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Using themes in ASP.NET MVC


I have finally started creating my first web site with ASP.NET MVC. After looking through the nice start examples, I noticed that .css files were manually included in the master page. Let’s have a look at how to use ASP.NET themes instead.

Create a themes

To create a custom theme, simply do the following:

  • Right-click on your web project and choose Add / Add ASP.NET Folder / Theme.
  • This will create a folder called App_Themes in the project root.
  • Create a theme-specific folder within App_Themes, e.g. “Default”.
  • Add .skin or .css files to the folder - they will be included automatically.

The theme can then be applied in two ways:

  • As the default theme - add Theme="Default" to the pages tag in web.config.
  • As a page-specific theme - add Theme="Default" to the Page tag in the themed .aspx files.

The theme will now be automatically applied, which means that skin and style files will be loaded and applied to the page based on the applied theme.

I prefer the default theme approach, and apply themes only to the pages that are to use another theme. This makes it easier to switch the design of an entire app by changing a single config parameter.

Create a theme of the template css files

To convert the template application’s css files to a theme, I created a Default theme and moved Content/Site.css to the Default theme folder.

I then modified the web.config file to use the theme and removed the manually applied .css file from the master page.

When I then tried to run the page, it crashed with this info:

Using themed css files requires a header control on the page. (e.g. <head runat="server" />).

It turned out that the Default.aspx file in the project root was blank and only used to redirect the user. To make the application use the theme, I simply added this dummy code to the page:

<html>
 <head runat="server"></head>
</html>

This will never be displayed and doesn’t disturb the app in any way, but makes the default theme work.