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20 August 2023

Vanilla Extract vs Styled Components

Irelia Codeheart, Senior Developer

Understanding Vanilla Extract and Styled Components: Differences and Similarities

Introduction to Vanilla Extract and Styled Components

Vanilla Extract and Styled Components are two prominent choices in the realm of CSS-in-JS solutions. Where Vanilla Extract centres on maintainability, scalability, and type safety, Styled Components focus on seamless CSS integration within React, encouraging prop-based component styling.

Functional Differences: From Runtime to Rendering

There are notable differences in how Vanilla Extract and Styled Components operate.

Vanilla Extract creates stylesheets at the build time, thus ditching the need for runtime evaluation. This ensures optimal performance by minimizing runtime costs. It leverages native CSS variables, keeping themelight functionality intact and in line with platform features.

On the contrary, Styled Components, while offering server-side rendering support, does induce a runtime overhead. This is something one needs to consider when prioritizing performance in an application.

Comparing Token Typing and Mapping

As well as runtime distinctions, the concept of type safety and token management vary between the two approaches.

Vanilla Extract enforces type-safety, requiring styles to be contained within .css.ts files. This mechanism facilitates code suggestion while coding and promptly alerts developers of missing or improperly spelled properties. Tokens, or reusable patterns, can be applied to both global and component-specific styling.

In comparison, while Styled Components allows for prop management, it may not offer a similar stringent level of type safety. Styled Components enables the use of actual CSS in your component files without the need for an external stylesheet, and it combines the power of JavaScript with CSS, creating marginally styled components.

Effects on Component Debug-ability

Debugging experiences are essential within the development workflow, and both Vanilla Extract and Styled Components offer different perspectives.

Styled Components permit scoped CSS rules, eradicating potential clashes that one might encounter in regular CSS. However, with CSS being part of the component, it could lead to heavier components and potential challenges in managing large CSS codebases.

Contrarily, Vanilla Extract takes steps to separate concerns, keeping CSS in unique files, which could lead to a cleaner way to debug when the codebase scales.

Documentation and Developer Experience

Finally, it’s worth noting the bigger picture of community support and learning curves.

Styled Components takes the lead here with a larger community and an extensive library, which subsequently provides more resources and examples available for troubleshooting or learning. Its media query support also has the edge here.

However, Vanilla Extract, despite its smaller community, emphasizes a strong type system. It may present a steeper learning curve. Yet, it provides a more robust approach if maintaining large codebases is in your purview and you prioritize compile-time safety and performance.

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Advantages and Drawbacks: Styled Components Over Vanilla Extract

The Role of Styled Components and Vanilla Extract in CSS-in-JS

Both styled-components and vanilla-extract are popular libraries for managing CSS in JavaScript projects. While styled-components is a CSS-in-JS library showcasing the power of ES6 and above CSS features, vanilla-extract is more of a zero-runtime Stylesheets-in-TypeScript library focusing on build-time CSS processing. The preference between the two entirely depends on individual project requirements and use-cases.

Evaluating Theming Capabilities

Styled-components offer the advantage of easily managing component styling, however, vanilla-extract uses CSS variables for theming and allows the creation of global themes and utility classes. This type-safe approach of vanilla-extract might offer more resilience and maintainability in larger codebases.

Scoping and Dynamic Styling

Styled-components use scoping to encapsulate styles and provide dynamic styling, which gives significant control over component visual adjustments. On the other hand, vanilla-extract deals with the challenge of scoping through its atomic CSS via its Sprinkles API, that's a bit different from conventional styling techniques.

Lock-In Concerns and Performance Overheads

While the build-time CSS processing of vanilla-extract might seem beneficial, it does put some limitations on dynamic styling due to the zero-runtime nature. In contrast, styled-components offer more flexibility with dynamic styling but could lead to more performance overhead due to runtime concerns. Also, Linaria, another build-time alternative, showed better performance across different metrics.

Community Support and Learning Curve

Both styled-components and vaniprops seemingly provided a similar developer experience, with mentions of usage and recommendation across various discussions, tutorials, and posts. However, it's worth noting that with a more substantial community, robust documentation, and ongoing development, styled-components might offer a faster learning curve for newcomers and more mature support in terms of problem-solving and feature-extension.

Performance Showdown: Vanilla Extract vs Styled Components

Basic Features and Active Development of Both Libraries

As the names suggest, both libraries, Vanilla Extract and Styled Components, offer developers tools for styling web applications. Vanilla Extract's strength lies in its zero-runtime style sheet creation in TypeScript or JavaScript, as discussed in the LogRocket Blog and Sandro Roth Blog. It supports a vibrant ecosystem of tools like Sprinkles, an atomic CSS framework, and offers customization options such as tokens, themes, and variants for design systems.

On the other hand, Styled Components, although not much covered in the searches above, is widely recognized for its focus on styling via JS-driven components, enhancing readability, and encouraging a better structure for React applications.

Performance Insights from Posts and Mentions

From the coverage found in blog posts and forum discussions, it is clear that performance is a critically evaluated aspect of both libraries. All the posts reflect a significant activity in terms of development, adoption, and discussion around Vanilla Extract. The StackOverflow discussions indicate some roadblocks when it comes to using Vanilla Extract, especially for the style attribute in web development, which is an important consideration in comparing it to Styled Components.

