Learning Movable Type: MT3.2 - Bare Essentials Templates

This tutorial is written by LMT contributor Chris Vannoy of Dummied.net.

Movable Type's default templates have always been intimidating things to those new to the system, and with Six Apart's decision to standardize their template structure across all three of their blogging platforms, TypePad and LiveJournal being the other two, they've become a lot more intimidating in version 3.2 of Movable Type.

This standardization is a great idea if you are a web designer already familiar with the intricacies of Cascading Style Sheets (CSS). The standardization means that, assuming users stick to the default templates, you could design one stylesheet that would work on sites on all three of Six Apart's weblogging platforms.

On the other hand, all the extra div and span tags and id and class attributes in the new templates present a pretty dense thicket for beginners getting their first look at the guts of Movable Type to machete their way through.

Also, designers and programmers who want to create custom templates don't necessarily need all those extra tags. Sometimes, you just want a simple starting point before you start layering on your own template modifications.

So, as if by magic (or too much free time), there appear Simple Movable Type 3.2 Templates, available in a zip file here.

Don't want the whole thing? Want to go a template at a time? You're in luck; each template (that needed to be stripped down in the first place; some are pretty basic to begin with or are javascript templates) is available as individual txt files, as linked below:

Note that if you use Mac Safari, you may find these easier to view in FireFox.

A few notes about these templates.

First of all, they will not play well with any of the default style sheets that come with MT 3.2 (or earlier versions). I've tested them with the default style sheets and it ain't pretty. These templates are more for learning and coding than actual use out on the web unless you take the time to write your own custom style sheet.

Speaking of style sheets, the biggest difference between the default 3.2 templates and these simpler ones is that there's less you can do with CSS. The default template double wraps nearly everything in divs that include specifically-named attributes and slaps an specific id attribute on nearly every available tag. This provides a tremendous amount of flexibility when it comes to writing CSS.

In these templates, you don't have that luxury. They force you to get creative with how you style things. That said, you can use this template to get awfully close to the look of the current default style if you really wanted to. Off the top of my head, the only things you couldn't do would be the second border around the outside, the drop shadow on the title in the banner (not available in all browsers) and the different styling on the "Powered by" panel.

The only div tags left in these templates are basic structural ones: container (to wrap your pages), banner (to wrap your title and description), pagebody (to wrap your main entry and sidebar together), alpha (to wrap your main entry) and beta (to wrap your sidebar). These divs give you basic hooks to position elements on the page using CSS.

Everything in these bare bones templates is functional. All the inner plumbing of the default Movable Type 3.2 templates is there, it's just less cluttered - which should make things easier to figure out if you're at least somewhat familiar with the old MT templates.

If you're not familiar with the tags MT uses, there's a version of the Main Page template available here that includes a copious amount of comments to walk you through what nearly everything in that template does as far as the XHTML and most of the Movable Type tags in the template.

These templates should be considered a start toward customizing your MT installation and not a finish. They are a learning tool and not a finished product.

No matter how frustrating customizing Movable Type for the first time can be, try and remember to have fun and keep trying. It really does get easier after a while.

Posted by Chris Vannoy on September 1, 2005 9:18 PM to Learning Movable Type http://www.learningmovabletype.com/