An Extensive Guide To PWAs

Progressive Web Applications are more of a methodology that involves a combination of technologies to make powerful web applications. Tell me more about PWAs →

Will PWAs Replace Native Apps?

I’m going to go ahead and answer that question right now:

“Yes, but not for everyone.”

Here’s the way I see it:

The mobile web has definitely improved from where it was just a couple years ago. It’s very rare to run into a website that isn’t 100% responsive in design. That said, I don’t think many mobile websites are 100% mobile-first in design (which I recently hinted at when talking about ditching design elements instead of acquiring more in 2019).

I think for an experience to be truly mobile-first, it would need to be faster and have an app shell. Which is exactly what a PWA offers.

While native apps may provide a superior experience (mostly) to other mobile experiences, I just don’t see a valid reason to spend that amount of money and time to build and manage one… unless your app sits in the top 20 of your category in an app store.

Let me break down the logic I used to come to this decision.

Reason #1: Mobile Web Is Lagging

comScore’s Global Digital Future in Focus report from 2018 makes this point painfully clear:


comScore 2018 mobile web vs. app
comScore 2018 report shows use of mobile web vs. mobile apps (Image source: comScore) (Large preview)

That said, I don’t believe native apps will make mobile websites disappear. I also don’t believe this point counteracts the argument I’m attempting to make today. If this data demonstrates anything, it’s that mobile users strongly prefer the experience of interacting with a digital property through an app interface.

Web developers recognize this preference as well, as this survey from JAXenter demonstrates:


JAXenter PWA survey
JAXenter developer survey about PWAs (Image source: JAXenter) (Large preview)

So, although the mobile web browser has proven to be the less preferred interface through which someone views a website, I don’t think that’ll be the case for much longer as more businesses build PWAs.

The PWA takes all of the things users love about native apps — the app shell, offline access, telephony features, an always-present navigation bar and so on — and gives users a more convenient means for experiencing them.

Look at a brand like Crabtree & Evelyn:


Crabtree & Evelyn PWA
Crabtree & Evelyn PWA example (Image source: Crabtree & Evelyn) (Large preview)

This major retailer has the funds to build a native app counterpart to its website, but it’s chosen not to go that route. Instead, the progressive web app experience gives mobile users the convenience of browsing the online store and making a purchase without having to leave the browser.

Or, if they’re frequent users, they can add this PWA to their home screen and treat it as they would any other app (but more on that later).

Now, let’s look at an example of a PWA that, again, has opted not to go the route of the native app. Instead, Infobae has created a PWA that beats the mobile web experience:


Infobae PWA
Infobae PWA example (Image source: Infobae) (Large preview)

According to Google data, the Infobae PWA has:

  • A 5% bounce rate. The mobile web was 51%.
  • Sessions that are 230% longer than they were on mobile web.
  • Over three times more pages viewed per session than the mobile web.

So, if you’re worried that the PWA won’t cut it as an alternative to the mobile web, you can stop right there. There are clear benefits to building a PWA.

Reason #2: Native App Stores Are Overflowing

Native apps have a lot of competition in the native app stores — many of which are heavy hitters that mobile users are all too familiar with. If your intention is to launch an app in an already congested space, is the app store really the best place for it?

comScore’s report breaks down the top 5 apps based on reach:


comScore top 5 apps
comScore data on the top 5 apps by reach in 2018 (Image source: comScore) (Large preview)

As you can see, the top 5 apps tend to be dominated by the same mobile apps, no matter what part of the world mobile users are located in.

What you might be thinking is, “But what if my app has a unique edge? Isn’t that enough to dominate our niche?”

I could see that, especially if your app is targeted to region-specific mobile users. Then again, you have to consider what sort of app types perform well with mobile app users.

comScore breaks down this point:


comScore total app minute share
comScore data on share of total app minutes (Image source: comScore) (Large preview)

Roughly 70% to 80% of all time spent in mobile apps goes to four categories:

  • Entertainment (like YouTube);
  • Social media (like Facebook);
  • Instant messaging (like Whatsapp);
  • Games (like Fortnite).

If your app concept doesn’t fall into one of those categories, is it worth all that work to place your app in the app store? While I recognize that those aren’t the only kinds of apps that succeed, I just think it would be a risky and expensive gamble to make, especially if your client’s business is brand new. Even then, there are so many cases of well-known entities that have opted not to compete in app stores, despite having a large enough audience or customer base to do so.

West Elm is a great example of a retailer who’s done this:


West Elm PWA
The West Elm PWA (Image source: West Elm) (Large preview)

If you look in the app stores, you’ll find that West Elm has developed two native apps. One is for registries. This makes sense as a mobile app could be conducive to tagging and tracking registry items. It also has one for the West Elm card. If someone is a frequent enough shopper, this type of app might make sense as well.

That said, neither of these native apps is popular with users (at least not in terms of quantity of reviews). So, it was a smart and economical move by West Elm to keep its main shopping interface in the PWA.

Reason #3: PWAs Rank In Search

On a related note, progressive web apps come with the added benefit of ranking in search engines. There are a few reasons why you and your clients should be overjoyed by this:

  1. Your app’s rank in search is contingent upon the SEO work you put into it. If you’re already doing this with your website, this should be easy!
  2. You don’t have to worry about a brand new app getting buried in app store search. Or easily dismissed because of a lack of ratings.
  3. Because a PWA can live in mobile users’ browsers as well as from a button on the home screen, it needs to have a link. And links make for much easier sharing with friends/family/colleagues than telling them the name of an app, hoping they can find it in the store on their own.

Bottom line: if you can give users a tangible link to your app, you can drastically reduce the friction often caused by having one that only exists in the app store.

Plus, I think the searchability aspect is an important one to consider when you think about how people use your app. Take micro-moments, for example.

When a consumer is inspired to:

  • Research something of interest,
  • Go somewhere,
  • Make a purchase,
  • Or do something…

Instead of opening a data-hogging application on their device, they’ll open their search browser and type or speak their query. It’s what we’re all trained to do as consumers. Have a question? Need something? Want help choosing a restaurant? Go to Google.

If your website or app provides an answer to those kinds of questions, you don’t want it hidden away in app stores. You also don’t want to give them a mobile website that offers an option to “Download the App”. You’re only creating extra work for them.

A PWA enables you to place your app directly in search results and to get your users the instant answers they require.

I think this is why e-commerce businesses have especially gravitated towards PWAs, like HobbyCraft.


HobbyCraft PWA
HobbyCraft PWA example (Image source: HobbyCraft) (Large preview)

As you can see here, HobbyCraft is a niche retailer that sells craft supplies out of the UK. It wouldn’t make much sense to put something like this in the app stores — especially when the PWA interface works well enough as it is.

Lancome is another e-tailer that’s made the conscious decision to forego the native app and keep the mobile shopping experience in a PWA format.


Lancome PWA
Lancome e-commerce PWA example (Image source: Lancome) (Large preview)

One important design element I would point you to in both these examples is the Stores icon located in the top navigation bar. For businesses with brick-and-mortar counterparts, there’s no reason to keep your app out of local search in Google.

If you design your PWA correctly, you can make it show up in relevant location-based queries. And if you present an interface that’s reminiscent of a native app — and just as secure as one (since PWAs require HTTPS) — you can compel more mobile users to make a purchase on the spot.

Reason #4: Native Apps Struggle With Retention

For app types that have a hook that compels users to spend time inside a native app and spend money to enjoy the experience further, that’s great. When you find that perfect fit, there’s good money to be made from having a native app. It’s simply a matter of having people willing to commit to the download.

However, as we recently saw, most native apps struggle to retain users.

It doesn’t matter how many initial downloads you get. If mobile users don’t return to the app to engage with your content, purchase subscriptions or upgrades or click on ads, consider it a wasted investment. Unfortunately, that’s the case with a lot of them.

PWAs, on the other hand, don’t require the lofty commitment of having to download an app to one’s device. Heck, users don’t even have to save the PWA to their home screens, if they don’t want to. It’s an overall more convenient experience.

Nevertheless, you may want to urge users to save it for instant access in the future, as The Weather Channel does:


The Weather Channel PWA message
The Weather Channel asks users to save PWA to device. (Image source: The Weather Channel) (Large preview)

Really, what it boils down to is the type of app you’ve built.

The Weather Channel, for instance, provides a service that mobile users will want to use on a daily basis. They could install a native app from the app store with up-to-date weather forecasting, but that app would likely chew through data and battery power a lot more quickly than the browser-based PWA will.

