Duc Tran

Web Developer




Duc Tran

Web Developer




Blog Post

CSS/Sass Coding Guidelines

16th November 2018 Javascript, Sharing
CSS/Sass Coding Guidelines

Every stylesheet should be easy to read, scan, add to, and collaborate on. Our current system and nomenclature builds on top of components, where CSS files live alongside the component they are styling: component/style.scss. These files are all imported into the React components’ JavaScript sources and then bundled by webpack to the production CSS files.

This is an example of a declaration:

.component__element.is-modifier {}

Two important considerations:

  • The component fragment matches the folder name of the React component it’s providing styles to.
  • The .is-modifier class should never be written on its own outside of the component class. This avoids naming collisions and provides a consistent use of modifiers.
  • We don’t use #ids for style purposes.


Take a component called site/index.jsx that renders a site item on the picker. Imagine we are going to set the color for the site title to #333 and change it to #444 when the site is a Jetpack site. Our Sass file will sit alongside site/index.jsx and be called site/style.scss. Its content will be written like:


.site__title {
    color: #333;

    &.is-jetpack {
        color: #444;


.site {
    .title {
        color: #333;

        .jetpack {
            color: #444;

The modifier classes are always attached to a base element (the wrapper of a component). Since every element will have a direct class to be selected with, we avoid descendant selectors and child selectors. We also avoid indenting selectors in Sass files in favor of single selectors. The main exceptions are precisely the is-modifier class, and the cases where the context needs to change a given component’s accidents.

// Modify 'site__title' for in CurrentSite component's display
.current-site .site__title {
    color: #444;

The expressiveness of the selector above clearly conveys that there are two separate components involved (CurrentSite and Site). We also keep CSS specificity in check. Avoid using Sass indents for simple selectors — they obfuscate the cascade.

It’s important to note that we don’t reuse classes, we reuse components.


These practices mean that a component will work anywhere it is included by default, and that the developer won’t need to go hunting for the relevant CSS. Any modifications will happen in the context/parents, and will be minimal in nature. Where and how changes will affect the rendering of the app will thus be clearer. (If you edit the button-component’s Sass file you know you are editing it for everyone.)

General Syntax and Writing Rules

Apart from the above structure, please adhere to these guidelines:

  • Follow the WordPress CSS Coding Standards, unless it contradicts something stated in this document.
  • Avoid # selectors for style purposes. Their specificity becomes troublesome to manage fairly quickly.
  • Don’t use the !important declaration. If you think you need to do it, consider fixing the root cause.
  • Avoid using universal selectors (*).
  • Use hyphens, not underscores or camelCase, when naming things like IDs, classes, variable names, mixins, placeholders. Good: .site-title, Bad: .siteTitle or .site_title.
  • The only exception is the __ syntax to signal the relationship within a component.
  • Avoid using over-qualified selectors like div.my-class.


Classes are the fundamental building block of our stylesheets. Using them appropriately and consistently is important to keep a maintainable and enjoyable codebase.

  • Generic class names are deemphasized in favor of component-based structures. Instead of defining generic classes in a shared stylesheet, we construct components that come with both markup and styles ready to be used.
  • Choose semantic class names based on hierarchy and content, not on positioning or visual appearance. (Example: .site__meta-info, instead of .site-menu-small or .site-top-section).
  • Avoid redundant bits of information that are provided by the HTML element or other contexts. (Don’t do .site__content-box on a div, the box is not necessary.)
  • We keep one level of prefix for single components present in the class name: .site__title instead of .site .title. This may seem verbose but it provides more flexibility, clear direct selectors, and immediate recognizability of its role in a large codebase like Calypso. Classes are not just for style purposes, they should provide meaning to the reader parsing the document.
  • Keep class names lean and to the point. Name classes the same way you would describe what the content of an element is to a stranger.

The DRY principle

Calypso already provides helpers for many common solutions. Please, use them! We are transitioning towards a component-based structure where each React component will have its own stylesheet. However, there will be a few files that are by its nature shared resources across all components. (Colors, typography, some mixins, etc.)

