Q&A

The man who cre­ated CSS in 1994, the year of net mag­a­zine’s birth, dis­cusses its past, present and fu­ture

net magazine - - CONTENTS - Info Job: CTO, Special Projects, Opera w: www.wium­lie.no/en t: @wium­lie

Håkon Wium Lie, the man who cre­ated CSS, dis­cusses its past, present and fu­ture

net: How did you get CSS so right: was it more about luck or judge­ment? HWL: CSS was de­signed with longevity in mind. New se­lec­tors, prop­er­ties and val­ues can be added with­out chang­ing the syn­tax due to the for­ward-com­pat­i­ble pars­ing rules. I can’t claim credit for that, though, Dan Con­nolly first brought this is­sue up and Bert Bos wrote the for­mal gram­mar.

An­other rea­son for the vi­tal­ity of CSS is the com­mu­nity that formed around the spec­i­fi­ca­tions. De­sign­ers wanted CSS to suc­ceed even if they could charge cus­tomers more by writ­ing browser-spe­cific code. Todd Fahrner, Jeff Zeldman, and Eric Meyer must be men­tioned. Also, the Acid2 test was cru­cial for get­ting CSS im­ple­men­ta­tions aligned, with­out it CSS may have frac­tured.

As for luck, it may have been for­tu­itous that the ini­tial CSS pro­posal was re­leased three days be­fore the Netscape browser, with its <font> and <cen­ter> tags, was an­nounced. And that I knew Geir Ivarsøy and chal­lenged him to im­ple­ment CSS cor­rectly in Opera; he did so sin­gle-hand­edly in 1998. net: What are the main ways that CSS has been im­proved over the years? HWL: CSS2 in­tro­duced We­bFonts, which was cru­cial for en­rich­ing the web ty­po­graph­i­cally. Dave Hy­att sug­gested CSS Tran­si­tions, which an­i­mated web de­sign with­out re­sort­ing to pro­gram­ming. Me­dia Queries made re­spon­sive pre­sen­ta­tions pos­si­ble. All th­ese were cru­cial in fight­ing off the pro­pri­etary Flash (which thank­fully is no longer part of com­mon web de­sign). CSS Grid Lay­out will also be­come a bless­ing to the web, I think. We’ve also added func­tion­al­ity that en­ables CSS to print books. Our civil­i­sa­tion is based on books and I think pa­per will be with us for many years. Print­ing will be re­served for the con­tent you love, and we must en­sure our favourite for­mats – namely HTML and CSS – can pro­duce good-look­ing books. (Dis­clo­sure: I’m on the board of YesLogic, which makes the fab­u­lous Prince HTML-to-PDF-by-way-of-CSS for­mat­ter.) net: What do you think of CSS in JavaScript? HWL: I don’t like it. I think HTML, CSS and JavaScript should live peace­fully to­gether with­out one try­ing to ex­press the oth­ers. CSS will ex­press declar­a­tive de­sign, while JavaScript will be used when pro­gram­ming is nec­es­sary. And the con­tent should be in HTML, not in a script. Also, there should be some flu­id­ity be­tween them. For ex­am­ple, when we see that de­sign­ers re­sort to JavaScript for com­mon ef­fects, th­ese ef­fects should be writ­ten up in a CSS spec­i­fi­ca­tion. Hover ef­fects is an early ex­am­ple: we saw lots of scripts im­ple­ment­ing hover high­light­ing, which was added to CSS2 as a pseudo-class. net: What are the big­gest chal­lenges fac­ing CSS right now, and in the fu­ture? HWL: To live on, CSS must give de­sign­ers the tools they crave. If they don’t find it in CSS, they will go some­where else. One ex­am­ple: we have added sev­eral dif­fer­ent lay­out mech­a­nisms to CSS (Ta­bles, Flexbox, Grid), but we still can­not de­scribe page­based pre­sen­ta­tions of epub files. So, it’s not pos­si­ble to cre­ate an ebook ex­pe­ri­ence us­ing CSS and we there­fore lose out on tablets.

How­ever, I am truly ex­cited by all the in­cred­i­ble things peo­ple are do­ing with HTML and CSS to­day, things we didn’t imag­ine pos­si­ble a decade ago. CSS Vari­ables and Grids add im­por­tant new func­tion­al­ity for coders and hope­fully a new font for­mat will make the web even more beau­ti­ful. If we can keep both the coders and de­sign­ers happy, CSS will live for many years to come!

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