Exam proportion: 7%.

Customising Core Functionality with Themes

Themes have layout files which, amongst other things, can be used to change which blocks appear on the page. The block template can also be changed and different methods called.

Store-level designs

Magento’s hierarchical structured themes means that a base theme can be extended and assigned on a store level.

Registering Custom Themes

Themes can be configured in three ways:

  1. Per store under System > Configuration > Design.
  2. Design change with time limits System > Design.
  3. Theme exceptions can also be set on a category and product level.

Package versus Theme

A package has multiple themes. Each of the themes in a package inherits from the default theme within a package.

Design Fallback

The theme fallback procedure for locating templates files is:

  1. {package}/{theme}
  2. {package}/default
  3. base/default

To add further directories to the theme fallback mechanism Mage_Core_Model_Design_Package::getFilename method need to be rewritten

For the admin area the fallback is default/default.

Template and Layout Paths

Theme file paths are rendered by Mage_Core_Model_Design_Package. Mage_Core_Model_Layout_Update requests absolute paths for layout files. Mage_Core_Block_Template requests templates with relative paths.

Magento uses relative paths when it comes to template and layout files.


Blocks are used for output. The root block is the parent of all blocks and is of type Mage_Page_Block_Html.

Mage_Core_Block_Template blocks use template files to render content. The template file name are set within setTemplate() or addData('template') with relative paths.

Templates are just pieces of PHP included in Mage_Core_Block_Template. Therefore $this in a template refers to the block.

Mage_Core_Block_Template uses a buffer before including a template to prevent premature output.

The Mage_Core_Model_Layout::createBlock method creates instances of blocks.

The Mage_Core_Model_Layout_Update class considers which blocks need to be created for each page by looking at the layout handles.

All output blocks are rendered, e.g. by calling toHtml(), which in turn can choose to render their children.

Text and Text_List blocks automatically render their content.

There are two events that are fired around block rendering that can be used to modify the block before and after rendering the HTML:

  1. core_block_abstract_to_html_before
  2. core_block_abstract_to_html_after

A child block will only be rendered automatically if it is of class Mage_Core_Block_Textlist otherwise the getChildHtml method needs to be called.

Block instances can be accessed through the layout, e.g. Mage::app()->getLayout() and $controller->getLayout(). Block output is controlled by the _toHtml() function.

Templates are rendered by the renderView()/fetchView() methods inside a template block. Output buffering can be disabled with $layout->setDirectOutput.

It is possible to add a block to the current layout but it needs to be done before the renderLayout() method is called.

Layout XML

Layout files can be registered in config.xml:


Page output can be customised in the following ways:

Variables on blocks can be set in the following ways:

Head Block Assets

JavaScript and CSS assets are handled in the Mage_Page_Block_Html_head block. This block handles the merging of assets into a single file to minimise HTTP requests. The merged file is based on the edit time of the source files.

When merging CSS, a callback function on Mage_Core_Model_Design_Package is called to update any @import or url() directives with the correct URLs.