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John T. Unger

10 Tips for Working with Advanced Templates

John T. Unger April 2, 2006

Advanced templates can be daunting at times, and I'm sure some of us have had the same feelings expressed in a recent email I received:

I have a TypePad Pro account and have dabbled in Advanced templates, but I always go back to the regular templates out of frustration. The problem is that once you go advanced you have to do everything in an advanced way and forgo the opportunity to make mundane changes (font size, colors, etc.) through the simplified designer interface.

Have no fear. There is an easy solution to this problem which will make working with advanced templates much less difficult. It's a simple matter of saving copies of your basic templates and keeping a test blog handy so that you can try out new things without disrupting the layout of your active blogs.

I used to have a bad habit of deleting my basic templates after converting to advanced… it seemed less confusing to keep the number of templates in my list to a minimum. But after recreating several blogs from scratch, I've learned to keep copies of the basic templates around.

When you create an advanced template, TypePad automatically creates a copy of your basic template. If you keep a copy of the basic template that your advanced design is based on, you can make changes to it later using the design wizard (adding typelists, for instance) and then re-convert it to advanced. It's then a simple matter of comparing the new and old version of the advanced templates to add back in any hacks you've added after converting it the first time. This is easiest if you are working in a tabbed browser like FireFox: open a tab to each of the template sets, and then cut + paste any advanced code from the old template into the new one. Voila! A new advanced template with easy design changes!

Here are a few more things to keep in mind. I'm a bit redundant here about making copies, but believe me, it's worth it:

  1. Templates do not need to be assigned to an active blog in order to remain in the list. Unless you're quite certain that you'll never want that design again, don't delete it, just rename it.
  2. Naming your templates to make it easier to remember what they're for is very important. I typically name my basic templates "blogname_basic" and my advanced templates"blogname_advanced." This keeps them next to each other in the alphabetized list of designs. You can change the names of templates at any time (basic or advanced) from the "manage your designs" tab.
  3. If you have a layout which is close to what you want, make a copy of it and then change just the elements you would like to have different. This is an enormous time-saver if you just need to change the header and typelist selections but want the colors and fonts to match another blog.
  4. Always make a copy of your template before making changes to it. If you make mistakes, you can delete the template you're working on, create a new copy of the first design, and start again.
  5. You can edit a design without applying it to a blog (but you won't be able to preview it until you apply it).
  6. Pay attention to the navigation directory at the top left of the page, under the TypePad logo. It looks like: TypePad Home  >  Your Weblogs  >  Name_of_Blog  >  Design. It's easy to accidentally make changes to a design you were using for one blog by applying it to another to see how it would look. At least, it's a mistake I've made a couple times. See number 4.
  7. If you have a Pro account, you can have as many blogs as you like. I always keep one blog that is not public and has a few entries in it which I can use for testing new designs and hacks. That way, if something goes haywire, it doesn't effect my real blogs. Once I'm satisfied that the new design or code is working, I then apply it to the real blog. If I started out with a copy of my most recent template, I can even apply the new template to the blog, delete the old (advanced) template, and rename the new template to match the old so that I'm clear on what it is for.
  8. If you plan to make multiple changes to an advanced template, it's not a bad idea to do it in stages. Make a copy, make the first set of changes, save. Then make a new copy for the next set of changes and replace the first copy when you're sure both work. repeat as necessary.
  9. It helps to edit template code in an external editor such as Dreamweaver or even a basic text edit program. Anything that supports multiple "undos" will work. That way, if the template code doesn't work when you save it in TypePad, you can backtrack one step at a time to see where you made your mistake. It also allows you to keep handy an untouched original of the code you started with.
  10. Currently, the only way to find the name for a TypeList is to add it to a basic template, convert to advanced, and then copy + paste the "include" code into the appropriate advanced sidebar template. I think this is one of the things that most deters users from converting to advanced. But it's and easy thing to do if you just use a scratch template and test blog. The code for Typelists looks like this: <!--#include virtual="/lists/jtu_studio_info/module.inc"--> To add a new typelist to an advanced template:
    1. Make a new basic template that uses only that typelist.
    2. convert to advanced.
    3. Open the Sidebar template from the Design tab
    4. Copy the code and then navigate to the design tab for the advanced template where you want to add it and paste it into the sidebar template in the position where you want it to appear.

If you follow these basic precautions, there's no real need to fear working with advanced templates. Your current designs will always be safe, and the mistakes you make will always apply only to your sandbox or test blog.

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More Like This: Advanced Templates


Warner Crocker says:

Good stuff and your timing was accurate.

Seshu says:

As a Pro level user I have found myself getting more confused and eventually frustrated. Thanks for listing out these steps. I have printed it out and will use them when I am tinkering with my templates again.

Now, could you possibly address the idea of a tabbed blog page - that is, having one blog, with multiple pages within it. Right now I have one blog linking to other "blogs". Changing things around is cumbersome at best. Hope to see something on this soon. Thanks!

Chris says:

John, your #10 is incorrect. To add a Typelist to the sidebar, just use the <$MTList include="Full Typelist Name Here"$>. You do not have to use the

Hope this helps. Here is a link to the help doc on adding Typelists in advanced templates:



Chris says:

whoops, some of my text got left out. Didn't think the HTML would work in the comments. Anyway, you don't have to use the "include" statement that TypePad uses when it auto-inserts TypeLists. Using the MT List statement will acheive the exact same thing.


BTW, you might want to disable HTML in your comments and enable auto-hotspot for URLs. This can be done in the configuration screen for your blog. Just a thought.

john t unger says:

Hi Chris,

re: number ten being incorrect…

Well, yes and no. The problem is that the filename for Typelists is not always exactly what you're expecting it to be, based on the name… spaces become underscores, the names are case sensitive, and when you give a typelist a longer name, the file name is sometimes truncated.

I spent quite a while one day trying to guess the name of a typelist, based on what I thought it should be and just found it quicker and easier to convert back and forth in the end.

Thanks for the tip on the MT List statement and the link to the help article though.

As for turning off html in favor of auto-URLs… well, I did think about it when I was setting up the blog. But I like being able to use italics, bold, and quote settings. It's easy enough to handcode a link into the comments isn't it? And we can always cut and paste them into the browser if someone just types them in.

I kind of wish I could have both comment html and auto-URLs at the same time… Do you think I should add it to the list?

john t unger says:


RE: could you possibly address the idea of a tabbed blog page - that is, having one blog, with multiple pages within it.

I'm not really sure if this can be done in TypePad at all the way I *think* you're envisioning it… I have some ideas of hacks that might be close. I'll look into it.

If Chris, Bud or anyone else has any ideas I'd love to hear them!

john t unger says:


Okay, so I've found not one but *several* ways to create a hack to make typepad blogs use what looks like tabbed browsing in the header. It's going to take me a while to work up the tutorials, but just wanted to let you know that I'm on it.

Rich Owings says:


Thanks for this post. It has definitely lessened my anxiety about going to advanced templates. I'm sure some of it will become much clearer once I roll up my sleeves and get started. I think I'll clean up everything I can before converting to advanced though.

One question...Can you use any MT tag in TP Pro? I'm assuming these are Movable Type tags. If so, is there a list of them somewhere? Um, okay, one more question :-) ... Is there a hack to add a footer?

Timothy Williamson says:

A quick thought... I find it really useful to include comments on any code that I change in a template so that I can subsequently review changes that I've made and still be able to understand why I did what I did!

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