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Top 5 Strategies to Maintain Order and Efficiency in Tailwind CSS Projects


The second criterion your project must meet is utilizing a Component-Based Approach

  1. Opt for Minimal Utility Classes Where Feasible

The essence of Tailwind CSS lies in its use of utility classes for styling HTML elements. However, each additional class incorporated into an element introduces a layer of complexity. This complexity is not just a challenge for other developers who may work with the code in the future but also for you when you revisit your code. While using multiple utility classes is a fundamental aspect of Tailwind, it's advisable to minimize their usage as much as possible.

  1. Strategically Organize and Semantically Name Design Tokens
  2. Maintain a Consistent Order in Class Assignments
  3. Prioritize Minimizing Build Size
  4. Strategies for Avoiding Inconsistencies in Overriding and Extending Styles

Summarizing the effective use and potential pitfalls of Tailwind CSS:

Tailwind CSS is widely acclaimed for its quick and straightforward approach to web design, offering a user-friendly experience where developers can simply embed various class lists into HTML, instantly enhancing the interface's aesthetic appeal. This ease of use has contributed to Tailwind's popularity in the web development community. However, as applications become more complex and the class lists expand, developers might face increasing challenges in navigating and understanding their code. This complexity can lead to confusion over the application's structure and the roles of certain 'magic variables,' turning the development process into a cumbersome task. The focus of this article is to guide avoiding these complications and maintaining efficiency when utilizing Tailwind CSS.

To mitigate potential issues and effectively leverage Tailwind CSS, it's crucial to use it accurately and judiciously. However, it's important to note that your project must meet two essential criteria for Tailwind CSS to be a helpful tool rather than a hindrance.

The first criterion is a specific aspect of using Tailwind CSS effectively: the importance of incorporating a design system within your project. 

Tailwind CSS's philosophy is in harmony with the concept of a design system, where both designers and developers employ consistent design tokens. These tokens are the elemental values—such as colors, spacing, and typography scales—that define the aesthetic characteristics of a design and are consistently applied across the project.

To illustrate, let's consider a practical example involving a standard button and a set of tabs within a project. Both the button and the tabs are intended to share the same color, defined in the CSS as follows:

.button {

  background-color: oklch(45% 0.2 270);


.tab {

  background-color: oklch(45% 0.2 270);


In this scenario, the.button classes are assigned a background color using the oklch function with specific parameters. Should there be a need to modify the project's color scheme, every instance of this color needs to be identified and updated accordingly. This process can be cumbersome and prone to inconsistencies, as this color is akin to a 'magic variable.' Consequently, this makes maintaining the project more challenging and less streamlined.

Design tokens play a pivotal role in ensuring consistency and uniformity across various user interface elements, effectively preventing issues related to code complexity and maintenance in Tailwind CSS.

To integrate design tokens into a Tailwind CSS project, the process begins with defining these tokens within the tailwind.config.js file. This configuration acts as a centralized repository for design-related values, allowing for more streamlined and organized code management. An example configuration is as follows:


module.exports = {

  theme: {

    colors: {

      primary: 'oklch(45% 0.2 270)'




In this setup, a new color token named primary is defined, which utilizes the oklch function to set a specific color value. Once this token is established, it can be applied across various elements of the application. For instance, to use this primary color for backgrounds and text, you can simply use the classes bg-primary for background color and text-primary for text color. For example:

<button class="bg-primary">Standard button</button>

<div class="bg-primary">First tab</div>

The significant advantage of this approach is the ease of updating the color scheme. If there's a need to change the color, you only need to modify the primary color definition in tailwind.config.js, and the change will propagate throughout the entire application where this token is used.

However, it is crucial to note the importance of having a design system in place before using Tailwind CSS. Without a design system, developers might find themselves falling back on using 'magic values' directly in the class lists (such as 'p-[123px] mb-[11px] gap-[3px]'), or adding an excessive number of new tokens for minor variations (like 15px, 16px, and 17px in the spacing configuration). Such practices can lead to a disorganized and cluttered codebase, negating the benefits of using Tailwind CSS. Therefore, a well-thought-out design system is essential to avoid these pitfalls and maintain a clean, efficient code structure.

