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Layouts

Overview

Layouts allow your pages to reuse stateful UI. They can save you time wiring things up, and prevent bugs that come from duplication across pages. In many web apps, you might have a common element, like a sidebar, that should be available across multiple pages.

In Elm Land, each page explicitly chooses the layout it wants to use. This design choice means there won't be any secret or "default" layouts. For example, if you have a sign-in page that you don't want to use your sidebar layout, that's totally fine!

Example of a layout being used on three different pages

In this guide, we'll learn how to create and use layouts.

Have you read about pages, yet?

If you haven't read the previous "Pages" section, we recommend you check that out first. Layouts won't make much sense until you know the basics of how pages work!

Adding layouts

To add a new layout, you can use the elm-land CLI tool:

sh
elm-land add layout Sidebar

This generates a new file at src/Layouts/Sidebar.elm, which looks like this:

elm
module Layouts.Sidebar exposing (Props, Model, Msg, layout)

import Layout exposing (Layout)
-- ...


type alias Props =
    {}


layout : 
    Props
    -> Shared.Model
    -> Route ()
    -> Layout () Model Msg contentMsg
layout props shared route =
    Layout.new
        { init = init
        , update = update
        , view = view
        , subscriptions = subscriptions
        }

-- ...

This file should look somewhat familiar to you after reading the Pages guide. Let's compare the two functions side-by-side to understand what's changed:

elm
-- PAGES
page : Shared.Model -> Route () -> Page Model Msg

-- LAYOUTS
layout : Props -> Shared.Model -> Route () -> Layout () Model Msg contentMsg

Although some things are the same, there are two new types we haven't seen before:

  1. Props
  2. Layout () Model Msg contentMsg

Props

As we'll see in the "Using layouts" section below, it's common for pages to send data or other information to their layout. In Elm Land, the Props type defined in your layout file determines what information can be sent by a page.

For our new sidebar layout, let's say we always expect an Auth.User value. This way, we won't have to worry about what the sidebar looks like when a user is not signed in:

elm
module Layouts.Sidebar exposing (Props, Model, Msg, layout)

import Auth
import Layout exposing (Layout)
-- ...

type alias Props =
    { user : Auth.User
    }


layout : Props -> Shared.Model -> Route () -> Layout () Model Msg contentMsg
layout props shared route =
    ...


-- ...

"Whats an Auth.User?"

Elm Land comes with a system for making user authentication really easy!

We briefly covered this in the "User authentication" section in the Pages guide. Later on, in the Auth section, we'll learn more about how the User value works.

( For now, here's all you need to know: if any page or layout has access to an Auth.User value, that view will only be visible for signed-in users. )

Layout () Model Msg contentMsg

Our layout function returns a Layout type. This Layout type bundles up all the settings for how to render a layout.

There are four parameters on the Layout type:

  1. () – This is a placeholder for "parent props" which, we'll cover in the Nested layouts section below.
  2. Model – This means our Layout will store a Model to track it's local state
  3. Msg – Says our Layout will send these Msg values when user events occur.
  4. contentMsg – This last parameter allows the layout's view function to embed the page's HTML anywhere in our layout.

Understanding layouts

Layouts are very similar to pages, and even have identical init/update/subscriptions functions.

But here's what makes the layout's view function unique:

  1. It allows you to embed other page or layout HTML anywhere you like.
  2. It supports nesting layouts to save you time and prevent bugs.

Here is a closer look at the four functions used in every layout:

init

This function is called anytime your layout loads.

elm
init : () -> ( Model, Effect Msg )
init _ =
    ...

update

This function is called whenever a user or the browser sends a message.

elm
update : Msg -> Model -> ( Model, Effect Msg )
update msg model =
    ...

view

This view function converts the current model to the HTML you want to show the user.

elm
view :
    { model : Model
    , toContentMsg : Msg -> contentMsg
    , content : View contentMsg
    }
    -> View contentMsg
view { model, toContentMsg, content } =
    ...
"Wait, what's up with 'content' and 'toContentMsg'?"

Unlike a page's view function, layouts also have access to a content argument. The content value allows you to embed the inner page (or nested layout) anywhere you like within your layout.

To allow you to mix this layout's Html Msg with the inner content's Html contentMsg, you'll have access to the toContentMsg function. This is commonly used with Html.map to make sure that a single Html contentMsg value is returned by the view function.

