We continue to review text and source editors for designers and web-developers. After a thorough consideration of WYSIWIG- and source code editors now it’s time to take a closer look at applications for advanced CSS-coding. Reason: while numerous HTML-editors offer more or less advanced CSS-support there are also allround-CSS-editors which offer a sophisticated integrated development environment for CSS-coding.
Of course, real CSS ninjas accept nothing but a minimalistic Notepad or some sophisticated source code-editor. In fact, CSS-editors are often considered to be unnecessary and superflous — after all, you can do the same in your favourite text editor. And sometimes this is true — while there are some really bad HTML-editors there are also some even worse CSS-editors. Particularly code autocompletion tools are extremely good at bloating the code to extremes, making the resulting stylesheet unnecessary complex and hard to maintain. Why would someone purchase a CSS-editor to raise the maintenance costs afterwards?
Yet CSS-editors can be helpful; furthermore, you can effectively use them in different settings by developers with different skills. Web professionals can use a CSS-editor to improve workflow and get all useful CSS-tools provided by one single application. Newbies can easier learn CSS by analzying stylesheets and using live-editing to understand how the design is built up and what is actually going on behind the scenes. In either case you should make sure you know what you are doing and not end up producing quick’n'dirty stylesheet.
Why the heck do I need a CSS-editor?
Well, actually you don’t need one. But you may want to use one to make your workflow more effective. The main advantage of CSS-editors lies in an integrated development environement they offer to web-developers. The main task of a CSS-editor is to combine the editing features of CSS-stylesheets, HTML-source code and the site layout effectively within a compact interface. However, often CSS-editors go even further.
Apart from coding functionality good CSS-editors offer assisting tools for debugging and testing as well as useful features such as live-editing, preview in different browsers, advanced code browsing, code formatter, beautifier and compressor, validation, built-in CSS-reference and project management tools. Combining these features together you get an arsenal of useful tools all ready to hand in front of you.
Some editors also enable you to organize parts of the code into folders and filter the stylesheet easily which simplifies maintenance and makes the source code easier to scan. Another useful feature is instant style sheet preview with Internet Explorer or FireFox which is hard to find in any “standard HTML-editor. Furthermore, with CSS-editors it’s easy to analyze code problems using a code inspector and decompose a stylesheet using the so-called “X-Ray” function.
To put it short: the main advantage of a CSS-editor is that it offers an integrated, compact environment for CSS-design and enables a quick and effective coding workflow which would require a dozen of external tools otherwise. So which CSS-editors are available?
This advanced editor allows developers to edit web-sites on the fly using the embedded stylesheet. Similary to Web Developer’s Toolbar you can modify the CSS-code and the changes will be displayed immediately in the browser window. Compared to Web Developer’s Toolbar, with Xyle you have further useful features such as selectors tree view, syntax highlighting and advanced file management.
In Browser Mode you can browse the Web using Safari’s rendering engine. In Selection Mode, clicking into any part of the web page displayed will reveal the exact portion of the HTML and CSS sources that are responsible for the contents and formatting of that part.
In Cascade mode, Xylescope displays not only the style rules that apply to the currently selected element, but also all rules applying to ancestors of the selected element. When debugging, with
Xylescope you can simply select a “problematic” element in Cascade Mode to see which rules are actually applied and which ones are overridden, including those that are applied to ancestors of the
given element! Xylescope displays the specificity of selectors to indicate why rules have precedence and dims overridden CSS properties to improve clarity. Xylescope also offers integration with external text editors such as BBEdit.
Price: $19.95. A trial version is available. A nice solution without advanced features such as validation, compressor or beautiful offer to an optimal price.
Some of Xyle’s features
- Automatic formatting
- Selector matching
- filter large CSS files using smart groups
- built-in DTD viewer
Two things make Stylizer a slightly different mindset than the others: it uses a grid interface instead of a text editor, and it has Firefox and IE embedded, so when the user changes the CSS, it’s propagated right away to the browser. The grid system makes CSS feel like “CSS on rails”, because it makes it impossible to have any CSS errors. It lets Stylizer do things such as a Firebug-like element inspector that lets the user diagnose and edit in the same place, and an editable, spotlight-style filtering system.
