Six Questions: Eric Meyer on CSS3

Dec 9 2008 by Jacob Gube | 46 Comments

Eric A. Meyer knows a thing or two about standards-based CSS and HTML development. He’s a distinguished expert on CSS and HTML, an author of numerous books on CSS, co-founder of An Event Apart, a coveted guest speaker, a member of the A List Apart crew, and  founder of Complex Spiral Consulting (I could go on – but I think you get the picture).

Eric Meyer on CSS3 - photo courtesy of Chris Jennings.

Eric Meyer was also a prominent invited expert for seven years in the CSS Working Group, the folks in charge of maintaining and developing CSS.

Needless to say, he’s a person you’d want to ask about the CSS3.

Today I ask Eric Meyer six questions on the topic of CSS3, and here’s what he has to say.

What do you think are the most exciting developments and extensions of CSS in CSS3?

[Eric Meyer]: This will confirm once and for all that I’m basically a big huge code nerd, but honestly, the advanced selectors.  Sure, sure, opacity and rounded corners and multiple background images and pretty things blah blah blah.  All very nice.  But the power to describe Web 2.0 designs in CSS is insignificant compared with the power to select every third table row starting with the fifth one.  Or being able to select the first paragraph within another element, even if it’s not the first child.  Or selecting any list item that’s the last item in the list.  Oh yeah, that’s the stuff.

Well, and Web Fonts are kind of cool too.  I’ll grant you that.

Let’s discuss the modularization of CSS specifications. The CSS specification for CSS3 is modularized (presumably after lessons learned in CSS2) – how has this affected the timeline, progression, and mainstream adoption of CSS3 specs?

[Eric Meyer]: It really means there is no such thing as "CSS3" the way there was a CSS2.  There’s no great big monolithic specification called CSS3. There’s just a bunch of parallel efforts, some of which move more quickly than others.

I don’t honestly know what it’s done to adoption.  We had a great big long pause in CSS advancement in the first half of this decade– I call it "the IEnterregnum"– and it’s only been recently that we’ve seen browsers pushing past the edges of CSS2 in any major way.

On the other hand, you could argue that the pause was good because it let vendors focus on fixing bugs and reaching consistency instead of running off in ten different directions.  Nor would I oppose that argument.  My real point is that because of how things have gone, it’s hard to measure CSS3 adoption against what came before.
I do think the split caused an overall slowdown in the development of the specifications.  No way to prove that, of course, but that’s the feeling I get.  It’s a big part of why I left the WG, and why I’ve been only peripherally involved in some of the other W3C’s efforts.

Just taking a peek at the proposed specs for new CSS selectors, it seems that a lot of complex object selection and targeting in the DOM will eventually be done with CSS instead of JavaScript.

For example, under the proposed specs, you’ll be able to select the first element of .some-class and give it a different style rule or accomplish zebra-striping tables without using JavaScript.

How has JavaScript influenced CSS3 (and vice versa) and what roles do you see each one taking in modern web development; do you see them being more distinct or more blended together than they are now?

[Eric Meyer]: From what I’ve seen, most of the influence has been on JS frameworks like jQuery, with that influence coming from CSS. However, there is some movement going back the other way– ideas like ‘:contains‘ that were first done in JS are starting to be considered by the CSS WG.

I think the much bigger influence on CSS by JS will be in people using JS to "silently" add advanced CSS to browsers.  I wrote about this recently, and I’m pretty sure it’s just a matter of time before it actually happens.  We’re already seeing things like using JS to natively turn browsers into speaking browsers, and to hack around ancient accessibility barriers.  Adding support for HTML5 elements and CSS3 features via JS is not far behind.

What resources should we check out if we want to learn more about CSS3?

[Eric Meyer]: http://css3.info/ is a good start.  There aren’t a ton of resources out there beyond that, I think mostly because so little of CSS3 is widely supported.

CSS is getting bigger and more complex, Do you think the status of CSS3 should be versioned every time major modules are completed (i.e. CSS3.1, CSS3.2), unlike CSS1 and CSS2?

[Eric Meyer]: Yes, I think that would be a good idea.  I just don’t expect it to happen because it’s not very practical.  You’d have to only capture those modules that are stable, and the odds of more than three modules being stable (as opposed to stagnant and abandoned) at any one time are pretty low.

What can we (as developers and designers) do to help with CSS3 development and mainstream adoption?

[Eric Meyer]: Write blog posts and tweets and forum posts about what you want to use now, but can’t. Find ways to simulate what you want and write about that.

Submit feature requests to browser teams.  File bugs you find on existing CSS3 features (like advanced selectors).

