Pages in SharePoint II – Master Pages

Master Pages are actually an ASP.NET 2.0 technology. They allow you to create a page with a number of ‘placeholders’ (there are a lot of these). Below is a view of the default.master page for a team site.

You can see that the master page already has controls for navigation, search, site actions, etc. built in. I’ve also selected one of the placeholders – PlaceHolderTitleBreadcrumb. These placeholders give locations on the page for other .aspx pages to put content into. For example, the default.aspx page for a Team site puts content into the PlaceHolderMain and PlaceHolderTitleBreadcrumb placeholders, amongst others – we’ll look at this below. Now, the observant of you will notice that the PlaceHolderTitleBreadcrumb placeholder shown above already has content – the breadcrumb to the page’s location. A placeholder can define default content, but the page that then uses the master page can override it, and put it’s own content in. For example, in our master page the PlaceholderMain has no content, but this will almost always be overridden.

Master pages normally exist in a Master Page gallery, which is hidden from normal users. You might have many master pages, though you normally only use 1 on each site. By changing the master page you’re using you can make major changes to the layout, look and format of your site.

| Intro | Master Pages | Normal Pages | Publishing Pages | Application Pages | Forms Pages |

Setting the Master Page of a Team Site with a Feature

Team sites don’t have the Publishing features of MOSS enabled by default, and for WSS systems, well, you don’t have them to enable. Consequently, if you deploy a master page as a feature, you’ll have a bit of fun setting it as the master page.

You can do this though SharePoint Designer, but it’s possible you don’t want your Site owners to have SharePoint Designer, or maybe you just don’t want the hassle of the second step when you provide the master page for a site. Instead, it is possible to set the Master Page through code, and to fire this using a Feature Receiver. This features shows just that – setting the master page through code. Note that to install it, you might well need to make some changes to install.bat. Continue reading

Relative URLs in SharePoint Sites using $SPUrl

So, I was really stuck with a Master Page that I’ve been building as a demo. This master page was for use on a site without the publishing features, such as a Team Site.

I wanted to provide a separate CSS file and an image for with this example. However, I hit a snag – how to get relative URLs to the CSS file and image that I was putting into the site?

For Publishing sites, this isn’t normally a problem – you put things such as the master page or images or CSS near the root, and then reference them from the root of the site collection. But from the subsite I was using, this proved hard.

Well, in the end I turned up this post from Ben Robb about using $SPUrl. It turns out that this works nicely for images, and for links to other content, such as CSS files:
<link id="css1" runat="server" rel="stylesheet" type="text/css" href="<% $SPUrl:~site/_catalogs/styles/mystyles.css%>" />
or
<img id="img1" src="<% $SPUrl:~site/images/badger.png%>" />

Unfortunately, it relies on the Microsoft.SharePoint.Publishing namespace, which means that this solution isn’t WSS friendly; certainly I couldn’t get it working. Or rather, maybe it isn’t – perhaps the Microsoft.SharePoint.Publishing namespace is available in WSS3, even if the publishing features themselves aren’t. Does anybody know about that?

Pimp my SharePoint Part II – Beyond Just Colours

Previously I’ve written about branding in SharePoint and the technologies involved. However, there is more to branding than just the technologies used and the colours you want, which was what that post focussed on. Really, it’s more a question of style and content than just colour and pictures. This makes it all a good deal more complicated though, which emphasises the need for proper management of the work and for it to be treated as a proper project.

To recap on the technologies used in MOSS branding, briefly:

  • Master Pages – can change everything
  • Themes - can change the colour of elements and the background images.
  • Web Parts – can change the layouts of pages and some of the appearance.
  • Combination thereof.

The two main technologies discussed in branding are Master Pages and Themes, and a good description is:

[Themes are] Akin to painting a house new colors and changing the pictures on the walls. [Master Pages are] Akin to remodelling the whole house
Heather Solomon

Well, recent experience of branding and some interesting slides by Heather Solomon have driven home some other points. Note that these apply to MOSS but not WSS (which only has ‘basic’ pages). The ultra high level view of what I’ve learnt is:

  • Just saying ‘X days to do branding’ is not a good idea.
  • Branding encompasses more than I’d previously really thought about, both in a business and technology senses.
  • It’s more of a ‘Pick and Mix’ affair than ‘small, medium or large’
  • Specification and scope is vitally important.
  • Therefore, branding should be treated as a proper project in its own right, with requirements, specification, design and testing phases.

Continue reading

Error “This item cannot be deleted because it is still referenced by other pages”

I was trying to delete a master page in SharePoint designer, and I got the error “This item cannot be deleted because it is still referenced by other pages”. This was strange, as we knew that the master page had been reset for all sites in the site collection. We simply couldn’t find a reference.

Well, it turns out that this is a bug, and that Katrien De Graeve has an answer – create a folder, move the master page into the folder, delete the folder. Bizarre, but it works. And I have no idea how the heck they figured that out…

Options for Branding SharePoint

Okay, so I’ve been tasked with looking at branding in SharePoint – again! What do I know about branding? I can change some colours and CSS, but that isn’t the same thing.

Anyway, I’m increasingly taken with Themes over Master Pages. You can do a lot with a theme, and one of it’s main disadvantages as far as I’m concerned (the inability to apply a theme across a hierarchy) can be overcome with extensions (though I’d prefer a Site Admin page option).

Another thing that I recently realised (and then discovered that I’ve probably read about too) is that you can ‘apply’ a theme to all subsites by setting the ‘Alternate CSS URL’ on the Site Settings > Master Page page. You can find the URL to a theme on a site that has that theme applied, and then paste it into the alternate CSS URL field, and apply to all children. Cool! And if you apply a theme to one of these children? Well, the theme will override the Alternate CSS – so your theme will apply.