There are other business types that should consider using a PWA for this reason. Think about an online magazine like Forbes.


Forbes PWA add to homescreen
Users can add the Forbes PWA to their home screen just like a native app. (Image source: Forbes) (Large preview)

Highly specialized publications would do really well to develop PWAs for their daily readers.

Again, it provides a much lighter-weight experience for their phones. Plus, PWAs give users offline access, so they can get access to content no matter where they are or how limited their access may be to the Internet. And the home screen presence (if they choose to put the button there), provides a nice little shortcut around the mobile web browser.

Reason #5: PWAs Can Generate More Revenue

With the exception of in-app advertising, Apple and Google take a sizable cut from any sales you make through a native app. This includes paid downloads, in-app purchases or upgrades and subscription fees. At one point, these fees were as high as 30% per sale.

When you’re hoping to spend money on design tweaks, much-needed development updates and promotional advertising, that’s the last thing you want to hear. In other words, a significant portion of the money that starts to trickle in from your native app goes straight into the pockets of app store owners. That doesn’t seem right, especially if you have to pay for app store ads in order to gain visibility within them.

PWAs don’t come with fees to pay-to-play, which means all revenue generated from them go directly to you (or whoever the owner of the business is). This is especially nice if you have an app concept like a local newspaper (such as The Billings Gazette) that probably deals in smaller profit margins to begin with.


Billings Gazette PWA
The Billings Gazette PWA monetization example (Image source: The Billings Gazette) (Large preview)

That’s not the only way you can make more money from PWAs than native apps either.

To start, they’re significantly easier to build than native apps. Plus, managing them after launch requires less of a time commitment and resources from you. Yes, it still needs to be updated and maintained — just like anything else on the web — but you don’t have to deal with the obstacles that come with apps in the app store.

For example, you only have to build one progressive web app. You don’t have to create separate ones to match the guidelines for different mobile devices.

Updates are easier, too, especially if your PWA is based off of a WordPress website. You push an update through the pipeline and it shows up immediately in the live PWA. There’s no need to push updates to the app store admins and wait for their approvals. Everything happens in real time, which means getting new features and money-making initiatives out to the public more quickly.

This is helpful in the case of PWAs like Twitter Lite.


Twitter Lite PWA
The Twitter Lite PWA can stay on the cutting edge in real time (Image source: Twitter) (Large preview)

When going up against a plethora of social media giants that dominate the app stores, having the ability to keep your app updated in real time can serve as a strong competitive edge. This is in addition to all of the other benefits that come from developing your app in a progressive web format.

This is what happened when Twitter put out its PWA.

As this case study from Google shows, Twitter took an incremental approach to optimizing its PWA. As such, they’ve been able to introduce huge improvements to the user experience without much detection from the end user. Their only response to the updates, in fact, has been greater usage of the PWA.

The PWA Is The Future For (Most Of) The Web

Visibility and searchability are known problems with native mobile apps. User retainment is another. And they’re just not sustainable unless you have an idea that’s inherently meant for a native interface that’s sure to bring in money. Mobile games are one example of this. I’d argue that dating apps are another. I used to think social media fell into that category, but Twitter has since proven me wrong.

Based on what I’m seeing online and from what I’ve heard from developer friends and colleagues, I do believe the future is in the PWA.

I think app stores will slowly quiet down as developers realize there are many more benefits to putting a small- to medium-sized company’s app into a progressive web form. The major players will stay put, and companies that have outgrown the bounds of the PWA may eventually move over. But, otherwise, most apps will end up in the progressive web format.

As this trend towards the PWA continues to grow, consumers will become more accustomed to encountering it in search and know that this user-friendly interface is accessible right from their browser. In turn, they’ll only go to the app stores for the kinds of apps that belong there, i.e. messaging, games, entertainment, and some social media. This will create a clearer division between online search and app store search, and further help to improve the overall user experience online.

Smashing Editorial
(ra, yk, il)

Source: Smashing Magazine, Will PWAs Replace Native Mobile Apps?

Collective #479

dreamt up by webguru in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Collective #479






C479_fiddly

Fiddly

A project by Sara Viera that let’s you create beautiful and simple HTML pages from Readme.md files.

Check it out


C479_magicgrid

Magic Grid

A simple, lightweight Javascript library for dynamic grid layouts with images of different heights.

Check it out















Collective #479 was written by Pedro Botelho and published on Codrops.


Source: Codrops, Collective #479

Common CSS Issues For Front-End Projects

dreamt up by webguru in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Common CSS Issues For Front-End Projects

Common CSS Issues For Front-End Projects

Common CSS Issues For Front-End Projects

Ahmad Shadeed



When implementing a user interface in a browser, it’s good to minimize those differences and issues wherever you can, so that the UI is predictable. Keeping track of all of those differences is hard, so I’ve put together a list of common issues, with their solutions, as a handy reference guide for when you’re working on a new project.

Let’s begin.

1. Reset The Backgrounds Of button And input Elements

When adding a button, reset its background, or else it will look different across browsers. In the example below, the same button is shown in Chrome and in Safari. The latter adds a default gray background.



(Large preview)

Resetting the background will solve this issue:

button {
  appearance: none;
  background: transparent;
  /* Other styles */
}

See the Pen Button and Inputs by Ahmad Shadeed (@shadeed) on CodePen.

2. Overflow: scroll vs. auto

To limit the height of an element and allow the user to scroll within it, add overflow: scroll-y. This will look good in Chrome on macOS. However, on Chrome Windows, the scroll bar is always there (even if the content is short). This is because scroll-y will show a scroll bar regardless of the content, whereas overflow: auto will show a scroll bar only when needed.



Left: Chrome on macOS. Right: Chrome on Windows. (Large preview)
.element {
    height: 300px;
    overflow-y: auto;
}

See the Pen overflow-y by Ahmad Shadeed (@shadeed) on CodePen.

3. Add flex-wrap

Make an element behave as a flex container simply by adding display: flex. However, when the screen size shrinks, the browser will display a horizontal scroll bar in case flex-wrap is not added.

</div>
.wrapper {
  display: flex;
}

.item {
  flex: 0 0 120px;
  height: 100px;
}

The example above will work great on big screens. On mobile, the browser will show a horizontal scroll bar.



Left: A horizontal scroll bar is shown, and the items aren’t wrapped. Right: The items are wrapped onto two rows. (Large preview)

The solution is quite easy. The wrapper should know that when space is not available, it should wrap the items.

.wrapper {
    display: flex;
    flex-wrap: wrap;
}

See the Pen flex-wrap by Ahmad Shadeed (@shadeed) on CodePen.

4. Don’t Use justify-content: space-between When The Number Of Flex Items Is Dynamic

When justify-content: space-between is applied to a flex container, it will distribute the elements and leave an equal amount of space between them. Our example has eight card items, and they look good. What if, for some reason, the number of items was seven? The second row of elements would look different than the first one.



The wrapper with eight items. (Large preview)


The wrapper with seven items. (Large preview)

See the Pen justify-content by Ahmad Shadeed (@shadeed) on CodePen.

In this case, using CSS grid would be more suitable.

When an article is being viewed on a mobile screen, a long word or inline link might cause a horizontal scroll bar to appear. Using CSS’ word-break will prevent that from happening.

Large preview
.article-content p {
    word-break: break-all;
}   


(Large preview)

Check out CSS-Tricks for the details.

6. Transparent Gradients

When adding gradient with a transparent start and end point, it will look black-ish in Safari. That's because Safari doesn’t recognize the keyword transparent. By substituting it with rgba(0, 0, 0, 0), it will work as expected. Note the below screenshot:



Top: Chrome 70. Bottom: Safari 12. (Large preview)
.section-hero {
  background: linear-gradient(transparent, #d7e0ef), #527ee0;
  /*Other styles*/
}

This should instead be:

.section-hero {
  background: linear-gradient(rgba(0, 0, 0,0), #d7e0ef), #527ee0;
  /*Other styles*/
}

7. The Misconception About The Difference Between auto-fit And auto-fill In CSS Grid

In CSS grid, the repeat function can create a responsive column layout without requiring the use of media queries. To achieve that, use either auto-fill or auto-fit.

.wrapper {
    grid-template-columns: repeat(auto-fill, minmax(100px, 1fr));
}


(Large preview)

In short, auto-fill will arrange the columns without expanding their widths, whereas auto-fit will collapse them to zero width but only if you have empty columns. Sara Soueidan has written an excellent article on the topic.

