A Change in Plans for Sass 3.3

Posted 20 December 2013 by Natalie Weizenbaum

This was originally published as a gist.

Sass 3.3 is coming soon, and along with it several major new features. It supports source maps, SassScript maps, and the use of & in SassScript. In preparation for its release, we’ve put out a couple of release candidates to be sure that everything was set and ready to go. Unfortunately, it wasn’t.

Release candidates often turn up small bugs and inconsistencies in new features, but it’s rare that they find anything truly damning. In this case, though, several users noticed an issue with using & in SassScript that rendered a sizable chunk of our plan for that section of 3.3 unworkable. It’s not a fatal issue, and we think we have a good plan for dealing with it (I’ll get to that in a bit), but it is a problem.

The BackgroundThe Background permalink

To understand what’s wrong, first you need to understand the reason we decided to make & accessible to SassScript in the first place. One thing users want to do pretty often is to add suffixes to classes. Sometimes this takes the place of nesting selectors, sometimes it’s just to make a new class based on the old ones – the reason doesn’t matter much to this discussion. When people tried to do this, they’d write something like .foo { &-suffix { ... } }, and it wouldn’t work. The reason is that & has the same syntactic function as a type selector (e.g. h1) or a universal selector (*), since it could be replaced by any of those. It doesn’t make sense to write *-suffix in a selector, so &-suffix wasn’t allowed either.

This didn’t stop people from wanting to do it, though. So we decided, "all right, we already use interpolation (#{}) to support injecting text into selectors – let’s just use that". We decided to add & as a sort of special variable in SassScript that contained a parsed representation of the current selector. You could then mimic &-suffix by doing @at-root #{&}-suffix instead[1]. Life was peachy, until our intrepid users discovered the problem.

The ProblemThe Problem permalink

Here’s a small snippet of SCSS that demonstrates the issue. See if you can figure it out:

.foo, .bar {
  @at-root #{&}-suffix {
    color: blue;

Did you get it? That’s right: & in this example is .foo, .bar, which means the selector compiles to .foo, .bar-suffix. Since #{} injects plain old text, there’s no chance for Sass to figure out how it should split up the selector.

Chris and I talked and talked about how to fix this. We considered adding a function to add the suffix, but that was too verbose. We considered making & split the compilation of the CSS rule into several parallel rules which each had a single selector for &, but that was too complicated and fell down in too many edge cases. We eventually concluded that there was no way for SassScript & to cleanly support the use case we designed it for.

The SolutionThe Solution permalink

We knew we wanted to support the &-suffix use case, and our clever plan for doing so had failed. We put our heads together and discussed, and decided that the best way to support it was the most straightforward: we’d just allow &-suffix. This was, after all, what most people tried first when they wanted this behavior, and with the & embedded directly in the selector, we can handle selector lists easily.

This means that &-suffix will be supported in Sass 3.3, without needing #{} or @at-root. I’ve created issue 1055 to track it. When compiling these selectors, if the parent selector is one that would result in an invalid selector (e.g. *-suffix or :nth-child(1)-suffix), we’ll throw an error there describing why that selector was generated.

We are still worried about cases where people write mixins using &-suffix that will then fail to work with certain parent selectors, but in this case we determined that this would be the least of all available evils.

The Future of & in SassScriptThe Future of & in SassScript permalink

In addition to supporting &-suffix, we’ve decided to pull SassScript & from the 3.3 release. Rest assured that it will return – we recognize that it has other good use cases, and we intend to bring it back for the next big release (likely 3.4). In addition, it will come with a suite of functions for manipulating the selectors it makes available, so it will be more powerful than ever.

There are two reasons that we want to hold off on using & in SassScript for now. The first is that we want some time to create the functions that will go along with it and put them through their paces. This may require changing the way it works in various ways, and we don’t want to have to make backwards-incompatible changes to do so.

The second reason is that we’ve spent a fair amount of energy talking up #{&} as a solution to the &-suffix problem. This is our own fault, clearly, but it’s true and it’s something we need to deal with. Making &-suffix work is great, but if everyone is using #{&} anyway because that’s what we told them about a few months ago, then it’s not doing everything it can. Having a release where &-suffix works but #{&} doesn’t will help guide users towards the best way to solve their problem, before we make the more advanced functionality available.

@at-root will still be included in Sass 3.3.

Releasing 3.3Releasing 3.3 permalink

Unfortunately, this change will delay the release of 3.3, but hopefully not by too much. I anticipate this being relatively straightforward to implement; the major hurdle was figuring out what to do about it, and that part’s done. I plan to devote a large chunk of time to getting 3.3 out the door after I come back from winter vacation, so hopefully (no promises) it’ll be released some time in January.

  1. The @at-root is necessary since Sass can’t reliably figure out whether & was used in the selector like it can when & is used without #{}. ↩︎