All of which kind of confuses the heck outta people. You’ve got styles coming from, potentially, the CORE.CSS, alternate CSS, themes, masterpage’s CSS files, the master page itself, and the page. I think it works out as:

CSS Inheritance in SharePoint

…where the lower items win. It’s worth noting that the overriding of styles isn’t that fixed – your master page could pull in the themes, core.css, etc. in a different order if you wanted it to, but this is typically how it seems to be. Just remember that last wins.

And the best bit – generating Themes now has tools, such as SharePoint Skinner, and Serves SharePoint Theme Generator (though it’s more about just the colours).

New Master Pages are just awkward, though – so many required placeholders, CSS and structural quirks, controls generating things that they shouldn’t. I don’t think I’d go there again unless 1) it’s a WCM site or 2) I really need to change the page structure.

SharePoint Master Pages – View All Site content page problems

So I’ve been branding up a SharePoint system, and discovering all of the fun ‘features’ of the master pages in SharePoint. One of them is the way that SharePoint has lots of pages which use the ‘administration’ master page, which you can’t customise. And some are a bit awkward – File upload, Create Web Page, View All Site Content, Recycle bin.

Well, the View All Site content page is awkward, as everyone seems to have it on their page, but I think you’d miff site admins by removing it from the page. So, I went in and had a look at the code for it – and realised that it was security trimmed. It uses an SPSecurityTrimmedControl:

<!-- View All Site Content -->

<label class="ms-hidden">

<SharePoint:EncodedLiteral runat="server"

     text="<%$Resources:wss,quiklnch_pagetitle%>"

     EncodeMethod="HtmlEncode"/>

</label>

<Sharepoint:SPSecurityTrimmedControl runat="server"

     PermissionsString="ViewFormPages">

     <SharePoint:SPLinkButton id="idNavLinkViewAll" runat="server"

          NavigateUrl="~site/_layouts/viewlsts.aspx"

          Text="<%$Resources:wss,quiklnch_allcontent%>"

          AccessKey="<%$Resources:wss,quiklnch_allcontent_AK%>"/>

</SharePoint:SPSecurityTrimmedControl>

Hmm. Okay. But users with very few permissions were still able to see this link. What gives?

Well, the important part is the PermissionsString attribute – it’s set to ViewFormPages. That’s pretty low – users who’re able to view a library seem to have that. So I wondered, what other PermissionsStrings are there?

A quick search found Zac Smith had been wondering the same thing. And then I thought to check MSDN, and they have a nice list of the permissions and what they mean.

So, I set PermissionsString to ManageWeb, and now the ‘View All Content’ link should only appear for Site Admins.

Make sure you use the .ms-bodyareaframe style in your Master Pages

So, I’ve just discovered something interesting. In SharePoint, some content should fill the whole of the content area of the master pages; others should have a margin. For example, viewing a document library fills the content section, but Wiki pages need a margin. This is achieved by the ms-bodyareaframe style in the master page, which supplies the padding for the content that is contains.

Ah, but how does the content that doesn’t need a margin get displayed? Well, it supplies an override to ms-bodyareaframe to set the padding to zero – and that is why you should make sure you use the ms-bodyareaframe style!

I found this when working off Heather Solomon’s Minimal Master pages, which don’t include this style.

Deploy a SharePoint Master Page as a Feature

SharePoint master pages are sort of designed to be created in SharePoint Designer. This isn’t much good, though, if you want to redeploy a master page to another or multiple systems. Also, a master page that has been created in SharePoint designer is “Customized” – that is, it is stored in the database rather than as a file on the file system. This makes it a bit slower.

What I wanted to be able to do for a customer was to create a SharePoint feature that would deploy all my physical files, and in such a way that they weren’t customised. Well, I think I’ve done that.

I pretty much followed the gist of this blog entry by Chris O’Brien (his blog is excellent and well worth a read).

You can also get a feel for it by examining the PublishingLayouts feature that comes standard in MOSS. That feature deploys all of the OOB master pages, etc..

In short, the approach is:

  • Create design in SharePoint Designer
  • Copy and paste master page code to a new aspx file in your feature, with the same name as the file in SharePoint Designer. (Do not just save the file in SharePoint Designer to the file system. It mucks up the links. Copy and Paste the code – just as Chris says to. Guess who forgot?)
  • Save all other relevant files to the your feature.
  • Create the Feature.xml file
  • Create the Elements manifest file. Note that the XML is case sensitive, and the case used in the blog entry above is wrong.
  • Make sure that the permissions on the feature folder are correct and inherited by child files and folders.
  • Run “stsadm -o installfeature -name featurename”
  • Activate feature at site or sitecollection level.

Attached is an example feature that installs a (rubbish) master page I’ve created called ‘Cairngorm’. To install it:

  • Unzip the archive
  • Copy the CairngormMaster folder to your Features folder in 12 Hive
  • Check its permissions
  • Run
    stsadm -o installfeature -name CairngormMaster
  • Go to the Site Collection Features page, and activate it.

You should now find that you can select the ‘Cairngorm’ master page from the ‘Site Settings > Master Pages’ page. Select it for your master pages, and you should find your pages go a bit black and orange! You can get the dodgy design I came up with here, but please just use as an example – it looks bleedin’ awful.

SharePoint Branding or "Pimp my SharePoint"

One of the things that customers appear to want, and will like about SharePoint is the ability to ‘brand’ or ‘skin’ it. For some reason, it’s something that people always get hung up on – what it looks like, not how it works – and I don’t expect we will have many projects that don’t have the question of branding/skinning/customisation. But what does this mean, how does it work, and what are the limitations? Continue reading