Choosing great variable names

Variables in Sass are a powerful way to define values in one place that can be reused in multiple places in your project. They allow you to make changes from a central point without needing to use find and replace across multiple files and directories.

But choosing good names can be hard!

If you're not careful, it's very easy for variable names to spiral out of control. Before you know it the benefit is lost because variable names are hard to recall and end up causing more frustration than benefit.

However, by following some simple guidelines you can maintain control… and your sanity!

Use semantic variable names

Imagine for a moment that you client's primary brand color is red and you called that variable $red. Six months go by and the marketing department decides to re-brand the company and the primary brand color is now blue.

Changing the value of $red is easy enough, but the variable has no description of its intended purpose.

Instead of describing what a variable looks like in the name, describe its function or purpose. In other words, try to choose semantic names for your variables.

// Bad
$red: red;
$yellow: yellow;

// Better
$brand-color: red;
$accent-color: yellow;

Adopt useful conventions

It's important to come up with some good conventions for naming your variables so that they are easy to remember.

For example, you can postfix color names with -color:

// Base colors
$base-color: #333;
$brand-color: red;
$brand-80-color: rgba($color-brand, 0.8);
$accent-color: yellow;

Or, add a prefix like header- or footer- for specific sections:

// Header
$header-height: 100px;
$header-background-color: $color-brand;

// Footer
$footer-height: 200px;
$footer-background-color: #aaa;

Keep a centralized config

I like to keep all my variables in a single file, called _config.scss, that I include in my primary stylesheet using the @import directive. This way, every other file that gets included after my config file will have access to those variables.

@import base/config;
@import base/typography;
@import base/utilities;

@import modules/button;


There are probably a lot of opinions on how to name things in Sass, but what's really important is that you find conventions that work for you and your team. Choosing good variable names will make it much easier to maintain your project's stylesheets.

January 26, 2014 ~ Beginner, Guides and Tutorials, Frank S