Book Review: Sass and Compass in Action

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Most CSS developers have used Sass for a while, but some haven’t broken into Sass or Compass yet. These are both great tools for frontend developers and I think they should be a staple in every web developer’s toolbox.

Sass and Compass in Action is the easiest way to learn Sass/SCSS and Compass from scratch with no prior knowledge. You should of course have a grasp on CSS which is the foundation of all Sass code.

But you do not need any working knowledge of a CSS preprocessor to pick up this book. I think the author’s writing style is crisp, clear and straight to the point in a way that anyone could learn this material.

Book Contents

The chapters in this book force you to get hands-on with your Sass development. You’ll start with how to install Sass locally and how to setup Compass from scratch.

In a total of 10 chapters you go from complete Sass novice to a functionally skilled developer using Sass/Compass on your own terms. You learn practical techniques like grid building and deploying a live site from a local production computer.

Here’s a breakdown of the chapter list:

  1. Sass and Compass make stylesheets fun again
  2. Basic Sass syntax
  3. CSS grids without the math
  4. Eliminate the mundane using Compass
  5. CSS3 with Compass
  6. Spriting
  7. From prototype to production
  8. High-performance stylesheets
  9. Scripting with Sass
  10. Creating and sharing a Compass extension

The goal of this book is to showcase all the primary functionality in Sass and Compass that reduces the verbosity of a normal frontend workflow. Writing CSS code by hand isn’t always the best way to build websites; I turn to Dreamweaver as exhibit A.

Sass can automate numeric values for margins and grids at runtime. It can also duplicate properties without having to type them again. Inheritance can also be automated if you’re big on DRY coding standards.

Topics cover technical aspects of Sass but you also learn the design concepts behind them.

The book forces you to think like a developer with practical examples and hypothetical scenarios. Sass and Compass are both powerful but they’re used for different reasons.

compass homepage

The authors know how to explain these topics well enough that even a decent CSS developer could understand them.

I usually never bother with the appendix/index in the back. However for this particular book I wanted to skim for a few keywords and I have to say this book does it right.

You can research Sass on your own and look up examples in this book to teach you different techniques or mixins to apply in your own work. The authors aim to preach best practices so you’ll walk away with the best workflow possible.

Pros & Cons

The early chapters do not waste any time on the basics of CSS. You quickly get into Compass and the ease of rapid development prototyping custom grids from scratch.

The authors do a great job of explaining the process step-by-step to hopefully keep everyone following along. Sass can be confusing, especially if you’ve never used a preprocessor before.

However the writing style and example-based approach to this book makes this topic super easy to approach.

By the end of the book you’ll be creating Sass scripting functions and unique Compass extensions for your workflow. This book will take you from a novice to an advanced Sass/Compass developer in under 250 pages.

The biggest gripe I have is the fluctuation of examples in the book. Some are really detailed and quite interesting even for someone who knows Sass. But others are so generic that you could find better examples for free on the Internet.

This fluctuation is likely due to the differences in learning levels. I think the authors want to appeal to the widest audience of both beginners and experts alike.

So if you can look past the rather basic examples and move through the book by skipping less useful chapters you’ll be happy with the results.

Also I always like to mention that Manning books offer a print+digital copy of any books that you buy. So if you get a copy of Sass and Compass in Action you can also download a free additional digital format in ePub, PDF, and Kindle formats.

Who Is This For?

Anyone with an understanding of CSS who wants to move into Sass/Compass should definitely check out this book. You do not need to be an expert in CSS to pick up the tips and use them in your workflow.

The authors take great care to explain Sass in a way that makes sense but doesn’t water down the topic. Both Sass and Compass are powerful tools and this book treats them with the respect they deserve.

But if you’re not able to comprehend even the basics of CSS preprocessing then this book may fly right over your head. It helps if you at least understand the purpose of using a preprocessor and where it fits into the web dev pipeline.

If you have little-to-no practical CSS knowledge you will struggle with this book. You should be able to code a website in raw CSS and build a working layout before learning about how Sass works.

All Sass does is save time during the development process. You still need to understand how to develop layouts and how to write your CSS code to work properly in all browsers. This book won’t teach you that. But it will teach you how to do that quicker with Sass and Compass.

Final Summary

If you’re curious to learn about Sass and want to tack it into your workflow then this book should be the first place you start. It covers Sass and Compass together so you learn the value of both tools in a web dev environment.

Starting from basic CSS resets and moving into Sass functions you’ll span the gamut of functionality and learn how to rapidly improve your development process.

Sass and Compass in Action is my pick for the best learning resource for frontend developers. Automation is a huge time saver in web development and once you apply these techniques you’ll never go back.

I do wish the authors could’ve added more technically challenging examples into the mix. But I also think the level of difficulty is perfect for anyone coming from a less-experienced CSS background while still entertaining the advanced developer with years of projects under their belt.

Review Rating: 5/5


Alex is a fullstack developer with years of experience working in digital agencies and as a freelancer. He writes about educational resources and tools for programmers building the future of the web.