Best practices

CSS Shorthand Syntax Considered an Anti-Pattern

Typically we would view shorthand syntax as a benefit: fewer keystrokes, fewer lines of code, less data over the wire. Sounds great! However, it comes with a rather troublesome side effect: it often unsets other properties that we never intended to modify.

When we write something like:

Code language: CSS

.btn {
  background: red;
}

…we’re likely to get a red background colour applied to our button. But what we’re really saying is this:

Code language: CSS

.btn {
  background-image: initial;
  background-position-x: initial;
  background-position-y: initial;
  background-size: initial;
  background-repeat-x: initial;
  background-repeat-y: initial;
  background-attachment: initial;
  background-origin: initial;
  background-clip: initial;
  background-color: red;
}

Simply by using the shorter syntax, we have implicitly decided that we want no image to start top-left, repeat x and y, to scroll with the element, and so on…

Nearly every problem, bug, or regression in CSS at scale is happens because we did too much too soon, and further down the line we’re being affected by that. What this basically comes down to is the fact that, with CSS, you should only ever do as little as you need to do and nothing more.

Misusing shorthand syntax is a surefire way to do too much too soon, as thus it should be avoided. CSS is a lot harder to undo than it is to do.