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Archive: 18 October 2005

To Hack With It

To follow up on what I said recently, there’s another major reason to remain un-stressed about the impending release of IE7 and the use of CSS hacks.  If you read over the list of things that have been fixed, they read like a who’s who of CSS hacks—and a who’s who of the reasons we use most CSS hacks in the first place.

How is that the ticket to a stress-free existence?  I’ll give you an example.  One IE bug I deal with a lot is the doubled-margin float bug.  So I’ll write something like this:


#main {float: left; width: 30em; margin-left: 150px;}
* html #main {margin-left: 75px;}

I’ve halved the margin value in the “IE/Win only” line, which is the second one; that’s the CSS hack part of the duo.  By taking this approach, the layout is consistent between IE/Win and every other modern browser out there.

Okay, so here comes IE7, which the team says has a fixed CSS parser so the Tan hack (which is what I used) isn’t recognized.  That means IE7 completely skips the second line, the one with the hack.  But IE7 has also fixed the double-margin bug on floats.  So the hack rule is completely ignored by IE7, and it acts like other browsers when reading the first.  It’s like it was Firefox or something.  Meanwhile, any IE6 users out there get a consistent experience thanks to the Tan hack line, which it still recognizes.

So why aren’t I proclaiming that there’s absolutely nothing to worry about, as opposed to declaring my intent to stand pat?  Because the promised fixes are just that: promises.  I have no doubt as to the IE team’s deep desire to get these fixes shipped.  They may, however, find themselves overruled by other factors on one or more fixes.  Perhaps a given fix breaks the layout of eBay, or interacts badly with a particular version of Windows.  Simply put, forces beyond their control might lead to a shipping browser that doesn’t fix everything they want to fix.

That’s a big part of why I said I wasn’t going to make any moves until we have a working release in hand.  There’s absolutely no sense in rewriting all our style sheets to remove hacks—at least, there’s no sense right now.  We’d be trying to author against a moving, distant, and phantom target.  That’s a recipe for frustration.

In general, if the planned fixes do come through, then as far as site breakage, the advent of IE7 will be practically a non-event in the standards-oriented design community.  Assuming those  fixes are released, we’ll honestly have next to nothing to do.  Yes, there will be examples here and there of sites doing funky stuff and experiencing problems, as with Slashdot.  Those problem sites will be identified and fixed one way or another—maybe new hacks, maybe conditional comments, maybe reformulations of markup and CSS.  The same basic thing happened when IE6 came out, and I suspect we’ll have less upheaval with IE7 than with IE6—and IE6 was pretty small stuff, site-breakage-wise.

Note that I suspect.  I don’t know.  Nobody can know until the IE team releases a version with the fixes included.  When that happens, then we’ll start figuring out which way to jump.  Or I will, at any rate.  If anyone out there wants to do a little pointless panicking ahead of time, well, be my guest.

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