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Orchard Core Theming explained (OrchardCore.Themes)

This article explains how a Content Item is rendered, and the many ways in which the HTML that is rendered can be customized.
It also explains the fundamental theming concepts, namely Shapes, Alternates, Templates, Differentiators, Content Zones and Display Types.


Let's assume we want to add a portfolio section to our Blog where we could list all the projects we are working on, and be able to manage these projects individually, as opposed to having an static page where we would have to copy-paste the HTML for each project.

The portfolio should have its own URL like /portfolio, and should display the projects in a predefined order.

The end result would look like this:


Modeling the content

The only obvious thing that is required is to create a new Project content type.

However there are many different ways to model the content to represent a portfolio:

  • Create a Portfolio content type with a List content part that is limited to Project content items. In this case, projects are independent from the list and can be reused elsewhere in the site (they are referenced by the portfolio).
  • Create a Portfolio content type with a BagPart content part that is limited to Project content items. In this case project content items live inside the portfolio content item (they are contained by the portfolio).
  • Create a Liquid Page content item to query and render all content items of type Project.
  • Create a Razor Page that will use a query to load all the project content items.

This article will explain how to do it with a BagPart as it will provide the best performance by issuing a single database query, while allowing to do everything from the admin UI.

Creating the content types

Project is a content type that will be composed of:

  • a Title part to set a custom name;
  • a Text field to store the link to the project;
  • a Markdown part to provide a description in markdown format.

In the admin, select Content Definition then Content Types and create a new type named Project. Click Create.

Select Title and Markdown for the parts we can add already, then click Save.

Click Edit for the Markdown part. Select Wysiwyg editor and click Save. This will provide a richer markdown editing experience.

Click Add Field, give it a display name Url, and select Text Field. Click Save then Save again.

Take the time to drag and drop the Title part at the top of the list such that it will appear first in the editor. Then click Save.

New Content Type

At that point you could already create all the Project content items you want very easily. However we need to create a Portfolio type to contain and organize them.

In the admin, select Content Definition then Content Types and create a new type named Portfolio. Click Create.

Select Title, Autoroute and Bag, then click Save.

Now we can configure the Portfolio content type to only accept Project content items in its bag.

Click Edit for the Bag part. Check Project and click Save.

Click Edit for the Autoroute part. Enter {{ ContentItem | display_text | slugify }} and check Allow custom path. Click Save. This will generate a customizable url or used what the user defines.

Take the time to drag and drop the Title part at the top of the list such that it will appear first in the editor. Then click Save.


Creating the Portfolio

Click on New, then Portfolio.

Give it a title like My Project.

In Permalink enter portfolio. This will be the url to display this content item.

As you click on Add Item you'll notice that only Project is available as configured in the Bag part for Portfolio.

Create a few Projects, then click Publish.

Click on the View button to see how it looks like already.


At that point it already looks like something that could be shipped, and all the information that was entered is rendered in some way. Next step is to understand how all this content got rendered.

Rendering logic

Loading the portfolio from the database

When the url /portfolio is requested, a custom action is called to render the content item that is associated with this URL.
The URL got associated with the portfolio thanks to the Autoroute part that provides this mechanism.
The autoroute registers a custom URL and stores the associated content item id.
At this point the action will issue a database request to load the portfolio in its entirety, including the projects, as this is how it was modeled with the Bag part.

How a Content Item is displayed

With the portfolio in memory, the theming engine is invoked to render the content item.
What happens at that moment is that all the components which want to participate in the rendering of a content item are invoked (the Display Drivers), and each component can return an object representing what to render (the Shapes).

In our case, the Title and Bag parts are provided by custom modules that have specific a Display Driver for each of these parts.
Then another display driver will be invoked for each Text field.
The Bag part will invoke all available display drivers recursively, to render the Project content items it owns.

Each of these drivers return one or more shapes that are added to named zones (or sections) of a global Shape called the Content shape.

For instance the TitleDisplayDriver class will return a shape of type TitlePart in the Header zone of the main shape at position 5. See TitlePartDisplayDriver

Then the BagPart shape is added in the Content zone of the main shape at the position 5. See BagPartDisplayDriver.

Once all the drivers for all the parts and all the fields have returned their shapes to specific zones of the main Content shape, Orchard will look for a matching template. Template matching is done dynamically, and if no specific ones are created for a Content Type, then the file Content.cshtml (or Content.liquid) is used.
The default template will go over all the zones it knows about and render the shapes that are inside each of them.
See the source file where the Header zone shapes are rendered (the TitlePart shape) and also Content where the Content zone shapes are rendered (BagPart and TextField shapes).

Customizing templates

We can already see that many shapes, and thus templates, are used to render a single content item. But every piece of HTML can be replaced, locally (for a page) or globally (for the whole site).

Templates are usually provided by the modules that create the corresponding shape types, but can always be redefined by a Theme.
Themes are able to provide custom templates that will be used instead of the default ones. This means that a template can be copied to a theme in order to be customized.


When the Content shape is rendered into HTML, it is done using the Content.cshtml file as mentioned earlier.
Similarly, the TitlePart shape will be converted using a TitlePart.cshtml template.

This means that we can copy the Content.cshtml file from the OrchardCore.Contents module in order to customize how the Content shape is rendered.