In Stylizer dimensions can be adjusted on the fly. To change a height, a margin, or a background-position, the user can literally click on the value, drag the mouse around, and watch the element be manipulated in real time. Colors are the same. The user can click on them, drag the mouse, and see the color of the text, background, or border change in the browser, in real-time, creating a “Photoshop for the web” type feeling. Stylizer Basic is free. The premium version (Price: $69.95) isn’t that different, however in a free version it’s impossible to filter a style sheet to only show rules with specified content.
Rapid CSS Editor
Rapid CSS Editor (Win)
This editor supports developers with a syntax highlighting, autocompleter and a code inspector which ensures that the produced code is correct. You can use built-in CSS- and HTML-references to quickly look up the syntax and attributes of a given selector or tag. A color tool enables designers to pick the right color without switching to color application and observe the result live using the Style Sheet Preview with Internet Explorer and Firefox. A file manager can also take care of uploading CSS-files via FTP. Furthermore, you can make use of an advanced clipboard to keep multiple code fragments ready to hand. The editor costs $29.85. A trial-version is available.
Some of Rapid CSS’s features
- Syntax Highlighting for CSS and HTML documents
- CSS Checker and Validator
- CSS Code Explorer
- Code Inspector
- Code Auto Complete for CSS and HTML
- Instant Style Sheet Preview with Internet Explorer or FireFox
- X-Ray for HTML preview
- Compliance with CSS standards and various browsers
- Integration with W3C CSS and HTML validators
- Built-in CSS Reference
- CSS Code Formatter and Beautifier
- CSS Code Compressor
- Search and Replace with Regular Expression support
- Search and Replace in files
- Multi Item Clipboard
- Built-in File Explorer
- Save and open files directly from FTP
- Project and site management and FTP publishing
- Fully customizable interface
- Code collapse
The CSS-HTML-editor TopStyle is available in its Lite-version within the HTML-editor Homesite — however, there is also a sophisticated full version for professional web-developers. With TopStyle developers get a number of features which aren’t available in other editors. For instance, with integrated HTML-tidy you can easily convert depricated HTML-tags in valid XHTML. The integrated Style update replaces deprecated tags such as the <font>-tag with respective valid CSS-rules. The Clip Library contains frequently used code-snippets. A split window enables a direct browser-comparison displays site presentation in Internet Explorer and Mozilla. You can also vary the Doctype-definition to find out how different DTDs influence the layout in different browsers.
Probably the most powerful tool in TopStyle is Style checker. Not only can it validate style sheets and hence ensure the correct layout presentation in different browsers. It can also predict bugs in popular browsers which may appear despite the valid CSS-code. You can also forward CSS-stylesheets to W3C CSS Validation Service to fix the problems which haven’t been found by TopStyle. The full version costs $79.95. Warning: the lite-version can’t be updated. Windows-only.
Some of Top Style’s features
- HTML, xHTML and CSS Editing in a Single Program: HTML attributes are categorized so you can quickly see which are required, and it generates XHTML-compliant markup with a simple toggle.
- Easy Navigation Between Documents: Click an HTML class attribute to navigate to the definition of that class in an external style sheet or click an anchor tag or CSS link to open the linked file for editing. You can even click on an < img > tag to open the image file in your favorite image editor.
- Element and Attribute Validation as You Type: All of the classes are defined in your style blocks and external style sheets, so assigning a class to an HTML tag is a very simple task.
- Style Checker: Validate your style sheets against multiple browsers, flagging any invalid properties or values it finds. You can also pass your style sheets directly to the W3C’s CSS Validation Service, so you can quickly check against the official CSS specifications.
- Style Upgrade: A quick, reliable way to replace all deprecated (outdated) HTML markup – including the long-abused HTML < font > tag – with equivalent CSS.
