What is CSS prefixing and why do I care?
“Browser vendors sometimes add prefixes to experimental or nonstandard CSS properties, so developers can experiment but changes in browser behavior don’t break the code during the standards process. Developers should wait to include the unprefixed property until browser behavior is standardized.”
As a Web developer, users of your web sites will be affected if you use prefixed CSS properties which later have their prefixes removed—especially if syntax has changed between prefixed and unprefixed variants.
There are steps you can take in stewardship of an unbroken Web. Begin by checking your stylesheets for outdated gradient syntax and updating with an unprefixed modern equivalent. But first, let’s take a closer look at the issue.
What are CSS gradients?
CSS gradients are a type of CSS
<image> function (expressed as a property value) that enable developers to style the background of block-level elements to have variations in color instead of just a solid color. The MDN documentation on gradients gives an overview of the various gradient types and how to use them. As always, CSS Tricks has top notch coverage on CSS3 gradients as well.
Removing (and then not removing) prefixed gradients from Firefox
In Bug 1176496, we tried to remove support for the old -moz- prefixed linear and radial gradients. Unfortunately, we soon realized that it broke the Web for enough sites (, , , , , ) that we had to add back support (for now).
Sin and syntax
Due to changes in the spec between the -moz- prefixed implementation and the modern, prefix-less version, it’s not possible to just remove prefixes and get working gradients.
Here’s a simple example of how the syntax has changed (for linear-gradient):
/* The old syntax, deprecated and prefixed, for old browsers */ background: -prefix-linear-gradient(top, blue, white); /* The new syntax needed by standard-compliant browsers (Opera 12.1, IE 10, Firefox 16, Chrome 26, Safari 6.1), without prefix */ background: linear-gradient(to bottom, blue, white);
In a nutshell,
at keywords were added,
cover keywords were removed, and the angle coordinate system was changed to be more consistent with other parts of the platform.
When IE10 came out with support for prefixless new gradients, IEBlog wrote an awesome post illustrating the differences between the prefixed (old) syntax and the new syntax; check that out for more in-depth coverage. The css-tricks.com article on CSS3 gradients also has a good overview on the history of CSS gradients and its syntaxes (see “Tweener” and “New” in the “Browser Support/Prefixes” section).
OK, so like, what should I do?
You can start checking your stylesheets for outdated gradient syntax and making sure to have an unprefixed modern equivalent.
Here are some tools and libraries that can help you maintain modern, up-to-date, prefixless CSS:
If you’re already using the PostCSS plugin Autoprefixer, you won’t have to do anything. If you’re not using it yet, consider adding it to your tool belt. And if you prefer a client-side solution, Lea Verou’s prefix-free.js is another great option.
In addition, the web app Colorzilla will allow you to enter your old CSS gradient syntax to get a quick conversion to the modern prefixless conversion.
Masatoshi Kimura has added a preference that can be used to turn off support for the old -moz- prefixed gradients, giving developers an easy way to visually test for broken gradients. Set
false (from about:config) in Nightly. This pref should ship in Firefox 42.
Modernizing your CSS
And as long as you’re in the middle of editing your stylesheets, now would be a good time to check the rest of them for overall freshness. Flexbox is an area that is particularly troublesome and in need of unbreaking, but good resources exist to ease the pain. CSS
border-image is also an area that had changes between prefixed and unprefixed versions.
Thanks for your help in building and maintaining a Web that works.
About Mike Taylor
Mike works as a Web Compatibility Engineer for Mozilla from his home in Austin, TX.
About Dietrich Ayala
Dietrich Ayala is a developer advocate at Mozilla, the non-profit makers of the Firefox web browser, where he's been working for internet freedom and shipping open source software to hundreds of millions of people for over a decade.