Adopting a consistent design system is beneficial as it fosters better understanding and collaboration between development and design teams.

Take, for example, using Figma as a design tool. Here, it's possible to have a centralized, shared reference for all values defined in your design system. However, to truly make this system efficient and easy to maintain, it's essential to implement specific conventions for how tokens are grouped and named. This aspect will be explored more comprehensively later in the article.

The second criterion your project must meet is utilizing a Component-Based Approach

This is a crucial requirement for effectively employing Tailwind CSS. The utility-first nature of Tailwind often leads to HTML structures that are verbose and cluttered, as Tailwind classes are applied directly to elements. This becomes particularly problematic as your project scales, making the markup challenging to read and maintain.

The optimal solution to this issue is to embrace a component-based approach. This strategy involves encapsulating frequently used patterns—in this instance, HTML elements that appear multiple times—as distinct components.

By adopting a component-based methodology, not only do we adhere to the DRY (Don't Repeat Yourself) principle, but we also maintain a unified source of truth for our Tailwind styles. These styles can then be updated collectively in a single location. For example:

<!-- A button with an extensive list of Tailwind classes: -->

<button class="bg-yellow-700 border-2 font-semibold border border-gray-300 text-green p-4 rounded">

  Custom Button


<!-- Instead of duplicating this structure, create a reusable component: -->

<CustomButton>Custom Button</CustomButton>

If your development environment does not support splitting code into components, the utility-first approach of Tailwind might complicate the development process. In such cases, exploring other CSS frameworks, like CSS modules, might be more appropriate.

Another vital aspect of a component-based approach is to be cautious with the use of the @apply directive.

.block {

  @apply bg-red-500 text-white p-4 rounded-lg active:  bg-blue-700 active:text-yellow-300 hover:bg-blue-500 hover:text-yellow-300;


While the @apply directive might seem to simplify the code, it negates some of Tailwind's primary benefits, such as reduced cognitive load in naming CSS classes and avoiding regressions in style changes. Styles are not isolated within the component when using @apply, which can also lead to an increase in the size of the CSS bundle. The creators of Tailwind CSS have underscored the significance of using the @apply directive judiciously in their documentation.

If your project satisfies both of these criteria, Tailwind CSS could be an excellent choice for your framework. Adopting these practices will significantly enhance your long-term experience with Tailwind CSS.

To enhance your long-term experience with Tailwind CSS, it's crucial to adopt certain practices that streamline your workflow:

1. Opt for Minimal Utility Classes Where Feasible

The essence of Tailwind CSS lies in its use of utility classes for styling HTML elements. However, each additional class incorporated into an element introduces a layer of complexity. This complexity is not just a challenge for other developers who may work with the code in the future but also for you when you revisit your code. While using multiple utility classes is a fundamental aspect of Tailwind, it's advisable to minimize their usage as much as possible.

Here are some strategies to reduce the number of utility classes while achieving the same styling objectives:


  • Instead of using separate classes for padding like pt-4 pb-4, simply use py-4. This principle can be similarly applied to padding and margin classes along the x and y axes, such as px, mx, and my.


  • For flexbox-related classes, rather than combining flex flex-row justify-between, you can streamline it to flex justify-between. This is because flex-row is the default setting for the flex-direction property in CSS. Familiarizing yourself with the default values of other CSS properties, like flex-wrap, can also be beneficial in identifying similar simplifications.


  • When dealing with border properties, instead of a lengthy class list like border border-dotted border-2 border-black border-opacity-50, you can condense it to border-dotted border-2 border-black/50. This shorthand approach is effective as border-2 implicitly indicates that the border is set, and border-black/50 is a more succinct way of specifying the RGBA format.

Adopting these methods not only reduces the clutter of class lists but also makes it significantly easier to understand and analyze the structure of your application when you return to it later. This approach is integral to maintaining clarity and efficiency in your Tailwind CSS projects.

