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Building Modular Stylesheet Components

  • October 7, 2002
  • By Jeff Ryan
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If you are learning XSL (eXtensible Stylesheet Language), you'll want to understand how to build modular and reusable components as you would in any other language. The XSL include and import elements provide an excellent capability in this regard.

In this article, we will develop a reusable page template to demonstrate how to build modular stylesheet components. The following outline is a roadmap for how we'll cover this topic:

  • First, we'll design a page layout structure for a typical Web site.
  • Then, we'll design the stylesheet structure of modular components to support the page layout.
  • We'll build the header and footer components to demonstrate building named templates.
  • We'll build the page template component and demonstrate including stylesheets and calling named and parameterized templates.
  • We'll build a typical page using our page template component, and demonstrate inheriting and overriding variables and templates from imported stylesheets.
  • Finally, we'll summarize what we've learned.

Page Layout Structure

First, let's define the structure of our reusable page template.

As is common to many sites, our pages will all have a standard header and footer. In addition, we'll define the "frame" in which the header, body, and footer will appear.

Stylesheet Structure

Now, let's look at how we'll construct reusable stylesheet components to implement this design.

The boxes with a dotted line represent the reusable components we will be building:

  • Header.xsl and Footer.xsl contain the common header and footer in our layout.
  • PageTemplate.xsl defines the frame in which the header, body, and footer reside.

Main.xsl is a sample page that uses these components.

Notice that the page template includes the header and footer stylesheets. The <xsl:include/> element will be used to implement this in our example. It provides the capability to include the specified stylesheet at compile time.

Notice that the main stylesheet imports the page template stylesheet. The <xsl:import/> element will be used to implement this in our example. This element works very much like inheritance does in an object-oriented language. As a matter of fact, we'll even override one of the templates in our main stylesheet.

Sample XML Document

Before we go any further, let's define a simple source document that we'll use for our transformation.

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?>
<?xml-stylesheet href="Main.xsl" type="text/xsl"?>
  <Title>Building Modular Stylesheets</Title>

As you can see, we're not going to transform much data via <xsl:apply-templates/> in this example. We'll use the Title element in the header section of our page. This will also be used in our example to show how variables in XSL can be overridden.

Header and Footer

Now, let's build our first reusable component, the header stylesheet.

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?>
<xsl:stylesheet version="1.0"

<xsl:template name="doHeader">
  <xsl:param name="title"/>
              <td style="font-family:arial;
                         font-size: 15px;
                         font-weight: bold;
                         filter: dropShadow(offx=1,offy=1,
                <xsl:value-of select="$title"/>

Notice that our template doesn't have a match attribute, but only a name of doHeader. This name will be used to call the template later from our page template.

The doHeader template may also be passed a parameter to it called title. The passed title is displayed in the table cell. You probably noticed that an inline CSS style is used to apply some rather fancy formatting to the title in our HTML output. This way a custom graphic won't need to be built for each page title.

Now, lets build the footer. Unlike the header, it doesn't have any passed parameters to its named template.

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?>
<xsl:stylesheet version="1.0"

  <xsl:template name="doFooter">
    This site is best viewed with
    <a href="http://www.microsoft.com" target="_blank">
      Microsoft Internet Explorer 5.x


With the modular approach, we'll be able to change page headers and footers for our entire site by modifying code in these components.

Page Template

Now, we'll build our page template stylesheet.

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?>
<xsl:stylesheet version="1.0"
  <xsl:include href="Header.xsl"/>
  <xsl:include href="Footer.xsl"/>
  <xsl:variable name="title" select="'Default Title'"/>
  <xsl:template name="doPage">
        <table width="100%" height="100%">
          <tr valign="top">
              <xsl:call-template name="doHeader">
                <xsl:with-param name="title" select="$title"/>
            <td><xsl:call-template name="doBody"/></td>
          <tr align="center" valign="bottom">
            <td><xsl:call-template name="doFooter"/></td>
  <xsl:template name="doBody">
    Default body - will be overridden

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