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Learn CSS: A Guide to Learning Cascading Style Sheets

James Gallagher - January 22, 2021


How to Learn CSS

Have you ever wondered how your favorite websites were designed? Behind every website design is a blueprint for the design. There’s also CSS code that brings a blueprint to fruition.

Cascading Style Sheets, or CSS, is a programming language used by developers to define the aesthetics for a website. While the HTML language allows you to set the structure for a site, CSS allows you to determine how features of a site appear.

HTML and CSS work hand-in-hand together. When you see a title that uses a new font on a website, HTML will be used to define the title. Then, CSS will be used to set the font for the title. Consider a paragraph of text. HTML will be used to define the text. CSS styles will be used to change the color of the text.

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This guide will walk through the best way to learn CSS online. We’ll give you a set of clear steps you can follow to help you start your journey to learning CSS quickly and effectively.

What is CSS Used For?

CSS defines how an element on a web page should appear. CSS stands for Cascading Style Sheets. Styles can be applied using CSS either on an HTML document or in a separate stylesheet.

Using CSS, developers write style rules, which tell a website how a certain HTML element should appear on a website. For instance, one style rule may define the height and width for an image on a web page. ANother may set the size of the text on a web page.

The CSS language offers a vast array of properties, which are used to apply styles to different elements on a web page. These properties relate to the size of an element, its color, its borders, where it appears on the web page, and more. Here are a few different rules you may encounter in CSS:

  • font-size sets the size of the text on a web page.
  • color sets the color of text on a web page.
  • height sets the height of an element on a web page.

Each CSS property is assigned a value, which tells the browser how a certain element should appear. For example, CSS could be used to tell the browser to make all text blue.

When you learn the basics of CSS properties, you can use the fundamentals you have learned to build intricate and complex designs.

Why Should You Learn CSS?

For one thing, learning how to code in CSS gives you the ability to create your own website designs. Having knowledge of CSS will allow you to create a portfolio, for instance, without relying on stock templates. You can create something that’s unique to you.

And we haven’t even discussed the career benefits of learning how to code in CSS. There is no shortage of employers who are actively looking for people who can code in CSS.

Because talented CSS developers are in demand, salaries are high, too. At the time of this writing, Glassdoor reports the average salary for a web designer to be $52,691 —an impressive sum!

How Long Does It Take to Learn CSS?

Before learning CSS, we recommend that you spend a few weeks practicing HTML. It won’t take long to master, and you’ll arrive with a solid footing in the programming world. HTML can help you get a feel for basic syntax, which will come in handy during when learning CSS.

Once you understand HTML and can build your own static websites, you’re ready to start learning CSS. Like the aforementioned language, learning the functional basics of CSS can take less than a month. However, CSS takes longer to master, and we recommend that you practice two to four hours per day.

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Is It Hard to Learn CSS?

CSS is an easy programming language to learn at a basic level. The CSS technology was designed to be accessible so anyone could create their own styled web pages on the internet.

A lot of the syntax you see in CSS will be very familiar when you learn the basic concepts of HTML.

For instance, you can change several attributes like height and width for a specific image in your HTML file. However, what if you want to apply that to all the pictures on your page? That’s where CSS comes into play.

Remember, CSS interacts with HTML elements in the same manner as the attributes within the element tags on an HTML file. However, you can touch on multiple elements at once through blocks of code in CSS called rules. If you’re comfortable styling all of your fonts, colors, and images in HTML, you will have no issues working with CSS. You’ll even find it easier once you get the hang of it.

How to Learn CSS Free

So far, we have spent time considering the background of CSS and the benefits of knowing how to code using CSS. But now, we’ve got to answer the question: How do you learn how to code in CSS?

There are thousands of resources online that can help teach you to code in CSS. It can be tricky to figure out where to start. Let’s walk through a few of the main steps you should follow to help you start your journey to learning CSS fast.

