Stash Layouts

Stash, created by Mark Croxton, is a powerful tool for templating in ExpressionEngine. Used the right way, it can improve the readability of templates.

Any fool can write code that a computer can understand. Good programmers write code that humans can understand. – Martin Fowler

Used the wrong way, Stash could choke a horse.

I'll admit I don't actually know what that expression means, but I understand the sentiment. I, too, have seen Stash used in a way that makes templates completely unintelligible. And for what?

I present here the way I use Stash to create what I hope are readable templates.

Why Stash?

So why am I using Stash in the first place?

Holes

The sites I work on have up to a dozen different channels, all with unique templates. But at the core, they all share a consistent HTML structure.

My layout files – I say "files" but I frequently only use a single file – define this consistent structure, and leave holes for each template to express its individuality.

Holes. Yep. That's the technical term I use.

The layout defines the common site structure, and then leaves holes for each template to fill.

Enough talk. Example time.

<!doctype html>
<html>
<head>
    {snippet:html-head}
</head>
<body>
    <div class="body-container">
        {snippet:header}
 
        <div>
            <main role="main" class="page-main">
                <header class="page-title">
                    <h1>{layout:title}</h1>
                </header>
 
                <div class="page-main-container">
                    {if layout:breadcrumbs}
                    <nav class="nav-breadcrumb">
                        <ul>
                            {layout:breadcrumbs}
                        </ul>
                    </nav>
                    {/if}
 
                    <section class="page-content">
                        {layout:content}
                    </section>
                </div>
            </main>
 
            {if layout:sidebar}
            <aside class="page-sidebar">
                {layout:sidebar}
            </aside>
            {/if}
        </div>
 
        {snippet:footer}
        {snippet:scripts}
 
    </div>
</body>
</html>

All of my holes are named {layout:something}. I often have enough things called "content" or "title" that I need to have a prefix to keep everything straight.

Filling Holes

With the layout (or layouts) defined, the templates are responsible for choosing which layout to use, and to fill the holes in that template.

{exp:stash:cache replace='{global:stash_replace}'}
{stash:embed:global process='inline'}
{stash:embed:layouts:page}
 
{exp:channel:entries limit="1" disable='member_data|pagination|categories'}
 
{!-- HTML Header items --}
{exp:stash:set scope='local' type='snippet'}
    {stash:page:meta:title}{title} | {global_site_name}{/stash:page:meta:title}
    {stash:page:meta:description}{page_seo_description}{/stash:page:meta:description}
 
    {stash:page:meta:url}{page_url}{/stash:page:meta:url}
    {stash:page:meta:social:title}{title}{/stash:page:meta:social:title}
    {stash:page:meta:social:description}{page_excerpt}{/stash:page:meta:social:description}
{/exp:stash:set}
 
{!-- Layout holes --}
{exp:stash:set scope='local' type='snippet'}
 
    {stash:layout:title}{title}{/stash:layout:title}
 
    {stash:layout:content}
        {if page_header_image}
        <img class="featured" src="{page_header_image:header}" alt="{page_header_image_alt}">
        {/if}
 
        {page_content}
    {/stash:layout:content}
 
    {stash:layout:sidebar}
        {stash:embed:shared:standard-sidebar-navigation}
        {snippet:email-signup}
    {/stash:layout:sidebar}
 
    {stash:layout:breadcrumbs}
        <li><a href="/"><i class="fa fa-home"></i></a></li>
        {exp:structure:breadcrumb inc_home="no" include_ul="no" here_as_title="yes" wrap_each="li" separator=""}
    {/stash:layout:breadcrumbs}
 
{/exp:stash:set}
 
{/exp:channel:entries}
{/exp:stash:cache}

This method leaves each template with the flexibility to do what it needs to do, all the while staying within the structure of the site.

The homepage

One last consideration is the homepage. The homepage of a site is almost always unique. While it shares a visual theme with the rest of the site, the structure is often very different.

So for the homepage, I don't use a layout. Splitting it out into a layout and a template doesn't have benefits. Because the homepage is unique, the layout will never be reused.

I keep all of the homepage in a single file. That way I only have one place to look when I need to change it.

Why not viewmodels?

I tried viewmodels for a while. I gave it my best shot. But every time I did, I felt it was adding a layer of indirection that wasn't giving me anything in return.

Any time I needed to make a change, I needed to change both the view and the model. I'd end up touching both files anyway, and instead of looking in one place I'd have to look in two places.

Why not native layouts?

Everything I've done in this article can probably be done using ExpressionEngine's native layouts.

I haven't used native layouts, but I'm sure they're great. Stash just has enough other small, useful features that I continue to use it.


The way I use Stash certainly isn't the one true way. But it's worked very well for me and for my coworkers. Let me know what you think; I'd be curious to hear any feedback on this approach.