8. Fixing Elements To The Top Of The Screen When The Viewport Is Not Tall Enough

If you fix an element to the top of the screen, what happens if the viewport is not tall enough? Simple: It will take up screen space, and, as a result, the vertical area available for the user to browse the website will be small and uncomfortable, which will detract from the experience.

@media (min-height: 500px) {
    .site-header {
        position: sticky;
        top: 0;
        /*other styles*/
    }
}

In the snippet above, we’re telling the browser to fix the header to the top only if the viewport’s height is equal to or greater than 500 pixels.

Also important: When you use position: sticky, it won’t work unless you specify the top property.

Large preview

See the Pen Vertical media queries: Fixed Header by Ahmad Shadeed (@shadeed) on CodePen.

9. Setting max-width For Images

When adding an image, define max-width: 100%, so that the image resizes when the screen is small. Otherwise, the browser will show a horizontal scroll bar.

img {
    max-width: 100%;
}

10. Using CSS Grid To Define main And aside Elements

CSS grid can be used to define the main and aside sections of a layout, which is a perfect use for grid. As a result, the aside section’s height will be equal to that of the main element, even if it’s empty.

To fix this, align the aside element to the start of its parent, so that its height doesn’t expand.

.wrapper {
  display: grid;
  grid-template-columns: repeat(12, minmax(0, 1fr));
  grid-gap: 20px;
}

// align-self will tell the aside element to align itself with the start of its parent.
aside {
  grid-column: 1 / 4;
  grid-row: 1;
  align-self: start;
}

main {
  grid-column: 4 / 13;
}


(Large preview)

See the Pen main and aside by Ahmad Shadeed (@shadeed) on CodePen.

11. Adding fill To An SVG

Sometimes, while working with SVGs, fill won’t work as expected if the fill attribute has been added inline in the SVG. To solve this, either to remove the fill attribute from the SVG itself or override fill: color.

Take this example:

.some-icon {
    fill: #137cbf;
}

This won’t work if the SVG has an inline fill. It should be this instead:

.some-icon path {
    fill: #137cbf;
}

12. Working With Pseudo-Elements

I love to use pseudo-elements whenever I can. They provide us with a way to create fake elements, mostly for decorative purposes, without adding them to the HTML.

When working with them, the author might forget to do one of the following:

  • add the content: "" property,
  • set the width and height without defining the display property for it.

In the example below, we have a title with a badge as a pseudo-element. The content: "" property should be added. Also, the element should have display: inline-block set in order for the width and height to work as expected.

Large preview

13. The Weird Space When Using display: inline-block

Setting two or more elements to display: inline-block or display: inline will create a tiny space between each one. The space is added because the browser is interpreting the elements as words, and so it’s adding a character space between each one.

In the example below, each item has a space of 8px on the right side, but the tiny space caused by using display: inline-block is making it 12px, which is not the desired result.

li:not(:last-child) {
  margin-right: 8px;
}


(Large preview)

A simple fix for this is to set font-size: 0 on the parent element.

ul {
    font-size: 0;
}

li {
    font-size: 16px; /*The font size should be reassigned here because it will inherit `font-size: 0` from its parent.*/
}


(Large preview)

See the Pen Inline Block Spacing by Ahmad Shadeed (@shadeed) on CodePen.

14. Add for="ID" When Assigning A Label Element To An Input

When working with form elements, make sure that all label elements have an ID assigned to them. This will make them more accessible, and when they’re clicked, the associated input will get focus.

<label for="emailAddress">Email address:</label>
<input type="email" id="emailAddress">
Large preview

15. Fonts Not Working With Interactive HTML Elements

When assigning fonts to the whole document, they won’t be applied to elements such as input, button, select and textarea. They don’t inherit by default because the browser applies the default system font to them.

To fix this, assign the font property manually:

input, button, select, textarea {
  font-family: your-awesome-font-name;
}

16. Horizontal Scroll Bar

Some elements will cause a horizontal scroll bar to appear, due to the width of those elements.

The easiest way to find the cause of this issue is to use CSS outline. Addy Osmani has shared a very handy script that can be added to the browser console to outline every element on the page.

[].forEach.call($$("*"), function(a) {
  a.style.outline =
    "1px solid #" + (~~(Math.random() * (1 << 24))).toString(16);
});


(Large preview)

17. Compressed Or Stretched Images

When you resize an image in CSS, it could be compressed or stretched if the aspect ratio is not consistent with the width and height of the image.

The solution is simple: Use CSS’ object-fit. Its functionality is similar to that of background-size: cover for background images.

img {
    object-fit: cover;
}


(Large preview)

Using object-fit won’t be the perfect solution in all cases. Some images need to appear without cropping or resizing, and some platforms force the user to upload or crop an image at a defined size. For example, Dribbble accepts thumbnails uploads at 800 by 600 pixels.

18. Add The Correct type For input.

Use the correct type for an input field. This will enhance the user experience in mobile browsers and make it more accessible to users.

Here is some HTML:

<form action="">
  <p>
    <label for="name">Full name</label>
    <input type="text" id="name">
  </p>
  <p>
    <label for="email">Email</label>
    <input type="email" id="email">
  </p>
  <p>
    <label for="phone">Phone</label>
    <input type="tel" id="phone">
  </p>
</form>

This is how each input will look once it’s focused:



(Large preview)

19. Phone Numbers In RTL Layouts

When adding a phone number like + 972-123555777 in a right-to-left layout, the plus symbol will be positioned at the end of the number. To fix that, reassign the direction of the phone number.

p {
    direction: ltr;
}


(Large preview)

Conclusion

All of the issues mentioned here are among the most common ones I’ve faced in my front-end development work. My goal is to keep a list to check regularly while working on a web project.

Do you have an issue that you always face in CSS? Let us know in the comments!

Smashing Editorial
(dm, ra, al, yk, il)

Source: Smashing Magazine, Common CSS Issues For Front-End Projects

What We Wished For

dreamt up by webguru in Uncategorized | Comments Off on What We Wished For

What We Wished For

What We Wished For

Mat Marquis



I think we’re headed for trouble, though I can’t say for sure. Trouble — trouble I know. The on-ramp to it, though; I’ve only heard about that. I’ve only been doing this for ten years. I missed all the lead-up the last time around. What I can say for sure — what I know from experience — is that I’ve never had a wish made in anger come true without regretting it.

Ten years (I don’t mind saying) is a pretty long time. Back when I first truth-stretched my way into a web design internship, good ol’ Internet Explorer was already a laughingstock.

“If you notice that a piece of your content appears and disappears, and sections of the page only get half-drawn, these are good indications that an element requires a layout. […] A hasLayout fix involves nothing more than declaring a CSS property that causes an element to gain a layout, when it wouldn’t ordinarily have a layout by default.”

The Internet Explorer hasLayout Property

I hated IE. I feel like I can cop to that now. I tried not to; I really, sincerely did. I’d tell people it was fun to support, if you can believe it.

As all the other browsers got easier and easier to deal with, I attempted to convince myself that there was at least still a challenge to quirky old IE. That even became something of a point of pride: I had gotten so good at fixing obscure IE issues that I’d learned to dodge them during the course of my everyday development, leaving nothing (well, less) to dread come the big “open it up in IE and see what broke” phase.

It’s fun, in a way. Fun. That was the lie I told myself.

/* Fixes #2588: When Windows Phone 7.5 (Mango) tries
to calculate a numeric opacity for a select (including
“inherit”) without explicitly specifying an opacity on
the parent to give it context, a bug appears where
clicking elsewhere on the page after opening the select
will open the select again. */

jQuery Mobile source

I hated it. I full-on, bad-jokes-in-a-conference-talk hated IE, in every one of its incarnations. I hated it every bit as much everybody else did.

“Internet Explorer 6 has a puzzling bug involving multiple floated elements; text characters from the last of the floated elements are sometimes duplicated below the last float. … The direct cause is nothing more than ordinary HTML comments, such as, <!-- end left column -->, sandwiched between floats that come in sequence.”

Explorer 6 Duplicate Characters Bug

A waste of my goddamned time is what it was. All those hours I spent hunched over a janky virtual machine—reload, wait, throw a nonsense fix at a nonsense bug, reload, crash, open IE again, wait, double-check that caching wasn’t a factor, reload, wait, and repeat. I could have been doing so much more with my time — I could have learned so much more.

I was certain that it didn’t just hold back my work, and it didn’t just hold the web back, but it held me back, as a developer. On that second point, I guess I wasn’t entirely wrong — all the obscure IE 6-7 browser bug knowledge I accumulated is all useless now. All I have to show for it are an involuntary flinch at the word “filter,” an inscrutable preference for padding over margin, and a deep-seated but largely unfounded fear of z-index.

