Pure.css vs Primer

When it comes to designing web applications, the choice of a CSS framework can greatly influence the development process, performance, and aesthetics of the project. Pure.css and Primer are two notable players in the realm of CSS frameworks, each with its own strengths and philosophies. In this article, we’ll delve into an in-depth comparison of Pure.css and Primer to help you make an informed decision for your next web project.

Introduction to Pure.css

Pure.css, often referred to simply as Pure, is a minimalistic approach to CSS frameworks. Developed by Yahoo, its primary focus is on being small in size and light on style. Pure is designed to be a starting point for web projects that require a lean and fast-loading set of CSS modules.

Key Features of Pure.css

  • Modularity: Pure is modular, allowing developers to include only the styles they need, which helps in keeping the overall file size down.
  • Responsive: Pure includes a responsive grid system that adapts to mobile and other device screens.
  • Minimalist: It provides bare-bones styling, which is ideal for projects that intend to build upon or customize the styles extensively.

Documentation and Installation

The documentation for Pure.css is straightforward and easy to navigate. It includes a guide on how to get started, customize, and extend the framework.

To install Pure.css, you can either download it directly from the Pure website, use a CDN, or install it via npm:

npm install purecss

Popular Add-ons and Libraries

While Pure.css is designed to be used as-is, there are some third-party add-ons and libraries that can complement it:

  • Pure.css Layouts: Pre-built layouts provided by the Pure team to help kickstart your project.
  • Skinny.js: A small collection of jQuery plugins designed to work seamlessly with Pure.

Introduction to Primer

Primer, developed by GitHub, is the CSS framework that powers the GitHub user interface. It is designed to be scalable and maintainable, making it an ideal choice for large projects and design systems.

Key Features of Primer

  • Component-Based: Primer includes a wide range of pre-designed components that can be easily customized and reused across projects.
  • Responsive: It provides a responsive grid system and utilities for building responsive layouts.
  • Customizable: Primer’s variables and mixins make it highly customizable, catering to the needs of complex design systems.

Documentation and Installation

Primer’s documentation is comprehensive and includes detailed information on how to use and customize the framework.

To install Primer, you can include it in your project via npm:

npm install @primer/css

Popular Add-ons and Libraries

Primer is designed to be extensible, and there are several tools and libraries that can be used alongside it:

  • Octicons: GitHub’s icon set that integrates well with Primer.
  • Primer Components: A React component library that implements Primer’s design system.

Code Samples

Pure.css Code Sample

Below is a simple example of how to create a responsive navigation menu using Pure.css:

<!DOCTYPE html>
  <link rel="stylesheet" href="https://unpkg.com/purecss" />
  <div class="pure-menu pure-menu-horizontal">
    <a href="#" class="pure-menu-heading pure-menu-link">Logo</a>
    <ul class="pure-menu-list">
      <li class="pure-menu-item"><a href="#" class="pure-menu-link">Home</a></li>
      <li class="pure-menu-item"><a href="#" class="pure-menu-link">About</a></li>
      <li class="pure-menu-item"><a href="#" class="pure-menu-link">Contact</a></li>

Primer Code Sample

Here is an example of creating a button with Primer:

<!DOCTYPE html>
  <link rel="stylesheet" href="https://unpkg.com/@primer/css" />
  <button class="btn btn-primary">Primary button</button>
  <button class="btn btn-secondary">Secondary button</button>

In this first half of the article, we’ve introduced both Pure.css and Primer, discussed their key features, installation processes, and provided code samples for each framework. In the next section, we will continue to explore more advanced topics, including customization options, community support, and real-world use cases for each framework. Stay tuned for the second half of this comprehensive comparison.

Customization Options

Customization is a crucial aspect of any CSS framework, as it allows developers to tailor the look and feel of their websites to match specific design requirements. Both Pure.css and Primer offer customization options, but their approaches differ.

Pure.css Customization

Pure.css is built with minimalism in mind, which means it comes with very little styling out of the box. This is intentional, as it gives developers the freedom to add their own styles without having to override too many pre-existing rules. Customization typically involves writing CSS that builds upon Pure’s base styles.

For more advanced customization, Pure allows you to create a custom build using the Rework CSS framework. This way, developers can include only the modules they need and even tweak the default styles before compiling the final CSS.

Primer Customization

Primer, on the other hand, is designed with a more robust set of default styles, as it’s meant to serve the comprehensive design system of GitHub. Customization can be done through SCSS variables, mixins, and functions. Primer’s source files are written in SCSS, which makes it easy to build a custom version of the framework by overriding the default variables and utilizing its mixins.

For example, to change the color scheme, you can override the color variables before importing the Primer SCSS files:

$blue: #1f76d3;
$red: #e36259;
$green: #28a745;

@import '@primer/css/index.scss';

This will apply your custom colors to all Primer components that use these color variables.

Community Support and Resources

The community around a CSS framework can be a valuable resource for developers. It provides a platform for sharing knowledge, getting help, and finding pre-built components and templates.

Pure.css Community

Pure.css, being a project initiated by Yahoo and now maintained by a dedicated group of contributors, has a community that is relatively small but focused. The primary resources for getting support and interacting with the community are through GitHub and Stack Overflow. There are fewer third-party resources for Pure.css compared to larger frameworks, but its simplicity means that developers can often quickly create what they need without extensive searching.

Primer Community

Primer, being associated with GitHub, has a larger community and is backed by one of the largest platforms for open-source collaboration. The Primer GitHub repository is active, and there are many issues and pull requests where developers can contribute and ask for help. Additionally, the use of Primer in GitHub’s own interface means there’s a significant amount of real-world examples to learn from.

Real-World Use Cases

When choosing a CSS framework, it’s essential to consider the types of projects it’s best suited for. Let’s look at some practical use cases for Pure.css and Primer.

Pure.css Use Cases

Pure.css is ideal for projects where performance is a priority, and the design requires a high degree of customization. It’s particularly well-suited for:

  • Small projects and single-page websites where a lightweight framework can lead to faster load times.
  • Prototyping, where you need to quickly put together a UI without heavy styling.
  • Web applications that need a clean slate for custom designs without the overhead of overriding a comprehensive set of default styles.

Primer Use Cases

Primer is designed for large-scale applications and is particularly effective for:

  • Enterprise-level projects where consistency across a large number of UI components is crucial.
  • Projects that require a mature design system with well-documented patterns and components.
  • Developers looking to leverage GitHub’s design principles and want a framework that receives regular updates and has a strong backing.


Both Pure.css and Primer offer unique benefits and are tailored to different types of projects. Pure.css provides a minimalist approach that’s great for developers who want to start with a blank canvas and have strict performance requirements. Primer, with its comprehensive component library and GitHub’s design system, is ideal for those building complex applications that need a robust and scalable CSS foundation.

When choosing between Pure.css and Primer, consider the size and scope of your project, your performance needs, and how much customization you’ll require. Each framework has its own strengths, and the right choice will depend on the specific needs of your project and your workflow preferences.

By understanding the features, customization options, community support, and use cases for Pure.css and Primer, you can make an informed decision and select the framework that will best serve your web development goals.

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