Creating a Custom Page

The Nikola team tries very hard to make Nikola be simple, in a very specific way: once the user has things setup, doing the same thing again should take no work. So, if you have done one image gallery, doing a second one should be just creating a folder and putting images in it. If you have written a blog post, writing a new one is running one command and editing the text you want to publish. And so on.

But sometimes, you don’t want to do the same thing you have been doing. Sometimes you want to make a one-off, a special thing, and Nikola should not get in the way of you doing that. Rather, it should let you get your hands as dirty as you want.

So, this tutorial is about how to create a page that is totally different from all the other pages in your site. A custom page.

Our goal for today is to make a page where it’s nice to read a book. Specifically, a book of late Victorian fiction called “Dr. Nikola’s Vendetta” [1] because, how could we resist using that one, right? And to make it maintain, within reason, the “style” of the original book.

It’s the first in a series of five books about Dr. Nikola, one of the first recognizable archvillains, and … well, they are not all that great, but they are available at Project Gutenberg and Open Library if you want to read them.

The Open Library has a lovely scan of the original book we can use for some design guidance. On the other hand, Project Gutenberg has the text which we can use for actual content!

So, I took the prologue of the book, did some very light editing to turn it into reStructuredText, added a picture of Dr. Nikola himself I found on Wikipedia, and put it here for display. Behold!

That is very… bad? While Nikola does the job, the default template is simply not meant for this sort of thing.

The problems are many, from a book-reading point of view:

  1. The column is too wide
  2. The typesetting is all wrong
  3. The sans-serif font is a very wrong idea for book material
  4. it’s so … long!

So, let’s fix them!

Custom Template

Like all pages, that one is shown using story.tmpl:

story.tmpl (Source)

## -*- coding: utf-8 -*-
<%namespace name="helper" file="post_helper.tmpl"/>
<%namespace name="pheader" file="post_header.tmpl"/>
<%namespace name="comments" file="comments_helper.tmpl"/>
<%inherit file="post.tmpl"/>

<%block name="content">
<article class="storypage" itemscope="itemscope" itemtype="http://schema.org/Article">
    <header>
        ${pheader.html_title()}
        ${pheader.html_translations(post)}
    </header>
    <div class="e-content entry-content" itemprop="articleBody text">
    ${post.text()}
    </div>
    %if site_has_comments and enable_comments and not post.meta('nocomments'):
        <section class="comments">
        <h2>${messages("Comments")}</h2>
        ${comments.comment_form(post.permalink(absolute=True), post.title(), post.base_path)}
        </section>
    %endif
    ${helper.mathjax_script(post)}
</article>
</%block>

That has a lot of code in it that we don’t really need. We know there will be no math here, and I don’t want comments on a book. Also, I saw a nice tutorial about columns in CSS so I want to style things up a little.

So, I will create a templates/book.tmpl in my site, and make this story use that by setting the template metadata in the page to use it:

.. template:: book.tmpl

Here is my new book.tmpl with comments:

book1.tmpl (Source)

## -*- coding: utf-8 -*-
<%namespace name="helper" file="post_helper.tmpl"/>
<%namespace name="pheader" file="post_header.tmpl"/>
<%namespace name="comments" file="comments_helper.tmpl"/>
<%inherit file="post.tmpl"/>

## This redefines the extra_head block which goes at the end of <head>
<%block name="extra_head">
    ${parent.extra_head()}
    <style>
        ## This shows the content in columns with a height
        ## somewhat smaller than the viewport height (90vh)
        ## to give a "book" feeling instead of a wall of text.
        .chapter {
            width: 100%;
            padding: 10px;
            -webkit-column-gap: 40px;
               -moz-column-gap: 40px;
                    column-gap: 40px;
            -webkit-column-width: 400px;
               -moz-column-width: 400px;
                    column-width: 400px;
            -webkit-column-count: 2;
               -moz-column-count: 2;
                    column-count: 2;
            -webkit-column-rule: 1px solid #ddd;
               -moz-column-rule: 1px solid #ddd;
                    column-rule: 1px solid #ddd;
            height: 90vh;
            font-color: #2d2e2e;
            font-weight: 500;
        }

        ## A wrapper that hides most of the columns
        div.frame {
            overflow: hidden;
            padding: 0;
            margin: 0;
        }

        ## A wrapper to let you scroll across columns
        div.scrolling-cont {
            overflow-x: scroll;
            padding: 0;
            margin: 0;
        }
    </style>
</%block>

<%block name="content">
<article class="storypage" itemscope="itemscope" itemtype="http://schema.org/Article">
    ## Wrap the post's text in the needed divs
    <div class="frame">
    <div class="scrolling-cont" id="scrolling-cont" name="scrolling-cont">
    <div class="e-content entry-content chapter" itemprop="articleBody text">
    ## Moved the title inside the flow of the book
    <h1>${post.title()}</h1>
    ${post.text()}
    </div>
    </div>
    </div>
</article>
</%block>

And here is the resulting page It’s better, but it’s far from awesome. So, let’s continue!