Here's an example of how you would use these two values in a real layout:

elm
view :
    { model : Model
    , toContentMsg : Msg -> contentMsg
    , content : View contentMsg
    }
    -> View contentMsg
view { model, toContentMsg, content } =
    { title = content.title ++ " | My app" 
    , body =
        [ -- View the sidebar
          viewSidebar model
            |> Html.map toContentMsg
          -- View the inner content  
        , div [ class "page" ] content.body
        ]
    }

viewSidebar : Model -> Html Msg
viewSidebar model =
    aside [ class "sidebar" ] [ ... ]

Here are some highlights from the code snippet above:

  1. On line 8, we appended " | My app" to the end of whatever title came in from the content in this layout.
    • Let's imagine that our Page.Settings file is using this sidebar layout.
    • If the Page.Settings.view function returned the title "Settings", we would see "Settings | My app" as the tab title displayed for this page.
  2. On line 12, we used the toContentMsg function along with to Html.map. This converts the Html Msg value returned by viewSidebar into the expected Html contentMsg value our view function needs to return.
  3. On line 14, we embedded the HTML content from our page into a <div class="page"> tag.
    • If we were on the Settings page, then content.body would be the exact HTML content returned by the Page.Settings.view function.
  4. On line 18, we use a capitalized Msg type in the HTML value we returned. This means our viewSidebar can send messages in this function, which is important for interactive layouts!

subscriptions

This function listens for ongoing events like "window resized" or "javascript sent a message" and forwards that as a Msg for the update function to handle.

elm
subscriptions : Model -> Sub Msg
subscriptions model =
    ...

Removing layouts

Just like we saw with pages, there's no special command for removing layout files. To remove a layout, you can either delete the file in your file explorer, or from your terminal:

sh
rm src/Layouts/Sidebar.elm

Elm Land will clean up the generated Layouts.Sidebar custom type variant, and the Elm compiler will let you know if any pages are impacted.

Using layouts

Although most of our pages should have a sidebar, there are certain pages that shouldn't. One common example of this is the "Sign in" page. Elm Land allows each pages to opt-in to use a layout.

For that reason, there is no default layout, or other mechanism to hide which layout a page is using. You can use the Page.withLayout function, documented in the "Page" module reference, to add a layout to a page:

elm
module Pages.People exposing (Model, Msg, page)

import Page exposing (Page)
import Layouts
-- ...


page : Auth.User -> Shared.Model -> Route () -> Page Model Msg
page user shared route =
    Page.new
        { init = init
        , update = update
        , view = view
        , subscriptions = subscriptions
        }
        |> Page.withLayout (toLayout user)


{-| Use the sidebar layout on this page -}
toLayout : Auth.User -> Model -> Layouts.Layout Msg
toLayout user model =
    Layouts.Sidebar
        { title = "Settings"
        }

Here are the important things to know when using a layout:

  1. On line 4, we import a Layouts module. This module is updated anytime you add a new layout in src/Layouts. It provides a "custom type" with all possible layouts in your application.
    • Note: This is distinct from the Layout module, which is used for defining layouts
  2. On line 16, we use the Page.withLayout function to tell Elm Land which layout we'd like our Settings page to use.
    • Note: Because it is within the page function, you'll be able to access values like user and pass them along to your toLayout function.
  3. On line 20, we define a toLayout function. This function has access to the Model, in case the layout we should use is based on the state of our page.
    • It uses the Layouts.Sidebar variant from the Layouts module
    • It passes in the Layouts.Sidebar.Props value, so our layout is provided the settings it expects

When we go to the /settings page, you'll see that Elm Land has embedded the Page.Settings page inside the Layouts.Sidebar layout. You can repeat this process with as many pages as you want.

Nested layouts

When we created Layouts.Sidebar, we created a normal top-level layout file. Just like pages use a file-naming convention to determine URL routing, layouts use a file-naming convention to support nesting layouts within each other.

One example of a nested layout could be if you're trying to standardize pages that use a sidebar and a header. Rather than reimplementing the sidebar layout in a separate layout, Elm Land lets you create a Layouts.Sidebar.Header that's automatically embedded in your existing Layouts.Sidebar file:

sh
elm-land add layout Sidebar.Header

This command will create a file at src/Layouts/Sidebar/Header.elm. This new layout file will include a way to provide Layouts.Sidebar.Props into the parent component:

elm
module Layouts.Sidebar.Header exposing (Props, Model, Msg, layout)

import Layout exposing (Layout)
import Layouts.Sidebar
-- ...


type alias Props =
    { title : String
    , user : Auth.User
    }


layout :
    Props
    -> Shared.Model
    -> Route ()
    -> Layout Layouts.Sidebar.Props Model Msg contentMsg
layout props shared route =
    Layout.new
        { init = init
        , update = update
        , view = view
        , subscriptions = subscriptions
        }
        |> Layout.withParentProps
            { user = props.user
            }

Here are a few differences between a nested layout and the standard one we saw earlier in this guide:

  • On line 18, you'll see the first argument of your Layout type holds the parent props.
    • In this case, our parent layout props type is Layouts.Sidebar.Props
  • On line 26, we need to pass those Layouts.Sidebar.Props in.
    • Because we are within the layout function, we have access to our own props
    • This gives our sidebar layout access to the user value it expected.

