New Template System in LS3.x

From LimeSurvey Manual

This page contains changes which are not marked for translation.

Other languages:
English • ‎Nederlands


On this page you'll learn how to:

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

LimeSurvey 3 introduces a complete new theme engine system, based on Twig 1.29, Bootstrap, and allowing theme inheritance and theme options. It completely removes the old replacement keywords system. So now, 100% of the frontend HTML can be customized. For example, in the old theme system, there was a keyword {ASSESSMENTS} that was replaced by the assessment HTML at execution time. A theme 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 theme 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 Theme 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

theme list

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

The theme list after a fresh install of RC3

The list is divided in 5 columns:

  • a preview of the theme: it’s just a picture file called “preview.png” at the root of the theme
  • the “title” of the theme as specified in the manifest (config.xml in the root of the theme)
  • the description of the theme: a string set in its manifest
  • the type of theme: Core theme (provided with LimeSurvey), User theme (added in upload directory), XML theme (not loaded in database)
  • Extends: if the theme extends another theme, its name will be indicated here
  • Some action buttons:
    • Install: it will load the manifest of a theme to add it to database and make it available for selection at the survey level
    • Uninstall: it will delete the configuration entries of a theme in the database
    • Theme editor: it will redirect you to the theme editor
    • Theme option: it will lead you the global configuration of theme options

Theme 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 theme

A quick overview of the concept of theme inheritance

In LS3, a theme can now inherit from another theme, it can “extend” another theme. This means that the theme 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 themes for your different users without having to maintain a lot of different themes. For example: you can have your own home-made theme, 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 theme, all the themes that inherit from it will be updated automatically. Note that the inheritance is recursive: a theme can extend a theme that extends another one etc.

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

Novelties in the user interface

To extend the Monochrome theme of LimeSurvey, go to the Template list, click on the button “Template Editor” of the Monochrome theme. 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/themes/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 theme as a normal one from a survey and it will look exactly like the monochrome theme.

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

The theme editor for the extends_monochrome theme looks like that:

 Editing extends_monochrome theme

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

  • The keyword inherited on the file list. It means that the file is not present in the theme directory and that the file from the original theme 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 theme 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 theme and save changes

Quick example: adding a picture

The button Copy to local theme 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 theme 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.

just after clicking on the button

If you open a file explorer and go to the directory upload/themes/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 theme

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

So, to add a picture to your theme:

  • 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 theme the current one extends (if any)

Template options

Another novelty of LS3 is the theme option page. As we’ll see later, theme 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 theme options at global level: click on “theme options” in the theme list

Advanced options

Other languages:
English • ‎Nederlands

When you open the theme options tab, you can choose to edit either its simple options or its advanced options. “Advanced options” is just a naked form that gives you access to the main theme configuration fields from the database. To understand how it works, you should also read about the XML file and the creation of a theme from scratch. So, it’s rather complex and made for advanced users.

However, if you do wish to perform advanced settings editing, click on the advanced options tab


  • 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: This field includes 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: You can replace the core bootstrap.css in this field by a different custom version of it;
  • Cssframework Js: The field core boostrap.js can be replaced from here by a different custom version of it;
  • Packages To Load: You can load from this setting some core asset packages from LimeSurvey.

You’ll notice an upload input at the top, which gives you the possibility to upload a file into the file directory of the theme. These parameters can be used to change the entire appearance of the theme.

Warning! : Don't touch the values unless you know what you're doing!

Simple options

The Simple option page comes from the Template itself. It’s made via a twig file and some javascript inside the theme's /options directory: (Broken link)

Help.png This page can be completely different from a theme to another, and theme 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 themes:

  • 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 theme provider could add his own animation library or no animation library at all.

Help.png The monochrome themes 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 theme providers.

Inheritance system

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

  • global level (the one we’ve just seen accessible from the theme 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 themes than in the theme list, except that here only the option button is visible (theme 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 theme 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 theme. But of course, if you are a theme 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.

FAQ about theme customization

You'll find here some answers to questions that have been asked in the forum and that could help you to customize your theme.

