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Indepth Feature Experience: Using a forum ‘Styles & Templates’ Section

October 29, 2011EditorWeb DesignComments Off

Together with Disjunto we have an indepth experience with the vBulletin forum software Style and Templates section which is one of the bigger assests that makes the forum product and eventually your site. The difference with this indepth feature and the on-line manual is ‘how we experience it’ rather then ‘explaining what it means’.

For those who do not know what the Styles and Templates section is for, a small explanation:

Most forum softwares, like vBulletin are so dynamic that you don’t need to have any PHP knowledge in order to create a unique look and feel to your forum. No file or database changes are required. With a few changes in XHTML/CSS related options one could make a new color, font or HTML setup that makes it easier for the visitors of your site to return and recognize where they are. A bit more experience and knowledge in HTML is helpful to change the templates that power each style to adapt the look and feel of your community with the other sections of your site. You can have more then one style, and you can optionally let your visitors change to any of them at any time.

What I especially like was the build in feature that you could make a parent style and add child styles below it which inherit all the template changes – and you could still change the font or colors, and make additional changes without losing the setup. (This way you can make a parent style in (for example) black and provide alternative like blue, yellow, red or white. Hopefully to please all your visitors). I use this feature to make a default style, with alternatives ‘lite’ for dailup users and ‘enhanced’ for broadband users.

Another strong point of the Styles and Templates section that I found quite useful is that the templates are able to take phrases, so even if you modify the colors, the tables or enter a complete redisign, as long as you use the phrases it will still translate to every language. This makes it not only very pleasing for your members but also for sharing the style with other sites who have another language then English.

The last element that makes the Styles and Templates feature a winner is the Import and Export section. Distributing, sharing and backing up your styles is very easy.

We will go indepth on each of these strong points and hopefully it is useful (or at least a fun read) for both novice as well as experienced vBulletin users.

Now for the most important part

Our indepth experience of this important forum software feature

The Styles & Templates section contains the following five groups:

1. The Style Manager
2. Search in Templates
3. Replacement Variable Manager
4. Download / Upload Styles
5. Find Updated Templates

1. The Style Manager

This is what I use when I want to modify the layout and/or design of my style(s). It will let you control the fonts, css, html, and other aspects of you style. You can make new styles, new templates, change their order – make the styles visible for your members or hidden.

The first part of the style manager will let you order your style, change its options and settings and let you add new styles or delete them. It also has a drop down menu from where you can change or modify your template, fonts, css, html or style settings:

Template Options

- Edit your templates
I use this feature the most to modify my templates to get a unique look for my forum!

- Add a new custom template
When I have custom work, I use this to add my own templates.

- Revert all your templates
This is a tricky one, use with care! I hardly ever use this, unless there is a big upgrade and I want to do everything from scratch.

- Edit Fonts / Colors, etc.

- Common Templates
The common templates give you control over the header/footer phpinclude and other most used templates.

- Stylevars
Several specific elements that are important for the overal look of your style. Image locations, widths of fields and forms, etc. Very usefull and powerfull and gets the job done for about 50%!

- Main CSS
Control the fonts, size, colors, etc of the elements that appear on your styles. As important as the stylevars and shouldn’t be missed.

- Replacement Variables
A quick entry for replacement variables (replacing {x} with X)

- Toolbar Menu Options
The overal look of the editor and toolbar options can be found here, don’t forget this to optimize and tweak the way your users input new threads and posts!

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