“…extra whitespace causes the wrong styles to be picked up if the actual class name is a substring (or superstring) of some other class name.”

IE5/Mac whitespace parsing bug

I wished it would go away. Uninstalled by a clever and widespread virus, banned by law, Microsoft finally deciding to cut their shoddy rendering engine’s losses and switching to Firefox’s rendering engine, Gecko — whatever — just make it go away. But… no. The web kept evolving and we developers beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.

Chrome came along, Firefox kept getting better, new features kept rolling out, the exciting and endless possibilities presented by the advent of responsive web design spread out before us, and also (quick aside) remember that you’ll only have a couple of days to make it all more-or-less work in old IE, so don’t get too carried away.

“IF you are using IE8, AND you are using the CSS ordered list numbering approach described above, AND the HTML that has the classes that use the counter-reset and counter-increment CSS attributes is HIDDEN when the page loads, THEN whenever that hidden HTML is displayed, ALL of the automatic numbers will be ZERO, BUT ONLY IF THE CSS :hover PSEUDO-CLASS IS USED ON THAT PAGE!”

The IE8 “hover” Bug: The Most Awesome IE Bug Ever?

It’s hard to imagine experiencing that kind of frustration nowadays, at least for us relatively-old-timers. Not to say that there isn’t an incredible amount of work involved in tuning things up cross-browser these days, too — I know all too well that there is. But it’s tough not to feel the occasional pang of, “back in my day, all we had were floats, and let me tell you about IE’s double margin bug,” when you hear about a little difference in how CSS Grid works from one browser to another.

I was wrong; I want to be clear on that point. Not wrong for being frustrated. I don’t think anyone should be blamed for being frustrated with those old browser bugs, same as I don’t think anyone should be blamed for their frustration with any aspect of web development now. No, I was wrong for the conclusion that anger brought me to: the desire to see Trident burned to the ground and the earth where it once stood salted.

I suspect that only one dramatically-ironic thing grows out of that salted earth: those same frustrations, born anew, for a new generation of web developers. When I started my career, scant few years after the browser wars, those seeds had already taken root. Because, for a time — a time before my own — we web developers cursed Netscape the same way. The weaker, buggier, inarguably worse browser. But Internet Explorer — developers loved that browser. And they wished those other browsers — the bad browsers — would just go away: uninstalled by a clever and widespread virus, banned by law, Netscape finally deciding to cut their shoddy rendering engine’s losses and switch to IE’s rendering engine, Trident — whatever — just make it go away. Those inscrutable Internet Explorer bugs didn’t happen by coincidence or negligence. They came about because Internet Explorer had won, and we loved it for winning.

See, our frustration and our anger lied to us, as they usually do. They told us that supporting those other, worse browsers didn’t just hold back our work, and didn’t just hold the web back, but it held us back, as developers. A waste of our goddamned time is what it was. So, we told ourselves that it wasn’t only for our own good, but for the good of the entire web.

We weighed IE just a little more heavily. We gave it just a little more say in our decisions. And so, holding so many chips, Microsoft played their cards accordingly — who could blame them? Everyone built websites for them first, and the others second. Their word wasn’t law, but it was certainly more than suggestion. Sure, they deviated from web standards here and there (just a little bit), but after all, wasn’t something implemented by The Biggest Browser a sort of de facto standard anyway? Besides, supporting the better, faster, easier browser was doing the web itself a service! Together with Microsoft, we were pushing the web forward! Everybody wins.

The rendering engine that powers Microsoft’s Edge browser today — EdgeHTML — is a fork of gnarly old Trident. It’s a stripped-down and vastly improved fork of Trident, for sure, but it isn’t, let’s say, universally judged on its own merit. The EdgeHTML team has always been working with a couple of disadvantages: the first was technical, in that it took a tremendous amount of time and effort to catch up with the likes of Safari, Firefox, and Chrome. The second was emotional. It was us — you and me — jaded from years of Internet Explorer, staring down a cheery blue lowercase “e” with cold disdain.

A few weeks ago, the Edge team announced that they’d soon be abandoning EdgeHTML in favor of Blink, the rendering engine that powers Chrome. With this change, the last few remaining embers of Trident will be snuffed out forever. The wish I’d shared with so many will finally be granted. Ironically timed — as it turns out — EdgeHTML was becoming a pretty solid rendering engine.

Blink is an open-source project led and governed by Google. It powers both Chrome and Opera, the latter of which similarly abandoned their home-grown rendering engine a few years ago.

By an overwhelming margin, Blink is (and will increasingly be) the way the web is experienced the world over. Blink is fast, stable, packed with modern features, and — by comparison to development for the still-evolving EdgeHTML — painless.

It may have happened too late to save us from those ancient IE bugs, but our work will be easier now that there’s one less rendering engine to support. You and I will lose a little more of our collective “but does it work cross-browser” burden. Our projects will go more smoothly, and the web will lose just a little more of what was once holding it back.

As stewards of the engine powering so very much of the web, well, Google’s word won’t be law, but certainly more than suggestion. And maybe over the course of the next few years, they’ll deviate from web standards here and there (whether intentionally or accidentally) in the tiniest of ways. But after all, isn’t something implemented by The Biggest Browser a sort of de facto standard itself? Besides, how could you argue? Favoring the better, faster, more powerful browser is doing the web itself a service, after all. Together with Google, we’ll be pushing the web forward. Everybody will win.

That is, as long as little standards deviations and tiny, nagging bugs don’t grow bigger over time — thanks to the twin forces of entropy and complacency. Unless the decisions we’ve made for the good of the web (hand-in-hand with a notoriously privacy-hostile advertising company) begin to feel a little darker, and a new bogeyman begins to take shape in our minds — unless we find that our old fears and frustrations have risen again (like a phoenix that renders a couple hundred pixels away from where it should and flickers in a weird way when you scroll).

It doesn’t take much imagination to see newer, more exciting rendering engines appearing over the next handful of years. It takes just as little imagination to see them failing due to lack of support, as we favor “the-browser-that-everyone-uses-first” by choice, and later perhaps in grudging service of “the bottom line”.

Again, though, I don’t know. I’ve never seen this happen with a rendering engine myself. I’ve just heard the whole story, and I only know first-hand how it ends. I know the ending from the ache of old psychic scars; from an involuntary flinch at some bits of code, and muscle-memory that compels me to avoid others. I know it from the jokes in conference talks that always felt a little tired, but still resonated just the same in a way I wouldn’t allow myself to admit and still spoke to a secret wish that I held deep in my heart. A bitter, hateful wish.

But hey, listen. Not anymore. Now, I mean — I would never. I really do love a good rendering engine bug, now. I do.

“CSS 3D transforms with perspective() are rendered inside out.”

bugs.chromium.org

I mean, that’s actually kind of a fun bug, right? Like, fun in a way. Y’know?

It’s fun.

It’ll be fun.

Smashing Editorial
(dm, ra, il)

Source: Smashing Magazine, What We Wished For

Generic First CSS: New Thinking On Mobile First

dreamt up by webguru in Uncategorized | Comments Off on Generic First CSS: New Thinking On Mobile First

Generic First CSS: New Thinking On Mobile First

Generic First CSS: New Thinking On Mobile First

Alastair Hodgson



I think it’s safe to say that Ethan Marcotte’s Responsive Web Design was a welcome revelation for web developers the world over. It triggered a whole new wave of design thinking and wonderful new front-end techniques. The reign of the oft-despised m dot websites was also over. In the same era and almost as influential was Luke Wroblewski’s Mobile First methodology — a solid improvement that built upon Marcotte’s impressive foundations.

These techniques are at the bedrock of most web developers lives, and they’ve served us well, but alas, times change, and developers constantly iterate. As we increase the efficiency of our methods and the project requirements become more complex, new frustrations emerge.

The Journey To Generic First

I can’t pinpoint exactly what made me change the way I write my CSS because it was really a natural progression for me that happened almost subconsciously. Looking back, I think it was more of a by-product of the development environment I was working in. The team I worked with had a nice SCSS workflow going on with a nifty little mixin for easily adding breakpoints within our CSS declarations. You probably use a similar technique.