All that stuff is how we vote in our field, to the extent that we have a vote.

Further reading

By the way, if you need a quick refresher on CSS3, be sure to check out CSS3.info, a site dedicated to sharing everything there is to know about CSS3 or the Wikipedia entry on CSS3.

Also check out the CSS WG’s current work to see the latest schedules on CSS3 development.

More on Eric Meyer

Thank you very much for your time Eric! If you want to learn more about Eric Meyer, check out his personal website where you’ll find a variety of useful articles, blog posts, demos, and tools on standards-based CSS/HTML. You should also check one of his many books and consider picking one up if you haven’t already. You can also follow him on Twitter.

Additionally, be sure to check out An Event Apart, a web design conference co-founded by Eric Meyer (along with Jeffery Zeldman) held regularly (check out the schedule for next year) with top web professionals guest speaking as subject matter experts.

Credit: Picture of Eric Meyer in the lead image of this article, courtesy of Chris Jennings. Source image can be found here.

46 Comments

insic

December 10th, 2008

great interview.

mohsen

December 10th, 2008

Nice interview!

Peter Steen Høgenhaug

December 10th, 2008

Wonderful interview!

Oh, and by the way, the link “many books” in “More on Eric Meyer” doesn’t work.
(http://a+list+of+books+written+by+eric+meyer+on+amazon./)

Jacob Gube

December 10th, 2008

Peter Steen Høgenhaug: Oops, great catch. Fixed.

Ollie

December 10th, 2008

Nice sum-up. I really liked the “How we can help” part.

Jim Gaudet

December 10th, 2008

I love the idea of Web Fonts. I haven’t read everything about it, but if I can get my website visitors to auto download and use the font of my choice, and not have to use an image. That would be great!

Ross

December 10th, 2008

The more I can port over (styling wise) from jQuery to CSS the better. I’m a huge fan of selectors – adding `class=”alt”` for every other table row, or `class=”first-para”` for opening paragraphs is a small pain that could easily be forgotten.

I’m really looking forward to multiple backgrounds however – layered containers is just fluffing out markup unnecessarily.

Great interview :)

Josh Walsh

December 10th, 2008

Great questions with even better answers.

@Jim Gaudet – I think the idea of embedding fonts is overall a bad idea. It certainly would be an extra tool in a competent designers toolkit, but I fear it could bring us back to the fad of unreadable fonts that we had in the late 90′s… albeit, this time without text as images.

http://www.designinginteractive.com/design/embedded-fonts-a-bad-idea/

ivan acosta-rubio

December 10th, 2008

I am looking forward to start using css3 techniques!!! it sounds neat.

John Sanders

December 10th, 2008

Thanks for the interview.

Carlos Eduardo

December 11th, 2008

Nice interview.

I’m waiting when I could use some CSS3 new features :)

Patareco

December 11th, 2008

The problem is the years we have to wait until we can actually use it…

Adrian

December 12th, 2008

But the power to describe Web 2.0 designs in CSS is insignificant compared with the power of the force.

Timothy Long

December 12th, 2008

Eric reminds me of Darth Vader in that first answer.

“The ability to destroy a planet is in-sig-nificant next to the power of advanced selectors (or the power of the force).”

Great interview.

Bjarni Wark

December 14th, 2008

Thanks for the info link on CSS3

Ray Drainville

December 16th, 2008

Eric states “Adding support for HTML5 elements and CSS3 features via JS is not far behind.”

Actually, it’s already here. Jeremy Keith wrote a very interesting post about this nearly a year ago: http://www.domscripting.com/blog/display/113

Jacob Gube

December 17th, 2008

@Ross: You hit the exact point that’s made me very excited about CSS3, doing complex object selections without JS. To me, zebra-striping a table (for example) shouldn’t be the job of JS (or the server-side language you’re using).

Frederick Townes

December 20th, 2008

Nice, I always like to see what Eric has to say. Great format.

Rizwan

December 26th, 2008

b4 this I had no clue wat css3 ws all abt….nice article

Nick

January 5th, 2009

One site I often use for reference is http://www.quirksmode.org/css/contents.html by Peter-Paul Koch. He has many compatibility tables showing the results of testing against 14 different browsers.

Alex Mitchell

January 5th, 2009

Great article and nice to hear how Eric feels about CSS 3. I’m currently working on a few little blog posts for CSS 3 myself, so found you through my research and unless you mind, I would like to link to this article.

Cheers,
Alex

Jacob Gube

January 5th, 2009

@Nick: That’s one of my favorite resources too! The format is excellent and it helps you figure out exactly what probably went wrong when a user reports a rendering bug.

