Python vs. CSS: how can you compare these two languages? Let’s pretend you’re shopping for a laptop online. When you visit a site like Best Buy or Microsoft, what do you see? You see buttons, menus, images, and text — each store’s website follows a design. CSS, or “Cascading Style Sheets,” is the primary building block of this design. In other words, it is the styling language for websites.
Python, although not used for styling websites, serves a much broader purpose. Compared to CSS, Python is a much more versatile language. But what are the main differences? And what are the specific use cases for each one?
In today’s article, we’re going to check out these two technologies and compare and contrast them so you know what to expect if you’re a student hoping to learn them, or just curious about how the web works.
What Is Python?
To understand the difference between these two languages, we’ll have to break them down separately. Let’s talk about Python first. Python (released in 1991) is a general-purpose programming language that became popular due to its ease of use.
Python is popular because you can build software for all kinds of industries: website development, machine learning, healthcare, and even the Internet of Things.
Places that use Python for internal development and back-end software include tech companies Google, Microsoft, Amazon, and yes, the United States federal government. Check out Python on Google Cloud to see a cloud environment for building and running Python apps.
On a shopping or e-commerce website, developers would use Python to check the store’s inventory against your search terms and tell the website which items to display. When you click “buy,” a few things happen behind the scenes; your payment is verified, the item is reserved, and someone is alerted to ship it — this can all be done in Python.
Pros and Cons of Python
Older programming languages like C/C++ require developers to understand concepts like how memory is stored in a computer. If you didn’t know much about memory management, the software you built could become increasingly slower and crash your computer. Python abstracts such concepts for you.
Python is also popular because its syntax is easier to read and simpler to learn. While other languages use brackets and semicolons, Python uses indents (white space) to logically interpret the code. Python is also concise; it takes fewer characters to do the same thing as you might in C/C++ or Java.
Simplicity does come with a cost. Python code can be slower than other languages, but the concept of “slower” is relative. If you’re writing a script and it takes 5 seconds to run VS 4, how much does speed matter to you?
If it costs less time to write it in Python, the added cost at runtime probably doesn’t matter that much. However, if you’re writing for something real-time with high stakes (think satellite navigation or financial trading), Python is probably not the language for you.
What Is CSS?
CSS (released in 1996) is a style sheet language for describing the look and feel (i.e. style) of a website. CSS works hand-in-hand with HTML, a markup language for describing the structure and content of a website. Additionally, CSS is the near-universal standard, as over 95% of the web uses it today.
In your typical website, developers use CSS to describe the layout, colors, text sizes, shadows, positions, and even animations. Do you want blue buttons with size 14 font? Do you want the text to be left-aligned?
Or do you want to change the width of widgets, depending on if it’s on mobile or desktop? You’d use CSS to describe all of the above, in tandem with HTML, to dictate when to apply each style using classes and ids.
Pros and Cons of CSS
The advantage of using CSS (vs. not using CSS, since there’s no similar alternative) is being able to customize the look and feel of your site. Without it, your site would look like a text editor or like it was stuck in the 90s — which is not a bad thing if that’s the look you’re going for.
A huge benefit of CSS is being able to separate your content from the presentation. You can technically write 20 web page documents using HTML + CSS, but you’d have to make sure that the CSS is the same across all 20 documents of varying content.
What’s better is writing content in each of the 20 documents with HTML, and standardizing the style into 1 document with CSS. Now you only have to maintain your style in 1 document, applied to all 20 documents of text.
To see the power of separating presentation from content, check out the CSS Zen Garden. Click a style on the right (we suggest our favorites, “Apothecary” and “Garments”) to change how the website looks while the content remains the same. This example uses just one page; imagine the benefit with hundreds.
However, CSS is not without its disadvantages. For CSS to work, a web browser has to support it. Not all browsers support CSS in the same way.
For example, in the past, Internet Explorer was usually one of the last to support updates to CSS, despite being one of the most popular browsers in the world (a position now held by Chrome). Developers can mitigate these problems by checking compatibility, developing workarounds, or supporting older browsers with backup styles.
Where Python and CSS Overlap: Web Development
Now that we’ve covered what Python vs. CSS are, let’s dive into their overlapping domain: web development.
Web development consists of two parts: front-end development and back-end development. Front-end developers build the graphical user interface (GUI, or “interface”) of the website, the part that users can see and interact with.
Back-end developers work on whatever users can’t see or interact with; they focus on things like making sure the right data is displayed at the right time, and fast. They design databases to store information and query it quickly, and they maintain updates so the website doesn’t crash or get hacked.
All of this is called back-end development. Developers can choose from a few different languages here — Python, Java, Ruby, and PHP, to name a few. The back end also needs to interface with the front end, so functionality will have some overlap.
Python vs. CSS: Web Frameworks
You don’t have to build a website from scratch. For both CSS and Python in web development, software frameworks exist. A software framework refers to packages of standardized code that developers can import and use.