Usage example

Now that we have a Layouts.Sidebar.Header, we can use it on a page. Using a nested layout on a page works exactly like any other layout.

You'll be able to follow the same steps as shown earlier in the "Using layouts" section:

elm
module Pages.Settings exposing (Model, Msg, page)

import Layouts
-- ...

page : Auth.User -> Shared.Model -> Route () -> Page Model Msg
page user shared route =
    Page.new
        { init = init
        , update = update
        , view = view
        , subscriptions = subscriptions
        }
        |> Page.withLayout (toLayout user)


toLayout : Auth.User -> Model -> Layouts.Layout Msg
toLayout user model =
    Layouts.Sidebar_Header
        { title = "Settings"
        , user = user
        }

Sending messages to pages

Earlier, we saw the view function allowed us to embed a page's HTML anywhere within a layout. In many web applications, you'll also want to embed page content in other places.

A visual of two pages using our header layout: "People" and "Posts". They each have a distinct action in the top-right. People has an "Add person" button, while Posts has an "Add post" button

In the example above, we want to reuse all the layout and logic in our Layouts.Sidebar.Header, but we want to customize the button that appears in the top right corner of our header. Additionally, we want the individual page to handle the logic for "Add person" or "Add post".

Upgrading our Props

In order to accomplish this, we'll need to update our Props type to support rendering HTML with a contentMsg type variable:

elm
-- BEFORE
type alias Props =
    { title : String
    }

-- AFTER
type alias Props contentMsg =
    { title : String
    , button : Html contentMsg
    }

By adding this variable, we'll be able to embed that button anywhere we like in our layout's view function.

Usage example

Here's a quick example, because you're worth it!

Updating the layout file

elm
module Layouts.Sidebar.Header exposing
    ( Props, Model, Msg, layout
    , map
    )

import Layout exposing (Layout)
-- ...


type alias Props contentMsg =
    { title : String
    , button : Html contentMsg
    }


map : (msg1 -> msg2) -> Props msg1 -> Props msg2
map fn props =
    { title = props.title
    , button = Html.map fn props.button
    }


layout :
    Props contentMsg
    -> Shared.Model
    -> Route ()
    -> Layout Layouts.Sidebar.Props Model Msg contentMsg
layout props shared route =
    Layout.new
        { init = init
        , update = update
        , view = view props
        , subscription = subscription
        }
        |> Layout.withParentProps { user = props.user }


-- ...


view :
    Props contentMsg
    ->
        { model : Model
        , toContentMsg : Msg -> contentMsg
        , content : Html contentMsg
        }
    -> Html contentMsg
view props { model, toContentMsg, content } =
    { title = content.title
    , body =
        [ header [ class "header" ]
            [ h1 [ class "title" ] [ text props.title ]
            , div [ class "right-controls" ]
                [ props.button
                ]
            ]
        , div [ class "content" ] content.body
        ]
    }

Here are some things to keep in mind:

  • You can pass along props value into your view function, just like we saw in the pages section (see line 32)
  • Be sure to add the contentMsg parameter everywhere you see Props in this file

What's up with that map function?

When you add the contentMsg variable to your Props type, Elm Land will ask you to define a map function to help convert your Props type from one contentMsg to another.

This is essential for the generated code to connect this layout to the top-level application!

Using the layout on a page

elm
module Pages.People exposing (Model, Msg, page)

import Layouts
-- ...

page : Auth.User -> Shared.Model -> Route () -> Page Model Msg
page user shared route =
    Page.new { ... }
        |> Page.withLayout (toLayout user)


toLayout : Auth.User -> Model -> Layouts.Layout Msg
toLayout user model =
    Layouts.Sidebar_Header
        { title = "People"
        , button = viewAddPersonButton model
        }


viewAddPersonButton : Model -> Html Msg
viewAddPersonButton model =
    button
        [ onClick ClickedAddPerson ]
        [ text "Add person" ]

-- ...

Under the hood, Elm Land will take care of converting your page's Html Msg into the Html contentMsg passed into your layout.

"Not just for HTML!"

Upgrading your Props to Props contentMsg also opens up the possibility of sending messages from a layout to a page:

elm
type alias Props contentMsg =
    { title : String
    , onWindowResize : { width : Int, height: Int } -> contentMsg
    }

You can use this feature to allow pages to respond to events sent from your layouts.

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