Dreamweaver’s Approach To CSS

by Andrew Whiteman

Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) has become as pivotal a technology in the building of websites as HTML. Originally, CSS was mainly used for defining the appearance of text (font, size, colour, etc.). However, with the improvement of browser compatibility with the CSS specification, CSS is now the recommended method of controlling all aspects of the presentation of HTML documents within the browser window.

Adobe Dreamweaver is a very widely used platform for developing web sites and web content and, although used by experienced developers, is also widely used by non-specialists for whom Dreamweaver’s user-friendly visual interface takes the pain out of web site creation. The way in which Dreamweaver implements CSS is very important for the casual user, since it will influence the kind of sites they end up producing.

One of the most noticeable changes in this the latest version of Dreamweaver is that users are now positively encouraged to create web pages using CSS for page layout rather than tables. Each time a new web page or template is created, Dreamweaver offers you a choice of basing the page on one of about thirty preset CSS layouts with names like “3 Column Elastic” and “3 Column Fixed”.

CSS page layout is based in the DIV element, an HTML container which can be used to hold an arbitrary amount of web content. The CSS rules control the appearance and positioning of DIVs on the page. Dreamweaver CS3’s preset CSS layouts create a series of DIVs containing placeholder text and basic formatting. The placeholder text, as well as the code underlying the page, both contain useful explanations of how the page has been constructed and a few tips on how to personalise them.

The CSS code for pages created using Dreamweaver’s preset layouts is embedded in the page itself. If a user creates a series of such pages, each one will have its own CSS code making updating very time-consuming. It is far more efficient to have all of the CSS code in one external file and link each page to this one file. At present, Dreamweaver doesn’t really make this clear to new users. However, it does have an excellent feature for moving embedded CSS code into an external file. You simply select all of the CSS definitions you wish to externalise then choose Text – CSS Styles – Move CSS Rules.

Although this ability to move CSS around is really great, it’s not something that beginners will necessarily think of doing. It points to the fact that Dreamweaver could still do with a few enhancements to its implementation of CSS.

Dreamweaver CS3 still has includes the automatic creation of CSS styles whenever the user applies font attributes to text. Simply removing the ability to select text and apply these basic attributes would prevent this from happening. From a beginner’s point of view, it would be far more useful to just have a “Style” menu with an option to create a new style if no styles already exist.

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