Getting started

Page Templates are a web page generation tool. In this part, we'll go through their basics and show how to use them in your web site to create dynamic web pages easily.

The goal of Page Templates is natural workflow. A designer will use a WYSIWYG HTML editor to create a template, then a programmer will edit it to make it part of an application. If required, the designer can load the template back into his editor and make further changes to its structure and appearance. By taking reasonable steps to preserve the changes made by the programmer, he will not disrupt the application.

Page Templates aim at this goal by adopting three principles:

  1. Play nicely with editing tools.
  2. What you see is very similar to what you get.
  3. Keep code out of templates, except for structural logic.

A Page Template is like a model of the pages that it will generate. In particular, it is a valid HTML/XHTML page. Since HTML is highly structured, and WYSIWYG editors carefully preserve this structure, there are strict limits on the ways in which the programmer can change a page and still respect the first principle.

Although Page Templates are suited for programmers and designers who need to work together to create dynamic web pages, they form the basis for most of Plone's pages, so you should learn them a bit at least, if you need to customize the Plone look or layout. Moreover, they can be simpler to use and understand than the alternative, DTML.

Why Yet Another Template Language?

There are plenty of template systems out there, some of them quite popular, such as ASP, JSP, and PHP. Since the beginning, Zope has come with a template language called DTML. Why invent another?

First, none of these template systems are aimed at HTML designers. Once a page has been converted into a template, it is invalid HTML, making it difficult to work with outside of the application. Each of them violates the first or second principle of Zope Page Templates to one degree or another. Programmers should not "hijack" the work of the designers and turn HTML into software. XMLC, part of the Enhydra project, shares our goal, but requires the programmer to write substantial amounts of Java support code for each template.

Second, all of these systems suffer from failure to separate presentation, logic, and content (data). Their violations of the third principle decrease the scalability of content management and website development efforts that use these systems.

Applying The Principles

Page Templates use the Template Attribute Language (TAL). TAL consists of special tag attributes. For example, a dynamic page title might look like this:

<title tal:content="context/title">Page Title</title>

The tal:content attribute is a TAL statement. Since it has an XML namespace (the tal: part) most editing tools will not complain that they don't understand it, and will not remove it. It will not change the structure or appearance of the template when loaded into a WYSIWYG editor or a web browser. The name content indicates that it will set the content of the title tag, and the value "context/title" is an expression providing the text to insert into the tag.

To the HTML designer using a WYSIWYG tool, this is perfectly valid HTML, and shows up in the editor looking the way a title should look. The designer, not caring about the application details of TAL, only sees a mockup of the dynamic template, complete with dummy values like "Page Title" for the title of the document.

When this template is saved in Zope and viewed by a user, Zope turns this static content into dynamic content and replaces "Page Title" with whatever "context/title" resolves to. In this case, "context/title" resolves to the title of the object to which to the template is applied. This substitution is done dynamically, when the template is viewed.

This example also demonstrates the second principle. When you view the template in an editor, the title text will act as a placeholder for the dynamic title text. The template provides an example of how generated documents will look.

There are template commands for replacing entire tags, their contents, or just some of their attributes. You can repeat a tag several times or omit it entirely. You can join parts of several templates together, and specify simple error handling. All of these capabilities are used to generate document structures. You can't create subroutines or classes, write loops or multi-way tests, or easily express complex algorithms. For these tasks, you should use Python.

The template language is deliberately not as powerful and general-purpose as it could be. It is meant to be used inside of a framework (such as Zope) in which other objects handle business logic and tasks unrelated to page layout.

For instance, template language would be useful for rendering an invoice page, generating one row for each line item, and inserting the description, quantity, price, and so on into the text for each row. It would not be used to create the invoice record in a database or to interact with a credit card processing facility.

Creating a Page Template

If you design pages, you will probably use FTP or WebDAV instead of the Zope Management Interface (ZMI) to create and edit Page Templates, or you will be developing templates on the filesystem for later installation. If you're not the Zope site owner, ask your Zope administrator for instructions. For the very small examples in this article, it is much easier to use the ZMI. For more information on using FTP or WebDAV with Zope, see The Zope Book or Jeffrey Shell's WebDAV article.

