An Intro to CSS3

Web standards that have been outlined and classified have totally transformed the internet in just the last 10 years or so, creating an online experience that is more cohesive, more predictable, and a lot more robust.

In 2005, when Cascading Style Sheets were updated for the third time – creating CSS3 – designers and developers around the world rejoiced at what this new web standard made possible.

CSS alone was a major overhaul to the way that the web worked. Instead of styling everything that went live online inside of HTML, making it next to impossible to update consistently (or quickly) later down the line without having to go through every single line of code, CSS stripped the styling and formatting from HTML completely and held it in its own container.

CSS3 promised to push what cascading style sheets were capable of even further into the future.

Text shadows, images with built-in borders, opacity levels, multiple/formattable backgrounds, and a whole host of other transformations were now possible through CSS3 that weren’t ever possible before.

And while it’s been 13 years since CSS3 was introduced there are still quite a few designers and developers out there not taking full advantage of everything it has to offer.

Hopefully this quick overview and basic guide helps you better understand the power, the leverage, in the capabilities that CSS3 brings to the table.


Let’s dive right in!


Better understanding CSS in general


Almost everything you see online today has been separated into (at least) two different digital documents – your HTML that makes up the content on your page, and your CSS that handles all of the aesthetics and the appearance of that same content.


Think of CSS as the online language used to dictate the style and look of any one particular page or site online. CSS can be used to position pieces of content, to establish background images or colors, to dictate the size, style, and font used, as well as a whole host of other aesthetic details that are so important to making our web experience as beautiful as it is today.


By separating out the aesthetics of your site from the content you’re able to quickly make changes – or wholesale swapout designs – by modifying just your CSS files, as opposed to having to go through every line of HTML and making sure EVERYTHING was changed along the way.


What’s new in CSS3?


The original CSS language represented a major leap forward in web design, and the second version of CSS brought forward a nether specification that helped give a lot more control to designers and developers.


But the reason we have had a third version of CSS for 13 years now (dozens of lifetimes in the always fast-moving world of online technology) is because more than 50 different modules were added to CSS3 – and most have only barely begun to scratch the surface of everything these new modules make possible.


Animation modules have opened up a world of opportunity for designers and developers to combine HTML and CSS3 in a way that used to only be possible with JavaScript. JavaScript would definitely get the job done, but you had to make sure that you were programming for a whole host of different JavaScript versions – and this style of animation was always resource intensive.


Animations in CSS3 are super lightweight, efficient, and a lot easier to create – not to mention you no longer have to worry about handling different JavaScript versions along the way.


New calculation functions built into CSS3 are specifically useful with responsive design projects. It’s now possible to add, subtract, multiply, and divide right inside of your CSS3 files, with the calculations being used to dictate and determine property values so that your website always looks perfect no matter how much screen real estate is available on the device it is being viewed on at that point in time.


Advanced selectors open up a lot more control when selecting different HTML elements for CSS rules. These selectors have streamlined and simplified a lot of HTML 5, which was already pretty simple and straightforward but now becomes even faster and more efficient.


Gradients can be used as a background type, giving CSS designers and developers the opportunity to create visually incredible backgrounds that are downloaded by a server or a host in a fraction of the amount of time it used to take. This has transformed the web visually in ways that most people still haven’t quite come to fully appreciate just yet.


Multiple backgrounds can be used with CSS3, especially when taking advantage of the background property that allows you to apply background elements to a whole host of different elements that weren’t able to leverage this resource in the past.


Media queries provide a lot of extra interaction with the internet that never existed previously, either. Responsive websites are critically important today when our world is becoming more and more focused on mobile devices. As more people use their mobile device to connect to the web responsive design becomes even more valuable – and CSS3 media queries make it all happen.


3-D transformations can be successfully pulled off with CSS3, but a big reason behind this technology not yet been fully adapted by more designers and developers is because it is so difficult to pull off successfully. Even still, it shows just how forward thinking the CSS3 upgrade really wants, considering the fact that these kinds of capabilities were made available 13 years ago when CSS3 first rolled out.


Learning CSS3


If you already have a background in CSS, learning CSS3 is going to take absolutely no time at all whatsoever.


Even while the capabilities of CSS3 represent a major overhaul of what was possible before, this update is more of an iterative update when it comes to actually implementing CSS3 tags and syntax.


It’s a good idea to immerse yourself totally in CSS fundamentals before you step off into the deep end of learning new CSS3 tags and syntax specifically. Once you have a rock solid foundation in how cascading style sheets are supposed to work you’ll be better suited to learning the ins and outs of the new capabilities possible with CSS3.


Because CSS3 is the web standard, a whole host of 100% free resources are available online to help you get up to speed with this new technology. The W3C organization in particular has plenty of resources for you to and choose from, and honestly YouTube is going to be your best friend when you want to figure out how to make something specific come to life with nothing more than HTML 5 and CSS3.


While there’s talk about the “next version” of CSS already being underway, the other pretty good that will never see a CSS4. This third standard has become robust enough all on its own to cement its position at the top of the development hierarchy, but also remains flexible enough for it to be changed, modified, and improved upon from here on out.


Both HTML 5 and CSS3 are considered to be “terminal versions, but at the same time living standards that will constantly be reinvented and improved from this moment forward. These are going to be the bedrock tools and technologies you want to master if you’re serious about web design and development, particularly responsive web design and development today.


Hopefully we’ve given enough of a primer for you to feel totally comfortable diving headfirst into everything that CSS3 has to offer!