- HTML Tidy Integration: Make the move to XHTML painless with the built-in Tidy configuration, which converts HTML to XHTML with a single click!
- Site Reports: See at a glance where styles are used in your site. Find out where you’ve applied style classes that aren’t defined in any style sheets, or see what style classes you’ve defined that aren’t being used.
- Full Screen Preview: Split the preview between Internet Explorer and Mozilla for an immediate look at browser differences. You can even change the !DOCTYPE of each preview panel on-the-fly to see how different document type declarations affect your layout.
- Integration with W3C HTML Validation: Results of the validation are displayed within TopStyle, with hyperlinked line numbers that synchronize with TopStyle’s editor.
MacRabbit CSSEdit (Mac)
Similarly to XyleScope, CSSEdit offers real-time styling of stylesheets. Even when a dynamic web-application is powered by a complex database or makes use of AJAX, you can style and analyze it without the hassle of uploading or refreshing (online and offline — this is not the case in Web Developer’s Toolbar). Selector Builder lets you describe what elements to style in plain English. Intelligent CodeSense analyzes CSS and CSS behavior to offer smart, context-sensitive suggestions.
X-ray Inspector shows you what styles apply to a HTML-document. You can also validate your sheets against W3C standards and use project management tools (Milestones etc.) to improve your workflow. Among other things CSSEdit automatically adds brackets, (semi-)colons and appropriate spacing for you. If you encounter a style sheet from someone who didn’t have that luxury, you can always do a Re-Indent to apply your spacing settings. Besides, it has a live-preview feature and the clipboard library for frequently used code snippets.
There is an EditCSS plugin for Firefox as well as CSSEdit bookmarklets. You can start editing any site’s style sheets with a single click in your browser’s Bookmarks bar, and then use the advanced CSSEdit’s editing. The tool has a beautiful, intuitive interface which is very compact yet very well organized and nice to work with. EditCSS costs 29.95 Euro ($47). There is also a trial-version available for free download.
Some of CSS Edit’s features
- Selector Builder takes the Yuck out of selectors
- Organize in folders and filter easily
- Modify source code with intelligent CodeSense
- X-ray pages
- Intelligent CodeSense support
- Project management
- Validation tool
- Integration in web-browsers
Style Master (Win / Mac)
Since this WYSIWIG-CSS-editor calls itself a master it needs to have some nifty features which let the tools stand out from the crowd. In fact, Style Master enables both newbies and professionals to create valid and semantically correct stylesheets. The selectors can be grouped by alphabet, category or current settings. The editor has an integrated color picker, various templates, wizards and validation tools. Hence, the professional can work easily and effectively while newbies don’t have to figure out their way through CSS-tricks to create flexible CSS-based web-sites.
Quite surprising is the fact that various templates which are by default integrated in the editor are actually useful — that’s not the case in most editing applications. Hence you can simply take over a CSS-skeleton and define the rules — all selectors are already listed. You can also use a W3C-example-stylesheet which defines the style of almost every possible HTML-tag, e.g. the leading of headlines
Style Master allows you to use online documents (and those running on local servers) as preview documents. You can then use all the features of the Design Pane, like X-Ray, to design your styles sheets. The editor is simple, intuitive and clean. Price: $59.99. Not cheap, however in the end you get an effective and powerful tool for your daily routine. Style Master is available for both Windows and Mac. There is also a trial-version available for free download.
Some of Stylemaster’s Features
- Browser support help
- Over 40 Templates
- Use X-Ray to instantly see the structure of your layouts
- Code optimization
- Intelligent code completion
- Whitespace formatting tools
Style Studio (Win)
Style Studio offers a powerful "CSS-Checker" which enables both newbies and professional to develop standard-conform CSS-based layouts. Developers can use a number of assisting tools such as “Smart linker” which links multiple CSS documents to many HTML XHTML / XML documents at once and CSS Manager that manages and upgrades to standard compliant code (tidy) and detects CSS-related problems.
