Steve's Blog

Dynamic Variables in SASS (SCSS) with ASP.Net

November 05, 2013

The Problem

At work we’re in the process of building a new SAAS product which needs to be themed/skinned per customer (where the customer is a company, each with many employees).

The designer we’re working with sold me on the merits of using Compass with SCSS. The variables used in SASS are perfect for writing minimal maintainable css with the ability to apply colour changes (and more) in many places without a manual find’n’replace process through multiple css files. The challenge for me and my team is to popuplate the SASS variables in ASP.Net from the server side. This wasn’t as easy as I expected.

I checked out Nuget and StackOverflow in the hope of finding some assistance. After looking into a few options that come up through Nuget, I couldn’t find something that made this easy. And on StackOverflow, there wasn’t really any help. So it was time to get my hands dirty!

One Nuget package that I did like was SassAndCoffee. This package took care of all the Ruby-related stuff for me. It transforms .sass/.scss files as they’re requested, compiles them to plain ol’ css (and caches them). All very cool, but it relies on the .sass/.scss files being on disk. No support for dynamically generated files (for if you want to pull values out of the database/session to use as SASS variable values). I downloaded the source from the repo, and got something to work, but not in a way that I was happy with. I considered re-writing and contributing to the project on GitHub, but the repository wasn’t very active, and had open pull requests that hadn’t been looked into for over a year, plus I feared my Ruby knowledge might not be of the required standard.

I was trying to use the @import command to import a client-specific .scss file into the main .scss file for the website. This failed, as the ruby tool which compiles .scss to css required any imported files to be saved on the disk.

But, this package was still useful. I just had to think from a completely different angle (with a bit of assistance from a friend).

The Solution

The solution ended up being pretty simple.

  1. Based on a value in the user’s session, write the path to the css file into the view, with the path being something like /content/scss/client-123.css (where 123 is the id of the company from the database)

  2. Before the page is rendered, look for a .scss file with the same filepath/name (just a different file extension). If one doesn’t exist. Create it. This is where the magic happens. You can do this part how you want. Essentially I just created a string listing a few SASS variables, pulling in values from the database. I then opened the main .scss file on disk, prepended by variables to it, then wrote that string to a new .scss file on disk, with the correct filename (client-123.scss)

  3. That’s it. Let the request continue, the .scss file now exists on disk, and SassAndCoffee will be able to read it and convert it to css, ready for rendering by the browser.

  4. The final part is the clear up. These variable values can be changed in the database, so when they change, we need to remove the .scss and .css files (client-123.scss and client-123.css) so they can be rebuilt.

I knocked together a quick proof of concept. Not the most tidy (or best placed), but it works and might give you some clues as to how you can achieve something similar.

using System;
using System.IO;
using System.Linq;
using System.Web.Mvc;

namespace Attempt2.Controllers
    public class HomeController : Controller
        private const string BaseScssDirectory = "~/content/scss/";
        private const string OutputDirectory = "clients/";
        private const string MainScssFilename = "main.scss";
        private const string OutputFilenameFormat = "client-{0}.scss";

        public ActionResult Index(int? clientId)
            int useClientId = clientId.GetValueOrDefault(1);
            Session["ClientId"] = useClientId;

            if (!ClientScssExists(useClientId))

            return View();

        bool ClientScssExists(int clientId)
            string filename = string.Format(OutputFilenameFormat, clientId);
            string path = Server.MapPath(String.Format("{0}{1}{2}", BaseScssDirectory, OutputDirectory, filename));
            return System.IO.File.Exists(path);

        private string GenerateClientScss(int clientId)
            string mainCss = GetMainScss();
            string themeCss = GenerateThemeScss(clientId);

            return string.Format("{0}{1}{2}", themeCss, string.Concat(Enumerable.Repeat(Environment.NewLine, 5)), mainCss);

        private string GenerateThemeScss(int clientId)
            switch (clientId)
                case 1:
                    return @"$PrimaryColour: red;";
                case 2:
                    return @"$PrimaryColour: green;";
                case 3:
                    return @"$PrimaryColour: blue;";
                    return @"$PrimaryColour: black;";

        private string GetMainScss()
            string filePath = string.Format("{0}{1}", BaseScssDirectory, MainScssFilename);
            return System.IO.File.ReadAllText(Server.MapPath(filePath));

        private void SaveClientScssFile(int clientId)
            string filename = string.Format(OutputFilenameFormat, clientId);
            string filePath = string.Format("{0}{1}{2}", BaseScssDirectory, OutputDirectory, filename);
            filePath = Server.MapPath(filePath);

            string clientScss = GenerateClientScss(clientId);

            using (var writer = new StreamWriter(filePath, false))



You can download the full solution here

Steve Kennaird

Written by Steve Kennaird, UK-based developer and Technical Director interested in .Net and NodeJS backends and all sorts of frontends.

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