Anybody who writes css for the modern web has probably touched vendor prefixes at some point in time. These prefixes are required to get the most out of browsers that are supporting bleeding edge properties in ways that aren’t yet part of the css3 spec. When you’re writing these vendor prefixes it’s easy to forget one or two, or maybe you add one that isn’t actually required for the browsers that you’re supporting. Of course you can always check out caniuse.com to check the prefixes you need for your use case but that’s something you don’t want to do on a daily basis.

And even if you knew all the prefixes you probably wouldn’t know the syntax for each property. For example, take flexbox. Flexbox uses several implementations across several browsers and writing a full stack of vendor prefixes for it would look a little bit like this:

Using autoprofixer you can just write this and it will output the above prefixes for you:

Much better, right?

How does it work?

Autoprefixer uses caniuse.com to figure out what prefixes it should use. When you use autoprefixer you can always define what browser you want to support. You can define the browsers in a very natural way, for example you could pass it > 5%  which tells it to only support browsers that have more than 5% share in the market.

It then scans your entire css for properties that require prefixes and it automatically adds them to your css. Simple enough, right?

Setting this up for yourself

I will use Gulp to set up autoprefixer. If you’re unfamiliar with Gulp, I’ve written a post on getting started with it. I recommend you read that before you continue. If you’ve used Gulp before, grab your gulpfile and open a terminal window.

First of all we should install the gulp-autoprefixer plugin. Do this by typing npm install —save-dev gulp-autoprefixer . If you get permission errors you might have to run this command as sudo ( sudo npm install —save-dev gulp-autoprefixer). Now that we have that set up we can add gulp-autoprefixer to our css task like this:

If you already use gulp only lines 9-11 will be important to you. What’s going on here is just a regular css compile task. We take all our .scss files and stream them to the sass plugin so they will be compiled. After doing that we stream the compiled css to the autoprefixer which will add all the vendor prefixes we need. Then the output gets saved and you’re done, you can write prefix-free css now!

A note about the above code

After publishing this I received a note from Andrey Sitnik, the author of Autoprefixer, saying that gulp-postcss should be used over gulp-autoprefixer. Below is an example of using autoprefixer with gulp-postcss. To use this you should first install both packages:  npm install --save-dev gulp-postcss autoprefixer-core .

Example code:

The nice thing about using postcss is that you can combine multiple postprocessors. That makes it more powerful that just using gulp-autoprefixer.

How about Bourbon?

Bourbon is a sass mixing library that has many features, one of which is prefixing css. It does this by providing mixins to you that will prefix the css you pass it. An example:

When you compile your sass this will output properly prefixed css. The big plus for this is that you have one plugin less in your gulp file because sass (with some help of bourbon) is now prefixing your css. However, you still have to remember what properties use prefixes. That in itself isn’t bad, it’s good to know what you’re working with but it’s also easy to forget to use the mixin and end up with forgotten prefixes.

Wrapping up

In this post I’ve explained to you, briefly, why you shouldn’t be writing your own vendor prefixes. It’s easy to forget some and they’re high maintenance. I also explained to you that a gulp plugin called gulp-autoprefixer can make your live a lot easier by automagically prefixing css rules that require a vendor prefix.

I also showed you really quick that you can use Bourbon to achieve effectively the same thing but it’s a little bit more high maintenance than using autoprefixer.

The main point is, you don’t have to write prefixes yourself. There are two very nice tools out there and each has it’s own pro’s and con’s. I personally prefer autoprefixer because it uses caniuse.com to figure out what it should prefix and I can have 0 worries about remembering what properties need prefixing.