Friday, September 29, 2006

How To Architect Your CSS

We all have our own favourite strategies for architecting our application code, but CSS is often one of the aspects of a site that gets copmletely overlooked. As CSS - along with its browser support - matures and grows more powerful, how we structure our CSS becomes more and more important for maintainability and expansibility1 of our applications.

I'm sure we've all experienced it - you start out with a prototype with a few simple CSS rules and the best of intentions, but as your application grows and changes, and more and more people have their input into the design process, the CSS grows and morphs and accumulates more and more quick fixes and cheesey hacks. Months later, you realise you've got to the point where something as simple as "can we make the comments link appear in red?" can take hours of navigating the jungle of interfering specificities and ids. Eventually you admit defeat, and put in a cheesey hack "just this once", and mentally promise to go back and fix it properly later - but somehow you never get round to it, and the process continues.

Digital Web has an interesting, if short, article on Architecting CSS, with some useful tips. If I had to pick two simple things that you should do RIGHT NOW, DAMMIT if you're not already, it would be :

  • Commenting your rules just as much as your code, and
  • Alphabetically sorting your attributes.

Oh, and avoiding the !important hack if at all possible.

Alright, three simple things....2 You get the idea :)

1 - apologies for grimace-inducing linguistic contortions. It's Friday, it's early, and I haven't had coffee yet. Bleh.
2 - No-one expects the Spanish blog post!

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Unfortunate Comedy Typos part 1

Ever have one of those days where no matter what you do, you just can't type properly? Today, I'm finding it impossible to type StringBuffer - it keeps coming out as StringBugger.

Calling Dr. Freud, calling Dr. Freud.....

A couple of other Freudian slaps (ahem) SLIPS I keep having, mean that I keep declaring functino's (maybe a new fundamental particle for the Standard Model?) and functoni's - and I don't know if it's just me, but Func Toni conjures up a disturbing image of Swiss Toni in a gold lamé shirt with eighteen-inch collars, star-shaped shades, and a big-ass medallion, strutting his funky stuff to Graham Central Station - like this:

Damn, that's a funky bassline!


Thank crunchie it's Friday...

Demos wins award

Congratulations to m'erstwhile colleagues at Headshift on scooping another award for the recently launched Demos site. I, along with the rest of the crew, put a huge amount of thought and care in to that site, and it gives me a nice warm fuzzy feeling to know that it's not just the client who appreciates it. Special kudos to Neil Roberts for doing the always-tricky task of picking up the reins on it after I left and teasing it lovingly into deployment.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Svn over ssh (svn+ssh://) on Windows via cygwin and PuTTy

One of the more obvious things lacking from Windows is an ssh (secure shell) client, and this has caused me no end of grief trying to check out code from Subversion repositories on servers that require ssh access - such as our own.

I'd previously managed to get access by forcing my username in the URL of the repository along with a saved PuTTY session name:

svn+ssh://alistair@(saved PuTTY session name)/etc...

...where the saved PuTTY session used my imported private key from the live host.

(Note: you *must* use PuTTYGen to convert your OpenSSH keys to PuTTY-compatible keys)

This caused a certain amount of sneering from the Debian users in the office, who didn't have to jump through any of these hoops, but I could live with that...

The latest problem to have me gesticulating at the screen like a south-american-footballer-in-front-of-a-referee-who's-reaching-for-his-pocket was the use of externals.

An external in a Subversion repository is a URL reference to another resource - for instance, in a Java app that requires a certain library to build, you might add an external pointing to the download url of the particular jar file that you need.

All well and good, but you can also add externals pointing to a different location in the same repository, for instance, to share config files between back end and front end modules.

Now here was the problem - you can't have relative urls in externals, they have to be absolute. This particular external was pointing to a different lcoation in the same repository in the standard URL way, which works fine on UNIX (Debian) clients because they have a native ssh client :


- but there was no way this was going to work on Windows via PuTTY - the only way I'd got svn+ssh:// urls to work previously was via the username@savedsessionname method. Every time I tried to update the working copy, it would get as far as that external, then give me this error message:

svn: Connection closed unexpectedly

So how do you get round this? Enter the cavalry - Cygwin.

Cygwin is a command shell for Windows that gives you a Bash-style environment, including....(drum roll)..... an ssh client!

With this, you can configure SVN (and the rather wonderful TortoiseSVN) to use this ssh client and - crucially - pass it a command line parameter that tells it to use your private key file for authentication.

If you open your SVN config file in a text editor, (you'll find this in C:\Documents and Settings\(username)\Application Data\Subversion\config) you'll see instructions on how to configure ssh. You can pretty much ignore it :-) and just use the following line:

ssh = "C:/(cygwin root path)/bin/ssh.exe" -i "C:/(path to your private key)"

...and that's it! It's one of those really simple solutions that took me a couple of minutes to implement, but hours of desk-headbanging frustration to find. You can also use the same command line in TortoiseSVN -> settings -> network -> ssh client.

One other note: make sure that you point ssh.exe at your openssh-compatible private key. If you've set up your key with PuTTYGen, you can load it in and export an OpenSSH-compatible key from there.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Lessons Learned From Kiko

Richard White has posted an insightful write-up of his Actual Lessons From Kiko. Well worth a few minutes of anybody who is in the web app space.