2. Strategically Organize and Semantically Name Design Tokens

In team environments, it's widely acknowledged that clean coding practices, such as clear and logical naming of variables, are crucial for the long-term viability of a project. This principle holds even when working solo, as it helps prevent confusion when revisiting a project after some time.

The importance of this approach is magnified when dealing with Tailwind CSS, given its extensive use of classes and design tokens. Without careful management, the sheer volume of these tokens can lead to disarray in your code.

Previously, we discussed the benefits of utilizing design tokens in Tailwind CSS. However, merely inserting these tokens indiscriminately into the tailwind.config.js file can result in disorganization. To avoid this, it's essential to group related tokens together in the configuration file. This structured approach ensures that tokens for specific categories, like breakpoints, colors, etc., are contained in dedicated sections, thereby preventing them from intermingling and causing confusion.


module.exports = {

  theme: {

    colors: {

      primary: 'oklch(75% 0.18 154)',

      secondary: 'oklch(40% 0.23 283)',

      error: 'oklch(54% 0.22 29)'


    spacing: {

      'sm': '4px',

      'md': '8px',

      'lg': '12px'


    screens: {

      'sm': '640px',

      'md': '768px'





An additional critical aspect is maintaining a consistent, semantic naming convention for your tokens. This practice greatly simplifies the process of locating and utilizing the necessary tokens, and it facilitates the system's expansion as the application evolves.

For instance, when adding a color specifically for error states, rather than directly copying a bright-red color token from a Figma file into the Tailwind configuration, it's better to place it within the colors section and label it with an intuitive name-like error. This method ensures greater coherence and understandability in your design system.

3. Maintain a Consistent Order in Class Assignments

Adhering to a consistent order for in-class assignments is another crucial clean-coding convention. This practice enhances the readability and comprehension of the code. Consider the following examples, where HTML elements are styled with unsorted classes:

<div class="p-2 w-1/2 flex bg-black h-2 font-bold">

  The first block has unsorted classes


<div class="italic font-mono bg-white p-4 h-2 w-3 flex">

  The second block has unsorted classes


In these examples, the classes, which pertain to various categories such as box model, display, and typography, are arranged without any logical order. To improve clarity, these classes can be organized by category, following a uniform sequence:

 <div class="flex h-2 w-1/2 bg-black p-2 font-bold">

      The first block with sorted classes


    <div class="flex h-2 w-3 bg-white p-4 font-mono italic">


The second block has sorted classes


Manually maintaining such an order can be time-consuming and requires constant vigilance. A more efficient solution is to automate this process using tools like the official Prettier plugin for Tailwind CSS. This plugin assists in systematically organizing classes based on predefined criteria, thereby saving time and ensuring consistent structure across your codebase. To gain a deeper understanding of how to set up this plugin and the methodology behind the class sorting, it is recommended to refer to specific articles and resources dedicated to this topic. This approach not only streamlines your workflow but also significantly contributes to maintaining a cleaner and more organized code structure.

4. Prioritize Minimizing Build Size

Keeping the bundle size minimal is essential, as large build sizes lead to slow-loading pages, poor performance, and ultimately, user dissatisfaction.

Although Tailwind CSS offers a vast array of utility classes, it's unlikely that all of them will be utilized in a single project. The key question then becomes: how can we ensure that unused styles do not bloat our production build?

For those using Tailwind version 3.0 or higher, the Just-in-Time (JIT) engine is already a default feature in the project. This engine dynamically generates CSS styles as they are required, eliminating the need to manually purge unused styles for production builds.

However, if your project is based on an older version of Tailwind, additional steps are needed to optimize the build size. One effective method is using PurgeCSS, a tool specifically designed to remove unused CSS. Detailed guidance on implementing this for Tailwind version 2.1 and older is available in certain articles. Additionally, JIT mode can be manually activated in your tailwind.config.js file with the following configuration:


module.exports = {

  mode: 'jit',



Activating JIT mode ensures that only the necessary styles are included in your bundle.

Another crucial aspect of optimization is the minification of the final CSS for production. The minification process involves removing all non-essential characters (such as whitespace, comments, etc.), significantly reducing file size.

