Working with Search Page Layouts : Understanding Master Pages in SharePoint 2010

7/19/2011 4:57:30 PM
Master pages provide the ability to separate the layout of the rendered page from the page containing the actual content. Master pages were also a major component in SharePoint 2007, and while backward compatibility has been preserved with a number of new SharePoint 2010 master pages, those new master pages with the version 4 label attached to them are not backward-compatible. However, all version 3 master pages are compatible with SharePoint 2010, although some functionality will be missing.

1. v4.master

This is the default team site master page and the one that is suggested as a template when creating a new or custom branded master page. This master page provides the new ribbon bar as well as other UI changes. Also the Site Actions button is moved in SP 2010. It now appears in the upper left corner.

2. default.master

If a site is upgraded from SP 2007, it uses this master page per default. The Site Actions button is located on the upper right side, and the UI mainly is the same as in SP 2007. This master page does not include the ribbon bar. The sites using this master page can be changed to use the new version 4 master page, named v4.master, or any custom branded master page based on this.

3. minimal.master

This master page is close to being the simplest possible. It is used only by the search centers and Office Web Applications. One of the things most people quickly notice when using sites based on this master page is the lack of navigation. It is arguably a significant lack of functionality, and although the purpose is to provide more screen real estate for search results as well as making the search center appear cleaner, it is something that should be changed in most corporate sites. It does make more sense for the Office Web Applications, as they have their own UI. In any case, this is how the minimal.master is in SP 2010 out of the box.

4. simple.master

This master page is used by the generic SharePoint 2010 pages such as login and error pages. It is not possible to use another master page for these pages. The only option to customize these pages is to create a replacement page and override the existing ones by saving it in the _layouts directory on the server.

The following pages use simple.master:

  • Login.aspx

  • SignOut.aspx

  • Error.aspx

  • ReqAcc.aspx

  • Confirmation.aspx

  • WebDeleted.aspx

  • AccessDenied.aspx

5. Other Master Pages

SharePoint 2010 includes a lot of other master pages that are typically not required to be manipulated when creating a custom branded layout. It is suggested to leave them unchanged unless a special reason exists for not doing so. These master pages are

  • application.master

  • applicationv4.master

  • dialog.master

  • layouts.master

  • layoutsv3.master

  • pickerdialog.master

  • rtedialog.master

  • simple.master

  • simplev4.master

  • mwsdefault.master

  • mwsdefaultv4.master

  • admin.master

  • popup.master

6. Considerations When Creating a Custom Master Page

The first prerequisite best practice approach before creating any custom branded master page is to create a SharePoint web site. The suggested standard site template to use when creating a site collection is the Team Site template. Using a well-known fully featured site makes it easier to evaluate if the pages show as expected. Once you have a web site created, you are ready to start modifying it.

In any case, when it comes to SharePoint, it is always best practice to start creating your custom branded master page based on one that already works. Experience shows that this reduces headaches and avoids spending hours on solving issues related to hard-to-find errors. Using the v4.master that comes with SharePoint as a base and trimming it down a bit is usually a good approach. Then initially apply the custom branded template to only one site, and ignore any quirks that you might experience if applying it to your other sites. Only when the master page is behaving as expected on your initial baseline site should it be deployed to the rest of your sites.

Once the base master page for the custom branded master page has been extracted or created, it is best practice to give it a meaningful name. Remember to include v4 in the beginning of the master page name if it is based on a v4 master page for consistency purposes. Then copy it to the all files/_catalogs/masterpage folder of the SharePoint farm using SharePoint Designer 2010.

If custom CSS files are required, use SharePoint Designer 2010 to create new CSS files rather than changing the existing ones. They should be saved in the Style Library folder. New CSS files will instruct the web browser to overwrite the default SharePoint theme with the new theme that you specified in your CSS file, with the !important syntax. Best practice is to create four separate individual CSS files for header, footer, navigation, and content page.

To make sure the new CSS files work as expected, they should be registered in the custom branded master page with this syntax.

<SharePoint:CssRegistration name="/Style Library/APMcss/custom_footer.css"
After="corev4.css" runat="server"/>

Begin editing the master page and using the element class and ID name that were declared in your CSS file, until the master page looks like what you wanted.

It is best practice to keep layout consistent throughout our sites. Items that should stay consistent on the sites are

  • Header, footer, and other layout segments

  • Navigation panes and main navigation controls on pages

  • General layout and look of the page; this includes images, border styles, table layouts, etc.

In SharePoint the default layout (as is also a generally accepted layout principle) contains the content in the middle between the header, footer, and navigation panes (Figure 1). This way it is the center part of the page that will be updated when navigating and new contents will be displayed in the middle. In the master pages, this is also where the main content placeholder is located.

Figure 1. Page organization

The main content tag is formatted like this.

<asp:ContentPlaceHolder id="ConentPlaceHolderID" runat="server" />

When any page is created using a custom master page, Web Part zones or content areas should be added only within this custom place holder unless a specific reason exists for doing otherwise.

Once you have finished customizing your master page, it is good practice to create a SharePoint 2010 solution package, so that you can deploy your customized master page to a SharePoint server farm and re-use it for other site collections. Solution packages can be created using Visual Studio 2010. More details on this topic are available on

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