How WE Can Have Nice Things: The Future of Front-End Dev Tools

(and what it means to WordPress developers)

Delivered at WordCamp Boston 2012

K. Adam White • @kadamwhite

Where we are now

It is 2012, and our Things are pretty darn Nice

What is Front-End Development?

A Baseline for Front-End Developers
- Blog post by Rebecca Murphey

HTML, CSS • jQuery • JavaScript • CSS preprocessors (SASS, LESS) • Client-side templating (Mustache) • Source Control (Github) • Modularity, dependency management, and production builds • In-Browser Developer Tools • The command line • Testing • Process automation • Code quality • Documentation

The Good news is, developers are Lazy

If our job gets more complex, we will spent months (or years) creating tools to make it easier again

Stylesheet Pre-Processors

were created to help manage stylesheets


  • “Syntactically Awesome StyleSheets”
  • Born from Haml, and written in Ruby
  • Stricter syntax than CSS:

        $blue: #3bbfce

            border-color: $blue
            color: darken($blue, 9%)


  • “Meta-language”: CSS is valid LESS by default
  • Originally in Ruby, now uses JavaScript: can run in the browser or on the command line with Node
  • LESS Homepage
  • LESS on Github

        @blue: #3bbfce;

        .content-navigation {
            border-color: @blue;
            color: darken(@blue, 9%);


        $blue: #3bbfce;

        .content-navigation {
            border-color: $blue;
            color: darken($blue, 9%);


        blue = #3bbfce

            border-color blue
            color darken(blue, 30%)

I happen to use LESS


Nested Rules

            .widget {
        span {
        color: #14ff23;
        font-style: italic;

        a {
        text-decoration: none;

        &:hover {
            text-decoration: underline;

&” lets you reference the current selector:
The &:hover above means .widget a:hover


Inline arithmetic within definitions

        @text-size: 16px;

        h1 {
            font-size: @text-size * 2;

Rendered CSS:

        h1 {
            font-size: 32px;

“Mixins” (functions)


.rounded-corners (@radius: 5px) {
    -webkit-border-radius: @radius;
    -moz-border-radius: @radius;
    border-radius: @radius;
#header {
#footer {

...compiles to this:

#header {
    border-radius: 5px;
    -webkit-border-radius: 5px;
    -moz-border-radius: 5px;
#footer {
    border-radius: 10px;
    -webkit-border-radius: 10px;
    -moz-border-radius: 10px;

@extend (SCSS only at present)

Lets you intelligently specify rule inheritance, with less code than mixins

.widget {
    background-color: #444;
    color: #00ff00;
    font-family: monospace;
.error-widget {
    @extend .widget
    color: #ff0000;
.error-widget {
    background-color: #444;
    color: #00ff00;
    font-family: monospace;
.error-widget {
    color: #ff0000;

(Note: If you want this in LESS—and I for one do—add a +1 to the feature pull request on github)

SASS/LESS: Friends & Family

SCSS: Compass framework • Bourbon mixin library

LESS: Twitter Bootstrap toolkit
lessphp PHP port of LESS—introduces ways to integrate with WordPress
wp-less by Thomas Parisot (@CyneticMonkey)
Integrating LESSphp into WordPress (in French) by Baptiste Caquot (@baptwit)
dotless .NET port of LESS, used in SquishIt (by @JustinEtheredge)

So that's one Cool Thing

  • Pre-processors let you make Even Cooler Things
  • Front end has a build process, and it ain't “reload!”
    • Pre-processed
    • Minified
    • Concatenated
    • Inspected, detected, infected, neglected and selected

Putting tools to use

  • Make pre-processors a part of your workflow:
    • Command-line, via Ruby or Node.js
    • Manually, via dedicated applications
    • Built-in to your text editor
    • Server-side via ports to PHP, .NET, etc
    • Browser-side via JavaScript (LESS only)
    • Pick and choose—the best tools are flexible!

Want More?


WordPress uses SVN, but on the front-end
Github has won. Resistence is futile.

Learn the ropes with Try Git on CodeSchool

Github has released Mac and Windows clients; other non-Github-specific GUIs exist

Even non-Git-based projects frequently have Github mirrors—Mark Jacquith established the official WordPress Github mirror

Github is the JavaScript Community's Home

Code Review Tools

Forking/Pull Requests

Github article on how they use Pull Requests for internal development


Public Bug Tracker


Gists (for short code/one-off demos)

Community Concerns

  • “What is this thing?”: Documentation
    • Code comments
    • API Reference
    • Getting started tutorials/examples
  • “Tabs vs Spaces”: Style Guides FTW
  • “Did I break it?”: Unit Tests
  • Most importantly, be excited about what you create: dream big, involve the rest of us

A parting thought

Thank You


Slides created with Reveal.js
Typefaces by The League of Movable Type

Continue right for Unit Testing and Style Guide resources →


Style Guides

…the more readable our source code is, the easier it is to maintain.

- Addy Osmani, JavaScript Style Guides and Beautifiers

Unit Testing