Considering Build-Time CSS with Alternatives Like Linaria

When it comes to selecting a CSS-in-JS library, build-time and runtime performance is a key factor. Vanilla Extract's focus on zero-runtime style sheets, as apparent in LogRocket blog, provides clear benefits for performance-optimized builds. However, developers should also consider libraries like Linaria, which provide similar benefits. Although Linaria was not mentioned in the searches above, it is a well-known alternative that offers zero-runtime CSS in JS, a key point of comparison when we discuss Vanilla Extract and Styled Components.

In the next section, we will delve deeper into the practical uses of both libraries for component styling in a React app, providing more context to these performance considerations.

Migrating from Vanilla Extract to Styled Components

Migration from one styling system to another should be approached systematically with careful planning and development of a solid strategy. This section particularly focuses on migrating from Vanilla Extract to Styled Components, and incorporates four primary aspects of the process.

Preparing for the Transition: Steps and Challenges

Migrating from Vanilla Extract to Styled Components isn't a matter of replacing one code block with another. As Vanilla Extract uses .css.ts files for style definitions separate from component code, it's important to extract these styles and translate them into a Styled Component compatible format. You'll encounter challenges such as mapping design tokens to props and preserving theming features provided by Vanilla Extract.

Detailed Tutorials for Using Vanilla Extract in Development

Before making the switch, it's beneficial to have a deep understanding of both Vanilla Extract and Styled Components. While Vanilla Extract leverages TypeScript and its compile-time error detection capabilities for type-safe CSS styles, Styled Components lean on tagged template literals for styling. These missing TypeScript features might be noticeable during the transition process, pointing to the significance of a proper understanding of both libraries' functionalities and methodologies.

Potential Issues in Dynamic Styling with Vanilla Extract

Vanilla Extract creates lightweight, scalable CSS, but it does have limitations, specifically when dealing with dynamic styles. Selectors and pseudo-selectors are not as dynamic as in Styled Components. This can make the transition process more complicated, and you might need to re-think your approach to handling dynamic styles, as the same flexibility might not be present in Styled Components.

Important Tips During the Migration Process

  • Plan your migration in stages: Avoid performing the entire migration in a single massive update. Instead, choose a component-by-component approach for smoother transitions and easier debugging.

  • Maintain theming continuity: Preserve theming continuity by adapting Vanilla Extract’s CSS variable themes to Styled Components' theme provider methodology.

  • Leverage tools: Utilize codemods or CSS-to-JS transformers to speed up the migration process.

  • Retain type safety: Even though Styled Components does not support TypeScript as natively as Vanilla Extract, efforts to preserve type safety to the maximum extent possible should be made.

  • Optimize Performance: Strive to handle dynamic styles in a way that is performant and doesn't introduce unnecessary re-renders or additional computation costs.

The migration process can be complex, but with adequate preparation and a systematic approach, it can be accomplished with minimal disruptions and maintenance concerns.

In the Trenches: Real World Applications and Case Studies

Before we conclude, let's examine some real-world applications of Vanilla Extract and Styled Components. We'll also look into a few case studies that reveal the experience of transitioning from Tailwind to Vanilla Extract.

Exploring Vanilla Extract in Practical Uses

As we've already noted, Vanilla Extract is a zero-runtime CSS-in-JS solution. This library makes it easier for you to locally scope your styles, which is a big plus for scaling and maintaining a large codebase. Its CSS-as-JS functionality can lead to some amazing CSS pre-processing possibilities, making it a tool of choice for many developers when dealing with intricate style operations and processes.

Case Studies on Transitioning from Tailwind to Vanilla Extract

We’ve come across multiple case studies where developers transitioned from Tailwind CSS to Vanilla Extract and found the experience quite favorable. For instance, some developers highlighted how Vanilla Extract’s statically extracted styles led to improved runtime performance and smaller bundle sizes—two crucial factors when it comes to web performance.

Understanding the Use of Vanilla Extract with Material-UI Components

Applying Vanilla Extract while working with Material-UI Components has also proven effective for developers. Material-UI is one of the most popular React UI frameworks, and using it with Vanilla Extract has proven to make styling a more straightforward and efficient process. Thanks to Vanilla Extract’s static extraction feature, it's easier to manage and scope styles for Material-UI components, creating aesthetic, high-performing applications.

Theming React Applications with Vanilla Extract

Theming is a significant aspect of front-end development and Vanilla Extract doesn't disappoint in this regard. Its theming capabilities are seemingly intuitive, allowing developers to set up global theme variables in a theme.css.ts file, which can then be used and adjusted across the app. This streamlined approach simplifies the process of maintaining and updating themes.

Now that we've established the strengths of Vanilla Extract vs Styled Components along with some real-world applications, it's time to talk about how our product, caisy, can help you in this context. caisy's powerful GraphQL API can readily be used in tandem with Vanilla Extract or Styled Components to build interactive, performant frontends. Whenever you want to deliver a project that's rich in styled components or need a powerful content management system backing your application styled with Vanilla Extract, caisy is your go-to platform.

Whether you're working with Next.js, Nuxt, Svelte, or Astro — caisy integrates smoothly, providing a dependable, scalable, and remarkably speedy content management system that aligns well with your styling solutions. From managing complex designs using reusable components to streamlining your project management with our multi-tenancy system — caisy offers a comprehensive toolset to tackle your every need, all backed by our user-friendly interface and self-service pricing tiers.

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