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Review “Instant LESS CSS Preprocessor How-to”

Finally there’s a book on LESS CSS.

LESS CSS is getting more and more mature. The book “Instant LESS CSS Preprocessor How-to”, by Alex Libby, though very terse, is proof of that. On the other hand it makes you wonder. Is LESS really that complicated? The documentation still fits on one page. Albeit a very long one, but it’s still one page.

So, do we need a book on LESS CSS then?

I think it’s justified to write a book on this subject. You can’t make a clockwork just by knowing the nuts and bolts. You have to have the knowledge how to set up a sane and simple structure. And a book can guide you to it.

This book does that. At least partially. With its 54 pages (Table of contents and other stuff excluded) it cannot possibly touch all the techniques and subtleties of LESS. Not even some of the bigger issues. Instead, the “Instant LESS CSS Preprocessor How-to” is written as a quick introduction to LESS to get you started. The book is part of a series of “Howto”-books published by Packt. All books offer a short, terse introduction into all kinds of technologies, including Sass.

The good parts

The book gives a basic overview of the LESS playing field. It mentions for example several LESS parsers and many libraries. I also like the idea of seperate all content in “must have”, “should have”, “could have” and “would have” or in short: MoSCoW.

It’s a nice introduction if you think you need a helping hand. And it’s just 50+ pages.

The bad parts

Readers must first of all be careful that after this book has been published, LESS 1.4 came out with some breaking changes. The breaking changes are summed up on lesscss.org. You can also check the changelog of LESS CSS. Some examples won’t work with the newest LESS library.

Furthermore, all demos in the book use the client side way of LESS parsing. It’s a logical thing to do for the sake of an example, but I consider it a bad thing for any live website and I think the book could and should have been much more clearer on that.

Alex Libby even added a demo that can only work when the LESS code is parsed with JavaScript. The demo shows how to use JavaScript property screen.height within LESS. He labels it as a “should know”, but I would consider it “nice to know” and “must avoid”. Apart from the security issues he warns about and the fact that screen.height is not re-evaluated after orientation change, I’d like to keep styling and JavaScript separated.

Do I need it?

Personally I have enough CSS experience under my belt to learn LESS myself. And I think that’s the case for most professional stylers. If you fall into that category, I think you’re better off to just skim the online documentation and get started. If you’re on the other hand not that experienced with CSS and need a bit of guidance, than you might want to spend $7.64 at Packt on this book. To take a quote of the book: “You should have some experience of using CSS, although this is not critical”.

The book won’t give you a deep understanding on how to wield the sword of LESS, but it will give you a nice introduction and some links to check out.

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  1. Brighton

    Purchased this book a few days ago and really disappointed with it. Many errors and the downloaded codes were badly organized. It got me even more confused than before……

  2. Wouter Bos

    I’m sorry to hear that. I must say I haven’t checked out the examples while reading the book. You’re right that I should at least have tried some examples. In case you think I didn’t take much effort in reviewing: I *did* read the book cover to cover.

    What might be a problem is that this book is a year old and the examples probably even more. Less has developed quickly the last year, so it might be that some examples in the book have become incompatible with the current Less parser. Maybe you should try an older Less parser for the book.

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