Magellan Shared Layouts

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When building WPF pages and windows, it's common to want a consistent layout across views. In ASP.NET, this is often accomplished with Master Pages. Magellan brings a similar concept to WPF, in the form of Shared Layouts.

The Magellan source code includes a new Wizard example application that demonstrates the shared layout feature. In this page I'll describe how it works.

The new Wizard sample

Creating and Using Shared Layouts

To create a shared layout, I typically add a Shared folder under Views:

A Visual Studio Project with a Shared folder containing Main.xaml, a shared layout, and a number of pages which use the layout

The shared layout, Main.xaml, is simply a UserControl with a number of ZonePlaceHolders. Each ZonePlaceHolder is given a Name, which we'll refer to later. The example below shows how a three-column layout might be declared. Since the layout is a UserControl, it can contain any XAML you wish:

<UserControl
    xmlns="http://schemas.microsoft.com/winfx/2006/xaml/presentation"
    xmlns:x="http://schemas.microsoft.com/winfx/2006/xaml"
    xmlns:magellan="http://xamlforge.com/magellan" 
    x:Class="Wizard.Views.Shared.Main" 
    >
    <DockPanel>
        <ZonePlaceHolder Name="Left" DockPanel.Dock="Left" Width="300" />
        <ZonePlaceHolder Name="Right" DockPanel.Dock="Right" Width="300" />
        <ZonePlaceHolder Name="Content" />
    </DockPanel>
</UserControl>

Now that our layout is declared, we can reference it from any other Window, Page or UserControl. Here's what a page might look like:

<Page
    xmlns="http://schemas.microsoft.com/winfx/2006/xaml/presentation"
    xmlns:x="http://schemas.microsoft.com/winfx/2006/xaml" 
    xmlns:magellan="http://xamlforge.com/magellan" 
    x:Class="Wizard.Views.Wizard.AccountDetailsPage" 
    Title="Account Details"
    >
    <Layout Source="/Wizard;component/Views/Shared/Main.xaml">
        <Zone ZonePlaceHolderName="Content">
            <TextBlock Text="The center content goes here" />
        </Zone>

        <Zone ZonePlaceHolderName="Left">
            <TextBlock Text="This content will appear on the left" />
        </Zone>

        <Zone ZonePlaceHolderName="Right">
            <TextBlock Text="This content will appear on the right" />
        </Zone>
    </Layout>
</Page>

The page uses the Layout control to reference the shared layout. The Source property is the URI to the the XAML file that contains the shared layout.

Composition

The Layout element is a control that takes a Source and a set of Zones. When it is loaded into the scene, it loads the shared layout user control and sets it as the content. Any ZonePlaceHolders inside the control will then have their content injected, based on the zone names matching.

The logical tree of the final page will look like this:

A diagram showing the logical tree of the page, layout and zones

Since the Layout is a child of the Page, this opens a number of possibilities:

  • The layout will inherit the DataContext of the page. If your DataContexts for each page have the same properties in common - such as using a shared View Model - the layout can make use of those.
  • The Layout can use WPF's Routed Events to communicate with the page.
  • The layout can use RelativeSource FindAncestor bindings to get properties from the page, such as the page title.

Default Zone Content

The ZonePlaceHolders are content controls, and their content is overridden when the layout is merged into the page, but only if the page specifies a corresponding zone. This means you can set default content for zones, and allow individual pages to override them.

For example, wizards often have a Back button. Using WPF Pages, the ZonePlaceHolder could be written as:

<ZonePlaceHolder Grid.Column="0" Name="BackNavigation">
    <Button Content="Back" Command="NavigationCommands.BrowseBack" />  
</ZonePlaceHolder>

If a page that refers to the layout doesn't specify a Zone with the same name, the back button will appear. But a page could override the content, for example:

<Zone ZonePlaceHolderName="BackNavigation"> 
    <Button Content="Cancel" Command="{Binding CancelWizardCommand}" />
</Zone>

Or it may just choose to clear the content, removing the button from the tree:

<Zone ZonePlaceHolderName="BackNavigation" Content="{x:Null}" />

Default Shared Layouts

Since the Layout control's Source property is a dependency property, you can use a Style to set the default layout source:

<Style TargetType="Layout">
    <Setter Property="Source" Value="/Wizard;component/Views/Shared/Main.xaml" />
</Style>

When writing pages, you can now just use a Layout element without a source:

<Layout>
    <Zone ZonePlaceHolderName="Content">
        <TextBlock Text="The center content goes here" />
    </Zone>

Or a page may choose to override the Layout:

<Layout Source="/Wizard;component/Views/Shared/Alternative.xaml">
    <Zone ZonePlaceHolderName="Content">
        <TextBlock Text="The center content goes here" />
    </Zone>

Interestingly, thanks to dependency properties, you could also use a Trigger or data binding to selectively change the layout based on user preferences.

