SMACSS: Scalable and Modular Architecture for CSS

I have been working a lot recently with CSS and updating application styles.

I have always followed the simple pattern of placing all CSS in one file (stlye.css). However when I started started working with SASS I started to break up the styles into logical files, each file folding the styles for a page or a section of a page. This still ended led to issues are the file would grow and I would usually end up with reproduced styles and when it came to removing a style it was hard to trace.


SMACSS is a style guide you can follow that will provide more organisation for your css. Its promoted as not a framework but a way to examine your design process. SMACSS is broken up into a number of categories:
– Base
– Layout
– Module
– State
– Theme

Each of these categories can be used to structure the css of a project.


Base styles are styles that will cover the whole project. Root document styles such as the body text, links styles and anything else that can cover the whole project.

body {
    margin: 0;
    padding: 0;
    font-family: "Bell MT", BellMT, Garamond, Georgia, “Times New Roman”, Times, serif;
    line-height: 1.5;
    color: #333;
a {
  color: #039;

We can see from the example above that we are setting the font for the document and also setting the links colours. Anything that is not specific to a part of the application can be added to your base.


Layout as you can guess takes responsibility for the layout of the document. The layout would contain the styles for blocks on the page such as a nav bar, header, main content area and a footer. The layout file could look something like:

nav {
  width: 20%;
  float: left;
main {
  width: 80%
  float: left;
footer {
  width: 100%

Here we can see the different sections of the application.


Modules are used to store the different parts of the application, If you page has blog posts on it and each post has a preview. This is a module you can contain the styles for that module in a file named preview.css. You can also extend modules and have submodules.


State rules are ways to describe a our module or layout will look when in a particular state. Is it hidden or expanded? Is it active or inactive? They are about describing how a module or layout looks on screens that are smaller or bigger. They are also about describing how a module might look in different views like the home page or the inside page.


Themes are similar to state in that the can describe how a part of the page looks. However different to state the theme can be used to change to look of the page based on a user preference.


So you know what SMACSS can do for your css but why should you use it. When working on large scale JavaScript applications it is common to break up the code into manageable areas such as modules or use a MVC style structure. Why not apply the same to css, when multiple developers are working on code things can get messy. Merge conflicts, code duplication and complexity can and will happen unless some rules are introduced. With SMACSS you can break down the css into manageable chunks and allow for developers to work together with little to no issues.

To learn more about CSS architecture, layout and best practices in writing and managing CSS layouts, check out the CSS Layout Tutorial from Toptal.


CSS Flexbox

Flexbox is a CSS property that aims to provide a better method to page layout that the currently popular methods using floats. I recently came across Flexbox when working on CSS bug. I preformed the usual Stackoverflow search and blindly copied and pasted the answer into my code. As expected everything work, but why? What was tis Flexbox I was seeing?

I decided to look into Flexbox and here is a very basic overview of how to use Flexbox. Flexbox is an alternative was to control page layout, without the need for floats. Floats have there own advantages and disadvantages. The main idea behind Flexbox is the ability for the container element to dynamically alter the size of its child elements. This leans it use towards responsive design as it will work to fill the container area as best as possible.

The example below shows a container div with 5 children, the container has flex as is display while the children all have flex:1 set.

See the Pen ojXvBd by Chris Laughlin (@chrislaughlin) on CodePen.

Note that each child is of equal height and width and all work to fill the parent container. This is the power of Flexbox, there is no need to set any width or height of the container or the children. Also note that the flex:1 of the child is does not effect the layout. This will be applied to each child and will be come more clear in the next example.

See the Pen pjJzzv by Chris Laughlin (@chrislaughlin) on CodePen.

You can see from the above example box 2 is bigger this is because we have set it with a higher flex than the others. So now box 2 is two times the size than the others. This can be done for any of the boxes just by changing the flex value. So on that thought you could potentially make a 3 column layout (that was all the rage back in the day) by setting the flex of the middle column and you get responsive design for free.

See the Pen zvGOYN by Chris Laughlin (@chrislaughlin) on CodePen.

Browser Support

Now for the bad part, there is currently not full browser support for Flexbox, currently Chrome, Firefox, Safari, IE (11), Opera and Android (4.4.4+) have full support. Other browsers require you to add a prefix however if you are using SASS or LESS you could use a mixin to achieve this.