New Template System in LS3.x

From LimeSurvey Manual

This page contains changes which are not marked for translation.


On this page you'll learn how to:

  • Use the new template system of LimeSurvey 3.0.
  • Use inheritance to manage your own templates.
  • Add a picture to your template
  • Manage template options for your surveys and survey groups

LimeSurvey 3 introduces a complete new template engine system, based on Twig 1.29, Bootstrap, and allowing template inheritance and template options. It completely removes the old replacement keywords system. So now, 100% of the frontend HTML can be customized. For example, in the old template system, there was a keyword {ASSESSMENTS} that was replaced by the assessment HTML at execution time. A template designer had no way to customize this HTML (other than using JavaScript). Now, there is a file called assessments.twig that contains the logic (written in Twig) to generate this HTML. In these pages, we will give you some explanation about how to use this new template engine.

Help.png We will not detail here how Twig works. It’s kind of very simplified PHP that offers a high level of security thanks to the “sandbox” system (we’ll see that in more detail in the part about the Template Engine Core code). If you already know PHP, it will be extremely easy for you to master. If you don’t know PHP, it still should be pretty easy to learn. Please, have a look to the Twig 1.X documentation:

Editing Using the Admin Interface

Template list

On the admin dashboard, there is now a box to access the template list:

The template list after a fresh install of RC3

The list is divided in 5 columns:

  • a preview of the template: it’s just a picture file called “preview.png” at the root of the template
  • the “name” of the template: the directory name of the template. Before we release the LS3 master, it will become the template “Title” (can be different from directory name, and it can contain special cgunnarhars)
  • the description of the template: a string set in its manifest
  • the type of template: Core template (provided with LimeSurvey), User template (added in upload directory), XML template (not loaded in database)
  • Extends: if the template extends another template, its name will be indicated here
  • Some action buttons:
    • Install: it will load the manifest of a template to add it to database and make it available for selection at the survey level
    • Uninstall: it will delete the configuration entries of a template in the database
    • Template editor: it will redirect you to the template editor
    • Template option: it will lead you the global configuration of template options

Template Editor

Help.png This documentation supposes you already know how to use the Template Editor in the previous version of LS.

The Template Editor has been kept as close as possible to the original one. So, when you open a Core Template, you can’t edit it. But now, instead of a “copy” button, you have an “extend button”.

Now you extend template

A quick overview of the concept of template inheritance

In LS3, a template can now inherit from another template, it can “extend” another template. This means that the template directory will be practically empty, it will only contain the files (views, style sheets, scripts, resources etc.) that differ from the original ones. Doing so, it will be easy for you to create a fleet of templates for your different users without having to maintain a lot of different templates. For example: you can have your own home-made template, and then a version for a company (with its logo, its style, maybe a link to its website on the footer etc.), another version for another company etc. If then you update the CSS or the global layout of your custom template, all the templates that inherit from it will be updated automatically. Note that the inheritance is recursive: a template can extend a template that extends another one etc.

Help.png It also means that if you extend one of the core templates of LimeSurvey, you will still benefit from its updates.

Novelties in the user interface

To extend the Monochrome template of LimeSurvey, go to the Template list, click on the button “Template Editor” of the Monochrome template. Then, click on “extend” and validate the new name “extends_monochrome”.

If you now go to the upload directory (with your file/ftp client), you’ll see that a new directory has been created: upload/templates/extends_monochrome It contains an XML file and directories, but most directories are empty. It has neither views nor CSS nor JS. But, you can still select this template as a normal one from a survey and it will look exactly like the monochrome template.

The template tree (directory and files) just after its creation. It's practically empty
Help.png The ressources (jpg, png etc.) from the original template are copied when extending a template. This is because if you copy a CSS file from the original template locally, and if it refers to those files (like in background-image statement), it will need to find those pictures in the current template path.

The template editor for the extends_monochrome template looks like that:

 Editing extends_monochrome template

There is no big difference with the old template editor. Let’s list the main ones:  

  • The keyword inherited on the file list. It means that the file is not present in the template directory and that the file from the original template will be used.

