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Introduction to Deco

Deco is a graphical editor for Plone.


Deco, Blocks and Tiles provider a simple, yet powerful way to manage the pages on your Plone website. At their core, they rely on semantic HTML and resources with valid, publishable URLs. Below, we will provide an overview of the core concepts that make up Deco, Blocks and Tiles.


Deco is a visual editor for pages rendered using Blocks. It relies on the Deco Grid System to place tiles onto a page in an intuitive, WYSIWYG, drag-and-drop manner. Using Deco, it is easy to compose pages with complex, balanced and visually appealing layouts.

The Deco editor is invoked when the user switches a page into Edit mode using the CMS UI toolbar.

The Deco Grid System

The Deco Grid System is a simple CSS grid framework. It uses robust, cross-browser CSS techniques to allow a page to be divided up into logical, proportionate rows and columns.

The Deco editor uses the CSS classes in the Deco Grid System to allow the user to resize rows and columns to predefined, visually consistent proportions.

Note: The Deco Grid CSS needs to be included in every Deco-managed page that is rendered.


Blocks is a rendering algorithm based on HTML markup conventions. A page managed by Deco is stored as a simple HTML document representing the actual content of that page as a standalone, publishable resource devoid of any site layout content (e.g. global navigation elements). This is referred to as the page layout.

In its <html /> a page layout will have a data attribute like this:

<html data-layout="..." />

Blocks runs as a post-publication transformation that turns the page layout into the final page that is returned to the user's browser by merging the page layout into the referenced site layout, and then incorporating tiles into the page.

Note: If Blocks rendering is disabled, requesting a page will return just the page's content, in a valid, standalone HTML document.

It is important to realise that Blocks does not care how a page was rendered: it could be a verbatim chunk of HTML fetched from the database (as is usually the case with Deco-managed pages), the result of rendering a page template, or some other dynamically generated content. If it has a data-layout attribute in the html tag, it will be transformed and merged into the site layout.

Note: When is installed, it will enable a theme called deco in portal_skins and switch to it as the default. This installs an override for Plone's main_template that lets non-Deco-managed pages participate in Blocks rendering (i.e. use the current site layout and tiles).

You can read more about Blocks here.

Site layout

As alluded to, the site layout controls the global elements on the final, rendered page, such as global navigational aids, a search box, header/footer content and so forth.

The site layout is also just an HTML document as far as Blocks is concerned. It could be rendered by a page template belonging a view, for example. The most common approach, however, is to use a resource directory of type sitelayout. The Deco control panel and page editing UI provide tools for managing such resources.

Resource directories are provided by plone.resource. Resources can be created through the web (including from the Deco control panel), on the filesystem in a global resource directory (e.g. inside a buildout), or in a filesystem Python package using a <plone:static /> ZCML directive such as:


Inside the resource directory, the site layout should be placed in a file called site.html. There can optionally also be a file manifest.cfg, which contains metadata about the layout, e.g.:

title = My site layout
description = An interesting site layout

If a layout is created through the web, it will be placed in the portal_resources directory in the ZODB. See plone.resource for more.

There is always a site-wide default site layout. This can be changed through the Deco control panel or with GenericSetup in a registry.xml file:

<?xml version="1.0"?>

    <record name="plone.defaultSiteLayout">


Note that this provides a relative path from the context to the site layout. A URL starting with a / will be relative to the portal root. The ++sitelayout++ traversal namespace allows access to resources of that type. mylayout is the name of the layout and site.html the name of the file containing the actual layout HTML document.

For Deco-managed pages, site layouts can also be managed per page and per section:

  • Per-page layouts allow the user to switch from, say, a three-column site layout with global elements on the left and right to a full-width splash page, presuming two site layouts (e.g. three-column and splash-page) have been defined.
  • Per-section layouts allow the default site layout for all pages underneath a given section (i.e. all children and children's children of a given page) to be changed.

For this to work without having to modify every page each time the default or section layout is changed, most page will use a layout attribute like the following:

<html data-layout="./@@page-site-layout">...

The @@page-site-layout view will locate the correct page layout to use in any given context and return its contents, taking per-page layouts into account.

For other views, there is a more appropriate site layout indirection view:

<html data-layout="./@@default-site-layout">...

This still respects global and section layouts, but will not utilise the page's site layout, which should only apply to the specific view of that page.


Panels are the means by which content from the page layout and site layout get merged. A panel is a region on the site layout, identified by an id, that may be replaced by a corresponding region on the site.

A panel is defined in the site layout using a link in its head like so:

<link rel="panel" rev="panel-name" target="placeholder-id" />

In the body of the site layout, there should be a placeholder element with an id attribute value corresponding to the placeholder id (the target attribute). If there is an element in the body of the page layout with an id corresponding to the panel name (the rev attribute), then that element will replace the corresponding placeholder in the site layout.

