Tidy Stylesheets in Rails

It's very easy for a site's CSS to grow a single giant, brittle stylesheet. It becomes impossible to change anything because of bizarre interactions between elements, unexpected interactions, and simply because it's just too big for anyone to understand. Much of programming is managing complexity, and I'll share a nice technique in that vein.

I like to break down stylesheets so there's a site-wide stylesheet with global stylings like fonts, the site's template, and common elements. This is the file that metastasizes on you.

My solution is to break down stylesheets by controller and action, and Rails makes this quite easy:

# app/views/layout/application.rb
<%= stylesheet_link_tag *(['global'] + @stylesheets) %>
# app/controllers/application.rb
class ApplicationController < ActionController::Base
  before_filter :add_stylesheets

  def initialize
    @stylesheets = []

  def add_stylesheets
    ["#{controller_name}/_controller", "#{controller_name}/#{action_name}"].each do |stylesheet|
      @stylesheets << stylesheet if File.exists? "#{Dir.pwd}/stylesheets/#{stylesheet}.css"

This code automatically loads stylesheets for the controller and the action if they exist. The subdivision allows you to make them as compact and specific as possible. If a partial needs its own code, write at the top:

<% @styleshets << "controller/_partial_name" %>

Nice and tidy.