  • Don’t use custom colors, always utilize what _colors.scss provides. If you have to set a color, use lowercase hex values, and shorten them to their smallest expression (like #aaa).
  • Render icons using <Gridicon>.
  • Don’t define your own media queries or breakpoints — use the provided breakpoint( "value" ) mixin.
  • Calypso runs Sass with autoprefixer, that means you DON’T need to directly use vendor specific properties.

Sass Guidelines

Currently, all component based Sass files are imported into the respective JavaScript sources (using import './style.scss' statements). They are compiled by webpack as part of the bundling process into CSS chunks that are then loaded into the browser at runtime. Remember that all styles, even when loaded at different times, eventually end up on one page as part of a single HTML document. Make sure you namespace your styles for the page you are working on.

Under the hood, we are using webpack and its sass-loader, for compiling the styles with node-sass (a C++ implementation of the Sass compiler which is working on parity with the reference Ruby implementation) and mini-css-extract-plugin, for creating the CSS chunks to be loaded as <style> tags into the browser.

Media Queries

We don’t do device specific breakpoints, we use layout-specific breakpoints that communicate the state of the UI. DO NOT define your own media queries. Utilize the mixins provided in _mixins.scss. Furthermore, we are pushing for a mobile-first approach to media queries, meaning your default styles should apply to mobile, and desktop should build on top of that. This means that devices with smaller screens have to process less CSS (which makes sense since they are generally less powerful). You should avoid the use of < breakpoints like this:


.class-name {
    margin: 20px; // styles for all devices
    @include breakpoint( “<480px” ) {
        margin: 10px; // styles for mobile


.class-name {
    margin: 10px; // styles for all devices
    @include breakpoint( “>480px” ) {
        margin: 20px; // styles for desktop

There is only one time when using a < breakpoint is ok; when it saves you code:


.class-name {
    width: 50%; // styles for all devices
    @include breakpoint( “>480px” ) {
        width: auto; // styles for desktop


.class-name {
    @include breakpoint( “<480px” ) {
        width: 50%; // styles for mobile

The value passed to this mixin is actually a string rather than a pixel value. Accepted values are: "<X"">X", or "X-Y" — where X and Y are valid breakpoints, for example 480px. If you provide any other value to the mixin it will fail and give you a warning in the output from npm start.

Adding additional breakpoints should not be undertaken lightly.

Adding a new Sass file

If you are adding a new Sass file (global or component-specific), you need to import it in some JavaScript source file. Try to avoid creating global styles and favor of styling particular components. JS and CSS code is async-loaded just in time when a particular section or an async-loaded React component is loaded.


  • DO declare all of your @import dependencies at the top of a file that needs it/them.
  • DON’T @import dependencies in a global file and just hope it filters down to your partial.


  • DON’T nest selectors in general. Exceptions are :hover/:focus/::before/.is-modifier, and alike.
  • DO attempt to keep nesting to 2 levels deep at most.
  • DO list items inside a selector in the following order (not all will necessarily be present):
    1. @extend(s).
    2. property list for the element.
    3. mixin(s).
    4. nested selectors, with a space above each to keep them visually distinct.

Example of the above:

.parent {
    @extend %awesomeness;
    border: 1px solid;
    font-size: 2em;
    @include moar-awesome( true );

    &::before {
        // and so on

Mixins vs Extends

  • DO use @extend when in doubt, using the %placeholder syntax. This will produce leaner output.
  • DON’T use mixins for anything that doesn’t accept an argument. This is @extend territory.
  • DO read this article if you don’t understand @extend.


  • DO make generous use of comments to explain the whys of what you are doing.
  • DO use // Comments rather than /* comments */. Multiline comments should be written like this:
// This is a comment
// in two lines

Add as much comments as needed to your Sass file, especially around clever code.


  • DO use tabs for indents.

Right-To-Left (RTL)

We’re using RTLCSS to convert public/style.css to rtl. This happens automatically during npm run build-css.