Note: Any content in the body of the page that is not inside a panel that is registered in the site layout is discarded when panel merging takes place.

Content in the head of the page layout is merged into the head of the site layout automatically. For elements such as <title /> or <base /> that can only appear once, any corresponding element in the site layout is replaced if it exists in both layouts. For other elements, the page layout's head contents are merged into the site layout after the site layout's own head content.

See the documentation for more detailed examples about this algorithm.


Tiles represent the dynamic portions of a page. At its most basic level, a tile is simply an HTML document with a publishable URL.

In practice, tiles are usually implemented as browser views deriving from the Tile base class and registered with the <plone:tile /> ZCML directive. This allows tiles to have some basic metadata and automatically generated edit forms for any configurable aspects , which Deco will expose to users. See plone.tiles for examples.

When work with tiles in Deco, there are three types of tiles:

Text tiles
Static HTML markup (WYSIWYG-edited text) placed into the page or site layout. Strictly speaking, text tiles are not tiles in that they do not involve any tile fetching or merging - instead they are stored as part of the page or site layout. To the user, however, a text tile can be moved around and managed like any other.
Field tiles
Render the value of a metadata field such as the title or description. The values of field tiles may be edited in-place in the page, but the value is stored in the underlying field and can be indexed in the catalog, used for navigation and so on. In practice, a field tile is an instance of the special tile with the field name passed as a parameter.
App tiles
Any other type of dynamic tile. Examples may include a folder listing, a media player, a poll or pretty much anything else you can think of.

For Deco to know about a tile and make it insertable in the WYSIWYG editor, it must be registered in portal_registry, usually using the registry.xml GenericSetup import step. Here is a snippet for the calendar tile:

<records prefix=""
    <value key="name"></value>
    <value key="label">Calendar</value>
    <value key="category">applications</value>
    <value key="tile_type">app</value>
    <value key="default_value"></value>
    <value key="read_only">false</value>
    <value key="settings">true</value>
    <value key="favorite">false</value>
    <value key="rich_text">false</value>
    <value key="weight">10</value>
<record name="">
    <field type="plone.registry.field.List">
        <title>Available actions for the Calendar tile</title>
        <value_type type="plone.registry.field.TextLine" />

Note the plone_app_standardtiles_calendar unique id that is used in both records, and the reference to the tile name (, which should correspond to the name used in the <plone:tile /> ZCML directive.

Tiles may be placed in both page layouts and site layouts. In both cases, they consist of a placeholder element with a unique id and a tile link in the head of the page, such as:

<link rel="tile" target="logo" href="./" />

With this link, Blocks will look for the element with id logo and replace it with the contents of the tile found by traversing to ./ relative to the current context.

If a tile has configuration parameters, these will usually be embedded in a query string. Tiles with such parameters are known as transient tiles:

<link rel="tile" target="footer-viewlets"
    href="./" />

If the tile requires more complex configuration that cannot be marshalled into a query string, it may look up data stored in a persistent annotation on the current context; in this case, it is known as a persistent tile.

Note: Where possible, it is best to avoid persistent tiles, as they are slower and store their data opaquely.

When a tile is rendered (i.e. when its URL is invoked), it should return a full HTML document. The contents of the <body /> tag will be used to replace the tile placeholder. Any contents in the tile's <head /> tag will be merged into the final rendered page's head section. This allows tiles to request specific CSS or script resources, for instance.

Note: In many cases, it will be better to register resources with the portal_css and portal_javascripts registries to allow proper merging and managing of cache headers.

Some tiles are intended for use in the head only, and will have no <body /> element. In this case, the placeholder id in the tile link (the target attribute) can be skipped.

See and plone.tiles for more information about tiles and how they are incorporated into the page.

Page types (categories)

When Deco is installed, it adds a new type in portal_types called, simply, page. This is a Dexterity content type that uses the ILayoutAware behaviour to manage page- and section-specific site layouts as well as the Deco page layout itself. This in turn is used by the @@page-site-layout and @@default-site-layout views.

The page type uses a special Factory Type Information (FTI) type called the Page FTI. This is an extension of the standard Dexterity FTI that also stores the default site layout and the template page layout for a site.

A template page layout is a resource (in the plone.resource sense) of type pagelayout. When a new instance of a given page type is created, the contents of its template page layout are used as the starting point for the new content item.

A page may be saved as a new type - which will be addable from the standard Add content user interface - from within the content page editing screens. Behind the scenes, this results in a copy of the page portal type being made with a new title and description as well as a new template page layout based on the contents of the current page.

Note: Page types are sometimes referred to as page categories.

Template page layouts, site layouts and page types can all be managed from the Deco control panel.