Writing Templates

Templating System : User Guide

Templates are the primary means for separating the work of developers and designers. A template is written by a designer and consists largely of static HTML (or other markup). The template author uses a small set of special markup tags to reference dynamic data prepared by the developer. A reasonably skilled template author should be able to implement a template without any assistance from the developer, other than assuring that the proper dynamic data is accessible.

This document introduces the basic concepts underlying the use of template tags in ACS 4.0.

Variable Substitution

Much like the mail merge feature of a word processor, template authors must use special tags to position each piece of dynamic data within the layout. Each template is associated with a data dictionary that lists all available variables.

See Variable Substitution.

Use of Components

To speed development and ensure consistency of design, template authors are encouraged to assemble pages from distinct component templates that may be recycled in different contexts. One typical practice is to build a "master" template for an entire section of a site, with a common header, footer and sidebar layout. For each page request, the "content" template is incorporated dynamically into a specified area of the master template, usually a table cell.


Another common practice is to build small reusable templates that may be included in other templates as logical components. This may be useful for common "widgets" such as search boxes or lists of related links, as well as for building configurable portal pages where users may assemble different types of content to their liking.


See include.

Property Declarations

Template authors need a simple mechanism for declaring properties within the templates. The most common use of such properties is for configuring elements of an enclosing master template, such as the title, navigation links, and whether to include a search box. The data dictionary specifies available properties as well as the set of valid values when appropriate.


See property.

Conditional Insertion

Designers often need to tailor the layout depending on the specific data being presented. For example, when presenting a list of library books that a user has checked out, the designer might want to highlight the overdue ones in red.

See if..else.


Dynamic pages often present lists of values or records, each of which typically represents the results of a database query. Template authors must have a way to iterate over each value or record in such a list and format it appropriately. In the simplest scenario, the exact HTML is repeated with each iteration. However, template authors often need to vary the design depending on the context. For example:

  1. First and last items may be formatted differently from items in between.

  2. Special breaks may be required when a particular value changes. For example, a query may return the name and office of all employees in a company, and the designer may wish to insert a subheading for each office.

  3. Colors or patterns may alternate between items. For example, the designer may want to have alternate between white and gray bands in a table.

To accomodate these type of scenarios, the template parser sets some additional variables that the designer can reference to vary the layout from item to item.

See multiple, group, list.