This wonderful little SCSS mixin suddenly made it easy to write super granular media queries. Take a hypothetical biography block that looks a little something like this:

.bio {
  display: block;
  width: 100%;
  background-color: #ece9e9;
  padding: 20px;
  margin: 20px 0;

  @include media('>=small') {
    max-width: 400px;
    background-color: white;
    margin: 20px auto;
  }

  @include media('>=medium') {
    max-width: 600px;
    padding: 30px;
    margin: 30px auto;
  }

  @include media('>=large') {
    max-width: 800px;
    padding: 40px;
    margin: 40px auto;
  }

  @include media('>=huge') {
    max-width: 1000px;
    padding: 50px;
    margin: 50px auto;
  }
}

Fig.1. Typical mobile first with cascading media queries

This works nicely — I’ve written a lot of CSS like this in the past. However, one day it dawned upon me that overwriting CSS declarations as the device width increased just didn’t make sense. Why declare a CSS property for it only to be overwritten in the following declaration?

This is what lead me to begin writing compartmentalized media queries as opposed to the more common approach of media queries that cascade upwards (or downwards) like the example in Fig.1.

Instead of writing media queries that cascade upwards with increases in screen size, I began creating targeted media queries that would encapsulate styles at desired screen widths. The media query mixin would really come into its own here. Now my SCSS media queries are starting to look like this:

.bio {
  display: block;
  width: 100%;
  padding: 20px;
  margin: 20px 0;

  @include media('>=small', '<medium') {
    max-width: 400px;
    margin: 20px auto;
  }

  @include media('>=medium', '<large') {
    max-width: 600px;
    padding: 30px;
    margin: 30px auto;
  }

  @include media('>=large', '<huge') {
    max-width: 800px;
    padding: 40px;
    margin: 40px auto;
  }

  @include media('>=huge') {
    max-width: 1000px;
    padding: 50px;
    margin: 50px auto;
  }
}

Fig.2. An example of compartmentalized media queries

This new approach just felt more intuitive to me, it cut down on having to reset styles from the previous breakpoint, and it was making the CSS easier to read. More importantly, it was making the media queries self-documenting in a more significant way.

I still wasn’t 100% happy with the above though, It seemed like there was still a major issue to overcome.

The Problem With Mobile First

The issue with mobile first is that by definition you will most likely have to override mobile-first styles in subsequent media-queries. This feels like a bit of an anti-pattern.

So — to me — the answer was obvious: let’s take the idea of media query compartmentalization to its logical conclusion — we will also compartmentalize the mobile specific styles into their very own media queries. I know, I know, this goes against the common convention we’ve learned over the years. “Mobile First” is so ubiquitous that it’s usually one of the “skills” questions a hiring manager will ask. So surely any alternative must be wrong, shouldn’t it? This is usually the part where people shake their heads at me whilst uttering mobile first over and over.

Okay, so we’re going to break through the mobile first dogma and compartmentalize all our styles into the relevant media queries. What we’re now left with is pure generic styles declared on a CSS selector, with all other device specific styles encapsulated in media queries that only apply to the relevant screen dimensions. We now have Generic First CSS:

.bio {
  display: block;
  width: 100%;

  @include media('>=0', '<small') {
    padding: 20px;
    margin: 20px 0;
  }

  @include media('>=small', '<medium') {
    max-width: 400px;
    margin: 20px auto;
  }

  @include media('>=medium', '<large') {
    max-width: 600px;
    padding: 30px;
    margin: 30px auto;
  }

  @include media('>=large', '<huge') {
    max-width: 800px;
    padding: 40px;
    margin: 40px auto;
  }

  @include media('>=huge') {
    max-width: 1000px;
    padding: 50px;
    margin: 50px auto;
  }
}

Fig.3. An example of Generic First CSS

Yes, there are slightly more media queries, however, I see this as a benefit, any developer can now looks at this CSS and see exactly what styles are applied at each and every screen size without the cognitive overhead of having to pick apart media-query specificity.

This can be great for people unfamiliar with the code base or even the future you!

When Not To Compartmentalize

There are still times when media query compartmentalization is a burden, and in some cases a good old >= media query is fine. Remember, all we’re trying to do is avoid property overwrites.

Dev Tool Bliss

One major unintended consequence of writing compartmentalized Generic First CSS is the experience you will get from your developer tools style panel. Without the media query cascade, you will now have a clearer overview of which styles are applied — You won’t have a style panel full of struck-out declarations from overwritten media query rules — The noise is gone! This — for me — is one of the biggest benefits of the Generic First CSS technique. It brings a little extra sanity to the CSS debugging experience, and this is worth its weight in gold. Thank me later.


Before and after screenshot of how the generic first CSS approach affects chrome dev tools style panel.
Fig.4. How generic first, compartmentalized css can help bring joy and sanity to your dev console. (Large preview)

Performance Implications

So all these Generic First CSS benefits are starting to sound pretty good, but I think there is one last key question that I think needs to be addressed. It’s on the subject of performance optimization. Now I don’t know for certain yet, but I have an inkling that fully compartmentalized media queries may have a slight performance benefit.

Browsers perform a rendering task called computed style calculation. It’s the browsers way of calculating which styles need to be applied to an element at any given moment. This task is always performed on initial page load, but it can also be performed if page content changes or if other browser actions take place. Any boost you can give to the speed of the process is going to be great for initial page load, and it could have a compound effect on the lifecycle of your websites pages.

So going back to generic first CSS: Are there any performance issues related to the browser having to work out the CSS specificity of a multitude of cascading media queries?

To answer that, I’ve devised a test case that can be used to measure any speed benefits or indeed drawbacks.

The Test Case

The test case is comprised of a basic HTML page that outputs a “bio” block 5000 times, the markup is the same for each block, but the classes are slightly different (numeric differentiator), the CSS for this block is also outputted 5000 times, with class names being the only thing to differ. The outputted CSS is piped through a tool called CSS MQPacker, this helps dramatically reduce file size of CSS that uses a lot of inline media queries by combining all the separate instances of a specific media query into one — It’s a great tool that will probably benefit most modern CSS codebases — I’ve used it as a standalone cli tool via a npm task in the test projects package.json, you can also use it as a postcss plugin, which is nice and convenient!

The first test case is a mobile-first cascading media queries example, the second test case is a generic first compartmentalized variant of the CSS. The CSS for these cases is a little verbose and could probably be written in much more concise terms, but it really just serves as a rough example to test the argument.

The test was run 20 times for each CSS variation in desktop Google Chrome v70, not a massive set of data, but enough to give me a rough idea of a performance gain/loss.

The test metrics I have chosen to use are:

  • Overall page load time
    A basic metric to check page load time using the Performance API markers in the the start of the <head> and very end of <body>
  • The Recalculate Style
    Time from within the dev tools performance pane.
  • The Overall Page Rendering
    Time from within the dev tools performance pane.

Table of results from the Google Chrome performance profiler
Fig.5. The key metric being measured is “Recalculate Style”. (Large preview)

Results Table (all times in milliseconds)

@media all and (max-width: 799px) {
.break-out {
display: none;
}
}

@media all and (min-width: 800px) {
.mobiletable {
display: none;
}

@media all and (max-width: 1099px) {
.pfix {
margin-top: -12em;”
}
}

Mobile First Generic First
Load time Calculate styles Total render time Load time Calculate styles Total render time
1135 565.7 1953 1196 536.9 2012
1176 563.5 1936 1116 506.9 1929
1118 563.1 1863 1148 514.4 1853
1174 568.3 1929 1124 507.1 1868
1204 577.2 1924 1115 518.4 1854
1155 554.7 1991 1177 540.8 1905
1112 554.5 1912 1111 504.3 1886
1110 557.9 1854 1104 505.3 1954
1106 544.5 1895 1148 525.4 1881
1162 559.8 1920 1095 508.9 1941
1146 545.9 1897 1115 504.4 1968
1168 566.3 1882 1112 519.8 1861
1105 542.7 1978 1121 515.7 1905
1123 566.6 1970 1090 510.7 1820
1106 514.5 1956 1127 515.2 1986
1135 575.7 1869 1130 504.2 1882
1164 545.6 2450 1169 525.6 1934
1144 565 1894 1092 516 1822
1115 554.5 1955 1091 508.9 1986
1133 554.8 2572 1001 504.5 1812
AVG 1139.55 557.04 1980 1119.1 514.67 1903.15

Mobile First
Load time Calculate styles Total render time
1135 565.7 1953
1118 563.1 1863
1174 568.3 1929
1112 554.5 1912
1105 542.7 1978
1106 514.5 1956
1164 545.6 2450
1115 554.5 1955
Generic First
Load time Calculate styles Total render time
1196 536.9 2012
1148 514.4 1853
1124 507.1 1868
1111 504.3 1886
1121 515.7 1905
1127 515.2 1986
1169 525.6 1934
1091 508.9 1986

Fig.6. 20 test runs measuring key load/render metrics of mobile first vs generic first CSS.

