In many occupations, solving problems and finding ways to be more productive are top priorities. This is especially true for web designers and frontend developers who perform and repeat many micro-tasks. The fact we work with open web technologies that are often used to build free and open source software means we have a plethora of tools at our disposal.
In my ongoing research into web tools, I come across dozens of new options every week – scripts, plugins, WordPress themes, browser extensions, native apps, web services, libraries, frameworks, web templates, graphic packs and so much more.
After wading through the mountains of possibilities, I’ve put together a categorised list of 50 amazing web tools that can benefit web designers or frontend developers. And the best part? These web tools are all absolutely free!
HTML, CSS & Sass Tools
You’re not still writing CSS vendor prefixes by hand, are you? Keep your development files clean and let Autoprefixer (now a PostCSS plugin) do the hard work for you as part of your build process.
While Bootstrap and Foundation are the clear winners in terms of popularity in the framework space, UIkit is worth checking out. Its core features and interface components are right up there with the big kids on the block.
Mozilla’s UI library, based on the new Web Components standard. It includes a calendar, a form that can be hooked into an IndexedDB component, a tabbar and lots more.
You’re probably familiar with basic HTML and CSS validation. This tool is specifically for accessibility testing, and you can use it directly through the site or as a bookmarklet. It will test your HTML against WCAG 2.0 Level A, AA, AAA, and Section 508 compliance.
Linting has slowly overtaken validation in importance. This tool has multiple options and lets you cycle through the warnings and errors in your code.
A Chrome extension that lets you flag elements in the DOM using a domflagsattribute. When the DevTools are opened, the first flagged element will be auto-inspected, and keyboard shortcuts can be used to navigate through the flags. This tool is handy for tackling a messy DOM that’s hard to navigate.
A Sass-based layout toolkit that’s gained steam over the past year or so. It has a strong community and offers lots of customisable features to suit the needs of just about any project.
Did you get the memo? Inline CSS is a requirement for good performance. Addy Osmani’s Critical is available as a Grunt plugin, and along with Filament Group’s loadCSS script it is a great option for extracting and loading your above-the-fold styles.
Shoelace is an easy-to-use Bootstrap 3 visual grid builder. Amongst its features are responsive media query views and a fully functional preview.
13. Sass Lint
A node-based code quality tool for Sass/SCSS code, available as a Grunt or gulp plugin. Sass Lint is especially great for beginners who aren’t too familiar with Sass best practices.
Facebook’s popular library includes a virtual DOM and optional JSX syntax. Its reusable components are designed to to help anyone building large, dynamic web apps.
If you’re like me and can’t stand the thought of writing regular expressions from scratch, this is the library for you. It’s a plain-English way to write regex and since the return value compiles to the actual expression, it can be a great way to learn, too.
Skeuocard progressively enhances credit card inputs with its skeuomorphic interface. There are a few scripts like this one, but Skeuocard is one of my favourites. Users enter their details inside a realistic representation of a credit card, which automatically matches the layout of the specific card type (Visa, Mastercard etc.). They can even flip the card over to fill in the other side.
This is not just another code style linter. What’s so powerful about JSCS is that it enables you to specify your own custom style guide, against which your code is linted. Alternatively, you can choose to test your codebase against popular style guides from jQuery, Airbnb, Douglas Crockford, Wikimedia and more.
This is an embeddable rich text editor supported in all modern browsers, as well as IE 9 onwards and mobile. It offers powerful customisation options through a clean API.
jQuery plugin developers will appreciate this boilerplate, which provides a nice starting point for making plugins. The source is well commented so it’s useful for those just starting out with jQuery plugin development.
You’ve no doubt heard of ZURB’s Foundation framework. This is a separate project specifically designed for building responsive web apps. It’s based on AngularJS, but doesn’t require advanced knowledge of Angular.
CSSketch is an open source CSS plugin for Sketch, the popular Mac-based design and prototyping app. With it, you can write CSS inside Sketch, applying the styles to the items on the page in your current Sketch file.
27. Fluid for Sketch
Another Sketch plugin: this one assists with designing responsive layouts in Sketch. Fluid’s features include the ability to relatively pin, offset, centre and size objects, and use mathematical expressions.
This is a massive single resource where you can search for free stock photography from loads of different sites. It includes popular free sources such as Unsplash, along with other, lesser-known sites, to give you plenty of options for populating your designs.
There are countless options for icons, and GitHub has released its own nicely designed set. Octicons is available as an icon font (or web font), which is commonly inserted into a page using CSS pseudo-elements.
One final icon option; this time a pure CSS set built with CSS pseudo-elements.
An online colour tool that helps designers find variations of a chosen colour (e.g. for choosing hover states, contrasts, gradient colours, borders and so on). This takes away the need for guesswork with hex codes, and is great for those who design in the browser.
RWD & Mobile Tools
The popular responsive images polyfill allows you to use HTML’s new <picture>element and its associated srcset and sizes attributes in your projects today, with strong browser support.
There are loads of responsive layout testing tools, I’m only including one, because it’s all you need. ish does exactly what it should do, without an unnecessary focus on device sizes.
A simple online tool that lets you grab responsive embed codes for all sorts of popular media sources. It supports YouTube, Vimeo, Google Maps, Instagram, Vine and more.
Responsive tables are one of the most difficult layout considerations. Tablesaw is a set of jQuery plugins to help in this area, by means of features like stack, toggle, minimap and more.
A bookmarklet that provides a tool panel with which you can overlay an image of a design (with alpha setting) to compare to your work in the browser. You can also test breakpoints.
A Grunt plugin to automate tasks associated with responsive images: image resizing, rasterising of SVGs and PDFs, and lossless optimisation.
40. Email Framework
An HTML email framework to help build responsive email layouts and templates. This one offers well-tested modules, grids, typography, buttons and more.
An online tool that lets you generate the SVG code for a pie menu. As the site points out, pie menus have (surprisingly) been found to be more usable than standard nav in many instances.
An interactive interface to help explain the path element syntax for building SVGs. The editor allows you to download the completed shape in SVG format.
45. SVG Editor
With this tool you can upload an SVG file or paste in your SVG code, and it will optimise it by removing white space, unnecessary attributes, namespaces and so on, to reduce file size.
Best of the rest
The GitHub dev team’s hackable text editor for modern development. Atom comes full-featured, with packages, themes, smart auto-completion, multiple panes and more. Best of all, it can be fully customised via HTML, CSS and JS.
Browsersync is like LiveReload, but on steroids. It’s a powerful tool for synchronised cross-device testing that will live-reload your project for every edit and save in all browser instances. It even syncs up navigation and scrolling in the browser sessions. You can add CSS outlines for debugging, and a latency option enables you to mimic a slower internet connection.
Adobe’s contribution to the text editor race is an open source editor with focused visual tools, preprocessor support, and the ability to ease in-browser design through live preview. It also integrates well with Photoshop via the Extract for Brackets extension.
This is a video player from the PayPal accessibility team. It has custom controls and a keyboard-accessible and screen reader-supported UI. There are no scripting dependencies and it uses HTML5 form controls for volume and progress indicators.
50. Let’s Encrypt
If you’re looking to switch a project over to HTTPS, you’ll want to investigate this option. It’s a free, open and automated certificate authority that provides you with a hassle-free way to go secure.
Primary illustration courtesy of Tobias Hall.