Organizing Stylesheets in a Rails Project

12 Oct

Clean up, clean up.

In the spirit of getting stuff done, CSS often takes a back seat when you’re building a new Rails application – and you can quickly end up with a messy CSS code base. At Chloe + Isabel, our technical debt has accumulated to the point where it’s time to roll up the sleeves and perform some CSS surgery.

Let’s start with the file structure. In Rails fashion, I wanted to create a convention that our development team can use that is familiar, flexible and has a minimal learning curve. So I tried to mimic Rails conventions as much as possible.

File Structure:

  • app/stylesheets
    • production.sass (this is the only file included by the layout, like a Rack endpoint)
    • base_styles/ (these are the building blocks of your application, like ActionController)
      • reset.sass
      • colors.sass
      • forms.sass
      • errors.sass
      • products.sass
      • sidebar.sass
    • application.sass (acts like application_controller.rb)
    • mixins/ (styles that keep your code DRY. kind of like ActiveSupport)
      • round_corners.sass
      • utils.sass (clearfix and similar site-wide utilities)
    • views/ (follows the Rails app/ directory structure)
      • frontend.sass
      • backend.sass
      • controller.sass
      • controller/
        • action.sass

Add class attributes to <body> that map to controllers and actions.

We can manage controller and action specific CSS by adding class attributes to the <body> tag.
<body class=”#{params[:controller].paramaterize}

In the example below, the cart action in the OrdersController overrides the default product text color.

The body tag in our layout will look like:

<body class=”orders orders-cart”>

base_styles/products.sass (This is the base product style across the application.)

.products (base style)
  color: red

views/orders.sass You can override styles by controller.

.orders (controller)
  .products (base style)
    color: purple

views/orders/cart.sass You can override styles by action.

.orders (controller)
   .orders-cart (action)
     .products (base style)
       color: green

Just the beginning…

Finding the right structure that works for our team will be an ongoing process, so here are a few topics I plan to elaborate on:

  • Using base styles vs. application.sass
  • Naming color variables
  • Pattern libraries
  • and other issues we run into…



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