Rethinking baseof and Partials with HugoModo Blocks

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Thom Bruce

So, I think I mentioned this idea of “blocks” in my previous blog post but just in case, here’s a primer:

Blocks would differ from regular content files (which take a single HTML content field) by allowing numerous HTML content areas that can be reordered, and that can be any one of several block types either native to HugoModo or custom in your own theme or site. Block types like “photo gallery” and “carousel”. Using these, you could then build a page with numerous, highly stylised features instead of having to write heaps of custom HTML for the same result.

Blocks are an idea at this stage, but HugoModo already has some similar features, with the footer in particular already supporting footer modules.

All of that said, there is something that gets in the way of creating a totally unique page from scratch.

Hugo’s baseof Layout

The Hugo baseof.html file sits in the _default directory of layouts, and acts as the base for every other page.

At present, HugoModo’s baseof file looks like this:

<!DOCTYPE html>
<html lang="{{ .Site.Language.Lang }}" itemscope itemtype="">
  {{- partial "head.html" . -}}
  <body id="hugoModule-body">
    <div id="hugoModule-bodyWrapper">
      {{- partial "header.html" . -}}

      {{- block "main" . }}{{- end }}

      {{- partial "footer.html" . -}}

      {{- partial "foot.html" . -}}

Standard stuff there. You have the DOCTYPE declaration, then the typical HTML markup including head as a partial and the body comprised of a header, footer and main section. The foot mainly adds additional JavaScript for some features; it’s not strictly layout, nor is it getting in the way of what we’d like to achieve.

It’s the header and footer partials. They’re the problem. Those partials contain the main title and navigation components that, yes, typically would feature on every page of a website… but that’s an assumption. And actually both partials are somewhat opinionated, which limits HugoModo’s utility for sites that want to stray even just slightly from the norm.

We do, yes, still want to provide a default that sticks with the norm and is highly opinionated for the benefit of those users who want a quick start. But we do too want to allow far more flexibility.

Preferably, then, header and footer would be moved into the main layouts, and our baseof would look a little more like this:

<!DOCTYPE html>
  {{- partial "head.html" . -}}
    {{- block "main" . }}{{- end }}

    {{- partial "foot.html" . -}}

Then, individual layouts could specify whether or not to include the header and footer - useful for designing big splash pages.

An Alternative Approach

Okay, so call the above approach one. There is another way… I think. Hugo’s base template lookup order searches first by <TYPE> then by <SECTION> for a base template…

With approach one, above, layout would be definable by means of a layout attribute in a page’s frontmatter. Sections and types are different things…

Sections I know well enough are defined by a content file’s location in the directory structure. A page at content/blog/ for example would be considered as being in the blog section.

Type… I think I’m less familiar with. Reading the docs it looks like by default, section and type are one and the same, but type is provided as a means to override this, meaning that a content file in the blog directory could be given the type blogpost instead, or even photograph or academicpost. Certainly handy for altering the output of individual pages… maybe also how they present on list pages, but will have to look into that.

So I could conceivably present alternative baseof files for a blocks type and a blank type and a default type, rendering HugoModo layouts selectable by this attribute.

But is it right?

layout or type… those are my options, where layout is approach one and type we’ll call approach two.

In Favour of Approach One

I think this best represents, semantically, the behaviour we’re aiming to achieve.

The trouble is… we don’t override baseof, which would mean that everything we put in the main block would render. This matters if and when additional section or type baseofs are added in a manner like approach two. It’s a problem, but…

We can make use of Hugo blocks other than main. The docs give an example where both main and footer blocks are defined.

I don’t think there’s any major limiting factor here.

In Favour of Approach Two

With approach two, we’d actually override the baseof file, which is beneficial as it would mean a default baseof file could remain in tact which presents an opinionated layout.

As a second benefit, by targeting the type attribute, we’d also have layouts that are overwritable per section. The lookup order goes a little something like this: First, does a baseof exist for this section and type; Second, does a baseof exist for this type; Third, does a baseof exist for this section. Which means that an end use could override the type-based layout completely, or for a certain section, and they could define their own for other sections.

But there’s one major drawback… Because type is based on the section name, there’s a chance that an end user would wind up using a custom type unexpectedly, as they create content in a certain directory or section. That’s a big kicker…

The Decision: Approach One

Because of the major drawback to approach two, even though it did have more going for it on the whole, it looks like Approach One is the way to go. That’s great, I preferred it semantically anyway… although I do wish it drilled a little deeper like approach two does.

So a tentative example of a new default baseof would look like this:

<!DOCTYPE html>
  {{- partial "head.html" . -}}
    {{- block "header" . }}{{- end }}

    {{- block "main" . }}{{- end }}

    {{- block "footer" . }}{{- end }}

    {{- partial "foot.html" . -}}

The header and footer partials are replaced with blocks, to be defined in the layout. The layout would then provide the definitions for these blocks. And the definitions could be absent or black, in which case Hugo would fallback to the contents of the block as defined in baseof (empty in the above example).

To my immediate knowledge, this won’t present any conflicts as approach two inevitably would. And it offers us total control over page layouts as desired.

I’m going to start working on this this afternoon.

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