Customizing CSS/JS: deal with the asset manager ("why are my changes not applied?")

If you're trying to update the CSS/JS of a theme by directly editing the code with your favorite editor, you could be surprised that your changes are not applied.

Since 2.50, LS use the Yii asset manager: Yii Documentation about Assets

It moves the CSS/JS files of a theme to a tmp/ sub-directory with a random string (eg: "tmp/1ef64ml/"). So if you make any change to a css/js file, and tell it to the asset manager, the files are copied to a new sub-directory with a new name so the user browser's cache is updated and they see the new css/js. Else, they would have to clean their browser cache.

Here the CSS links in header when asset manager is on:
Assets on vanilla.jpg
As you can see they all refer to the tmp/ subfolders.

Here the CSS links in header when asset manager is off:
Asset off.png
As you can see they point to the real files of the theme.

Help.png Of course, if the Asset Manager doesn't know you changed the file, the old file from the old tmp/directory remain unchanged, and your changes will never be applied..

So, when you're editing CSS/JS of a theme you have various possibilities:

  • You can use the the LS Theme Editor: it deals with the asset manager and you don't have to worry about anything
  • You can turn debug mode on: it will turn asset manager off, so the real css/js files of your themes are called (but then, you have to refresh your browser cache at each load)
  • You can refresh the assets cache: from Global Settings -> General -> Clear asset cache

Clearassets-ls3 3.png

Help.png Using the theme editor to edit the custom CSS is by far the best solution.

Using the theme editor will help you to understand the architecture of the new theme engine. Also, if your customizing fruity, be careful with CSS specifity: most of the definitions use the selector ".fruity" (one of the class of the body element)

Adding custom fonts to my theme

The easy way: using Google Font CDN

Bootswatch Survey Theme uses Google Font CDN. Let's have a look to how it works:

@import url(",700,400italic");

Then the Lato font is used via CSS rules:

body {
 font-family: "Lato";

You can use any google font that way in your custom theme. Of course, you should remove the font selector from the options of your theme. Delete those lines in options.twig:

Using local font

Of course, you can also download the font files and use them from local server rather than from Google CDN (better for privacy). To have an example of how to it, here our local version of noto font:

@font-face {
  font-family: 'Noto Sans';
  font-weight: 300;
  font-style: normal;
  src: url('./font-src/Noto/NotoSans-Regular.ttf');

You can use a very similar definition in your theme css file, and then by copying the file NotoSans-Regular.ttf in your theme css/font-src/ folder.

Then, apply that font to your body (or any other element) like above, and remove the default option font selector.

Creating your own font selector in options

For now, you can't easily use the core font selector to add your own font in options. We need first to give the possibility to end user to upload custom packages (see next paragraph: A look into the Fruity Font Selector )
Here how to proceed:

  • Add two fonts (my_custom_font and my_custom_other_font) into your theme, using CDN or local server
  • Then, in your css file, add two new classes:

.font-my_custom_font {
 font-family: 'my_custom_font ';
.font-my_custom_other_font {
 font-family: 'my_custom_other_font';
  • In the XML file of your theme, add a font option (default one will be my_custom_font) :
  • in option.twig, add you font picker adding those lines (untested for now, so come complain to the forum if it doesn't work):
            <div class='row ls-space margin top-15 bottom-15 action_hide_on_inherit'>
            <div class='row action_hide_on_inherit'>
                <div class='col-sm-12'>
                    <div class='panel panel-default'>
                        <div class='panel-heading'>{{ "My custom fonts" | t }}</div>
                        <div class='panel-body'>
                            <div class='form-group row'>
                                <label for='simple_edit_font' class='control-label'>{{ "Select font:" | t }}</label>
                                <div class='col-sm-12'>
                                    <select class='form-control selector_option_value_field' id='simple_edit_font' name='font'>
                                    {% if templateConfiguration.sid is not empty or templateConfiguration.gsid is not empty %} //Shouldn't this be "theme" in stead of "template"?
                                        {% set fontOptions = fontOptions ~ '<option value = "inherit" > Inherit</option>' %}
                                    {% endif %}
                                   <optgroup  label="{{ "My Custom fonts" | t }}">
                                   <option class="font-my_custom_font"     value="custom_font"   data-font-package=""  >Custom</option>
                                  <option class="font-my_custom_other_font" value="my_custom_other_font" data-font-package=""  >Other</option>

Now your users should be able to choose between those two fonts.

