PostCSS and CSS Modules

Alternatives to Vanilla CSS

The worst things about CSS are the “Cascading” and the “Sheets”

  • Jed Schmidt

CSS Modules & React

As we’ve been building apps with React, we’ve been adding styles in various places. One way might be to create an main.css file, still all of your style rules in it, and then import it into your entry point for Webpack to bundle up. With this approach all of your styles are loaded immediately when the first page loads, whether or not they actually apply to that part of your app’s life cycle.

Enter CSS Modules.

CSS modules allow you to optimize which styles need to be loaded at what time, which helps maximize performance. What are we talking about? Isn’t creating a main.css file and importing it into my index.js entry point also a module? Yes! Yes it is. But we can break it up into individual pieces that are requested alongside the rendered component, rather than required all at once.

Pull up a repo using React that does NOT use create-react-app. At the time of writing this lesson plan, the create-react-app boilerplate has the following limitations (among others, always check the docs:

Some features are currently not supported:

Server rendering.
Some experimental syntax extensions (e.g. decorators).
LESS or Sass.
Hot reloading of components.

Pick your favorite component, and create a .css file associated with it. For example, if you have an About.js file that renders an <About /> component, create an About/ folder, move your component, make any necessary changes to where About.js was previously referenced, and then add an About.css file in that folder as well.

Creating a tiny .css file with styles associated with this component explicitly makes writing CSS extremely flexible.

This allows us to require just that part of CSS at the top of our App.js file, which will be loaded as a separate piece of CSS directly into style tags in your HTML. Fire up your server and take a look at the elements tab and dig into the <head></head> section to see our style.

Why is this good?

One of the more headache inducing aspects of CSS is the concept of “cascading”. Using modular CSS means that class names and other style decisions don’t overlap each other and your battle with specificity is greatly reduced.

Our JavaScript file(s) requested their appropriate CSS files and that code was embedded in <style> tags within our HTML page. This makes our code incredibly modular and easy to read/maintain. Webpack is doing this behind the scenes with the style-loader. Then at build time, webpack automatically generates classnames which are exported as a JS object injected into your code.

There are also valid arguments for not having your CSS served up as embedded style tags. In order to tell Webpack to chill and let the CSS live in external style sheet, we need to install a plugin, extract-text-webpack-plugin.


/* Contact.css */
.header {
  color: pink;

/* Contact.jsx */
import styles from './Contact.css';
render() { return (<img className={styles.image}/>) }

/* Rendered DOM */
<img class="Contact__image___1DXA66"/>

/* Processed Thumbnail.css */
.Contact__image___1DA66 {
  color: pink;

This also means that you can take advantage of normal JavaScript things in your CSS, like compose (which feels kind of like using a SASS mixin).

.header {
  color: pink;
  font-family: helvetica;

.about-paragraph {
  composes: header;
  background: red;

You can also use props to make dynamic style choices.

<Component bgcolor={'#ff0000'} />


let style = {
  backgroundColor: this.props.bgcolor

Using Style Objects in React Components

Another option is to define your styles in the component.js file itself which results in what looks like inline HTML.

// components/Destination.js

let textStyle = {
  color: 'red',
  backgroundColor: 'purple'

const Destination = (props) => {
  return (
    <div className="Destination">
      <h2 style={textStyle}>Destination Page!</h2>

export default Destination;

// Computed style in HTML
<h2 style="color: red; background-color: purple;">Destination Page!</h2>


Implement at least 2 of the PostCSS plugins in an old (or current) project. Attach a link to the github repo in the comments of this gist.

Then implement a few more styles using “Inline CSS” either directly in a Component.js file or by importing a modular .css file and injecting it into your React components.


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