From my admittedly small dataset, it does seem like my initial suspicion may be correct. On average, I see the Style Recalculation task take 42ms less time which is a 7.6% speed increase, and therefore the overall rendering time also decreases. The difference isn’t mind-blowing, but it is an improvement. I don’t think the dataset is big enough to be 100% conclusive and the test case is a little unrealistic, but I’m very glad not to be seeing a performance degradation.

I would be very interested to see the generic first methodology applied to a real-world existing codebase that has been written in the mobile-first way — the before after metrics would be much more realistic to everyday practice.

And if anyone has suggestions on how to automate this test over a broader set of iterations, please let me know in the comments! I’d imagine there must be a tool that can do this.

Conclusion

To recap on the benefits of this new development methodology…

  • CSS that does exactly as intended, no second guessing;
  • Self-documenting media-queries;
  • A better dev tools experience;
  • Pages that render faster.

I’d like to think I’m not the only person espousing the writing of CSS in this style. If you have already adopted the generic first mindset, hurray! But if not, I think you’ll really like the benefits it brings. I’ve personally benefited greatly from the uncluttered dev tools experience, which in itself will be a huge positive to a lot of devs. the self-documenting nature of this way of writing your media-queries will also have benefits to yourself and the wider team (if you have one). And finally, these benefits won’t cost you anything in performance terms, and in fact have been shown to have marginal speed gains!

Final Word

Like all development methodologies, it may not be for everyone, but I’ve fallen into Generic First CSS quite naturally, I now see it as a valuable way of working that gives me all the benefits of mobile first with some positive new additions that make the tough job of front-end development that little be easier.

Resources

Test Case Repo

If you’d like to fire up the test case and give it a go yourself, you can find it on GitHub, I’d love to see some reports from others.

Tools
Smashing Editorial
(dm, ra, yk, il)

Source: Smashing Magazine, Generic First CSS: New Thinking On Mobile First

Collective #478

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#merryCSSmas

Tommy Hodgins covers some of the most requested CSS styling features in a month-long series in this Twitter thread.

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Collective #478 was written by Pedro Botelho and published on Codrops.


Source: Codrops, Collective #478

Writing A Multiplayer Text Adventure Engine In Node.js

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Writing A Multiplayer Text Adventure Engine In Node.js

Writing A Multiplayer Text Adventure Engine In Node.js

Fernando Doglio



Text adventures were one of the first forms of digital role-playing games out there, back when games had no graphics and all you had was your own imagination and the description you read on the black screen of your CRT monitor.

If we want to get nostalgic, maybe the name Colossal Cave Adventure (or just Adventure, as it was originally named) rings a bell. That was the very first text adventure game ever made.


A picture of an actual text adventure from back in the day
A picture of an actual text adventure from back in the day. (Large preview)

The image above is how you’d actually see the game, a far cry from our current top AAA adventure games. That being said, they were fun to play and would steal hundreds of hours of your time, as you sat in front of that text, alone, trying to figure out how to beat it.

Understandably so, text adventures have been replaced over the years by games that present better visuals (although, one could argue that a lot of them have sacrificed story for graphics) and, especially in the past few years, the increasing ability to collaborate with other friends and play together. This particular feature is one that the original text adventures lacked, and one that I want to bring back in this article.

Our Goal

The whole point of this endeavour, as you have probably guessed by now from the title of this article, is to create a text adventure engine that allows you to share the adventure with friends, enabling you to collaborate with them similarly to how you would during a Dungeons & Dragons game (in which, just like with the good ol’ text adventures, there are no graphics to look at).

In creating the engine, the chat server and the client is quite a lot of work. In this article, I’ll be showing you the design phase, explaining things like the architecture behind the engine, how the client will interact with the servers, and what the rules of this game will be.

Just to give you some visual aid of what this is going to look like, here is my goal:


General wireframe for the final UI of the game client
General wireframe for the final UI of the game client (Large preview)

That is our goal. Once we get there, you’ll have screenshots instead of quick and dirty mockups. So, let’s get down with the process. The first thing we’ll cover is the design of the whole thing. Then, we’ll cover the most relevant tools I’ll be using to code this. Finally, I’ll show you some of the most relevant bits of code (with a link to the full repository, of course).

Hopefully, by the end, you’ll find yourself creating new text adventures to try them out with friends!

Design Phase

For the design phase, I’m going to cover our overall blueprint. I’ll try my best not to bore you to death, but at the same time, I think it’s important to show some of the behind-the-scenes stuff that needs to happen before laying down your first line of code.

The four components I want to cover here with a decent amount of detail are:

  • The engine
    This is going to be the main game server. The game rules will be implemented here, and it’ll provide a technologically agnostic interface for any type of client to consume. We’ll implement a terminal client, but you could do the same with a web browser client or any other type you’d like.
  • The chat server
    Because it’s complex enough to have its own article, this service is also going to have its own module. The chat server will take care of letting players communicate with each other during the game.
  • The client
    As stated earlier, this will be a terminal client, one that, ideally, will look similar to the mockup from earlier. It will make use of the services provided by both the engine and the chat server.
  • Games (JSON files)
    Finally, I’ll go over the definition of the actual games. The whole point of this is to create an engine that can run any game, as long as your game file complies with the engine’s requirements. So, even though this will not require coding, I’ll explain how I’ll structure the adventure files in order to write our own adventures in the future.

The Engine

The game engine, or game server, will be a REST API and will provide all of the required functionality.

I went for a REST API simply because — for this type of game — the delay added by HTTP and its asynchronous nature will not cause any trouble. We will, however, have to go a different route for the chat server. But before we start defining endpoints for our API, we need to define what the engine will be capable of. So, let’s get to it.

Feature Description
Join a game A player will be able to join a game by specifying the game’s ID.
Create a new game A player can also create a new game instance. The engine should return an ID, so that others can use it to join.
Return scene This feature should return the current scene where the party is located. Basically, it’ll return the description, with all of the associated information (possible actions, objects in it, etc.).
Interact with scene This is going to be one of the most complex ones, because it will take a command from the client and perform that action — things like move, push, take, look, read, to name just a few.
Check inventory Although this is a way to interact with the game, it does not directly relate to the scene. So, checking the inventory for each player will be considered a different action.
A Word About Movement

We need a way to measure distances in the game because moving through the adventure is one of the core actions a player can take. We will be using this number as a measure of time, just to simplify the gameplay. Measuring time with an actual clock might not be the best, considering these type of games have turn-based actions, such as combat. Instead, we’ll use distance to measure time (meaning that a distance of 8 will require more time to traverse than one of 2, thus allowing us to do things like add effects to players that last for a set amount of “distance points”).

Another important aspect to consider about movement is that we’re not playing alone. For simplicity’s sake, the engine will not let players split the party (although that could be an interesting improvement for the future). The initial version of this module will only let everyone move wherever the majority of the party decides. So, moving will have to be done by consensus, meaning that every move action will wait for the majority of the party to request it before taking place.

Combat

Combat is another very important aspect of these types of games, and one that we’ll have to consider adding to our engine; otherwise, we’ll end up missing on some of the fun.

This is not something that needs to be reinvented, to be honest. Turn-based party combat has been around for decades, so we’ll just implement a version of that mechanic. We’ll be mixing it up with the Dungeons & Dragons concept of “initiative”, rolling a random number in order to keep the combat a bit more dynamic.

In other words, the order in which everyone involved in a fight gets to pick their action will be randomized, and that includes the enemies.

Finally (although I’ll go over this in more detail below), you’ll have items that you can pick up with a set “damage” number. These are the items you’ll be able to use during combat; anything that doesn’t have that property will cause 0 damage to your enemies. We’ll probably add a message when you try to use those objects to fight, so that you know that what you’re trying to do makes no sense.