Designer Support

Shared Layouts have good designer support with Expression Blend. For example, this is how the Main.xaml page from the Wizard example appears:

The Main.xaml file in Expression Blend

The individual pages that reference the shared layout also work in Blend:

A page in Blend that uses the shared layout

The only caveat to make it work in blend is that the URI must contain the assembly name of the layout. For example, this will work at runtime, but not design time:

<Layout Source="/Views/Shared/Main.xaml" />

However this will work at both design time and runtime:

<Layout Source="/Wizard;component/Views/Shared/Main.xaml" />

Nested Layouts

Nested layouts allow you to apply "inheritance" to layouts. For example, you can set up a common layout that provides a Title and Content zone. You can then create another layout that references the first layout, and sub-divides the content into two column, Left and Right. You might create another layout subdividing the two column layout even further - it's layouts all the way down.

A nested layouts example

Nested layouts are easy to create. First the Main.xaml:

<UserControl 
    xmlns="http://schemas.microsoft.com/winfx/2006/xaml/presentation"
    xmlns:x="http://schemas.microsoft.com/winfx/2006/xaml" 
    xmlns:magellan="http://xamlforge.com/magellan"
    >
    <DockPanel>
        <ZonePlaceHolder Name="Title" DockPanel.Dock="Top" />
        <ZonePlaceHolder Name="Content" />
    </DockPanel>
</UserControl>

Now the TwoColumn.xaml, which references Main.xaml:

<UserControl 
    xmlns="http://schemas.microsoft.com/winfx/2006/xaml/presentation"
    xmlns:x="http://schemas.microsoft.com/winfx/2006/xaml" 
    xmlns:magellan="http://xamlforge.com/magellan"
    >

    <Layout Source="/MyAssembly;component/Layouts/Main.xaml">        
        <Zone ZonePlaceHolderName="Title">
            <ZonePlaceHolder Name="Title" />
        </Zone>

        <Zone ZonePlaceHolderName="Content">
            <Grid>
                <Grid.ColumnDefinitions>
                    <ColumnDefinition Width="*" />
                    <ColumnDefinition Width="*" />
                </Grid.ColumnDefinitions>

                <ZonePlaceHolder Grid.Column="0" Name="Left" />
                <ZonePlaceHolder Grid.Column="1" Name="Right" />
            </Grid>
        </Zone>
    </Layout>
</UserControl>

Note how this layout references the first. To re-expose the Title zone, we create a Zone with a ZonePlaceHolder. We also expose a Left and Right zone by splitting the Content zone using a Grid.

Summary

Shared Layouts allow you create a consistent look and feel for your views while minimizing XAML and code behind. They can be used not only on Pages, but from any XAML - you might create a Shared Layout for Dialogs with OK/Cancel buttons, or for tab pages within an options dialog.

To make use of shared layouts, you just need a reference to Magellan.dll. You don't have to use Magellan's MVC framework to use this feature, as they are completely independent.

I'd love any feedback on how to make this feature more useful.

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A picture of me

Welcome, my name is Paul Stovell. I live in Brisbane and work on Octopus Deploy, an automated deployment tool for .NET applications.

Prior to founding Octopus Deploy, I worked for an investment bank in London building WPF applications, and before that I worked for Readify, an Australian .NET consulting firm. I also worked on a number of open source projects and was an active user group presenter. I was a Microsoft MVP for WPF from 2006 to 2013.

Zeljko
Zeljko
04 Feb 2010

I'm not able to use control to control binding when using shared layouts. I'm getting error System.Windows.Data Error: 4 : Cannot find source for binding with reference ...

Example:

<WrapPanel Margin="0,3,0,3">
  <Label Width="100" Content="Full name:" />
  <TextBox Width="300" Text="{Binding FullName}" Name="txt" />
</WrapPanel>

<WrapPanel Margin="0,3,0,3">
  <TextBox Text="{Binding ElementName=txt,Path=Text,UpdateSourceTrigger=PropertyChanged}" Width="300"/>
</WrapPanel>

Is there any workaround?

19 Feb 2010

Hi Zeljko,

I've fixed this bug and the code you showed will work in the next build.

Paul

charset
charset
28 Apr 2010

I created a magellan MVC application is VS2008 and a UserControl as Views/Shared/Main.xaml for the master page. But when placing the tag and into default window1.xaml, and window1.xaml.cs goes: Navigator.For(mainFrame).Navigate("Home", "Index"); Then the page runs without the master page. Begining learning WPF...


29 Apr 2010

Hi charset,

Have you set the Source property of the layout?

 <Layout Source="/MyApp;component/Views/Shared/Main.xaml" />

You can also use a style to set the default:

<Style TargetType="Layout">
    <Setter Property="Source" Value="/MyApp;component/Views/Shared/Main.xaml" />
</Style>

Paul