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Most people, especially designers, get a little nervous when they find out they need to learn any type of scripting or coding language. Now I've had more than one designer express anxiety to me over having to learn how to write CSS. Yet thankfully, learning CSS is fairly simple. There is really not a lot to the syntax, which makes it easy to get up and running quickly. Let's take a look at a sample rule. CSS styles are made up of two parts: the selector and the declaration. The selector--here, P for paragraph--tells the browser which element or elements in the document to style.
Using this selector, all paragraphs within a styled document would be formatted. Well, this element selector is pretty simple, selectors can be very complex, depending upon which elements on the page you're trying to target. Selectors can be grouped together or even combined to allow for more precise element targeting. The declaration, which is enclosed in these curly braces, gives the formatting instructions for the style. Here there are two rules: one telling the browser which font to use and another defining the size of the font.
The rules themselves are made up of two parts: the property and the value. These are separated by colons and use a semicolon to tell the browser to stop evaluating and move on to the next rule. While this syntax is simple, you will need to learn the myriad selectors and selector combinations which make it possible to exercise a greater amount of control over page elements. You will also need to learn the various properties you can set for each of the elements and the values that are allowed for that property. For the most part, the use of whitespace doesn't matter.
For example, both of these CSS rules would give you the exact same results. In some cases, however, it does matter. Within a selector, it often results in determining which elements are targeted, so you should be familiar with when whitespace is important and when it's not. There are also certain syntax rules, such as shorthand notation and pseudo-element pseudo-classes and inline rules, that you will need to learn. But if you focus on the basic elements of CSS syntax first, you'll be surprised at how quickly you pick it up.
I also highly recommend reading through the CSS specifications to learn not only the rules behind the syntax, but alternate ways of writing it. Later on in this title, we will examine the CSS specifications in more detail. Another great way to learn syntax is to examine the CSS found in other sites. Often the authors will comment the CSS in a way that helps you understand the syntax and why it's written a certain way. You'll be seeing examples of CSS syntax throughout this title, so you should have a pretty good idea of how it works before moving on to writing it yourself.
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