A look into the Fruity Font Selector

In the future, we'll give the possibility to final user to upload their own asset packages, including font packages. It will make very easy any customization of fonts.
To understand Yii Packages:

LimeSurvey packages are defined in different files. Fonts packages are defined here:
For example, the Noto font package is defined here:

    'font-noto' => array(
        'devBaseUrl' => 'assets/fonts/',
        'basePath' => 'fonts',
        'css' => array(

The noto.css file it contains is here:
Notice the definition of the css class ".font-noto" at the end of it:

@font-face {
  font-family: 'Noto Sans';
    font-family: 'Noto Sans';

Then, in Vanilla Theme, noto font is used by adding the noto package and defining the font option to noto:



Then, the body class font is defined using this value:

<body class=" ...  font-{{  aSurveyInfo.options.font }} ... " ... >

Of course, the XML file only contains the default values for your theme configuration. But indeed, those values are defined and read inside the database (table "template_configuration" (Question: "template_" of "theme_"?) as json strings. The option.js file just use the value of the font selector of the simple option to change the value inside the advanced tab form:

So when the "upload asset package" functionality will be available, it will be easy to add a script that scan all the existing font packages to add them in the selector.

Adding theme options to control positioning and display of survey elements

This tutorial will show how to add options to an extended theme to display survey elements in various locations. In this case, we will create theme options to show the survey title in two different locations.

Help.png For the sake of simplicity, we will base the tutorial on an extension of the "bootswatch" theme in LimeSurvey version 3.4.3.

Create a custom theme

  1. Extend the "bootswatch" theme as described above.
  2. Copy custom.css to the local theme as described above.

Create new theme options

  1. Copy the contents of /themes/survey/bootswatch/options/ to /upload/themes/survey/yourThemeName/options/.
  2. Open /upload/themes/survey/yourThemeName/options/options.twig in an editor and find "{# Bootstrap Bootswatch theme #}". Directly before its parent <div class='row'> element, add this:
    		{# Custom survey name in navbar #}
    		<div class='row'>
    			<div class='col-sm-12 col-md-6'>
    				<div class='form-group row'>
    					<label for='simple_edit_options_surveyname1' class='control-label'>Survey name in navbar</label>
    					<div class='col-sm-12'>
    						<div class="btn-group" data-toggle="buttons">
    							<label class="btn btn-default">
    								<input name='surveyname1' type='radio' value='on' class='selector_option_radio_field ' data-id='simple_edit_options_surveyname1'/>
    							<label class="btn btn-default">
    								<input name='surveyname1' type='radio' value='off' class='selector_option_radio_field ' data-id='simple_edit_options_surveyname1'/>
    		<div class='row'>
    		{# Custom survey name below progress bar #}
    		<div class='row'>
    			<div class='col-sm-12 col-md-6'>
    				<div class='form-group row'>
    					<label for='simple_edit_options_surveyname2' class='control-label'>Survey name below progress bar</label>
    					<div class='col-sm-12'>
    						<div class="btn-group" data-toggle="buttons">
    							<label class="btn btn-default">
    								<input name='surveyname2' type='radio' value='on' class='selector_option_radio_field ' data-id='simple_edit_options_surveyname2'/>
    							<label class="btn btn-default">
    								<input name='surveyname2' type='radio' value='off' class='selector_option_radio_field ' data-id='simple_edit_options_surveyname2'/>
    		<div class='row'>
  3. Open /upload/themes/survey/yourThemeName/config.xml and add two items to the "options" block so it looks like this:
  4. This should give you two new options in the Theme Options screen like this:
    Tutorial tp 1 1.png