Step 1: Master the Basics

To be able to learn CSS, you’ll need to start off by mastering the basics. Sure, you may be tempted to start researching how to build elaborate website designs. Without a good grasp of the fundamentals, you’ll struggle to understand the more advanced concepts when they come up in your code.

The first step in your journey to learning CSS should be to invest time in researching—and practicing—the basics. This will involve learning about syntax, which are the general rules you should follow when writing CSS code, selectors, the box model, and more.

To help you get started, here is a list of the main topics that you need to know:

CSS Syntax and Selectors

First thing’s first, you’ll need to know the syntax for CSS. These are the basic rules that govern all the styles you will write when using the CSS programming language. When you’re just getting started, you’ll also need to learn about where and how to write CSS rules.

Next, you can explore CSS classes and selectors. Selectors are used to direct your code which elements on a web page should be styled using the rules you have written. Here are a few of the topics you should cover when it comes to CSS syntax and selectors:

  • How to write a CSS style rule
  • Inline, external, and internal CSS
  • Tags, classes, and IDs
  • The basics of selectors
  • Chaining selectors and nested elements
  • Using multiple selectors
  • CSS specificity

The Box Model

As we mentioned earlier, HTML is used to define the structure of a web page. But, HTML uses a set of default values to create the structure of a site. If you want to customize how elements appear, you need to use the CSS box model.

The box model is a set of properties that define which parts of an element use up space on a web page. The box model defines the borders, outlines, and spaces inside and outside of an element.

Here are the main components of the box model that you’ll need to learn:

Element Display

HTML renders elements from left to right and top to bottom. But, you may want elements to appear positioned in a certain way. Maybe you want a box to appear in the bottom left-hand corner of your web page, for example.

That’s where element display comes in. The principles of element display instruct the browser on where to display a certain element on the web page. Here are the main topics you should learn about in this field:

Colors and Fonts

Colors and fonts are two ways in which you can make a website appear more aesthetically pleasing. They are deemed essentials in many website style guides.

CSS offers a number of properties that you can use to control the color of elements on a web page, and how text appears. Here are a few of the topics you should learn about when it comes to CSS colors and fonts:

  • Background and foreground color
  • Hexadecimal, RGB, and HSL colors
  • CSS opacity
  • CSS typography
  • Font families, font styles, and font weights
  • Letter spacing, line height, and text alignment
  • Using external fonts

Grids

Grids allow developers to position elements easily and effectively on a web page. The grid CSS layout uses columns and rows to allow developers to design a web page without using floats and positioning.

Here are the main topics you’ll want to cover to master CSS grids:

  • CSS grid structure
  • Grid columns and rows
  • Creating columns and rows
  • Grid gaps and grid lines
  • Grid items and area

You may also want to spend some time learning about flexbox. flexbox is another technology used to position elements on a web page.

Best Way to Learn CSS Online

Now you know what you need to know to code in CSS, you may be asking: Where can I learn about these topics? Because CSS is such an important tool used in web development, there are thousands of resources out there that you can use.

The resources that you end up using will depend on your learning style. So, before you start looking for resources, ask yourself: How do you learn best? Do you prefer tutorials? Or are online courses more your speed?

You may even want to try out a few different formats to see what works best. Then, once you’ve found one, you can focus your attention on resources that use the learning format with which you are most comfortable.

For most beginners, interactive tutorials and courses are best, because they allow you to build something while learning. This is especially important in CSS because the language is all about visuals and styles.

Online CSS Courses

Learn CSS by Codecademy

  • Cost: Free
  • Audience: Beginners

Over 490,000 people have enrolled in this course to learn CSS. In this 20-hour-long course, you’ll learn about selectors, the box model, colors, typography, and more.

Intro to HTML/CSS by Khan Academy

  • Cost: Free
  • Audience: Beginners

This free course is an excellent introduction to HTML and CSS. You’ll start by learning about the structure of a web page. Then, you’ll cover topics like using CSS to style a page and CSS text properties. Toward the end of the course, you’ll discuss page layout and advanced CSS selectors.

