Herman Starikov

Web Developer @ Coursera

Theming Styled Components in 2019 (Part 2)

Published on June 14, 2019.

Edited on June 21, 2019.

This is a continuation of my previous blog post on this subject. Check out Part 1 if you have not seen it yet.


Xstyled solves the ${props => props.theme.primary} verbosity problem in a different way:

import styled from 

const BrandLink = styled.a`
color: primary;

Where primary automatically resolves to theme.colors.primary. Nice!

While this project has got a lot of positive feedback, it's very new and there is a lot of room for improvement. In particular, there is one Pull Request that proposes to use a $ character as an indicator for variables, SASS style. This would come in useful in ambiguous situations such as margin: 2;, where it's not clear whether this is going to resolve to 2px or theme.space.2.

It's interesting that Xstyled started out as a PR to Styled System, but it grew into something more.

Theme UI

Not very long after Xstyled came out, Brent Jackson showed the world Theme UI.

It's a theming solution for React apps built with MDX + Emotion + Styled System + Typography.js. Keep in mind that Styled Components are very similar to Emotion, which is why I'm including Theme UI in this post.

import { 
ThemeProvider, Styled
} from 'theme-ui'

const theme = {
colors: {
primary: "palevioletred"
styles: {
a: {
color: 'primary'

const BrandLink = Styled.a

export default () =>
<ThemeProvider theme={theme}>
<BrandLink href="#">

The Key differentiation to me is the integration with MDX, a markdown flavor with support for jsx. This is great! I've considered using MDX on my blog, and at the time I thought it might be an overkill. But now I need global CSS to style links in my posts. With Theme UI my content would automatically pick up styling from the theme.

CSS variables

Last but not least, you can always use CSS variables. People like to make fun of the #useThePlatform movement, but I think in this case it's a very reasonable option. The browser support is very much here. This is the most truly dynamic theming approach. You can change variables using media queries, including prefers-color-scheme. Meaning, supporting dark mode is super easy, no js required.

Anyway, here is the same example of a BrandLink:

:root {
--primary-color: palevioletred;

Note, that for CSS variables you don't need a ThemeProvider, the theme can be scoped using HTML/CSS scoping mechanisms.

import styled 
from 'styled-components'

const BrandLink = styled.a`
color: var(--primary-color);

I would love to see an initiative similar to System UI but based on CSS variables. How amazing would it be, if there was Stylish but based on CSS variables? Super amazing 🤔


I hope you found this review useful and maybe even learned a thing or two. Let me know if there is a theming approach for styled components that escaped my radar. I'm very excited about the future of frontend, and I'm looking forward to CSS-in-JS taking over the world and whatever comes next.

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