Foundation vs Primer


In the world of web development, CSS frameworks are essential tools that help developers create responsive, consistent, and visually appealing websites quickly. Two popular frameworks that often come up in discussions are Foundation and Primer. This article aims to delve into the details of both frameworks, comparing their features, usability, and how they can be implemented in your projects.

What is Foundation?

Foundation is an advanced, responsive front-end framework created by ZURB. It is designed to be both feature-rich and flexible, providing developers with a set of HTML, CSS, and JavaScript tools to create responsive websites and applications. Foundation is known for its mobile-first approach, which ensures that websites are optimized for smaller screens before scaling up to larger ones.

Key Features of Foundation

  • Responsive Grid: Foundation offers a flexible grid system that can be easily customized for any screen size.
  • UI Components: A wide range of pre-styled components such as navigation bars, buttons, and forms.
  • JavaScript Plugins: Enhance the user experience with interactive elements like modals, tooltips, and sliders.
  • Customization: Through Sass variables, developers can tailor the framework to their specific needs.

Documentation and Installation

To get started with Foundation, you can visit their documentation page. For installation, Foundation offers several methods including a CSS download, Sass installation, and package managers like npm.

What is Primer?

Primer is the CSS framework that powers GitHub’s user interface. It is designed with the principles of GitHub’s design system and is optimized for performance and accessibility. Primer provides a solid foundation for building web interfaces that are consistent with the GitHub look and feel.

Key Features of Primer

  • Design System: Primer is built with a design system in mind, ensuring consistency across GitHub’s UI.
  • Utility Classes: Offers a range of utility classes for spacing, typography, and color.
  • Components: Contains a set of pre-built components that are used on GitHub, ensuring UI consistency.
  • Accessibility: Designed with accessibility best practices, making it a great choice for inclusive design.

Documentation and Installation

Primer’s documentation is comprehensive, covering all aspects of the framework. For installation, Primer can be included in your project via npm or by using a direct CSS download.

Comparing Foundation and Primer

When choosing between Foundation and Primer, it’s important to consider the specific needs of your project. Foundation is a more general-purpose framework with a broad range of components and extensive customization options. On the other hand, Primer is more specialized, focusing on GitHub-style interfaces with an emphasis on accessibility.

Use Cases

  • Foundation: Ideal for developers looking for a versatile framework with a mobile-first approach. It’s suitable for a wide range of projects from simple websites to complex web applications.
  • Primer: Best for projects that require a GitHub-like interface or prioritize accessibility. It’s also a good choice for developers who prefer a design system that is ready to use out of the box.

Community and Support

Both frameworks have active communities and are well-supported, with ongoing updates and documentation. However, Foundation has been around longer and has a larger community, which may offer more third-party resources and plugins.

Third-Party Addons or Libraries


  • Motion UI: A Sass library for creating custom CSS transitions and animations.
  • Foundation Building Blocks: A set of pre-made HTML templates for different components and layouts.


  • Octicons: GitHub’s icon set that is designed to work seamlessly with Primer.
  • Primer Components: A React implementation of Primer’s design system for developers using React in their projects.

Code Samples

Let’s look at some basic code samples to illustrate how Foundation and Primer can be used to create a simple responsive navbar.

Foundation Navbar Example

<link rel="stylesheet" href="path/to/foundation.min.css">

<nav class="top-bar">
  <div class="top-bar-left">
    <ul class="dropdown menu" data-dropdown-menu>
      <li class="menu-text">Site Title</li>
      <li><a href="#">One</a></li>
      <li><a href="#">Two</a></li>

<script src="path/to/jquery.js"></script>
<script src="path/to/what-input.js"></script>
<script src="path/to/foundation.min.js"></script>

Primer Navbar Example

<link rel="stylesheet" href="path/to/primer.css">

<header class="Header">
  <div class="Header-item">
    <a href="#" class="Header-link f4">Site Title</a>
  <div class="Header-item">
    <nav class="UnderlineNav">
      <div class="UnderlineNav-body">
        <a href="#" class="UnderlineNav-item">One</a>
        <a href="#" class="UnderlineNav-item">Two</a>

The above examples demonstrate the basic syntax and classes used by Foundation and Primer to create a navigation bar. Notice the differences in approach: Foundation relies on JavaScript to enhance the components, whereas Primer focuses on the styling and structure with minimal JavaScript dependency.

