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Dan Rubin's SuperfluousBanter

Design, random musings, and the Web. Since 1977


Regex Patterns for Single Line CSS

Update: You can now down­load the Text­mate macro file rather than record­ing your own (skip to the down­load »).

There has been plen­ty of dis­cus­sion about the pros and cons of sin­gle-line style sheets, and I’ve been includ­ing them as an option when teach­ing CSS man­age­ment and orga­ni­za­tion in my Web Design World pre­sen­ta­tions in Chica­go, Seat­tle, and lat­er this year in Las Vegas (at Web­Builder) and Boston.

It’s a matter of preference

As a fel­low Side­bar-ian (Side­bar­bar­ian?) Steve has been try­ing to con­vince me to use the sin­gle-line approach for a while of course, and Bryan and Jon have also become fans of this for­mat­ting style for their own work. Although they are enam­ored with it, I haven’t tak­en to it yet, still pre­fer­ring to write my style sheets using the “nor­mal” indent­ed for­mat­ting most of us are used to.

Now, before any­one gets their knick­ers in a twist about why they love, hate, “can’t live with­out” or “will die before they try” sin­gle-line for­mat­ting, let’s just take a step back and remem­ber one thing: it isn’t any­thing spe­cial, just an alter­nate for­mat­ting style that does­n’t affect the way the brows­er inter­prets the style sheet one iota. It’s a per­son­al preference—remember that before jump­ing on or off this par­tic­u­lar bandwagon.

Always keep your options open

Now that I’ve got that out of my sys­tem, let’s talk prac­ti­cal­i­ty: there are indeed ben­e­fits to be had when using sin­gle-line CSS formatting—for exam­ple, I find it can make a dif­fer­ence after a project has been com­plet­ed, at which point I’m usu­al­ly more inter­est­ed in visu­al­ly scan­ning a style sheet for the selec­tors first, and then for a par­tic­u­lar prop­er­ty I’m inter­est­ed in edit­ing. This is where I’ve found sin­gle-line for­mat­ting can come in handy.

But my editor already does that!

This is the point where some peo­ple will start going on about how you could just use Text­mate’s “fold­ings” fea­ture to get the same visu­al result (with­out alter­ing your file), or how CSS Edit has a handy list of all the selec­tors in a col­umn on the left side of its win­dow, or that you could always use your edi­tor’s “find” com­mand and search for the selec­tor you want to edit. Yet while those are all per­fect­ly log­i­cal, sane sug­ges­tions, they don’t account for flex­i­bil­i­ty and choice.

Just another way of doing things

Much like Jon Hicks with his harem of web browsers, I tend to be a bit of a “text edi­tor polyg­a­mist”, bounc­ing from Text­mate to CSS Edit to Coda to BBE­d­it to Trans­mit’s text edi­tor and a host of CLI edi­tors, most­ly depend­ing on my mood (though some­times con­tex­tu­al if I’m at a com­put­er that does­n’t have a par­tic­u­lar application—a Win­dowsXP box with noth­ing but Notepad, for instance). It’s the times when I’m using an edi­tor that does­n’t have “fold­ings” or pret­ty columns of selec­tors that I start to appre­ci­ate sin­gle-line CSS when mak­ing quick edits, so I’ve start­ed con­vert­ing style sheets to a “sim­ple” sin­gle-line for­mat (with­out the left-aligned tab blocks to start each rule’s prop­er­ties) once they are ready to go live.

Patterns fit for a kilt

Edi­tors like Text­mate and BBE­d­it have built-in com­mands for for­mat­ting (the stan­dard, mul­ti-line approach) or com­press­ing (the entire style sheet on one line, osten­si­bly to reduce file size by strip­ping white space) CSS, but no way to con­vert to sin­gle-line for­mat­ting and Text­mate’s “For­mat CSS Com­pressed” bun­dle can for­mat your stylesheet to a sin­gle line per-rule, though it’s all squished togeth­er, mak­ing it dif­fi­cult to scan due to a lack of white­space. Con­vert­ing a style sheet by hand every time would be much too time-con­sum­ing to both­er with, but that’s where reg­u­lar expres­sions come to the rescue.

In Text­mate, you can record a macro using each of these regex pat­terns as a sep­a­rate step (I’m sure oth­er edi­tors have a sim­i­lar fea­ture, so please feel free to post details in the com­ments below). This allowed me to cre­ate a “For­mat CSS Sin­gle-line” com­mand, com­plete with a key­board short­cut, which enables an easy switch between mul­ti- and sin­gle-line formatting.

Unfor­tu­nate­ly, as of this writ­ing Text­mate macros can­not be export­ed and shared For those using Text­mate, get­ting the macro is a sim­ple mat­ter of down­load­ing, expand­ing and dou­ble-click­ing this file:

While sim­i­lar to “For­mat CSS Com­pressed”, this macro retains a sin­gle blank line where your orig­i­nal con­tained two or more blank lines (help­ful if you group your rules), and adds white­space that match­es my stan­dard for­mat­ting pref­er­ences (which I find makes it eas­i­er to scan quick­ly). To switch between each for­mat­ting style, just run each com­mand in turn (via the Bun­dles menu or the key­board shortcuts).

How­ev­er, that would­n’t be much use to every­one who does­n’t use Text­mate, so here are the respec­tive groups of regex I used for the conversion:


[ \t]+



[ \t]*,[ \t]*


What’s missing

In Text­mate and BBE­d­it I can return to mul­ti-line for­mat­ting with a sin­gle com­mand, but that might not be as sim­ple in oth­er edi­tors. What I’d love to see is a pair of shell scripts that con­vert from mul­ti- to sin­gle-line and back, and pos­si­bly a web-based proces­sor that does the same (paste your style sheet into a textarea, select your for­mat­ting, hit “process” and the script pro­duces the result). If any­one would like to take on those tasks, I’ll hap­pi­ly update this post to link to the prod­ucts of your labor.

And in the end…

If you’ve nev­er tried sin­gle-line for­mat­ting, this makes it easy to exper­i­ment with­out com­mit­ting your­self (and I do rec­om­mend giv­ing it a try—you may be sur­prised once you’ve worked with it a few times).

Ulti­mate­ly, because I can return to mul­ti-line with a sin­gle com­mand my pri­ma­ry text edi­tor should I ever feel like it, automat­ing the switch from mul­ti- to sin­gle-line is a con­ve­nient way to get the ben­e­fits of sin­gle-line for­mat­ting with­out back­ing myself or my clients into a for­mat­ting corner.

This item was posted by Dan Rubin on Friday, August 29th, 2008.


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67 comments on “Regex Patterns for Single Line CSS

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  1. Posted by Michael Kozakewich on Saturday, May 9th, 2009.

    I used to always code in straight lines, but that did have its own asso­ci­at­ed prob­lems. I tried mul­ti-line, but was hav­ing that same prob­lem of not see­ing the selectors.
    Even­tu­al­ly, I set­tled into my cur­rent markup: I write the selec­tor, new line, indent, cre­ate an open brace, new line, tab yet again (for two indents), and then start with my rules, each on a dif­fer­ent line with two indents. After­wards, I go back to one indent and close the brace.
    I’m left with an easy-to-work-with mul­ti-line envi­ron­ment with eas­i­ly-seen selec­tors in the un-indent­ed mar­gins. The open and close braces let me see very eas­i­ly where the block begins and where it ends (I’ve always been annoyed, since the first time I’d seen it done, at the prac­tice of putting the open brace on the same line as the selector/function/etc.).

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