CSS Catch-22

I have found myself in the inevitable position of coding a web site that I know will need to be maintained by someone who does not have the same level of skills as me. I badly want to code the site using CSS layout but I fear that as soon as I hand over that code someone is going to open it up in Dreamweaver or Homesite (or Front Page!) and I will start getting phone calls.

One solution is to comment the code in a professional manner, documenting what each DIV container is doing and in the stylesheet what each class does. However the kinds of people who use the tools I listed above aren’t the kinds of people who read HTML source code. I know that soon after I’ve handed over the code I will look at the site and I will find FONT tags wrapped around the DIVs, tables stuck inside the DIVs indenting a paragraph, and all kinds of other tag-soup.

My choices are:

  • Code it in tag-soup with tables and spacer GIFs for layout
  • Hand over the code along with a rudimentary CMS so that the site editor (and their tools) never actually touch the layout code
  • Hand over clean code and then spend far too much time editing a web site that I shouldn’t have to deal with

It makes me wonder if anyone has written some Javascript (or DWMX API code?) that I can put into the HTML that can interact with Dreamweaver and warn the user not to add tag-soup code. I haven’t used Dreamweaver in years but I’ve heard some things about it’s flexible XML-based Extensions that make me think something like this might be possible.

I realize that Dreamweaver does support the visual layout of CSS-driven designs, but it’s nowhere near the level it needs to be for a editor to treat it as a WYSIWYG tool. All of the sites I’ve coded using CSS layout display pretty bad inside of Dreamweaver; bad enough that a site editor trying to make changes to the site is going to think something is broken and then try to fix it — using tables for layout, of course.

One analogy I’ve used to explain this problem is: A mechanic with thousands of dollars worth of tools doesn’t necessarily mean that he’s a good mechanic. You’ve got to know how to use those tools so as to not break anything. The same goes for WYSIWYG tools like Dreamweaver.

What to do? Tag soup or CSS?

Posted by Cameron Barrett at August 28, 2003 08:22 PM

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