@Alex Mitchell: I’m glad you found this interview helpful, but Eric did all the hard work! :)

Nick Sumpter

January 6th, 2009

@Jabob, Firstly, great questions in the interview and secondly, thanks for taking the time to follow-up my trackback.

I fully agree with you regarding the need for the community to push CSS3 development, but it would be nice to see browser developers (especially Microsoft) support the standard fully and allowing users to code a site once, not several times over to suit each browser. It would also be nice to see a development tool that could easily allow the WYSIWYG design of sites and produce the relevant code as outlined by the communities best practices. These combined efforts would allow many amateur designers to get on-board and dramatically improve the usability and general standards of ‘non-professional’ sites. Un-realistic I know, but it would be nice!

Keep up the good work.

Nick

Sameer

January 7th, 2009

Nice Interview

Kai Chan Vong

January 24th, 2009

Couldn’t agree more about how Js will hopefully be helping us all out in the future with CSS and browser bugs.

I think it’s been a real shame that CSS and JS went their separate ways at the start and can only hope it changes so that the syntax become as similar/familiar as possible.

Douglas Crockford is a really great person to listen to from Yahoo theatre about talks on JavaScript and how it’s started out.

Gaurav M

January 30th, 2009

will wait a bit for css 3 implementation by all browsers

Tristan Buckner

February 22nd, 2009

Great article;

I know one thing I would love to see in CSS3, and that would be adding a link to an element with css.
it would make css-designs just that much better imo.

Camilo

March 9th, 2009

Great interview.

Franz

March 18th, 2009

i love ie6 :-)

bitlimakina

May 21st, 2009

great interview.

Neha

May 23rd, 2009

Nice post…when we can expect the CSS3.0 to be completely launched?

Jacob Gube

May 23rd, 2009

@Neha: CSS3 is tricky since it was developed in modules. Each module is in different recommendation statuses. So we may never see a complete finalization of everything, but a lot of the modules will probably reach Recommendation status soon. You can track the status of each module on CSS3 Info. Then you have to factor in the time in which browsers will fully implement the recommended specifications. Realistically, to me, not less than 5 years though a lot of browsers already do support some CSS 3 stuff (Opera and Firefox being the most notable).

Just to give you a view of the speed:
- The Basic User Interface module has been in Candidate Recommendation status for 4 years (that’s the second to the last step before full recommendation).
- Only 5 out of 25 CSS 3 modules are in Candidate Recommendation status with an overwhelming majority still in Working Draft status.

Shabu Anower

June 10th, 2009

Thanks for the heads up, got a clear view on CSS3 features.

Kurdt

June 10th, 2009

To push things forward, I personally try to integrate some new CSS3 features whenever possible.
I know in “real life” (the internet makes part of real life no?) it’s not always possible to do so.
On the other hand, it doesn’t make sence to wait before it is widely supported by all browsers.
Besides, as Jacob Gube already explained, CSS3 is developed in different modules with different statuses.

fjpoblam

July 13th, 2009

Thanks for the “all you need to know” link. I’ve been dredging through search results (multiple search engines) several nights now. That’ll make my reading far more efficient.

varinderpal singh

July 14th, 2009

CSS3 will ROCK…………………..

David

December 11th, 2009

Nice to hear what an expert thinks about CSS3 and its future!

saurabh shah

December 11th, 2009

I think now i should start using css3 :) … nice interview …

honour chick

December 12th, 2009

excellent interview… very informative.

iPad

December 12th, 2009

But when it’ll be CSS3 a standard?

Marc Friederich

December 13th, 2009

Nice interview ! Eric you’re our CSS guru. Thank’s !

Adopting CSS 3 since a year in our projects.
We always use “Graceful degradation”. For instance using :last-child to remove a right border of the last menu element and it’s ok if IE 6 show this border anyway.

Tom

February 1st, 2010

nice interview! thanks!

mazznoer

March 10th, 2010

Great interview, thanks..!

Marina

June 21st, 2010

Very useful, thanks!!!!

Terri Sloniker

September 13th, 2011

I learned several things from this article! Thank you for the link to follow up and learn even more about CSS3!
This question and answer vey informative to me.

What can we (as developers and designers) do to help with CSS3 development and mainstream adoption?

[Eric Meyer]: Write blog posts and tweets and forum posts about what you want to use now, but can’t. Find ways to simulate what you want and write about that.

Submit feature requests to browser teams. File bugs you find on existing CSS3 features (like advanced selectors).

All that stuff is how we vote in our field, to the extent that we have a vote.

Terri Sloniker

September 13th, 2011

I learned several things from this article! Thank you for the link to follow up and learn even more about CSS3!

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