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HTML5 and SMACSS

As it turns out, it works just as well with HTML5 as it does with HTML4 or any other HTML you might be using with your CSS. That is because the SMACSS approach has two core goals:

  1. Increase the semantic value of a section of HTML and content
  2. Decrease the expectation of a specific HTML structure

HTML5 introduces a number of new elements which can help us increase the semantic value of a section of HTML and content. Tags like section, header, and aside are more descriptive than a simple div. We have new input types that allow us to differentiate a numeric field from a date field from a text field. The extra tags and attributes have allowed us to be more descriptive. That is a good thing.

But even with our new tags to play with, the tags are not necessarily (or very likely) going to describe a very specific module on the page. Is a nav element always going to contain the exact same type and style of navigation?

<nav> implementation

<nav class="nav-primary">
    <h1>Primary Navigation</h1>
    <ul>…</ul>
</nav>

<nav class="nav-secondary">
    <h1>External Links</h1>
    <ul>…</ul>
</nav>

The primary navigation uses a horizontal navigation along the top of the page but the secondary navigation (for a sidebar, for example) lists items vertically. The class names provide differentiation between the types.

Class names help describe our content in very specific ways—ways that are more specific than even HTML5 can provide. This serves our first goal of increasing the semantic value of a section of HTML.

Your first instinct might be to do something like the following:

<nav> CSS

nav.nav-primary li { 
    display: inline-block; 
}

nav.nav-secondary li {
    display: block;
}

In doing so, we have indicated that these classes may only be used on nav elements. If our code was never going to change, this would be okay. However, the intention of this book is to describe scalable projects, so let us look at an example of how things might change on this project.

Our primary navigation is only a single level but the client comes back and says we need to add drop down menus to every element. Our HTML structure changes.

<nav> implementation

<nav class="nav-primary">
    <h1>Primary Navigation</h1>
    <ul>
        <li>About Us
            <ul>
                <li>Team</li>
                <li>Location</li>
            </ul>
        </li>
    </ul>
</nav>

With this sub-navigation, how do we style the items such that they are listed vertically and not horizontally?

With the CSS that we already have, we would have to add a <nav class="nav-secondary"> around each of the inner unordered lists to get the style that we want.

We can augment the CSS to target the inner list items.

Augmented <nav> CSS

nav.nav-primary li { 
    display: inline-block; 
}

nav.nav-secondary li,
nav.nav-primary li li {
    display: block;
}

Another alternative is to remove the need for a nav element to apply our class to, which works towards our secondary goal of decreasing the expectation of specific HTML.

SMACSS-style <nav> CSS

.l-inline li { 
    display: inline-block;
}

.l-stacked li {
    display: block;
}

In this case, we have switched to indicate that these are Layout rules, since we are impacting how the individual modules (the list items) are to be contained. The .l-stacked class can be applied to the sub-navigation ul. This will create the result that we desire.

Specifying the list item as a required child element still binds the Layout rules to specific HTML elements. There are certainly multiple ways to skin a cat, as the saying goes. For example, you might wish to say that all child elements will take on that style.

SMACSS-style <nav> CSS

.l-inline > * { 
    display: inline-block;
}

.l-stacked > * {
    display: block;
}

The downfall to this approach is that the rules will have to be evaluated for every single element on the page and not just the list items. The targeting of just direct descendants avoids too much traversal. This lets us use the inline and stacked classes on pretty much any element where we want the child elements to take on those styles.

<nav> implementation

<nav class="l-inline">
    <h1>Primary Navigation</h1>
    <ul>
        <li>About Us
            <ul class="l-stacked">
                <li>Team</li>
                <li>Location</li>
            </ul>
        </li>
    </ul>
</nav>

Even with just this rather straightforward example, we managed to keep our CSS simple and avoided making our selectors more complex. The HTML is still understandable.

Remember the two goals: increase semantics and decrease reliance on specific HTML.

Preface

  1. About the Author
  2. Introduction

Core

  1. Categorizing CSS Rules
  2. Base Rules
  3. Layout Rules
  4. Module Rules
  5. State Rules
  6. Theme Rules
  7. Changing State

Aspects of SMACSS

  1. Depth of Applicability
  2. Selector Performance
  3. HTML5 and SMACSS
  4. Prototyping

Aspects (cont) Premium access

  1. Preprocessors
  2. Drop the Base
  3. The Icon Module
  4. Complicated Inheritance
  5. Screencast: Applying the Principles
  6. Screencast: Avoiding Content-specific Context

Appendix

  1. Formatting Code
  2. Resources