  • The main editor ( ACE editor ) shows the content of the selected file. The files not only contain HTML, CSS or JS, but also Twig statements. Those Twig statements give us the possibility to push some logic to template views that were located deep in the core before, and that now can be customized.
Some twig code, for Survey List

  • This is why you have more screen types available in the dropdown selector of the top menu now. You’ll notice pages such as ‘Survey List’, ‘Load’, ‘Save’, ‘Error’, ‘Registration’, ‘Assessments’, ‘Print Answers’ that weren’t available before, or that you couldn’t really be customized before.
Now, you can customize all screens

  • The ‘tip’ link at the bottom of the file list gives you the Twig way to add a picture in your HTML
Tip picture.png

  • The button ‘save changes’ becomes a button Copy to local template and save changes

Quick example: adding a picture

The button Copy to local template and save changes will do exactly what it says: if you edit anything inside the file and then click on that button, it will copy the file to the template you’re editing, and save your changes.
For example: click on the file layout_global.twig, then just before the block content ( {% block content %}) add the text “TEST” and click the button. You can see that the label of the file changed from “inherited” to “local” and now the button is a simple button save changes.

If you open a file explorer and go to the directory upload/templates/extends_monochrome/views/, you will see that it contains only one file, the file layout_global.twig and that the string “TEST” is there.

Now the file is present in your template

Now instead of addind a random text, we will add a picture. If you click on the tip link, it will tell you:
To use a picture in a .twig file: {{ image('./files/myfile.png', 'alt-text for my file', {"class": "myclass"}) }}
If you have read the Twig documentation (and you should have done so at this point), you know that {{ function( ) }} will echo the result of a function on screen. Here, the function is image( ).

Help.png If you’re curious to know what it does, you can find it in the code here (version of RC3): image() function in RC3

If you don’t understand the code: don’t worry, you don’t need to know how it works, but why to use it and how to use it.

You should use the function image() for two reasons:

  • The function image loops through the template to find the image. If the template you’re working on is extended to another template, and if you copy the file to where you inserted the picture locally, but that picture is not copied in the local template, it will loop through the template inheritance tree to find where that picture is.
  • It will use the asset manager, so it will improve the performance of your template. See the Yii Asset Manager documentation for more information about it:

So, to add a picture to your template:

  • just upload it as usual with the file uploader on the right and then add it to where you want it in any twig file:

{{ image('./files/myfile.png') }}

  • If you want to add an alternate text for your picture (for screen readers and HTML validation), add:

{{ image('./files/myfile.png'), ‘my alternative text’ }}

  • If you want to add a class attribute and add an id to it:

{{ image('./files/myfile.png'), ‘my alternative text’, {“class”: “a_nice_css_class”, “id”: “any_id”} }}

Some things on our TO-DO list

  • Give users the possibility to upload a custom preview file from the editor itself
  • Add a button to delete the local file and return to the inherited statement
  • Only copy the picture used in the CSS files (by listing them in the manifest as file to copy)
  • Remind which template the current one extends (if any)

Template options

Another novelty of LS3 is the template option page. As we’ll see later, template creators can create their own options and even their own admin option page. Here, we’ll quickly see how the option page of the Core Templates work. To access the template options at global level: click on “template options” in the template list

Advanced options

When you open the options of a given template, you can choose between “simple options” and “advanced options”. “Advanced options” is just a naked form that gives you access to the main fields of the Template Configuration in the database. To understand how it works, you should also read all about the XML file and the creation of a template from scratch. So, it’s rather complex and made for advanced users.

the advanced options fields
  • Files css: the CSS files that should be added to the template
  • Files js: the JS files that should be added to the template
  • Files Print Css: the CSS files to load when printing a template
  • Options: the options (and their value) that should be parsed to the template view
  • CssFramework Name: The name of the CSS framework to load. For now, only Bootstrap or nothing.
  • Cssframework Css: here, you can replace the core bootstrap.css by a different custom version of i
  • Cssframework Js: here, you can replace the core bootstrap.js by a different custom version of it
  • Packages To Load: here, you can load some core asset packages from LimeSurvey

You’ll notice an upload input at the top, it gives you the possibility to upload a file into the file directory. With those parameters, the entire appearance of the template can be changed. Of course, end users with no technical background should not directly use it.

Simple options

The Simple option page comes from the Template itself. It’s made via a twig file and some javascript inside the template/options/ directory:

Help.png This page can be completely different from a template to another, and template providers are strongly encouraged to create their own look & feel.

