Eliminating Code Duplication in Cascading Style Sheets
PhD Thesis


Cascading Style Sheets (i.e., CSS) is the standard styling language, widely used for defining the presentation semantics of user interfaces for web, mobile and desktop applications. Despite its popularity, CSS has not received much attention from academia. Indeed, developing and maintaining CSS code is rather challenging, due to the inherent language design shortcomings, the interplay of CSS with other programming languages (e.g., HTML and JavaScript), the lack of empirically- evaluated coding best-practices, and immature tool support. As a result, the quality of CSS code bases is poor in many cases.

In this thesis, we focus on one of the major issues found in CSS code bases, i.e., the duplicated code. In a large, representative dataset of CSS code, we found an average of 68% duplication in style declarations. To alleviate this, we devise techniques for refactoring CSS code (i.e., grouping style declarations into new style rules), or migrating CSS code to take advantage of the code ab- straction features provided by CSS preprocessor languages (i.e., superset languages for CSS that augment it by adding extra features that facilitate code maintenance). Specifically for the migration transformations, we attempt to align the resulting code with manually-developed code, by relying on the knowledge gained by conducting an empirical study on the use of CSS preprocessors, which revealed the common coding practices of the developers who use CSS preprocessor languages.

To guarantee the behavior preservation of the proposed transformations, we come up with a list of preconditions that should be met, and also describe a lightweight testing technique. By applying a large number of transformations on several web sites and web applications, it is shown that the transformations are indeed presentation-preserving, and can effectively reduce the amount of duplicated code in CSS.

Cascading Style Sheets Code Clones Clone Refactoring PhD Thesis


  • The thesis can be downloaded here.


  author = {Davood Mazinanian},
  school = {Concordia University, Canada},
  title = {{Eliminating Code Duplication in Cascading Style Sheets}},
  type = {{Ph.D. Thesis}},
  year = {2017}