When using the Tailwind CLI, minification can be accomplished by adding the --minify flag:

npx tailwindcss -o build.css --minify

For those who have installed Tailwind as a PostCSS plugin, the cssnano tool can be employed for minification by incorporating it into your list of plugins.

Without these optimization measures, the CSS bundle can become excessively large, even for small projects with a few styled components. Implementing minification and enabling JIT mode can result in a size reduction of over 30%. To achieve this, simply apply the minify flag and activate JIT mode as outlined above.

For more detailed information on minification and compression techniques specific to Tailwind, refer to the relevant section of the documentation.

A final tip: if your project includes design tokens, ensure they are all actively used. Unused design tokens can create confusion among developers, complicate the configuration, and introduce unnecessary clutter into your design system.

5. Strategies for Avoiding Inconsistencies in Overriding and Extending Styles

In Tailwind CSS, managing the customization of component styles, such as a custom button, can often lead to potential inconsistencies. For instance, consider a scenario where a custom button component is used:

<Button className="bg-black" />

Suppose the Button component is predefined with a default style:

export const Button = () => {

  return <button className="bg-white">Test button</button>


In this case, despite specifying bg-black in the usage, the button will retain its default white background. This occurs because Tailwind doesn't automatically override styles. To address this, you can modify the Button component to allow for className customization:

export const Button = ({ className = "bg-white" }) => {

  return <button className={className}>Test button</button>


While this method does provide customization, it has its downsides. Allowing utility classes to be passed as props can result in inconsistent appearances across different instances of the same component, as it encourages using varied utility combinations.

To mitigate this issue, one effective approach is to define a set of predefined style variants:



  primary: "bg-blue-500 hover:bg-blue-600 text-white",

  secondary: "bg-gray-500 hover:bg-gray-600 text-white",

  danger: "bg-red-500 hover:bg-red-600 text-white"


Then, adapt the Button component to accept a variant prop. Utilizing a utility like clsx can make constructing the className more convenient.

export const Button = ({ className, variant = BUTTON_VARIANTS.primary }) => {

  return <button className={clsx(className, variant)}>Test Button</button>


clsx is particularly useful for conditionally constructing class names. By using the constructed className and passing the desired variant:

<Button variant="secondary" />

This ensures consistency while retaining flexibility to introduce or modify variants for the component.

Moreover, this method simplifies maintenance as changes to utility classes can be centralized, affecting all components using that variant.

Alternatively, if predefined variants are not preferred, the tailwind-merge package can be used. It provides a twMerge function to merge Tailwind classes in JavaScript without style conflicts. However, this approach should be used judiciously, as it can increase the bundle size and should only be applied when necessary.

Summarizing the effective use and potential pitfalls of Tailwind CSS:

When to use Tailwind CSS:

Existing Design System and Consistent Design Tokens: Tailwind CSS shines when used in projects with an established design system and consistent design tokens. This foundation ensures uniformity and eases the integration of Tailwind's utility-first approach.


Component-Based Approach: Embracing a component-based architecture is essential. Without segmenting reusable elements into components, Tailwind can lead to cumbersome, repetitive, or verbose HTML structures.

Best Practices for Using Tailwind CSS:

Minimize utility classes: Reducing the number of utility classes helps maintain code clarity and reduces complexity.


Code Conventions: Establish clear coding conventions within your team, such as logically grouping design tokens and using semantic naming.


Class Ordering: Implement and maintain consistent class ordering. Utilizing linters can aid in enforcing this discipline, ensuring a cleaner and more organized code.


Minimize Bundle Sizes: Focus on including only necessary styles and always minify the CSS for production builds to improve performance.


Predefined Component Variants: Defining a set of variants for components can prevent inconsistencies and simplify style overriding.

By adhering to these guidelines, Tailwind CSS can be a highly efficient and enjoyable tool for web development projects. These practices enable teams to harness Tailwind's full potential, ensuring long-term success and allowing for a full appreciation of the benefits it offers.

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