Client-Server Interaction

Let’s see now how a given client would interact with our server using the previously defined functionality (not thinking about endpoints yet, but we’ll get there in a sec):



(Large preview)

The initial interaction between the client and the server (from the point of view of the server) is the start of a new game, and the steps for it are as follows:

  1. Create a new game.
    The client requests the creation of a new game from the server.
  2. Create chat room.
    Although the name doesn’t specify it, the server is not just creating a chatroom in the chat server, but also setting up everything it needs in order to allow a set of players to play through an adventure.
  3. Return game’s meta data.
    Once the game has been created by the server and the chat room is in place for the players, the client will need that information for subsequent requests. This will mostly be a set of IDs the clients can use to identify themselves and the current game they want to join (more on that in a second).
  4. Manually share game ID.
    This step will have to be done by the players themselves. We could come up with some sort of sharing mechanism, but I will leave that on the wish list for future improvements.
  5. Join the game.
    This one is pretty straightforward. Ince everyone has the game ID, they’ll join the adventure using their client applications.
  6. Join their chat room.
    Finally, the players’ client apps will use the game’s metadata to join their adventure’s chat room. This is the last step required pre-game. Once this is all done, then the players are ready to start adventuring!

Action order for an existing game
Action order for an existing game (Large preview)

Once the prerequisites have all been met, players can start playing the adventure, sharing their thoughts through the party chat, and advancing the story. The diagram above shows the four steps required for that.

The following steps will run as part of the game loop, meaning that they will be repeated constantly until the game ends.

  1. Request scene.
    The client app will request the metadata for the current scene. This is the first step in every iteration of the loop.
  2. Return the meta data.
    The server will, in turn, send back the metadata for the current scene. This information will include things like a general description, the objects found inside it, and how they relate to each other.
  3. Send command.
    This is where the fun begins. This is the main input from the player. It’ll contain the action they want to perform and, optionally, the target of that action (for example, blow candle, grab rock, and so on).
  4. Return the reaction to the command sent.
    This could simply be step two, but for clarity, I added it as an extra step. The main difference is that step two could be considered the beginning of this loop, whereas this one takes into account that you’re already playing, and, thus, the server needs to understand who this action is going to affect (either a single player or all players).

As an extra step, although not really part of the flow, the server will notify clients about status updates that are relevant to them.

The reason for this extra recurring step is because of the updates a player can receive from the actions of other players. Recall the requirement for moving from one place to another; as I said before, once the majority of the players have chosen a direction, then all players will move (no input from all players is required).

The interesting bit here is that HTTP (we’ve already mentioned that the server is going to be a REST API) does not allow for this type of behavior. So, our options are:

  1. perform polling every X amount of seconds from the client,
  2. use some sort of notification system that works in parallel with the client-server connection.

In my experience, I tend to prefer option 2. In fact, I would (and will for this article) use Redis for this kind of behavior.

The following diagram demonstrates the dependencies between services.


Interactions between an client app and the game engine
Interactions between an client app and the game engine (Large preview)

The Chat Server

I will leave the details of the design of this module for the development phase (which is not a part of this article). That being said, there are things we can decide.

One thing we can define is the set of the restrictions for the server, which will simplify our work down the line. And if we play our cards right, we might end up with a service that provides a robust interface, thus allowing us to, eventually, extend or even change the implementation to provide fewer restrictions without affecting the game at all.

  • There will be only one room per party.
    We will not let subgroups be created. This goes hand in hand with not letting the party split. Maybe once we implement that enhancement, allowing for subgroup and custom chat room creation would be a good idea.
  • There will be no private messages.
    This is purely for simplification purposes, but having a group chat is already good enough; we don’t need private messages right now. Remember that whenever you’re working on your minimum viable product, try to avoid going down the rabbit hole of unnecessary features; it’s a dangerous path and one that is hard to get out of.
  • We will not persist messages.
    In other words, if you leave the party, you’ll lose the messages. This will hugely simplify our task, because we won’t have to deal with any type of data storage, nor will we have to waste time deciding on the best data structure to store and recover old messages. It’ll all live in memory, and it will stay there for as long as the chat room is active. Once it’s closed, we’ll simply say goodbye to them!
  • Communication will be done over sockets.
    Sadly, our client will have to handle a double communication channel: a RESTful one for the game engine and a socket for the chat server. This might increase the complexity of the client a bit, but at the same time, it will use the best methods of communication for every module. (There is no real point in forcing REST on our chat server or forcing sockets on our game server. That approach would increase the complexity of the server-side code, which is the one also handling the business logic, so let’s focus on that side for now.)

That’s it for the chat server. After all, it will not be complex, at least not initially. There is more to do when it’s time to start coding it, but for this article, it is more than enough information.

The Client

This is the final module that requires coding, and it is going to be our dumbest one of the lot. As a rule of thumb, I prefer to have my clients dumb and my servers smart. That way, creating new clients for the server becomes much easier.

Just so we’re on the same page, here is the high-level architecture that we should end up with.


Final high level architecture of the entire development
Final high level architecture of the entire development (Large preview)

Our simple ClI client will not implement anything very complex. In fact, the most complicated bit we’ll have to tackle is the actual UI, because it’s a text-based interface.

That being said, the functionality that the client application will have to implement is as follows:

  1. Create a new game.
    Because I want to keep things as simple as possible, this will only be done through the CLI interface. The actual UI will only be used after joining a game, which brings us to the next point.
  2. Join an existing game.
    Given the game’s code returned from the previous point, players can use it to join in. Again, this is something you should be able to do without a UI, so this functionality will be part of the process required to start using the text UI.
  3. Parse game definition files.
    We’ll discuss these in a bit, but the client should be able to understand these files in order to know what to show and know how to use that data.
  4. Interact with the adventure.
    Basically, this gives the player the ability to interact with the environment described at any given time.
  5. Maintain an inventory for each player.
    Each instance of the client will contain an in-memory list of items. This list is going to be backed up.
  6. Support chat.
    The client app needs to also connect to the chat server and log the user into the party’s chat room.

More on the client’s internal structure and design later. In the meantime, let’s finish the design stage with the last bit of preparation: the game files.

The Game: JSON Files

This is where it gets interesting because up to now, I’ve covered basic microservices definitions. Some of them might speak REST, and others might work with sockets, but in essence, they’re all the same: You define them, you code them, and they provide a service.

For this particular component, I’m not planning on coding anything, yet we need to design it. Basically, we’re implementing a sort of protocol for defining our game, the scenes inside it and everything inside them.

If you think about it, a text adventure is, at its core, basically a set of rooms connected to each other, and inside them are “things” you can interact with, all tied together with a, hopefully, decent story. Now, our engine will not take care of that last part; that part will be up to you. But for the rest, there is hope.

Now, going back to the set of interconnected rooms, that to me sounds like a graph, and if we also add the concept of distance or movement speed that I mentioned earlier, we have a weighted graph. And that is just a set of nodes that have a weight (or just a number — don’t worry about what it’s called) that represents that path between them. Here is a visual (I love learning by seeing, so just look at the image, OK?):


A weighted graph example
A weighted graph example (Large preview)

That’s a weighted graph — that’s it. And I’m sure you’ve already figured it out, but for the sake of completeness, let me show you how you would go about it once our engine is ready.

Once you start setting up the adventure, you’ll create your map (like you see on the left of the image below). And then you’ll translate that into a weighted graph, as you can see on the right of the image. Our engine will be able to pick it up and let you walk through it in the right order.


Example graph for a given dungeon
Example graph for a given dungeon (Large preview)

With the weighted graph above, we can make sure players can’t go from the entrance all the way to the left wing. They would have to go through the nodes in between those two, and doing so will consume time, which we can measure using the weight from the connections.

Now, onto the “fun” part. Let’s see how the graph would look like in JSON format. Bear with me here; this JSON will contain a lot of information, but I’ll go through as much of it as I can:

{
    "graph": [
            { "id": "entrance", "name": "Entrance", "north": { "node": "1stroom", "distance": 1 } },
     { "id": "1st room", "name": "1st Room", "south": {"node": "entrance", "distance": 1} , "north": { "node": "bigroom", "distance": 1} } ,
     { "id": "bigroom",
       "name": "Big room",
       "south": { "node": "1stroom", "distance": 1},
       "north": { "node": "bossroom", "distance": 2},
       "east":  { "node": "rightwing", "distance": 3} ,
       "west":  { "node": "leftwing", "distance": 3}
     },
     { "id": "bossroom", "name": "Boss room", "south": {"node": "bigroom", "distance": 2} }
     { "id": "leftwing", "name": "Left Wing", "east": {"node": "bigroom", "distance": 3} }
     { "id": "rightwing", "name": "Right Wing", "west": { "node": "bigroom", "distance": 3 } }
    ],
    "game": {
     "win-condition": {
       "source": "finalboss",
       "condition": {
         "type": "comparison",
         "left": "hp",
         "right": "0",
         "symbol": "<="
       }
     },
     "lose-condition": {
       "source": "player",
       "condition": {
         "type": "comparison",
         "left": "hp",
         "right": "0",
         "symbol": "<="
       }
     }
    },
    "rooms": {
     "entrance": {
       "description": {
         "default": "You're at the entrance of the dungeon. There are two lit torches on each wall (one on your right and one on your left). You see only one path: ahead."
       },
       "items": [
         {
           "id": "littorch1",
           "name": "Lit torch on the right",  
           "triggers": [
             {
               "action": "grab", //grab Lit torch on the right
               "effect":{
                 "statusUpdate": "has light",
                 "target": "game",
               }
             }
           ] ,
           "destination": "hand"
         },
         {
           "id": "littorch2",
           "name": "Lit torch on the left",  
           "triggers": [
             {
               "action": "grab", //grab Lit torch on the left
               "effect":{
                 "statusUpdate": "has light",
                 "target": "game",
               }
             }
           ] ,
           "destination": "hand"
         
