A shape is a dynamic data model. The purpose of a shape is to replace the static view model of ASP.NET MVC by using a model that can be updated at runtime -- that is, by using a dynamic shape. You can think of shapes as the blobs of data that get handed to templates for rendering.

This article introduces the concept of shapes and explains how to work with them. It's intended for module and theme developers who have at least a basic understanding of Orchard modules. For information about creating modules, see the Getting Started with Modules course. For information about dynamic objects, see Creating and Using Dynamic Objects.

Introducing Shapes

Shapes are dynamic data models that use shape templates to make the data visible to the user in the way you want. Shape templates are fragments of markup for rendering shapes. Examples of shapes include menus, menu items, content items, documents, and messages.

A shape is a data model object that derives from the Orchard.DisplayManagement.Shapes.Shape class. The Shape class is never instantiated. Instead, shapes are created at run time by a shape factory. The default shape factory is Orchard.DisplayManagement.Implementation.DefaultShapeFactory. The shapes created by the shape factory are dynamic objects.

NoteDynamic objects are new to the .NET Framework 4. As a dynamic object, a shape exposes its members at run time instead of at compile time. By contrast, an ASP.NET MVC model object is a static object that's defined at compile time.

Information about the shape is contained in the ShapeMetadata property of the shape itself. This information includes the shape's type, display type, position, prefix, wrappers, alternates, child content, and a WasExecuted Boolean value.

You can access the shape's metadata as shown in the following example:

var shapeType = shapeName.Metadata.Type;

After the shape object is created, the shape is rendered with the help of a shape template. A shape template is a piece of HTML markup (partial view) that is responsible for displaying the shape. Alternatively, you can use a shape attribute (Orchard.DisplayManagement.ShapeAttribute) that enables you to write code that creates and displays the shape without using a template.

Creating Shapes

For module developers, the most common need for shapes is to transport data from a driver to a template for rendering. A driver derives from the Orchard.ContentManagement.Drivers.ContentPartDriver class and typically overrides that class's Display and Editor methods. The Display and Editor methods return a ContentShapeResult object, which is analogous to the ActionResult object returned by action methods in ASP.NET MVC. The ContentShape method helps you create the shape and return it in a ContentShapeResult object.

Although the ContentShape method is overloaded, the most typical use is to pass it two parameters -- the shape type and a dynamic function expression that defines the shape. The shape type names the shape and binds the shape to the template that will be used to render it. The naming conventions for shape types are discussed later in Naming Shapes and Templates.

The function expression can be described best by using an example. The following example shows a driver's Display method that returns a shape result, which will be used to display a Map part.

protected override DriverResult Display(
    MapPart part, string displayType, dynamic shapeHelper)
return ContentShape("Parts_Map",
                     () => shapeHelper.Parts_Map(
                           Longitude: part.Longitude, 
                           Latitude: part.Latitude));

The expression uses a dynamic object (shapeHelper) to define a Parts_Map shape and its attributes. The expression adds a Longitude property to the shape and sets it equal to the part's Longitude property. The expression also adds a Latitude property to the shape and sets it equal to the part's Latitude property. The ContentShape method creates the results object that is returned by the Display method.

The following example shows the entire driver class that sends a shape result to a template either to be displayed or edited in a Map part. The Display method is used to display the map. The Editor method marked "GET" is used to display the shape result in editing view for user input. The Editor method marked "POST" is used to redisplay the editor view using the values provided by the user. These methods use different overloads of the Editor method.

using Maps.Models;
using Orchard.ContentManagement;
using Orchard.ContentManagement.Drivers;

namespace Maps.Drivers
    public class MapPartDriver : ContentPartDriver<MapPart>
        protected override DriverResult Display(
            MapPart part, string displayType, dynamic shapeHelper)
            return ContentShape("Parts_Map",
                                () => shapeHelper.Parts_Map(
                                      Longitude: part.Longitude, 
                                      Latitude: part.Latitude));

        protected override DriverResult Editor(
            MapPart part, dynamic shapeHelper)
            return ContentShape("Parts_Map_Edit",
                                () => shapeHelper.EditorTemplate(
                                      TemplateName: "Parts/Map", 
                                      Model: part));

        protected override DriverResult Editor(
            MapPart part, IUpdateModel updater, dynamic shapeHelper)
            updater.TryUpdateModel(part, Prefix, null, null);
            return Editor(part, shapeHelper);

The Editor method marked "GET" uses the ContentShape method to create a shape for an editor template. In this case, the type name is Parts_Map_Edit and the shapeHelper object creates an EditorTemplate shape. This is a special shape that has a TemplateName property and a Model property. The TemplateName property takes a partial path to the template. In this case, "Parts/Map" causes Orchard to look for a template in your module at the following path:


The Model property takes the name of the part's model file, but without the file-name extension.

