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Carbon v11

The next major version of Carbon is here

We’re excited to announce the next major release of Carbon. 🥳 With this release, we are shipping a number of updates to improve the experience of using Carbon, along with a migration experience to move as seamlessly as possible from v10 to v11.

If you’re looking to get started migrating, check out our Migration Guide. If you want to learn more about the new features and changes coming in this release, keep reading below.

Theming

One of the first areas we revisited in v11 was our color tokens. We heard from you all that the names of tokens can be confusing and hard to understand, making it difficult to accurately apply them without constantly referencing our site.

To address this, we investigated several ways to represent usage directly in the token name in order to make them more intuitive to use. After discussing these various options and going through rounds of feedback on GitHub, we decided on an approach that makes it easier to understand and apply tokens based on their usage.

Comparing the names of tokens for parts of a component between v10 and v11

To learn more about the new color tokens, check out our Color Guidelines. You can also learn more about concepts like layering here.

For teams that currently are using tokens from v10, rest assured that you can keep using these tokens in v11. In order to help the transition between tokens, we’ve created a compatibility theme in v11 that will allow teams to use the same tokens in components they’ve built today while progressively transitioning to newer tokens over time.

Light & Dark mode

All of these updated color tokens are now shipped as CSS Custom Properties in v11. This technique makes it incredibly simple and performant to customize the theme of your product. We’re most excited about using this for Light & Dark Mode support in products.

A product interface shown in a light and dark theme side-by-side

This technique also can allow teams to customize a specific area of the page, a specific component, or other models within their product. The best part is that any component using our color tokens just works, regardless of the page or inline theme.

Typography

Type tokens are being updated in v11 along with the changes to color tokens. These changes involve mostly name changes. The values and roles of these tokens remain the same between v10 and v11.

To learn more about the new type tokens in v11, check out our Typography Guidelines. If you’re curious about specific changes to tokens, take a look at our v11 Migration Docs.

Design Kits

All v11 changes — including type and color token name updates — have been made in our Sketch kits. The same Sketch Cloud libraries that were used in v10 have been updated to include the v11 changes. The v11 update is available like any other Sketch library update. We recommend that you do not accept the library update until you are ready to work with v11.

The v11 update for Figma is not yet available. We are waiting to make the v11 updates after some additional v10 enhancements have been completed. Like with Sketch, the same libraries used for v10 will be the same libraries used for v11. The targeted release date for Figma is the end of April. Along with the v11 release, we will also be releasing the Figma kits to the open community.

New packages

Carbon v11 introduces new code packages to simplify how you bring Carbon into your project. For many teams, you may be installing several packages in order to use Carbon, including:

  • carbon-components
  • carbon-components-react
  • carbon-icons
  • @carbon/icons-react

Starting in v11, the styles, React components, and icons are all available under the @carbon/react package. Each of the packages above can still be downloaded individually but we brought them together to simplify bringing Carbon into your project.

The @carbon/styles package is also being introduced in v11. This package contains all of the Sass styles for our components and is being re-exported by @carbon/react. The Sass styles in this package have gone through a number of updates as we’ve shifted over to Dart Sass in order to improve our compile times by over 90%.

Dart Sass

Sass files in Carbon now require Dart Sass in order to compile. The decision to move towards Dart Sass was made after the announcement in the blog post, LibSass is deprecated. Like many of you who use Sass, we’ve relied heavily on LibSass through projects like node-sass. We would not be where we are today without all the hard work and effort that went into these projects 🙌

Sass Modules

With the transition to using sass, Carbon has updated its Sass files to leverage Sass Modules. This new module system was introduced in 2019 and we knew that it would be a great fit for the way Carbon authors and ships Sass files.

This new module system created an opportunity to simplify how you bring styles into your project from Carbon, while drastically reducing compile times. The best part is that you can still @import any of the files from Carbon if you would like, there is no requirement for you and your project to move to Sass Modules in order to benefit from these changes.

Compile time improvements

One of the most common and frustrating challenges team can run into when using Carbon are long Sass compilation times. Parts of this were related to how Carbon was structured, other parts were related to toolchains, but overall we are incredibly excited to announce that we drastically improved the performance of compiling Carbon Sass files in v11.