Intro to HTML and CSS by Udacity

This self-paced course is ideal for anyone who wants to learn the basics of HTML and CSS. You’ll cover topics like the structure of a HTML document, CSS syntax, selectors, and how to use browser developer tools.

Online CSS Books

HTML and CSS: Design and Build Websites by Jon Duckett

This book is a complete introduction to building websites with HTML and CSS. You’ll learn the basics of these technologies and how they work together. This book comes with a vast array of examples and graphics to help you visualize the topics you learn.

Learning Web Design by Jennifer Niederst Robbins

This book starts at square one. It is a good read for anyone who is new to web development. You’ll start by building basic HTML pages. Then, you’ll go on to discuss how to use CSS for colors, text formatting, and layout. Toward the end of the book, you’ll cover other relevant web development topics like what JavaScript is and how you can use it in your sites.

CSS: The Definitive Guide by Eric Meyer and Estelle Weyl

This book is what it says on the cover: it’s a full guide to CSS. This book, unlike many others, focuses solely on CSS. You’ll learn about CSS colors, values, selectors, the box layout, and more.

Online CSS Resources

Learn to Style HTML Using CSS by Mozilla

Mozilla, creators of the Mozilla Web Browser, have a complete tutorial on how to add CSS to webpages. This online tutorial covers the basic CSS syntax, the building blocks of CSS, how to style text, and page layout.

CodePen

CodePen is an online learning playground for web development. This tool makes it easy to experiment with creative web designs. You’ll find thousands of styles written by beginner and expert developers which you can view for inspiration.

Career Karma CSS Tutorials

Career Karma has dozens of online tutorials on CSS. Each tutorial comes with code snippets to help you master a topic alongside explanations of those code snippets. Our library covers everything from selectors to inline styles.

These free web development courses to learn the skills you need to start working with HTML and CSS. But, don’t let this list limit you. You can learn HTML and CSS and front-end web development from a range of other places. You’ll find thousands of resources online.

Learn CSS Online with Tutorials

There are several publications out there that give excellent CSS tutorials. W3Schools and Mozilla Developer Network are useful as you learn the concepts of the programming languages. These resources provide standard tutorials online along with exercises of each of the concepts.

The previous resources are fit for when you want to study the concepts and understand why they are necessary for coding. Once you get that understanding, it’s time to put your mind to work to see how much you’ve learned. Many resources are available to help you while you’re on the go, like Grasshopper , SoloLearn , and Codecademy. They have great applications that you can download and use while you continue your studies.

Additionally, websites like freeCodeCamp , The Odin Project, and Khan Academy provide full free courses that focus on teaching CSS. Along with these lessons, are projects to help you learn while studying the concepts.

Following tutorials is a great way to learn HTML. You’ll learn development by doing HTML instead of just reading about it. Hands-on learning is crucial when it comes to front-end web development because of the degree of creativity involved.

Build a Project

Projects are a great way to put the theory you have learned into practice and work on something that you are fully interested in. That’s right. When you choose a project to work on, you’ll no longer have to build what a tutorial tells you to build.

Working on your own project also gives you an opportunity to take some creative liberty over your work. Because CSS is a highly visual language, any project you build can easily be made your own. You can choose your own fonts, or font colors, and customize a site as much as you want.

What should I build? This is a common question faced by all beginners. In truth, there is no right answer—you can build anything you want!

When you’re getting started, though, it is best to start small, then work your way up to creating more elaborate designs. Make sure that the project you choose to build is something that you find interesting. If you have chosen an interesting project and get stuck, you’ll have no trouble finding the motivation you need to finish your work.

