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Classy web templates using plain-old HTML


The polymathematical James Tauber, author of the software that runs this site has announced that he's working on the next version. Which has prompted me to dust-off one of my firmly held opinions about the best way to do HTML templates and offer it for consideration.

I think the best mechanism is to use plain-old HTML pages (best if it's well-formed XML, XHTML even), with class names to mark the substitutable bits.

How does it look?

This is is a tiny sample. Elements with a class attribute that begins with 'ins ' would have their content replaced with runtime data, in this case with a bit of data called 'page-title'. The designer can also supply a CSS stylesheet with a rule for 'page-title'. (You're allowed to have multiple space-separated classes, apparently.)

Placeholder title <h1 class='ins page-title>Placeholder title


Why is this the 'best' way?

Limitations? Well it is meant to be very simple.

First of all the fact that you can't embed code in your template, is emphatically not a limitation. Code does not belong in a web page template. If you want that kind of thing go see the PHP, ASP or JSP people.

The minor limitation is that this approach makes it a bit hard to use a simple regular expression or string interpolation to populate your template, as the place-holder elements could contain fairly extensive sample content.

In the case of Leonardo you could pre-compile the templates, so


ends up just the way it is in the current version of Leonardo:

<title class='page-title>%(page-title)s

And the entire template can be populated by feeding it a dictionary with all your page data in it:

print template % pagestuff

Or even better, wrap it up in a plain-old HTML template class so you can say.

page = plainoldhtmltemplate('basic.htm') page'page-title' = 'Home page' page.render()

The closest existing thing I can find is HTMLTemplate, which allows you to do what I'm talking about here, and couple of other things, including adding repeating elements, the only problem being that it will discard the class attributes.

But really, we are talking about only a few lines of Python here to build a minimal implementation, so this lunchtime I did:

import libxml2

class plainoldhtmltemplate(dict): templatestring = ""

def init(self, templatefilename = None): if templatefilename: self.loadtemplate(templatefilename)

def loadtemplate(self, templatefilename):
try: rawtemplate = libxml2.parseFile(templatefilename, None) except: rawtemplate = libxml2.htmlParseFile(templatefilename, None)

insertions = rawtemplate.xpathEval("//*starts-with(@class,'ins ')") #TODO: 'sub ' for places you want to replace the placeholder for insert in insertions: classname = insert.prop('class')4: #after insert selfclassname = '' insert.setContent('%%(%s)s' % classname)

self.templatestring = rawtemplate.serialize()

def render(self): return self.templatestring % self