Through moving to Dart Sass, migrating to Sass Modules, and changing our overall file structure we were able to achieve a 90% decrease in average recompilation times when using sass-loader along with a 60% reduction in initial build times.

We’re so excited to be able to ship this work in v11 and can’t wait to keep improving on these numbers so that your development feedback loop is as quick as possible.

CSS Grid

We’re shipping a brand new way to incorporate the 2x Grid in code using a technique in CSS called CSS Grid. This implementation ships alongside our Flexbox-based grid that currently exists in v10 and we will continue to support both in v11.

CSS Grid, along with CSS Custom Properties, makes it easier to build more resilient products on the Grid through CSS Grid-specific techniques or through new features that we’re able to bring like sub-grid for more complex products.

If you’re building on any of our Grid components in v10, every one of these will continue to be supported in v11. If you would like to learn more about how to use CSS Grid in your project, you can check out our documentation in React.

React Components

We’re shipping several new components in v11 to accompany the changes that we’re making to styles. Theming, layering, CSS Grid, and more are all available as components in our React library.

We’re also using this release to address some of the outstanding accessibility issues for components like Notification and Tooltip along with consistently applying how we name and define certain prop types in v11.

Theming and Layering

In order to support the new theming features coming to v11, we’re shipping components like GlobalTheme and Theme to make it as easy as possible to change the theme of an entire page or a sub-section of a page. These components are paired alongside the useTheme hook to allow component authors to access the current theme for a given context.

We’re also introducing a new Layer component to simplify how layering is accomplished in v11. Previously, we used the light prop to address the layering needs for the white and g10 themes. Now, the Layer component can be used along with contextual tokens to implement layering across themes.

Grid

The default grid in v11 is now implemented using CSS Grid. As a result, you’ll only need to use two components to build layouts on top of the 2x grid: Grid and Column. For teams that already have layouts built on the flexbox version of our grid components, rest assured you can update your code to use FlexGrid along with the existing Row and Column components and your layouts will continue to work as expected.

Accessibility Updates

In order to ship accessible versions of some of our components, we’ve made updates or breaking changes to either change or remove inaccessible behavior.

For example, our Notification component no longer accepts interactive content as the semantics of this context would be stripped from users of Screen Readers. To better support common use cases of components where interactive content was needed, we are also shipping new components like ActionableNotification to offer a better, accessible experience for these use cases.

Tooltip, TooltipIcon, and TooltipDefinition are also receiving updates in v11 and mirror some of the changes seen in Notification. For example, Tooltips can now only contain interactive content. For situations that require interactive content, we are shipping a new component: Toggletip.

Changes to icons

One of the largest changes that came to Carbon in v10 was the set of icons that we supported. This set grew tremendously due to the hard work of the brand team at IBM, and we went from supporting around 150 icons to over 1600 as a result.

The package size for these icons quickly ballooned as we shipped an export for each icon size. In v11, we decided to reduce the complexity of managing a package that large by shipping the icon as a component and customizing its size with the size prop.

This approach lead to a 75% decrease in the number of exports and files shipped through our @carbon/icons-react package and will make it easier to bring this package into your toolchain.

Changes to component size

Speaking of size changes, we have updated the size prop for components in order to make sizing consistent across all of our components. Before, this prop would accept a variety of values like field, medium, and short. Now, this prop has the same names across components to make sizing clearer.

You can learn more about these changes here.

What’s coming next

The Carbon team is so excited to finally bring all of these updates to you! 🥳 Our team is focusing on improving the migration experience from v10 to v11 and sharing more about all the new features coming in this release.

For teams still on v10, the Carbon team will continue to support these packages with bug fixes. There are also many items we wanted to see in v11 that didn’t quite make it. We are excited to bring those to you in Q2 2022.

If you have any questions or feedback for this release, feel free to reach out over on Slack or through GitHub Discussions!

Josh Black is a Software Engineer based out of Austin, TX working on the Carbon Design System. The above article is personal and does not necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies, or opinions.

Questions or comments about Carbon? Reach out at carbon@us.ibm.com or tweet us @_carbondesign.

Carbon is the design system for IBM software products. It is a series of individual styles, components, and guidelines used for creating unified UI.

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Josh Black

Josh Black

Building design systems for IBM. Thoughts are my own.

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