What’s the Difference Between Sass and SCSS?

I’ve written a lot lately on Sass, but some recent comments made it clear that not everyone knows exactly what Sass refers to. Here's a bit of clarity:

When we talk about Sass, we usually refer to the preprocessor and the language as a whole. We'll say, for example, "we are using Sass", or "here is a Sass mixin". Meanwhile, Sass (the preprocessor) allows two different syntaxes:

  • Sass, also known as the indented syntax
  • SCSS, a CSS-like syntax


Initially, Sass was part of another preprocessor called Haml, designed and written by Ruby developers. Because of that, Sass stylesheets were using a Ruby-like syntax with no braces, no semi-colons and a strict indentation, like this:

// Variable
!primary-color= hotpink

// Mixin
    -webkit-border-radius= !radius
    -moz-border-radius= !radius
    border-radius= !radius

    color= !primary-color
    width= 100%
    overflow= hidden


As you can see, this is quite a change compared to regular CSS! Even if you're a Sass (the preprocessor) user, you can see this is pretty different from what we are used to. The variable sign is ! and not $, the assignment sign is = and not :. Pretty weird.

But that's how Sass looked like until version 3.0 arrived in May 2010, introducing a whole new syntax called SCSS for Sassy CSS. This syntax aimed at closing the gap between Sass and CSS by bringing a CSS-friendly syntax.

// Variable
$primary-color: hotpink;

// Mixin
@mixin border-radius($radius) {
    -webkit-border-radius: $radius;
    -moz-border-radius: $radius;
    border-radius: $radius;

.my-element {
    color: $primary-color;
    width: 100%;
    overflow: hidden;

.my-other-element {
    @include border-radius(5px);

SCSS is definitely closer to CSS than Sass. That being said, Sass maintainers have also worked to make both syntaxes closer to each other by moving ! (variable sign) and = (assignment sign) from the indented syntax to $ and : from SCSS.

Now, when starting a new project, you may wonder which syntax you should use. Let me enlighten the path and explain the pros and cons of each syntax.

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