In the next section, we will continue to explore more advanced topics such as customization, responsive design, and best practices when working with each framework. Stay tuned for the second half of this comprehensive guide to Foundation vs Primer.

Advanced Customization

Both Foundation and Primer offer extensive customization options to align the frameworks with your specific design requirements. Let’s explore how both frameworks handle advanced customization.

Foundation Customization

Foundation allows developers to customize the framework by using Sass variables. You can modify the grid system, color schemes, font stacks, and much more. The customization process involves setting up a Sass compiler and adjusting the _settings.scss file before compiling your CSS.

// Example of customizing Foundation with Sass
$primary-color: #ff0000; // Redefining the primary color
$font-family-sans-serif: 'Helvetica Neue', Helvetica, Arial, sans-serif; // Changing the default font

@import 'foundation';

By changing the Sass variables, you can tailor the look and feel of your website while still benefiting from the robustness of the Foundation framework.

Primer Customization

Primer, being a part of a design system, is less flexible than Foundation when it comes to customization. It is designed to enforce consistency across GitHub’s UI. However, you can still override the default styles by adding your custom CSS after the Primer CSS file.

/* Example of customizing Primer with CSS */
.Header {
  background-color: #ff0000; /* Changing the header background color */

.UnderlineNav-item {
  font-family: 'Helvetica Neue', Helvetica, Arial, sans-serif; /* Customizing the font */

Customization in Primer is straightforward but limited compared to Foundation. It’s best to stick with Primer’s design guidelines for a cohesive GitHub-like user experience.

Responsive Design

Responsive design is a cornerstone of modern web development. Both Foundation and Primer are built with responsiveness in mind, but they approach it differently.

Foundation’s Responsive Grid

Foundation’s grid system is one of its most powerful features. It uses a mobile-first approach, meaning styles are crafted for small screens by default and then adapted for larger screens using media queries.

<div class="grid-x grid-padding-x">
  <div class="small-12 medium-6 large-4 cell">...</div>
  <div class="small-12 medium-6 large-8 cell">...</div>

In this example, the grid divides into two columns on medium screens and different proportions on large screens, while stacking on small devices.

Primer’s Responsive Utilities

Primer provides utility classes for responsiveness, allowing you to show or hide elements at specific breakpoints.

<div class="d-block d-md-none">Visible on small devices</div>
<div class="d-none d-md-block">Visible on medium devices and up</div>

These classes give you control over the visibility of elements based on the screen size, without the need for a complex grid system.

Best Practices

When working with either Foundation or Primer, there are several best practices you should follow:

  • Semantic HTML: Use meaningful HTML5 elements to ensure accessibility and SEO benefits.
  • Mobile-First: Design for small screens first and then enhance for larger screens.
  • Accessibility: Keep accessibility in mind, using ARIA attributes and ensuring keyboard navigability.
  • Performance: Minimize the use of heavy JavaScript plugins and optimize images to ensure fast loading times.


Foundation and Primer are both powerful CSS frameworks, each with its unique strengths. Foundation is versatile and highly customizable, making it suitable for a wide range of projects. Primer, on the other hand, is perfect for creating interfaces that align with GitHub’s design system and prioritize accessibility.

When choosing between the two, consider the specific needs of your project, the level of customization required, and whether you need a comprehensive design system out of the box. Both frameworks have extensive documentation and community support to help you get started:

Ultimately, the right framework for you will depend on your project goals, design philosophy, and the user experience you aim to create. Whether you choose Foundation or Primer, you’ll have a robust starting point for building responsive, modern web applications.

Remember to always keep in mind the best practices of web development, and you’ll be well on your way to creating websites that are not only visually appealing but also functional and accessible to all users.

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