One issue with customizing the Content.cshtml file is that it would change how any content item is rendered.
The original file is generic enough to be usable with any content type, and does so by rendering a generic <article> element with a <header>, a body and a <footer>. Each driver provides shapes that will target these predefined zones, and the Content.cshtml default template just renders them all in order.
For this reason it is not recommended to change this file as it may impact too many pages, unless you decide to change the way content items are rendered by default.

To be able to change how specific content types are rendered, the theming engine provides the concept of Alternates.
An alternate is an optional shape type that should be used if a template can be found for it.
Alternates provide more specific ways to customize templates.
In the case of our Portfolio Content shape, a special alternate named Content__Portfolio is added so that we can provide a template for the Content shape that will be used only for Portfolio content items.

When a shape contains __ in its name, the theming engine will match a file with a - instead.
In this case we can provide a template named Content-Portfolio.cshtml in order to customize how a Portfolio content item is rendered.
This file can be created by copying the original Content.cshtml file or by creating a brand new one.

Many other alternates are available to be able to selectively create templates for a content item.
See Content templates

Customizing Part templates

It might not be necessary to change the Content template, but only to change how a single part or field is rendered.
These are also rendered as shapes and have specific templates that can be customized.

The Title part can be customized by creating a template for the TitlePart shape. See Title

Changing how the title is rendered for every content items would mean creating one of these files:




<h1>{{ Model.Title }}</h1>

Assuming only the title of Portfolio content items should be customized, alternates can be used to create a specialized template. Content part shapes have alternates specific to their parent's content type, in this case Portfolio__TitlePart. see Content type, Display type, Part type

The template file name for this shape is Portfolio-TitlePart.cshtml.

Customizing Field templates

Because multiple fields of the same type can be added to the same content type or even the same content part, their shape type is not the optimal way to customize the template. Fortunately different alternates based on their name are available.

For a list of available shape alternates for fields see Content field templates

In our case, the Project has a Text field named Url. The best shape to override in this case is Project__Url which will match the template Project-Url.cshtml.

The model accessible from this field is described here Available fields

This page explains that the Text field contains a property Text that contains the value of the field.

To create a link for this field we can create these templates:


<a href="@Model.Text">External url</a>


<a href="{{ Model.Text }}">External url</a>

Display types

When a content item is rendered by the theming engine, a specific Display Type is provided as a context of how rendered elements will be used. The default display type is called Detail. This is the one that is used to render a content item in its entirety.

When content items are rendered in a list, the convention is to use the Summary display type.
Looking at how our Portfolio content item is rendered, the Project content items are displayed as a list, using the Summary display type.
Alternates exist to target templates for a specific display type.
For instance we can customize how Project content items are displayed when rendered as part of a list by create a template for the shape Content_Summary__Project, which corresponds to the file Content-Project.Summary.cshtml.
See Templates documentation

Here, the _ in the shape name is replaced by a dot (.) in the template name, and the dotted portion of the name is moved at the end.

Content zones, differentiators

As previously stated, the Content shape is made of zones that contains all the shapes which were provided by the display drivers, and ways to customize the templates for these shapes was explained.

Sometimes it is necessary to be able to reorganize the list of shapes that are added in these zones, for instance to remove some shapes of the list, or move them to a different location.

In the case of the Project main content shape, the Content zone contains two shapes:

  • TextField
  • MarkdownPart

The TitlePart shape is rendered in the zone called Header.

Some templating helpers provide ways to select and remove these shapes.

In order to cherrypick specific shapes from a zone, shapes are given a nickname called a Differentiator.
This is necessary, as multiple identical shape types can be added to content zones. See Shape differentiators

For the Url text field the differentiator is Project-Url. For the Markdown part it is MarkdownPart.

This lets us customize the Content shape template for Project.


        @await DisplayAsync(Model.Header.TitlePart)
        @{ Model.Header.Remove("TitlePart") }

        @await DisplayAsync(Model.Header)

        @await DisplayAsync(Model.Content["Project-Url"])
        @{ Model.Content.Remove("Project-Url") }

        @await DisplayAsync(Model.Content.MarkdownPart)
        @{ Model.Content.Remove("MarkdownPart") }

        @await DisplayAsync(Model.Content)
        @await DisplayAsync(Model.Footer)


        {{ Model.Header.TitlePart | shape_render }}
        {% shape_remove_item Model.Header "TitlePart" %}

        {{ Model.Header | shape_render }}

        {{ Model.Content["Project-Url"] | shape_render }}
        {% shape_remove_item Model.Content "Project-Url" %}

        {{ Model.Content.MarkdownPart | shape_render }}
        {% shape_remove_item Model.Content "MarkdownPart" %}

        {{ Model.Content | shape_render }}

        {{ Model.Footer | shape_render }}

Here the known shapes are extracted from their respective zones, then rendered explicitly.
Finally the rest of the shapes in each of the zones are rendered, in case more content fields or parts are added to the content type later on.
If the zones weren't being rendered, the new elements would not show up automatically.

Instead of rendering the shapes that have been removed from the zone, some custom rendering can be applied directly.
One advantage of reusing the shape is that its template might contain some complex logic that is not easily reusable.
This is the case for the MarkdownPart shape for instance, as it will have to convert some markdown content to HTML.
The TitlePart however could easily be ignored and the Content template directly access the Title property of this shape.