  • If your css code refers to a filename with ‘left’ or ‘right’ in it, for example background: url(arrow-left.png): the RTL version will reference a different file, e.g. background: url(arrow-right.png). Please make sure that file exists.
  • Same goes for ‘ltr’ and ‘rtl’ in it, for example background: url(icons-ltr.png): the RTL version will link to the other direction, e.g background: url(icons-ltr.png). Please make sure that file exists.
  • If a part of the css needs to remain the same in the ltr version, mark it with a comment like this:
div.alignright {
  float: right;
  clear: right;
  margin: 0.5em 0 0.8em 1.4em;
input.email {

If you need custom RTL css code, add it to your stylesheet with a .rtl class prefix, and the rtl ignore comment mentioned above. For example:

.rtl div.onlyinrtl {

Note for either of the above that because of the SCSS build process, if you’re nesting things then you might need to place the rtlignore comment inside the value, with Sass interpolation syntax

.rtl {
  .onlyinrtl {
    margin-right: 5px #{"/*rtl:ignore*/"};;

You can also define specific values for RTL like so:

  .class {
    margin-right: 5px #{"/*rtl:2px*/"};;

You can find more details in the RTLCSS documentation.


When defining positioning properties, indent the top/right/bottom/left one level below the position declaration for improved readability:

selector {
  position: absolute;
    left: 0;
    top: 20px;


  • DO use spaces around parenthesis
  • DO use a single space before an opening brace
@include breakpoint( ">480px" ) {
  color: rgb( 0, 0, 0 );
  transform: translate( -50%, -50% ) scale( 1 );


When adding z-indexes use our scss z-index function. This means you’ll need to add another entry to the $z-layers variable in assets/stylesheets/shared/functions/_z-index.scss.

Because browsers support a hierarchy of stacking contexts rather than a single global one, we use a tree with two levels of keys. The first is the name of the parent stacking context, and the latter is the selector for the stacking context you’ve just created. We keep each level of the tree sorted by z-index so we can quickly compare z-index values within a given stacking context.

An element creates a new stacking context when any of the following are true:

  1. It’s the root element (html)
  2. Has a position other than static, with a z-index value
  3. Has one of the following CSS properties: (transformopacity < 1, mix-blend-modefilter)
  4. Has position: fixed
  5. Has isolation: isolate
  6. Has -webkit-overflow-scrolling: touch

So, to add a new z-index:

  1. You’ll want to make sure the element actually creates a stacking context
  2. Look up its parent stacking context
  3. Put the new rule in the $z-layers tree, using the selector of the parent stacking context as the initial key and the element’s full CSS selector as the final key.

You can use this handy Chrome extension to find the stacking contexts of both the element and its parent.

As a simple example, imagine that we have a page with the following markup:

<div class="masterbar"></div>
<div class="modal">
  <div class="modal__icon"></div>
  <div class="modal__content"></div>
  <div class="modal__header"></div>

With CSS of:

div {
    position: relative;
.masterbar {
    z-index: 2;
.modal {
    z-index: 1;
.modal__icon {
    z-index: 100;
.modal__content {
   z-index: 300;
.modal__header {
   z-index: 200;

Each div in this case creates a stacking context, with the render order summarized as:

1.0 .modal
1.100 .modal__icon
1.200 .modal__header
1.300 .modal__content
2.0 .masterbar

In this case icon, header, and content can never be rendered above the masterbar because it is contained within the modal stacking context, which has a lower value than the masterbar.

With this in mind our $z-layers might look like the following, with z-index values sorted from lowest to highest within a stacking context:

$z-layers: (
    'root': (
        '.modal': 1,
        '.masterbar': 2
    '.modal': (
        '.modal__icon': 100,
        '.modal__header': 200,
        '.modal__content': 300
.modal__icon {
    z-index: z-index( '.modal', '.modal__icon' ); // returns 100

While we can support a map with more than 2 layers, there isn’t much benefit to doing this. Stacking of children are completely resolved within their parent context. So in our example the stacking of .modal__icon.modal__header, and .modal__content are completely resolved within .modal. Once this is done the entire .modal element is passed for stacking in the root element, with it’s sibling .masterbar.

For further reading on stacking contexts see:

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