You may also use Emacs, cadaver, or some other client, but if you are a Zope administrator or a programmer, you will probably use the ZMI anyway at least occasionally. See the Zope Book for instructions on setting up Zope to to work with various clients.

Use your web browser to log into the Zope management interface as you normally would with Zope. Choose a Folder (the root is fine) and pick "Page Template" from the drop-down add list. Type "simple_page" in the add form's Id field, then push the "Add and Edit" button.

You should now see the main editing page for the new Page Template. The title is blank, the content-type is text/html, and the default template text is in the editing area.

Now you will create a very simple dynamic page. Type the words "a Simple Page" in the Title field. Then, edit the template's body text to look like this:

This is <b tal:replace="template/title">the Title</b>.

Now push the "Save Changes" button. The edit page should show a message confirming that your changes have been saved. If  an error message appears above the code area, or some text starting with <-- Page Template Diagnostics is added to the template, then check to make sure you typed the example correctly and save it again. You don't need to erase the error comment: once the error is corrected it will go away.

Click on the Test tab. You should see a mostly blank page with "This is a Simple Page." at the top.

Back up, then click on the "Browse HTML source" link under the content-type field. This will show you the unrendered source of the template. You should see "This is the Title." Back up again, so that you are ready to edit the example further.

Simple Expressions

The text "template/title" in your simple Page Template is a path expression. This the most commonly used of the expression types defined by the TAL Expression Syntax (TALES). It fetches the title property of the template. Here are some other common path expressions:

  • request/URL: The URL of the current web request.
  • user/getUserName: The authenticated user's login name.
  • container/objectIds: A list of Ids of the objects in the same Folder as the template.

Every path starts with a variable name. If the variable contains the value you want, you stop there. Otherwise, you add a slash (/) and the name of a sub-object or property. You may need to work your way through several sub-objects to get to the value you're looking for.

There is a small built in set of variables, such as request and user, that will be listed and described later. You will also learn how to define your own variables.

Inserting Text

In your "simple_page" template, you used the tal:replace statement on a bold tag. When you tested it, it replaced the entire tag with the title of the template. When you browsed the source, instead, you saw the template text in bold. We used a bold tag in order to highlight the difference.

In order to place dynamic text inside of other text, you typically use tal:replace on a span tag. Add the following lines to your example:

The URL is <span tal:replace="request/URL">URL</span>.

The span tag is structural, not visual, so this looks like "The URL is URL." when you view the source in an editor or browser. When you view the rendered version, it may look something like:

The URL is http://localhost:8080/simple_page.

Remember to take care when editing not to destroy the span or place formatting tags such as b or font inside of it, since they would also be replaced.

If you want to insert text into a tag but leave the tag itself alone, you use tal:content. To set the title of your example page to the template's title property, add the following lines above the other text:

  <title tal:content="template/title">The Title</title>

If you open the "Test" tab in a new window, the window's title will be "a Simple Page".

Repeating Structures

Now you will add some context to your page, in the form of a list of the objects that are in the same Folder. You will make a table that has a numbered row for each object, and columns for the id, meta-type, and title. Add these lines to the bottom of your example template:

<table border="1" width="100%">
  <tr tal:repeat="item container/objectValues">
    <td tal:content="repeat/item/number">#</td>
    <td tal:content="item/id">Id</td>
    <td tal:content="item/meta_type">Meta-Type</td>
    <td tal:content="item/title">Title</td>

The tal:repeat statement on the table row means "repeat this row for each item in my container's list of object values". The repeat statement puts the objects from the list into the item variable one at a time, and makes a copy of the row using that variable. The value of "item/id" in each row is the Id of the object for that row.

You can use any name you like for the "item" variable, as long as it starts with a letter and contains only letters, numbers, and underscores (_). It only exists in the <tr> tag; If you tried to use it above or below that tag you would get an error.

You also use the tal:repeat variable name to get information about the current repetition. By placing it after the builtin variable repeat in a path, you can access the repetition count starting from zero (index), from one (number), from "A" (Letter), and in several other ways. So, the expression repeat/item/number is 1 in the first row, 2 in the second row, and so on.

Since one tal:repeat loop can be placed inside of another, more than one can be active at the same time. This is why you must write repeat/item/number instead of just repeat/number. You must specify which loop you are interested in by including the loop name.

