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Skin system in Askbot

This document aims to help web designers customize skin for their askbot instances.

Askbot has own skinning system, where current skin can be switched on the fly in live settings, section “Skin and User Interface Settings”. Currently, there is only one skin available, called “default”.

All (with minor exceptions) templates are written with Jinja2 templating engine, very similar to Django, but with advantages of better performance and flexibility of coding.

What are skins made of

Skin is a directory, pointed to by ASKBOT_EXTRA_SKINS_DIR parameter of your settings.py file.

Skin name is the same as the name of its directory, here is an example of a skin directory structure:

  templates/        #all the template files
  media/            #all the media files
     style/         #css files
     images/        #images
     js/            #javascript files

Some template names and their locations are hardcoded in the python code of askbot. In addition, there are templates that are included

A skin consists of HTML templates, css and javascript and all of these resources are looked up first within currently active skin, then in “default”.

Name “default” is reserved and should not be used to name custom skins.

Current state of skin system

Default skin is still somewhat in flux. In addition to refactorings of HTML, skins may receive additional template context variables.

A caveat is that some names of the element selectors might still change so the customization may require some maintenance upon upgrades.

Possible approaches to customize skins

There are several methods at your disposal, would you like to customize askbot’s appearance.

Deprecated since version 0.7.21: Whenever you change any media files on disk, it will be necessary to increment “skin media revision number” in the skin settings and restart the app, so that the change goes past the browser caches. This requirement will be removed in the future.

Customization via settings user interface

Some customizations can be done via the live settings, section “Skin and User Interface settings”:

  • change site logo
  • change favicon
  • change password login button, if you use the builtin authentication system
  • select current skin
  • add custom contents to the HTML <HEAD>
  • disable or customize the page footer
  • add custom css
  • add custom javascript


these settings are stored in the database, therefore remember to back it up. Also, if you change these settings it is not necessary to increment the skin revision number.

Customization via editing style/extra.css

In this method you will not need to edit any askbot’s files. The extra.css file is not distributed with askbot, but can be added by the site administrators wishing to add their own css rules to those shipped with askbot.

You can create a new skin in one of the directories reserved for the skins, then place all of your custom css rules into a file style/extra.css within the skin directory or just add extra.css to the default skin.

If necessary, add your custom images to images/ within the same skin directory.

Deeper customization by editing default skin

Since the default skin still will change (a major redesign is expected), the best method for deeper customization is via use git revision control on a clone of the askbot master repository. It does require some knowledge of git system.

If you plan to do this, firstly, install askbot from the repository. In addition, it will help if your copy of askbot code is installed in the django project directory (use python setup.py develop method to install askbot in the first place).

Then edit anything in directories askbot/templates and askbot/media and commit to your own repository.

If the askbot app is installed in the site-packages or dist-packages of your sitewide python system, or your virtual environment, then it is not very convinient to tweak the skin, as the file path may be long and files may be writable only by from the root account.

IMPORTANT: Do not edit file style.css manually, instead edit the source style.less, written in the lesscss format. See also: Customizing style.css file in Askbot.

Create a custom skin in a new directory

This is technically possible, but not advisable because a redesign of default skin is pending. After the redesign your custom skins may be difficult to update.

If you still wish to follow this option, name all directories and files the same way as in the “default” skin, as some template file names are hard-coded in the askbot’s python code.

Add setting ASKBOT_EXTRA_SKINS_DIR to your settings.py file and set its value to the directory with your additional skins.

For example:

ASKBOT_EXTRA_SKINS_DIR = '/home/myname/my_askbot_themes'

And your directory structure might be:


If you are planning to seriously recode the skin - it will be worthwhile learning the git system and just follow the recipe described in the previous section - direct editing of the “default” skin. Git makes this task quite simple and manageable.

Skin templates

The first template to look at is askbot/templates/base.html, it is quite simple and you can substantially change the appearance by modifying that template in the combination with adding some custom css.

More detailed description of templates will follow.

Page classes

Some pages in askbot have classes assigned to the HTML <body> element, to facilitate styling. Eventually all more pages will have dedicated class names. These are not set in stone yet.

page url class name
/questions/ main-page
/questions/ask/ ask-page
/tags tags-page
/question/<id>/<slug> question-page
/questions/<id>/revisions revisions-page
/questions/<id>/edit question-edit-page
/answers/<id>/revisions revisions-page
/users/ users-page
/users/<id>/slug user-profile-page
/users/<id>/edit (bug!) user-profile-edit-page
/account/signin/ openid-signin
/avatar/change/ avatar-page
/about/ /badges/ /badges/<id>/ /account/logout/ /faq/ /feedback/ meta

Template Distrubution.


The general template layout is controlled by a few files described below:

Template File Description
base.html This is the base template, a container to call all the template files required.
one_column_body.html This is a base layout for one column style pages.
two_column_body.html This is a base layout for two column style pages.
widgets/answer_edit_tips.html Contains text displayed as “Answer Edit Tips” in the answer edit page.
widgets/ask_form.html Contains the form to ask a question.
widgets/bottom_scripts.html Contains javascript calls and some javascript functions needed for askbot this is included at the bottom of every page.
widgets/editor_data.html Contains data necessary for the post editor this is included in block endjs.
widgets/footer.html Contains the html displayed on the footer.
widgets/header.html Contains the header section of the web. Normaly includes the site logo and navitation tools.
widgets/mandatory_tags_js.html Javascript functions for mandatory tags.
widgets/paginator.html Renders the paginator in the main page.
widgets/question_edit_tips.html Contains text displayed as “Question Edit Tips” in the question edit page.
widgets/secondary_header.html Containter for the search bar section.
widgets/system_messages.html Containter for notification messages in the top of the page.
widgets/user_navigation.html User links to login/logout.


Widgets are pieces of html code separated to be easily modified, they are located in the widgets folder and are called from several places in the templates.

Template per URL

According to the URL some template files are called, the detail on which file is called is in the following table.

Page url Template file Macros used
/questions/ main_page.html  
/questions/ask/ ask.html  
/tags tags.html tag_widget, paginator, tag_cloud
/question/<id>/<slug> question.html tag_widget, edit_post checkbox_in_div, share
/questions/<id>/revisions revisions.html post_contributor_info
/questions/<id>/edit question-edit.html tag_autocomplete_js, checkbox_in_div, edit_post
/answers/<id>/revisions revisions.html post_contributor_info
/users/ users.html users_list, paginator
/users/<id>/slug user_profile/user.html  
/users/<id>/edit (bug!) user_profile/user_edit.html gravatar
/account/signin/ authopenid/signin.html provider_buttons (from authopenid/macros)
/avatar/change/ avatar/change.html gravatar
/about/ about.html  
/badges/ badges.html  
/account/logout/ authopenid/logout.html  
/faq/ faq.html  
/feedback/ feedback.html