Naming Shapes and Templates

As noted, the name given to a shape type binds the shape to the template that will be used to render the shape. For example, suppose you create a part named Map that displays a map for the specified longitude and latitude. The name of the shape type might be Parts_Map. By convention, all part shapes begin with Parts_ followed by the name of the part (in this case Map). Given this name (Parts_Map), Orchard looks for a template in your module at the following path:


The following table summarizes the conventions that are used to name shape types and templates.

Applied To Shape Naming Convention Shape Type Example Template Example
Content shapes Content__[ContentType] Content__BlogPost Content-BlogPost
Content shapes Content__[Id] Content__42 Content-42
Content shapes Content__[DisplayType] Content__Summary Content.Summary
Content shapes Content_[DisplayType]__[ContentType] Content_Summary__BlogPost Content-BlogPost.Summary
Content shapes Content_[DisplayType]__[Id] Content_Summary__42 Content-42.Summary
Content.Edit shapes Content_Edit__[DisplayType] Content_Edit__Page Content-Page.Edit
Content Part templates [ShapeType]__[Id] Parts_Common_Metadata__42 Parts/Common.Metadata-42
Content Part templates [ShapeType]__[ContentType] Parts_Common_Metadata__BlogPost Parts/Common.Metadata-BlogPost
Field templates [ShapeType]__[FieldName] Fields_Common_Text__Teaser Fields/Common.Text-Teaser
Field templates [ShapeType]__[PartName] Fields_Common_Text__TeaserPart Fileds/Common.Text-TeaserPart
Field templates [ShapeType]__[ContentType]__[PartName] Fields_Common_Text__Blog__TeaserPart Fields/Common.Text-Blog-TeaserPart
Field templates [ShapeType]__[PartName]__[FieldName] Fields_Common_Text__TeaserPart__Teaser Fields/Common.Text-TeaserPart-Teaser
Field templates [ShapeType]__[ContentType]__[FieldName] Fields_Common_Text__Blog__Teaser Fields/Common.Text-Blog-Teaser
Field templates [ShapeType]__[ContentType]__[PartName]__[FieldName] Fields_Common_Text__Blog__TeaserPart__Teaser Fields/Common.Text-Blog-TeaserPart-Teaser
LocalMenu LocalMenu__[MenuName] LocalMenu__main LocalMenu-main
LocalMenuItem LocalMenuItem__[MenuName] LocalMenuItem__main LocalMenuItem-main
Menu Menu__[MenuName] Menu__main Menu-main
MenuItem MenuItem__[MenuName] MenuItem__main MenuItem-main
Resource Resource__[FileName] Resource__flower.gif Resource-flower.gif
Style Style__[FileName] Style__site.css Style-site.css
Widget Widget__[ContentType] Widget__HtmlWidget Widget-HtmlWidget
Widget Widget__[ZoneName] Widget__AsideSecond Widget-AsideSecond
Zone Zone__[ZoneName] Zone__AsideSecond Zone-AsideSecond

You should put your templates in the project according to the following rules:

  • Content item shape templates are in the Views/Items folder.
  • Parts_ shape templates are in the Views/Parts folder.
  • Fields_ shape templates are in the Views/Fields folder.
  • The EditorTemplate shape templates are in the Views/EditorTemplates/<templatename> folder.
    For example, an EditorTemplate with a template name of Parts/Routable.RoutePart has its template at Views/EditorTemplates/Parts/Routable.RoutePart.cshtml.
  • All other shape templates are in the Views folder.


The template extension can be any extension supported by an active view engine, such as .cshtml, .vbhtml, or .ascx.

From Template File Name to Shape Name

More generally, the rules to map from a template file name to the corresponding shape name are the following:

  • Dot (.) and backslash (\) change to underscore (_). Note that this does not mean that an example.cshtml file in a myviews subdirectory of Views is equivalent to a myviewsexample.chtmlfile inViews_. The shape templates must still be in the expected directory (see above).
  • Hyphen (-) changes to a double underscore (__).

For example, Views/Hello.World.cshtml will be used to render a shape named Hello_World, and Views/Hello.World-85.cshtml will be used to render a shape named Hello_World__85.

Alternate Shape Rendering

As noted, an HTML widget in the AsideSecond zone (for example) could be rendered by a widget.cshtml template, by a widget-htmlwidget.cshtml template, or by a widget-asidesecond.cshtml if they exist in the current theme. When various possibilities exist to render the same content, these are referred to as alternates of the shape, and they enable rich template overriding scenarios.