Conditional Elements

View the template, and you'll notice that the table is very dull looking. Let's improve it by shading alternate rows. Copy the second row of the table, then edit the code so that it looks like this:

<table border="1" width="100%">
  <tbody tal:repeat="item container/objectValues">
    <tr bgcolor="#EEEEEE" tal:condition="repeat/item/even">
      <td tal:content="repeat/item/number">#</td>
      <td tal:content="item/id">Id</td>
      <td tal:content="item/meta_type">Meta-Type</td>
      <td tal:content="item/title">Title</td>
    <tr tal:condition="repeat/item/odd">
      <td tal:content="repeat/item/number">#</td>
      <td tal:content="item/id">Id</td>
      <td tal:content="item/meta_type">Meta-Type</td>
      <td tal:content="item/title">Title</td>

The tal:repeat has not changed, you have just moved it onto the new tbody tag. This is a standard HTML tag meant to group together the body rows of a table, which is how you are using it. There are two rows in the body, with identical columns, and one has a grey background.

View the template's source, and you see both rows. If you had not added the tal:condition statements to the rows, then the template would generate both rows for every item, which is not what you want. The tal:condition statement on the first row ensures that it is only included on even-indexed repetitions, while the second row's condition only lets it appear in odd-indexed repetitions.

A tal:condition statement does nothing if its expression has a true value, but removes the entire statement tag, including its contents, if the value is false. The odd and even properties of repeat/item are either zero or one. The number zero, a blank string, an empty list, and the builtin variable nothing are all false values. Nearly every other value is true, including non-zero numbers, and strings with anything in them (even spaces!).

Defining Variables

Note: In Plone 4 or newer, use container/values instead of container/objectValues below.

Your template will always show at least one row, since the template itself is one of the objects listed. In other circumstances, you might want to account for the possibility that the table will be empty. Suppose you want to simply omit the entire table in this case. You can do this by adding a tal:condition to the table:

<table border="1" width="100%"

Now, when there are no objects, no part of the table will be included in the output. When there are objects, though, the expression "container/objectValues" will be evaluated twice, which is mildly inefficient. Also, if you wanted to change the expression, you would have to change it in both places.

To avoid these problems, you can define a variable to hold the list, and then use it in both the tal:condition and the tal:repeat. Change the first few lines of the table to look like this:

<table border="1" width="100%"
       tal:define="items container/objectValues"
  <tbody tal:repeat="item items">

The tal:define statement creates the variable items, and you can use it anywhere in the table tag. Notice also how you can have two TAL attributes on the same table tag. You can, in fact, have as many as you want. In this case, they are evaluated in order. The first assigns the variable items and the second uses items in a condition to see whether or not it is false (in this case, an empty sequence) or true.

Now, suppose that instead of simply leaving the table out when there are no items, you want to show a message. To do this, you place the following above the table:

<h4 tal:condition="not:container/objectValues">There
Are No Items</h4>

You can't use your items variable here, because it isn't defined yet. If you move the definition to the h4 tag, you can't use it in the table tag any more, because it becomes a local variable of the h4 tag. You could place the definition on some tag that enclosed both the h4 and the table, but there is a simpler solution. By placing the keyword global in front of the variable name, you can make the definition last from the h4 tag to the bottom of the template:

<h4 tal:define="global items container/objectValues"
    tal:condition="not:items">There Are No Items</h4>
<table border="1" width="100%"

The not: in the first tal:condition is an expression type prefix that can be placed in front of any expression. If the expression is true, not: is false, and vice versa.

Changing Attributes

Most, if not all, of the objects listed by your template have an icon property, that contains the path to the icon for that kind of object. In order to show this icon in the meta-type column, you will need to insert this path into the src attribute of an img tag, by editing the meta-type column in both rows to look like this:

    <img src="/misc_/OFSP/Folder_icon.gif"
         tal:attributes="src item/icon">
    <span tal:replace="item/meta_type">Meta-Type</span>

The tal:attributes statement replaces the src attribute of the image with the value of item/icon. The value of src in the template acts as a placeholder, so that the image is not broken, and is the correct size.

Since the tal:content attribute on the table cell would have replaced the entire contents of the cell, including the image, with the meta-type text, it had to be removed. Instead, you insert the meta-type inline in the same fashion as the URL at the top of the page.

Based on the Zope Book, © Zope Corporation