         }
       ]
     },
     "1stroom": {
       "description": {
         "default": "You're in a very dark room. There are no windows and no source of light, other than the one at the entrance. You get the feeling you're not alone here.",
         "conditionals": {
           "has light": "The room you find yourself in appears to be empty, aside from a single chair in the right corner. There appears to be only one way out: deeper into the dungeon."
         }
       },
       "items": [
         {
           "id": "chair",
           "name": "Wooden chair",
           "details": "It's a wooden chair, nothing fancy about it. It appears to have been sitting here, untouched, for a while now.",
           "subitems": [
             {    "id": "woodenleg",  
               "name": "Wooden leg",
               "triggeractions": [
                 { "action": "break", "target": "chair"},  //break 
                 { "action": "throw", "target": "chair"} //throw 
               ],
               "destination": "inventory",
               "damage": 2
             }
           ]
         }
       ]
     },
     "bigroom": {
       "description": {
         "default": "You've reached the big room. On every wall are torches lighting every corner. The walls are painted white, and the ceiling is tall and filled with painted white stars on a black background. There is a gateway on either side and a big, wooden double door in front of you."
       },
       "exits": {
         "north": { "id": "bossdoor",  "name": "Big double door", "status": "locked", "details": "A aig, wooden double door. It seems like something big usually comes through here."}
       },
       "items": []
     },
     "leftwing": {
       "description": {
         "default": "Another dark room. It doesn't look like it's that big, but you can't really tell what's inside. You do, however, smell rotten meat somewhere inside.",
         "conditionals": {
           "has light":  "You appear to have found the kitchen. There are tables full of meat everywhere, and a big knife sticking out of what appears to be the head of a cow."
         }
       },
       "items": [
         { "id": "bigknife", "name": "Big knife", "destination": "inventory", "damage": 10}
       ]
     },
     "rightwing": {
       "description": {
         "default": "This appear to be some sort of office. There is a wooden desk in the middle, torches lighting every wall, and a single key resting on top of the desk."
       },
       "items": [
         {     "id": "key",
           "name": "Golden key",
           "details": "A small golden key. What use could you have for it?",
           "destination": "inventory",
           "triggers": [{
             "action": "use", //use  on north exit (contextual)
             "target": {
               "room": "bigroom",
               "exit": "north"
             },
             "effect": {
               "statusUpdate": "unlocked",
               "target": {
                 "room": "bigroom",
                 "exit": "north"
               }
             }
           }
         ]
         }
       ]
     },
     "bossroom": {
       "description": {
         "default": "You appear to have reached the end of the dungeon. There are no exits other than the one you just came in through. The only other thing that bothers you is the hulking giant looking like it's going to kill you, standing about 10 feet from you."
       },
       "npcs": [
         {
           "id": "finalboss",
           "name": "Hulking Ogre",
           "details": "A huge, green, muscular giant with a single eye in the middle of his forehead. It doesn't just look bad, it also smells like hell.",
           "stats":  {
             "hp": 10,
             "damage": 3
           }
         }
       ]
     }
    }
}

I know it looks like a lot, but if you boil it down to a simple description of the game, you have a dungeon comprising six rooms, each one interconnected with others, as shown in the diagram above.

Your task is to move through it and explore it. You’ll find there are two different places where you can find a weapon (either in the kitchen or in the dark room, by breaking the chair). You will also be confronted with a locked door; so, once you find the key (located inside the office-like room), you’ll be able to open it and fight the boss with whatever weapon you’ve collected.

You will either win by killing it or lose by getting killed by it.

Let’s now get into a more detailed overview of the entire JSON structure and its three sections.

Graph

This one will contain the relationship between the nodes. Basically, this section directly translates into the graph we looked at before.

The structure for this section is pretty straightforward. It’s a list of nodes, where every node comprises the following attributes:

  • an ID that uniquely identifies the node among all others in the game;
  • a name, which is basically a human-readable version of the ID;
  • a set of links to the other nodes. This is evidenced by the existence of four possible keys: north”, south, east, and west. We could eventually add further directions by adding combinations of these four. Every link contains the ID of the related node and the distance (or weight) of that relation.
Game

This section will contain the general settings and conditions. In particular, in the example above, this section contains the win and lose conditions. In other words, with those two conditions, we’ll let the engine know when the game can end.

To keep things simple, I’ve added just two conditions:

  • you either win by killing the boss,
  • or lose by getting killed.
Rooms

Here is where most of the 163 lines come from, and it is the most complex of the sections. This is where we’ll describe all of the rooms in our adventure and everything inside them.

There will be a key for every room, using the ID we defined before. And every room will have a description, a list of items, a list of exits (or doors) and a list of non-playable characters (NPCs). Out of those properties, the only one that should be mandatory is the description, because that one is required for the engine to let you know what you’re seeing. The rest of them will only be there if there is something to show.

Let’s look into what these properties can do for our game.

The Description

This item is not as simple as one might think, because your view of a room can change depending on different circumstances. If, for example, you look at the description of the first room, you’ll notice that, by default, you can’t see anything, unless of course, you have a lit torch with you.

So, picking up items and using them might trigger global conditions that will affect other parts of the game.

The Items

These represent all the things” you can find inside a room. Every item shares the same ID and name that the nodes in the graph section had.

They will also have a “destination” property, which indicates where that item should be stored, once picked up. This is relevant because you will be able to have only one item in your hands, whereas you’ll be able to have as many as you’d like in your inventory.

Finally, some of these items might trigger other actions or status updates, depending on what the player decides to do with them. One example of this are the lit torches from the entrance. If you grab one of them, you’ll trigger a status update in the game, which in turn will make the game show you a different description of the next room.

Items can also have “subitems”, which come into play once the original item gets destroyed (through the “break” action, for example). An item can be broken down into several ones, and that is defined in the “subitems” element.

Essentially, this element is just an array of new items, one that also contains the set of actions that can trigger their creation. This basically opens up the possibility to create different subitems based on the actions you perform on the original item.

Finally, some items will have a “damage” property. So, if you use an item to hit an NPC, that value will be used to subtract life from them.

The Exits

This is simply a set of properties indicating the direction of the exit and the properties of it (a description, in case you want to inspect it, its name and, in some cases, its status).

Exits are a separate entity from items because the engine will need to understand if you can actually traverse them based on their status. Exits that are locked will not let you go through them unless you work out how to change their status to unlocked.

The NPCs

Finally, NPCs will be part of another list. They are basically items with statistics that the engine will use to understand how each one should behave. The ones we’ve defined in our example are “hp”, which stands for health points, and “damage”, which, just like the weapons, is the number that each hit will subtract from the player’s health.

That is it for the dungeon I created. It is a lot, yes, and in the future I might consider creating a level editor of sorts, to simplify the creation of the JSON files. But for now, that won’t be necessary.

In case you haven’t realized it yet, the main benefit of having our game defined in a file like this is that we’ll be able to switch JSON files like you did cartridges back in the Super Nintendo era. Just load up a new file and start a new adventure. Easy!

Closing Thoughts

Thanks for reading thus far. I hope you’ve enjoyed the design process I go through to bring an idea to life. Remember, though, that I’m making this up as I go, so we might realize later that something we defined today isn’t going to work, in which case we’ll have to backtrack and fix it.

I’m sure there are a ton of ways to improve the ideas presented here and to make one hell of an engine. But that would require a lot more words than I can put into an article without making it boring for everyone, so we’ll leave it at that for now.

Smashing Editorial
(rb, ra, al, il)

Source: Smashing Magazine, Writing A Multiplayer Text Adventure Engine In Node.js