To help you decide what to build, here are a few ideas:

  • A social networking site
  • A restaurant management system
  • A quiz game
  • An online shopping website
  • Your web design portfolio
  • A web blog
  • A website for a local bakery or greengrocers

Don’t let this list limit your options. If you have another idea, go ahead and build it!

Experiment with New Styles

There are so many features to CSS to explore! As a result, even once you’ve designed a website, there are still plenty of ways you can refine your skills.

One good way to practice your skills is to build the same site using different styles. Try to see what a website looks like with different font sizes. Experiment with using different colors for certain paragraphs of text on a web page. See what happens when you change the size of an image.

These changes will help you refine your sense of good design. At the same time, you’ll be able to experiment with new CSS concepts and properties.

The beauty of CSS lies in its creativity. One social networking site will never look the same as another because there are too many ways in which you can customize a site. How a site appears is really up to you—you’re the creative director when you code in CSS!

Master Browser Support

Browsers don’t always see a style sheet in the same way, unfortunately. This is because browsers have changed so much over the years that some have been unable to keep up with the changes. Old versions of Internet Explorer may not be able to see a site in the same way as the latest version of Chrome.

You should start to research how you can create sites that work across multiple browsers. IAll the best websites are functional no matter what browser you use (within reason). It’s a great skill to know how to write CSS code that appears well in any number of browsers.

To master browser support, check out the following resources:

Join a Developer Community

When you’re learning to code, you may be tempted to “code in isolation.” This means that you’ll spend your time coding, but you may not share your work with others. This is a common mistake made by newbies.

There are hundreds of thousands of people out there who know how to code in CSS. Web programmers often join developer communities, which bring together programmers from beginners to experts.

Communities are a great place to meet new developers with whom you can chat. They give you a place where you can seek feedback and get help if and when you need it. Here are a few communities that are good for CSS developers:

  • Dev.to : A community of software developers who help each other out. Dev.to has dedicated channels for CSS developers and web design which you can use to chat with other people learning CSS.
  • Stack Overflow : A community of developers asking and answering questions.
  • GitHub : A community to share your code and collaborate on projects with others.

There are plenty of ways you can contribute to these communities. You can help out an existing user with a question they have, or you can post your own question and start a discussion. Or you can just respond with a comment on a thread you find interesting. Anything you do will help create a better sense of community!

Practice Your Skills

Like any programming language, learning to code in CSS is a skill. The best way to improve is to practice as much as you can. The more time you spend thinking about CSS, the more insights you’ll come up with.

There are so many ways you can practice CSS that there is no excuse not to do so. Here are a few ideas to help you get started:

  • Use Codepen. Find a style you like on Codepen and try to make it better.
  • Take a challenge on Codecademy. Follow a tutorial on a site like Codecademy, then make your own improvements.
  • Help people in a community. Find a thread on Dev.to or Stack Overflow that you find interesting and try to help out other community members.

Or, of course, you can work on more projects! That’s always a great way to practice your skills.

Wrapping Up

Your path to learning CSS will be full of ups and downs. In the long run, knowing how to code in CSS can open you up to a wide range of opportunities.

Learning CSS could help you become a web designer or a web developer. This is is great if you think a career move is on the cards for you in the future.

When you start learning CSS, you should focus on the fundamentals such as syntax, selectors, the box model, positioning, and other basic topics. Then, once you’re ready, you can advance on to explore more advanced styles that you can use to create even more intricate designs.

CSS is an immensely useful skill for you to learn. Although it may be difficult to get started, you’ll be able to master this skill like all the other developers who know CSS did. It’s just a matter of working hard and practicing.



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James Gallagher

About the author: James Gallagher is a self-taught programmer and the technical content manager at Career Karma. He has experience in range of programming languages and extensive expertise in Python, HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. James has written hundreds of programming tutorials, and he frequently contributes to publications like Codecademy, Treehouse, Repl.it, Afrotech, and others. He also serves as a researcher at Career Karma, publishing comprehensive reports on the bootcamp market.

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