The editor has an IntelliSense-like technology (for both style sheets and HTML) with quick lookup-reference for CSS. Property Watch automatically detects CSS property (or HTML tag if you’re editing an HTML document) under caret and lists complete information about it.
Style Studio costs $49.95 and is available only for Windows. The official web-site offers a number of CSS-related articles, layouts and tutorials.
Some of Style Studio’s Features
- Powerful customizable Syntax-Colored Editor with full search/replace/editing capabilities
- CSS Validator: a powerful css checking utility to detect and correct common css errors.
- Powerful CSS Manager to help you manage, upgrade to standard compliant code (tidy) and detect CSS-related problems in your web-site.
- Integration with over 35 HTML editors
- IntelliSense for style sheets and HTML
- CSS Property Watch and Instant help on css keywords under caret
- Multi files Import from HTML/Export in HTML capability
- Customizable CSS Code Indent
- CSS wizards
- Validate XML documents
- Intelligent parser which detect invalid properties as you type.
- Unlimited number of code snippets with custom hotkeys.
- Migration Wizard
- Automatically detect installed browsers/web-authoring tools.
- Formatting ToolBars which simplify the use common properties
- Easily change CSS values using Ctrl+Up/Down hotkeys.
- True multiple CSS charts support (i.e. target IE 4+ AND Netscape 4+)
- Built-in system-wide search and replace.
CoffeeCup StyleSheet Maker (Win)
CoffeeCup StyleSheet Maker offers CSS-editing options which offer something between sophisticated editor’s functionalities and basic editing features. It resembles TopStyle yet clearly doesn’t achieve the same level of flexibility.Using TopStyle you’ll also be able to overlap text, create links that aren’t underlined, place image backgrounds in tables, and even create your own tags with the functions you assign them. Price: $34.00. A trial-version is available.
Some of CoffeeCup’s Features
- Includes CoffeeCup Website Color Schemer
- Easy CSS Font Designer, just select from the drop down menus.
- Step by Step Help for making your Style Sheets
- Multiple Browser Testing
- Edit, Save, and Open .css, .html or .txt documents.
- 50 Style Sheet Drop Down Tags
- Class & ID Wizard for Creating your own HTML Tags.
- Dynamic HTML Snippets included.
- Cascading Style Sheet Creation for Netscape and Internet Explorer 3.0+
EngInSite CSS Editor
EngInSite CSS Editor (Win)
If you would like to ensure the strictly correct CSS code which complies with W3C-standards, EngInSite is definitely an option worth considering. The main goal of the editor is to create strictly standard-conform web-sites which pass the W3C validation test. The tool has an integrated instant style sheet previewer, automated code completion, syntax highlighting, integration with W3C HTML Validator, integrated help system, built-in CSS Reference, customizable and expandable code library and live editing feature.
You can also use a CSS Property Editor with dynamic shorthand properties support and Selector Constructor – a convenient wizard for the complicated selectors and various code tools, like Expanding/Extract URLS, Convert Colors, Convert Code and so on. It is possible to navigate across selectors, properties, comments and @-rules and add / remove HTML-specific items like HTML comments and CDATA section. Price: $39.95. A trial-version is available.
Some of EngInSite’s features
- Advanced, fully customizable text editor
- Integrated Instant Style Sheet Preview against HTML file of your choice
- Check your CSS syntax against multiple browsers
- Integration with W3C HTML Validator
- Compliance with CSS standards and various browsers
- Preview in the different browsers.
- Integrated help system and built-in CSS Reference
- Multiple style sheets editing
- Compatibility Check and Syntax check
- Search and Replace with Regular Expression support
- Customizable navigator with media rules support
- Visual editors for different data types
- Wizards for body, IE Scrollbars, lists and backgrounds
Jellyfish CSS (Mac)
Being extremely simple and intuitive, Jellyfish CSS makes sure that developers can edit CSS-styles easily and quickly. The editor has a code library, Code-Sense support, browser support reference, wizards and helps you avoiding mistakes (you’ll be informed immediately by the program, if you have mistyped accidentialy). You can also use an integrated Colorblender to create matching colour palettes. Price: 29,- € ($47). A trial-version is, of course, available.
