Should you unit test CSS?

When I told a college I was going to write some unit tests for CSS they went crazy, and I do see why, however I think it can be valuable in the right way. I would like to describe to you why I think doing unit tests on CSS can be worth your time as a developer and also beneficial to the project.

Why oh why you may ask would you unit test CSS? Styles change so often, the style might be abstract from the code and they can be hard to test. You can’t test just the code, you have to test it for what it is, which is User Interface(UI) coding. Therefore you need to test it through the UI with something like Selenium, that boots up a browser and checks the UI. Though even if you use this technology then testing literally the size of the font and the colour of the background, which have no variable changes, you not testing properly.

Normally when you are unit testing, it is on something that can change depending on multiple variables, so testing the font size isn’t that. When you are testing them things they can only change if you want them to, so you not testing the code, you’re testing that you remembered to update the test. For example, if you have a ‘h1′ with a font size ’14px’ and write a unit test to check the browser has rendered a ‘h1’ with that size, then you have a change come in. You change the font size and now your unit test fails, so you update the test case, but what have you just shown to the project? You have proved that the font has been updated in both places.

It also gets hard when you are testing with browsers, as each browser will interpret the CSS in different ways. They render different, so when you test ‘1em’ is ’14px’ you might get a different answer in another browser.

Therefore why do I think you should unit test CSS?

Well that’s more because I am not saying to test the CSS purely, but to test modular items. In the project I work on there are modules in the site that share classes. Things like a promotion box with a background colour and a banner with the same background colour. We use the CSS pre-processor called LESS, so the background colour is stored in a variable shared across the code base. If a developer decides to change that variable for the banner, we want the unit test to flag that changing this colour effects the promotion box as well.

Example CSS:

@bg-color: #66bb6a;

.banner { background-color:@bg-color;}
.promo { background-color:@bg-color;}

This is why we should unit test, because we want to know if a classes style changes then what else does it effect. Imagine the above CSS lines were in separate files. You change the ‘@bg-color’ as you want the banner to be a different colour and then the unit test flags that the promotion box is incorrect. The value from this means the developer can find out what breaking changes they have introduced, which helps them decide it should all change or no I need a new class.

There is also testing where it takes graphical images and compares the two, but this is browser and code structure dependent. You can to make sure you can test the code in all situations and that’s why a banner for example is better than a whole page.

In our organisational structure then CSS is in a separate code base as the HTML it is running on, due to the CSS project being used in multiple projects. Therefore, we can’t test against the project’s code base, instead we need to create a running example each time. This has it benefits as we then have a working example to demo to the HTML developers.

This is where and why I think there is value in doing unit testing on CSS, but what do you think? Do you do it already or do you think it is a waste of time?

Published by Chris Pateman - PR Coder

A Digital Technical Lead, constantly learning and sharing the knowledge journey.

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