I’m not old enough to recount any tales first hand, but my father and grandad told me plenty a horror story from the battlefields of the VHS-Betamax war, real stomach churning stuff. If you’re even younger than me then you are probably wondering what the hell I’m talking about! VHS tapes were big black boxes that you used to watch movies on before DVDs were invented. There were two competing technologies, VHS and Betamax. Some people invested in VHS, others in Betamax (my granddad). Eventually, VHS won out and Betamax died off (if you still haven’t got a clue what I’m on about, think back to the recent battle between Blu-ray and HD-DVD). I mention this battle, because I’m wondering if we’re going down the same path with CSS preprocessors. There are several competing languages, all trying to be the best, so will we eventually be left with a single, all-conquering preprocessor?
To be fair you could be forgiven for already thinking that there’s only one preprocessor anyway: Sass. Every tweet I see seems to only mention preprocessors in the context of Sass. Every newsletter link about them, links to an article on Sass and every technical article I read gives the CSS code alongside Sass. There is no mention of LESS or Stylus (there are other preprocessors but Sass, LESS and Stylus are the biggest). If you’re wondering what a preprocessor is, it adds extra syntax to a language (in this case CSS), which gives you more functionality. You can use loops, functions, variables and lots of other time saving features, helping to make you and your code more efficient.
Now, there’s a little bit of bias here: I’m a Sass user myself, so I’m not going to follow Twitter accounts that are all about LESS and Stylus, and I’m likely going to ignore any links or articles about them also. But I rarely, if ever, see any. I also don’t know any developers who use a preprocessor other than Sass. I know one who used to use LESS, but he’s now switched to Sass and can’t believe he didn’t use it from the start. We’ve even got leading agencies running workshops for students that teach Sass.
So, I would say we’re on a trend where Sass is becoming the dominant preprocessor. But I don’t necessarily think it will become the only one. While more and more developers may be starting with, or switching to, Sass, there will be those who already use LESS or Stylus who have developed an efficient workflow and don’t see the need to switch. Fair enough. There will probably also be those who would want to maintain competing languages in order to stop innovation being stifled. In the end, I think it’s all a bit moot. While there’s no doubt that each preprocessor will look to others for potential features, those features would come about anyway, even without the presence of competition. And, more pertinently, Sass itself won’t be around forever. Our industry is fast paced, and by the time we’ve stopped discussing if, or should it become the only preprocessor, something else will have replaced it.
We want to know what you think. Do you think Sass will become the only preprocessor we use? Would it be a good or a bad thing?