The simple option page simply fills in the advanced form inputs. You can see it by turning on or off a setting in the simple page, and see how the related input in the advanced form is modified accordingly. For example, in Default Template’s simple options,, if you change the Bootswatch theme to “Darkly” and then click on the tab for advanced options (even without saving) you’ll see that the field “Cssframework Css” changed from

{"replace": [["css/bootstrap.css","css/flatly.css"]]}
{"replace": [["css/bootstrap.css","css/darkly.css"]]}
Here are the different simple options for the Core templates:

  • Ajax mode: Should the next page be loaded via ajax (faster) or via page reload (better for debugging purpose)
  • Background image: if set to Yes, the image called pattern.png will be loaded (will be replaced by a file selector in Master)
  • Box container: if set to No, the questions will not be contained in a box (so you can use large arrays bigger than the screen width)
  • Brandlogo: if set to no, the name of the survey will be shown in top bar, else, you can select one of the pictures inside the file directory to be used as logo picture.
  • Animate body: if set to yes, you can choose one of the animations to apply when the body of the survey is loaded
  • Animate question: same with questions
  • Animate alerts: same with alerts
  • Bootstrap theme: here, you can choose a Bootstrap theme to load. They come from Bootswatch

The library used for animations is animate.css: Of course, a template provider could add his own animation library or no animation library at all.

Help.png The monochrome templates use the same bootstrap color theme as the admin user interface. They’re not using the css framework replacement system, but simply add a CSS file. So, it illustrates another way to deal with custom themes for template providers.

Inheritance system

In the previous part, we’ve seen that a template can extend another template. A template configuration can also inherit from another template configuration. It means that for a given template, you can have a configuration at

  • global level (the one we’ve just seen accessible from the template list)
  • at survey group level
  • a last one at survey level.

Each parameter at a certain level can inherit from the upper level: survey group inheritance. First, let’s see the survey group level.

At survey group level

Indeed, one of the other great novelties of LS3 is the survey group system. You can now create different groups to organize your surveys. To access it, go to the survey list and then click on the survey group tab:

The survey groups tab

In this list, you have two action buttons. If the group is empty, you can delete it. Else, you can always edit it. By clicking on the edit button, you reach the Survey Group configuration page:

Editing Default Survey Group

The third tab of this page is called “Template options for this survey group”. If you click on it, you’ll see the same list of templates than in the template list, except that here only the option button is visible (template editor can be reached only from the main list).
Now, if you click on the option for Default Template, you’ll see this:

At Survey Group, Template Options are inherited by default

  • Inherit everything means that all the configuration will be inherited from the Global configuration level.
  • If you go to the advanced options page, you’ll see that all the fields are set to inherit.
  • If you click on "no" for "Inherit everything" in the simple options, you’ll again see a very similar page to the global option page. The only difference is that for each field, you can set it to yes, no, or inherit; and each dropdown selector has an inherit' value.
Each setting can have a inherited value
Help.png A survey group can be a child of another group. In this case, it will inherit from its parent.
At survey level

When editing a survey, in the left bar menu, you’ll see a new entry “Template Options”. It will lead you to the option page of the Template selected for the current survey. You’ll find the same inheritance system as in the survey group, but this time, inherit means that the setting will be inherited from the Survey Group of the survey.

Template Options at Survey Level

Use case example

Let’s say you’re using a single template for different companies (A and B). You set your favorites options at global level (e.g.: ajax on, animate body with a slide in, alerts with a pulse). Then you create a survey group for each company: a survey group for company A that will host all the surveys for this company, and a survey for company B that will host all the surveys for company B. At this level, you’ll set the logo and the background only, and you will let the other options to inherit. So, all the surveys in group A will use the logo from the company A, and all the survey from group B the logo from company B. For one of the surveys of company A, you could use a different background in relation with the topic of the survey: you just change the background in options at survey level. If someone in company B tells you that the pulsing alert is too aggressive and he would prefer something smoother like a fade in, you just change the alert animation at the Survey Group B level and all the surveys of this group will now use this animation. If the company A changes its logo, you can change it at the level of Survey Group A, and all the surveys of this group will use the new logo.

Those examples are based on the current options of the core template. But of course, if you are a template provider, or if you’re able to script a bit with twig, you can add your own options. For example, you could add an option “info footer” where you could add data like the company website or a phone number for help. Then, if company A has different departments, with different phone numbers, you can just create one sub-group for each department in Survey Group A. Each subgroup will have its own phone number in these options.

Creating a template from scratch

Documentation coming soon...