8 CSS preprocessors to speed up development time

CSS allow you to do lots of things, but some features are missing to developers. What about variable, constants, and general faster syntax? As normal CSS can't do that, people created preprocessors to allow the use of variables on CSS files and then parse it to regular stylesheets.

Less CSS

Less is probably the most well known CSS preprocessor. It allow a simplified syntax and the use of variables. Less CSS is for the Ruby programming language, however it looks like Aaron Russel created an extension for creating cached stylesheets your PHP projects can use.

Get it: http://lesscss.org


On their website, Sass claims to make CSS fun again. To be honest, I must admit that what this project is capable of is very interesting. Like Less CSS, it allow the use of variables and have a simplified syntax. Sass is definitely a great tool, unfortunely only available for Ruby, as far as I know.

Get it: http://sass-lang.com/


If like me, you’re a PHP Lover, here is a css preprocessor made for your favorite language. I haven’t tested it yet, but Turbine looks very cool. It allow a minimal syntax, automatically gzip multiple css, fix cross-browser issues, and a lot more. A must check if you’re into PHP.

Get it: http://turbine.peterkroener.de/index.php

Switch CSS

Switch is a full featured, production ready CSS preprocessor. It runs under Apache with mod_python, or as an environment-agnostic command line tool.

Get it: http://sourceforge.net/projects/switchcss/

CSS Cacheer

CSS Cacheer is a very cool preprocessor which allows developers to create plugins. It requires PHP and Apache with mod_deflate and mod_rewrite in order to work.

Get it: http://retired.haveamint.com/archive/2008/05/30/check_out_css_cacheer

CSS Preprocessor

Another interesting preprocessor, written in PHP 5. Among other things, this tool allow you to use expressions such as margin-left: (200px * 3/2 – 10px); in your stylesheets.

Get it: http://pornel.net/css


DtCSS speeds up CSS coding by extending the features to CSS. Such as nested selectors, color mixing and more. DtCSS reads the CSS file with special syntax written for DtCSS, and outputs the standard CSS. It also comes with a smart caching system.

Get it: http://code.google.com/p/dtcss/


Unfortunely, CSS PP is still in alpha status, but the authors says the code will be released very soon. One of the good points of this projects is that it will be available in PHP, Python and Ruby. Great news for developpers who work with all of these languages.

Get it: http://csspp.org/

  • winlwin

    I wonder why there’s no compass in the list. It’s also worth to try and can be used in windows as well.

  • You missed this too

    The LESS for CSS has been re-written in Javascript have a look at this

  • I prefer the JS version of Less πŸ™‚


  • Brenno Costa

    Compass(compass-style.org) is the best!

  • I would prefer to the JS version of Less

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  • Excellent tips mate, CSS coding have always been a headache for me, especially because all new written CSS is short type or it is all on one line. Using WebDeveloper and Firebug helps, but those tools that you reviewed in above article are amazing.

  • I prefer the JS version as well.

  • Really good article, I will put this features to my collection.

  • It’s also worth to try and can be used in windows as well.

  • Robert

    The icon You used was not a public domain image, it belongs to the developers of CssEdit, MacRabbit, please stop using it and other copyrighted images for profit.

  • Ramon Marco Navarro

    SASS and Compass can be used for any language as long as you have Ruby installed in your system. For an example of using both on CakePHP see:


  • Great resource, generally I am not good with CSS especially editing the short code. I guess this will help me improve my skills.

  • Max

    wro4j (http://code.google.com/p/wro4j/) has support for Less and Sass, so both can be used in Java environment πŸ˜‰

  • Good list, but you missed stylus (http://learnboost.github.com/stylus/)!

  • uli

    The address for Turbine has changed to turbinecss.org

  • Even if you are on a php project, you can install ruby on your server, install sass or compass and start compiling your .scss files to css. So its not really that sass is available only for ruby, but sass compiler is written on ruby and therefore requires ruby. Does anyone disagree?

    And also, there is a javascript compiler for less. You can install eg node.js on your server and fire up the compiler in your build process.

  • jjohn

    Stylus (https://learnboost.github.io/stylus/) is also great preprocessor!

  • Hi there, I see that you have a link to csspp.org which I now manage. Also I am writing because the former author wanted to do all sorts of things but I’m not too sure his code went anywhere really. Anyway, now CSS Preprocessor or csspp is for C++ and it also comes with a command line tool. The syntax is close to SASS although not 100% compatible. Maybe you would consider updating your post about this one? Oh and it is released, I have version 1.0.7 on SourceForge.net/p/csspp ready for grab.