Some of Jellyfish’s Features
- Code-Sense helps you avoiding mistakes
- Supports Mobile Profile 1.0
- Codechecking while typing
- 3 different preview-types
- integrates extern Programs for a quick availability
- Style-Check with the W3C Validator and CSS-Tidy
- load CSS-files directly from thw www and work on them
- Wizards support you while creating Stylesheets
Astyle is a basic visual CSS-editor which offers exactly what one would expect from a basic editing tool. No advanced features, however more than essential editing tools. Astyle couldn’t really impress us with some extremely useful features or sensatonal abilities. Price: $20.
Some of Astyle’s Features
- Visual easy-to-use interface
- Graphic tree-type view of attachment files and the CSS structure
- Grouped view of properties and selectors
- Automatic selection and grouping of CSS selectors from a markup language document
- Source CSS, HTML, XML highlight code editor
- Active preview current selectors and documents with IE and Mozilla support
- Clean up HTML document via CSS
- Icon associate dictionary
- Copy, Paste and Cut operations
- Drag and Drop operations
JustStyle CSS Editor (Cross-platform)
JustStyle CSS Editor is a cross-platform editing application. Written entirely in Java, it works on different platforms, such as Microsoft Windows, IBM OS/2, Linux, Apple Mac OS, Mac OS X and others. You can edit the whole CSS-file at once or select some fragments of it and edit them separately. An integrated tool lets you integrate the CSS “on the fly” in HTML-files. Although JustStyle CSS Editor offers only a minimal set of features for CSS-development, it can serve as a quick tool for updating a CSS-file outside your personal development environment. However, JustStyle won’t be of any help in large corporate projects. UCWare offers JustStyle for free download.
Simple CSS (Win)
Simple CSS is another free editor for Mac, Linux and Windows. Single elements which can be styled via CSS can be grouped and defined separately. The preview-window enalbles designer to quickly check or tweak the produced source code. Once the CSS-file is done you can click on “Export CSS” and the file can be used for another project. Simple, easy and intuitive.
CSSED (Linux / Win / Mac)
CSSED is a CSS-expert for Linux. Although it delivers only essential features such as syntax highlighting, syntax validation and autocompletion-tool, it is highly extensible via plugins. For instance, you can easily add the search functionality or a file browser. You can find further plugins in the download area of developer’s site. Open Source.
Eric Meyer’s CSS Sculptor (Win)
Eric Meyer’s template-based add-on for Dreamweaver and Microsoft Expression Web. You can choose from any of the 30 included layouts—and then modify the design to the max: change the page width and position or number of columns. It is also possible to specify margins and padding for any page element along with type properties for paragraphs, headings and link states. You can save your modified layouts as new presets to be easily re-created or modified further.
Causeway CSS Editor
A legend, a legacy and one of the first CSS-editors ever created. The tool is unlikely to help you in developing CSS-stylesheets, but definitely had to be mentioned in a review of CSS-editors.
An XML-Editor with CSS-functionality
A CSS2 editor (GPL licensed) implemented as a server-side PHP script. It allows editing CSS files using a web browser.
This editor includes a full-featured CSS editor to assist developers creating XML-based Web sites in XMLSpy.
Firebug’s CSS tabs tell you everything you need to know about the styles in your web pages, and if you don’t like what it’s telling you, you can make changes and see them take effect instantly.
- CSS Layout Magic (Win / Mac)
This Dreamweaver-plugin offers you a number of simple or advanced CSS-layouts. Works on Windows and Mac OS X systems running Dreamweaver MX. Price: $60.
- Web Developer’s Toolbar (Firefox Extension)
The Web Developer extension adds a menu and a toolbar to the browser with various web developer tools. It is designed for Firefox, Flock and Seamonkey, and will run on any platform that these browsers support including Windows, Mac OS X and Linux.