Modifed view for Survey Title in the navbar

  1. Create a new directory /upload/themes/survey/yourThemeName/views/subviews/header/.
  2. Copy /themes/survey/vanilla/views/subviews/header/nav_bar.twig to that new directory.
  3. Open /themes/survey/vanilla/views/subviews/header/nav_bar.twig and find "{# Logo option #}". Under that, modify the IF statement for the logo/survey-name, so it looks like this:
    		{# Logo option #}
            {% if( aSurveyInfo.options.brandlogo == "on") %}
                <div class="{{ aSurveyInfo.class.navbarbrand }} logo-container"  {{ aSurveyInfo.attr.navbarbrand }}  >
                    {{ image(aSurveyInfo.options.brandlogofile,, {"class": "logo img-responsive"}) }}
            {% endif %}
            {% if( aSurveyInfo.options.surveyname1 == "on") %}
                <div class="{{ aSurveyInfo.class.navbarbrand }}"  {{ aSurveyInfo.attr.navbarbrand }} >
                    {{ }}
            {% endif %}
  4. Add something like this to /upload/themes/survey/yourThemeName/css/custom.css:
    .navbar-brand {
        line-height: 60px;
        font-size: 32px;
  5. Toggle the "Survey name in navbar" theme option to "Yes"
  6. You should see this:
    Tutorial tp 1 2.png

Modifed view for Survey Title under progress bar

  1. Create a new directory /upload/themes/survey/yourThemeName/views/subviews/survey/group_subviews.
  2. Copy /themes/survey/vanilla/views/subviews/survey/group_subviews/group_container.twig to that new directory.
  3. Open /themes/survey/vanilla/views/subviews/survey/group_subviews/group_container.twig and add an <h1> element for the survey name. So it looks like this:
    <div class="{{ aSurveyInfo.class.groupcontainer }} space-col" {{ aSurveyInfo.attr.groupcontainer }}>
        {# Custom survey name #}
        {% if( aSurveyInfo.options.surveyname2 == "on") %}
        	<h1 class="custom-survey-name">{{ }}</h1>
        {% endif %}
        {# Group Name #}
        {{ include('./subviews/survey/group_subviews/group_name.twig') }}
        {# Group Description #}
        {{ include('./subviews/survey/group_subviews/group_desc.twig') }}
            This is the main part. It will render each question for this group
        <!-- PRESENT THE QUESTIONS -->
        {% for  aQuestion in aGroup.aQuestions %}
             {{ include('./subviews/survey/question_container.twig') }}
        {% endfor %}
        <!-- Hidden inputs -->
        {% if aGroup.show_last_group == true %}
            <input type='hidden' name='lastgroup' value='{{ aGroup.lastgroup }}' id='lastgroup' />
        {% endif %}
        {% if aGroup.show_last_answer == true %}
            <input type='hidden' name='lastanswer' value='{{ aGroup.lastanswer }}' id='lastanswer' />
        {% endif %}
  4. Add something like this to /upload/themes/survey/yourThemeName/css/custom.css:
    .navbar-brand {
        line-height: 60ph1.custom-survey-name {
    	margin: 0;
    	text-align: center;
  5. Toggle the "Survey name below progress bar" theme option to "Yes"
  6. You should see this:
    Tutorial tp 1 3.png


Creating a theme from scratch

Documentation coming soon...

NOTE: if you edit the XML file of a theme, you must uninstall and reinstall the theme so it's taken into account.

NOTE: to avoid that, you can force the use to the XML rather than DB. In config.php turn debug mode on and uncommment:

'force_xmlsettings_for_survey_rendering' => true, // Uncomment if you want to force the use of the XML file rather than DB (for easy theme development)

Becareful: everything will be loaded from the XML (included options, etc)

NOTE: if you manually edit the CSS/JS files (without using the Theme Editor), and if debug mode is off, you can now force the asset to be flushed. In "Global Settings", "General tab", click the button "Clear assets cache".