For example, common use cases include “layout a standard company page” or “create a web form.” Instead of reinventing the wheel, developers can use frameworks that other developers have already written the code for. Each framework follows its own philosophy, based on how the original developers intended it.
It does take time to familiarize yourself with a framework, but once you’ve passed that learning curve, subsequent projects will be faster than building something from scratch again.
Back-end website development covers many universal tasks: querying a database, performing calculations, or testing for quality assurance. Two of the most popular Python frameworks for web development are Django (released in 2003) and Flask (released in 2010).
Django is a high-level, one-stop shop for website development for both front-end and back-end functionality, with an emphasis on minimal coding. While a one-stop shop is great, Django can be overly complicated for small projects, and its architecture follows a specific viewpoint — it’s not easy to use Django in ways the authors did not intend.
Flask, on the other hand, focuses on optimizing a subset of functions (mainly in back-end functionality), with an emphasis on flexibility. If you have coding experience and want to plug and play Flask into your current codebase, Flask is the one for you. However, if you have a complex project, the cost of overhead with Flask won’t make it the right choice; the more standard Django may be better for you long-term.
CSS frameworks are great when you’re looking for a design off-the-shelf vs. building one from scratch. Bonus: frameworks often comply with web design standards (i.e. for accessibility), taking another thing off your plate. Two of the most popular CSS frameworks are Bootstrap and Tailwind.
Bootstrap comes with an expansive library and is based on a grid system. When it first came out, it became so popular that websites all started to look the same (dubbed the “bootstrap” look).
Nowadays, it’s more customizable, and people actually customize it, but it still follows a standard. The good thing about Bootstrap’s popularity is its substantial community support. If your site has a use case where visitors expect a certain look — company site, eCommerce, blog, etc. — Bootstrap will do the trick.
If you want more customizability and a unique look, that’s where Tailwind comes in. Tailwind does have elements off-the-shelf, so you don’t have to start from scratch, but you do need to be comfortable getting hands-on with the code to build something of your own.
Python vs. CSS: How to Learn
We’ve focused on web development in this article, since that’s where Python and CSS overlap. If you’re interested in learning more about web development, Python, CSS, or some combination of the above, check out the following resources:
- Python (text): introtopython.org
- Python (video): MIT OpenCourseWare
- CSS (text): Mozilla Developer
- CSS (video): freeCodeCamp
Study Programming Books
No matter which language you want to learn, books are always a great resource. Both Python and CSS have plenty of great books to choose from.
- Large info-graphics used to help simplify new or complex concepts
- Printed in full-color
- Code samples
- Each topic is presented on a new page for easy reference
Jon Duckett’s HTML & CSS: Design and Build Web Sites is one of the most popular books on web development, with loads of helpful info about CSS. If you want something a little more advanced, the CSS Cookbook by Christopher Schmitt is an excellent resource with plenty of useful information.
As for Python, the most respected author in the field is Al Sweigart, with his best-selling book Automate the Boring Stuff with Python. This book delves into Python and takes you from a beginner to moderately advanced pretty quickly.
- 2nd edition includes a new chapter on input validation, Gmail and Google Sheets automation, tips for updating CSV files, and more
- Covers all the basics of Python 3
- Step-by-step instructions
Once you’ve finished Al Sweigart’s book, you can check out Python Crash Course by Eric Matthes, which explores some more advanced topics.
Build Your Own Projects
Additionally, you should learn by building your own projects. There is, perhaps, no better way to learn than by getting your hands dirty with some actual projects that test your problem-solving abilities.
Follow Coding Tutorials
If you don’t know where to even start, try following along with a coding tutorial on YouTube. Look for a simple project to start with. Some of the most popular programming teachers on YouTube include Programming With Mosh or Corey Shafer.
Future Trends: Python vs. CSS
Both languages have an active community of developers constantly updating them and staying on the cutting edge. Let’s look at what the future holds for Python and CSS.
Trends in Python
Remember how we mentioned Python isn’t used for front-end development? Some people are trying to change exactly that. These frameworks are still in their infancy, but it’s an exciting development. See some projects here:
Trends in CSS
Staying up-to-date on CSS will keep you ahead of the game — just test them on your browsers first! Check out some new features here:
- CSS Grid – design content via responsive grids
- Container Queries – apply styles based on a parent container vs. browser width
Python vs. VSS: Which One Is Better? Which Should You Choose?
Python and CSS are both popular languages that aren’t going anywhere soon. Each one has a distinct use case, so there is no question of whether or not one is better than the other.
While CSS is there to help you style your website and control its look and design, Python will help you out if you’re trying to automate something with a script, or even build a complex web application.
No doubt, you’ll use both languages all the time if you are trying to become a web designer or developer, since their popularity is undeniable. Fortunately, they are both easy to learn for a beginner, and powerful enough for an expert to enjoy.
The image featured at the top of this post is ©whiteMocca/Shutterstock.com.