Let’s Talk about Pre-Processors Like it’s 2010

Reading some of my past entries, you’d think I hate pre-processors or something. Well, that’s not quite right. Setting aside the obvious (PHP, etc.), I want to have a quick discussion on the pre-processors that have been popular over the last few years, and my take on them.

Great ideas, but pretty much the same thing. They don’t offer any real benefit over old-school CSS for small projects, but they’re certainly useful for the larger ones. But you know what’s better? Stylus. Stylus seems to take the whole idea a step further with the whitespace syntax.

Mixed feelings. I used it on a project recently, and while I love how easy it makes OOP and the syntax is lovely compared to the mess that is Javascript, it seemed to have a few frustrating quirks, and whitespace syntax is not always your friend. But then again, it beats getting lost in the “});});” forest. Debugging can quickly become frustrating as well.

I won’t lie, I can’t stand HAML. I want to like it, but the fact is HTML, like XML, is incredibly well suited for, well, markup. Here is an example of the number one reason HAML drives me nuts:

<span class="test">this</span> <strong>is <a href="test/" target="_blank">a</a></strong> <em>test</em>

%span.test this
  %a{:href => "test/", :target => "_blank"} a
%em test

…so what happened here? Well, I traded a simple, common line of text for a mess of carriage returns, indents, hashrockets, and… colons? why?… and at the same time made it more difficult to read. I saved 20 characters, but at the expense of readability, and I made my brain hurt. HTML. Isn’t. A. Programming. Language. The verbosity of XML serves its purpose, like it or not. Although like everyone else these days I use JSON over XML most of the time, when you are dealing with lots of inline data, it makes more sense to use XML instead. Repetition and verbosity != not readable. This just doesn’t seem like the solution to any kind of problem HTML might have had. A better solution? Stick with HTML, and for templating, use mustache.js (the only Javascript-based templating engine that doesn’t suck, in my opinion).

Oh, and if I ever said anything mean about Node.js, I take it back. Without that, none of this would be possible. 🙂

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