The best CSS Pre-processors for Web Developers

After years of debating whether pre-processing CSS should be necessary, most front-end developers have resigned themselves to the fact that if a Website is worth developing, then pre-processing is necessary - at least until this language matures a little more. Here are some of the best pre-processors currently available.

The three most highly rated pre-processors currently in use are LESS, Sass and Stylus. Pretty much the same in most aspects, they are separated only by slight differences in syntax. LESS used to be a more approachable option, because it offers a CSS-like syntax that is readable (which is something Sass did not offer to begin with). It also has the advantage of users only needing to import one Java Script file in order to enjoy dynamic style sheet flexibility.

Sass is definitely the most commonly used pre-processor. This is hardly surprising, as it offers mix-ins, nesting, variables and more - enough to make CSS fun. What's more, users who find the .sass syntax's original indent-specific style hard to deal with can easily switch to .scss format and write their style sheets as usual. It can be safely said that anyone joining development teams at present and in the foreseeable future will be required to learn this one.

Comparatively new, Stylus is often praised as offering the greatest flexibility out of the three pre-processors mentioned here. Users who like to use semicolons can use them to their heart's delight, and those hating the use of colons to separate values and properties can simply take them out. In essence, Stylus offers configurability at its very best by allowing users to customise their style sheets in any way they see fit.

Another good choice is Coffee Script, which basically makes Java Script manageable by removing braces and semicolons and makes parentheses optional. Offering features like array comprehension, splats, lexical slope and more, Coffee Script ultimately compiles down to simple Java Script. It also features increased improvements to/ adoption of source maps, making many pre-processor downsides non-issues. What's more, future ECMA Script versions will be implementing many Sass and Coffee Script innovations.

Some users may, however, find the Ruby-like syntax of Coffee Script difficult to connect with. For these users, a great alternative is available in the shape of Type Script. Embracing the latest ECMA Script 6 additions, it allows users to write in a Java Script dialect and - like Coffee Script - essentially compiles to simple Java Script capable of running in a browser. Other alternatives include Code Kit (for Mac) and Live Reload, which is available for Mac and Windows.

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