Alternates form a group that corresponds to the same shape if they differ only by a double-underscore suffix. For example, Hello_World, Hello_World__85, and Hello_World__DarkBlue are an alternate group for a Hello_World shape. Hello_World_Summary, conversely, does not belong to that group and would correspond to a Hello_World_Shape shape, not to a Hello_World shape. (Notice the difference between "__" and "_".)

Which Alternate Will Be Rendered?

Even if it has alternates, a shape is always created with the base name, such as Hello_World. Alternates give additional template name options to the theme developer beyond the default (such as hello.world.cshtml). The system will choose the most specialized template available among the alternates, so hello.world-orange.cshtml will be preferred to hello.world.cshtml if it exists.

Built-In Content Item Alternates

The table above shows possible template names for content items. It should now be clear that the shape name is built from Content and the display type (for example Content_Summary).

The system also automatically adds the content type and the content ID as alternates (for example Content_Summary__Page and Content_Summary__42).

For more information about how to use alternates, see Alternates.

Rendering Shapes Using Templates

A shape template is a fragment of markup that is used to render the shape. The default view engine in Orchard is the Razor view engine. Therefore, shape templates use Razor syntax by default. For an introduction to Razor syntax, see Template File Syntax Guide.

The following example shows a template for displaying a Map part as an image.

<img alt="Location" border="1" src="http://maps.google.com/maps/api/staticmap? 
     &sensor=false" />

This example shows an img element in which the src attribute contains a URL and a set of parameters passed as query-string values. In this query string, @Model represents the shape that was passed into the template. Therefore, @Model.Latitude is the Latitude property of the shape, and @Model.Longitude is the Longitude property of the shape.

The following example shows the template for the editor. This template enables the user to enter values for the latitude and longitude.

@model Maps.Models.MapPart

    <legend>Map Fields</legend>

    <div class="editor-label">
        @Html.LabelFor(model => model.Longitude)
    <div class="editor-field">
        @Html.TextBoxFor(model => model.Latitude)
        @Html.ValidationMessageFor(model => model.Latitude)

    <div class="editor-label">
        @Html.LabelFor(model => model.Longitude)
    <div class="editor-field">
        @Html.TextBoxFor(model => model.Longitude)
        @Html.ValidationMessageFor(model => model.Longitude)

The @Html.LabelFor expressions create labels using the name of the shape properties. The @Html.TextBoxFor expressions create text boxes where users enter values for the shape properties. The @Html.ValidationMessageFor expressions create messages that are displayed if users enter an invalid value.


Wrappers let you customize the rendering of a shape by adding markup around the shape. For example, Document.cshtml is a wrapper for the Layout shape, because it specifies the markup code that surrounds the Layout shape. For more information about the relationship between Document and Layout, see Template File Syntax Guide.

Typically, you add a wrapper file to the Views folder of your theme. For example, to add a wrapper for Widget, you add a Widget.Wrapper.cshtml file to the Views folder of your theme. If you enable the Shape Tracing feature, you'll see the available wrapper names for a shape. You can also specify a wrapper in the Placement.info file. For more information about how to specify a wrapper, see Understanding the Placement.info File.

Creating a Shape Method

Another way to create and render a shape is to create a method that both defines and renders the shape. The method must be marked with the Shape attribute (the Orchard.DisplayManagement.ShapeAttribute class). The method returns an IHtmlString object instead of using a template; the returned object contains the markup that renders the shape.

The following example shows the DateTimeRelative shape. This shape takes a DateTime value in the past and returns a string that relates the value to the current time.

public class DateTimeShapes : IDependency {
    private readonly IClock _clock;

    public DateTimeShapes(IClock clock) {
        _clock = clock;
        T = NullLocalizer.Instance;

    public Localizer T { get; set; }

    public IHtmlString DateTimeRelative(HtmlHelper Html, DateTime dateTimeUtc) {
        var time = _clock.UtcNow - dateTimeUtc;

        if (time.TotalDays > 7)
            return Html.DateTime(dateTimeUtc, T("'on' MMM d yyyy 'at' h:mm tt"));
        if (time.TotalHours > 24)
            return T.Plural("1 day ago", "{0} days ago", time.Days);
        if (time.TotalMinutes > 60)
            return T.Plural("1 hour ago", "{0} hours ago", time.Hours);
        if (time.TotalSeconds > 60)
            return T.Plural("1 minute ago", "{0} minutes ago", time.Minutes);
        if (time.TotalSeconds > 10)
            return T.Plural("1 second ago", "{0} seconds ago", time.Seconds);

        return T("a moment ago");