CSS Variables with Jekyll and Liquid

CSS variables have been proposed a number of times already, but, as far as I know, it has never been taken seriously. Variables — constants, really, depending on the proposal — would be useful in eliminating redundancy, because the same value often appears multiple times across a consistent theme. The cascading part of cascading stylesheets can deal with some of this, but not all. For example,

@variables color {
    border: #7fa;

article {
    box-shadow: var(color.border);

header {
    border: 1px solid var(color.border);

Because the color has been defined in one place, adjusting the color theme requires only one change. That’s a big help to maintenance.

I recently investigated CSS variables, not so much to reduce maintenance issues, but mainly because I wanted to have user-selectable color themes. I wanted to use JavaScript to change the variable values dynamically so I could modify the page style on the fly. Since CSS variables are merely an idea at the moment, I went for the next tool already available to me: Liquid, the templating system used by Jekyll. Jekyll essentially is Liquid, which is what makes it so powerful. It continues to be my ideal blogging platform.

If you look in my site’s source repository (not the build code hosted here), you’ll see my core stylesheet is an _include and looks like this,

code {
    border: 1px solid {{ page.border }};
    background-color: {{ page.backA }};

pre {
    border: 1px solid {{ page.border }};
    background-color: {{ page.backA }};
    padding: 3px;
    margin-left: 1em;

pre code {
    border: none;
    background-color: {{ page.backA }};

blockquote {
    border: 1px dashed {{ page.border }};
    background-color: {{ page.backC }};
    padding: 0 0 0 0.5em;

Those are Liquid variables. Each theme source file looks like this,

backA: "#ecffdc"
backB: White
backC: WhiteSmoke
foreA: Black
foreB: SlateGray
border: Silver
links: Blue

That’s just some YAML front-matter defining the theme’s variables. For my themes, I define three background colors, two foreground colors, and the link color. For each theme, a full stylesheet is generated from the stylesheet template above. To allow the user to select a theme, I just use some JavaScript to select the proper stylesheet. You can try this out with the theme-selector on the sidebar.

Update December 2012: I feel like themes weren’t really adding much to the blog so I removed them. However, the Liquid CSS variables do remain because it makes maintenance simpler.

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Chris Wellons