Typesetting

Paragraph layout: Fiction books that are not fully justified feel wrong to me. So we should set text-align: justify; in the CSS. But to achieve proper justification, you also need hyphenation. To have that in Nikola, you need to either enable it for the whole site (maybe not a great idea) or just for this page using the hyphenate metadata:

.. hyphenate: yes

Also, the original book has no space between paragraphs, and has bleeding in the first line, so more CSS tweaks.

Proper “quotes”! And —dashes—! Nice, curly quotes are a must. Nikola has the typogrify filter to achieve that. Again, you can enable it for your whole site, or just for this page using metadata:

.. filters: filters.typogrify

Please note that the filter requires the typogrify package, which is not included with the basic Nikola distribution. You need to install it yourself (usually from pip).

Choosing the right font for a page or a site is an art. One I suck at, so I just went with a font that was similar to the one used in the original book. There are a number of those, but I chose Gentium Basic. You can, of course, choose whatever you want. Using it via Google Fonts is very simple.

Even with the nicer font, and the dual columns, the font size is too small, there is too many letters per line. We could tweak that using CSS font sizes, but let’s go crazy and use a JavaScript solution: FlowType.JS

Why FlowType.JS? It dynamically adjust the font size so that columns always have the right font size for their width. That’s just nice. To do that, we need to add jQuery and run a little JS in a <script> tag at the end of the page.

For that, the template offers the extra_js block. Since the bootstrap3 theme we are using already loads jQuery, there is no need to do that, so it’s just a matter of loading FlowType.JS and initializing it.

Figures: figures and multicolumn layout don’t go along very well, they may even get split between columns! The easiest solution is to make them fit in a “page”, so, some more CSS for that.

Also, minor things like styling titles, subtitles, making the 1st word in the section small caps, and so on, but hey, this is just CSS tweaking, we could do this forever.

So, here is our second attempt at a “book-like” template with comments about all the above:

book2.tmpl (Source)

## -*- coding: utf-8 -*-
<%namespace name="helper" file="post_helper.tmpl"/>
<%namespace name="pheader" file="post_header.tmpl"/>
<%namespace name="comments" file="comments_helper.tmpl"/>
<%inherit file="post.tmpl"/>

<%block name="extra_head">
    ${parent.extra_head()}

    ## Get the Gentium Basic font from Google
    <link href='https://fonts.googleapis.com/css?family=Gentium+Book+Basic' rel='stylesheet' type='text/css'>
    <style>
        .chapter {
            width: 100%;
            padding: 10px;
            -webkit-column-gap: 40px;
               -moz-column-gap: 40px;
                    column-gap: 40px;
            -webkit-column-width: 400px;
               -moz-column-width: 400px;
                    column-width: 400px;
            -webkit-column-count: 2;
               -moz-column-count: 2;
                    column-count: 2;
            -webkit-column-rule: 1px solid #ddd;
               -moz-column-rule: 1px solid #ddd;
                    column-rule: 1px solid #ddd;
            height: 90vh;
            ## Use Gentium for the text
            font-family: 'Gentium Book Basic', serif;
            color: #2d2e2e;
            font-weight: 500;
        }
        div.frame {
            overflow: hidden;
            padding: 0;
            margin: 0;
        }
        div.scrolling-cont {
            overflow-x: scroll;
            padding: 0;
            margin: 0;
        }
        ## The document uses a smallcaps role/class. This makes it actual smallcaps.
        .smallcaps {
            font-variant: small-caps;
        }
        ## Titles in bold, centered, very black Gentium
        h1, h2, h3, h4 {
            text-align: center;
            width: 100%;
            font-family: 'Gentium Book Basic', serif;
            font-size: 120%;
            font-weight: 900;
        }
        h1 {
            font-size: 150%;
        }
        .subtitle {
            text-align: center;
            width: 100%;
        }

        ## Images in figures are as large as they can be
        ## respecting aspect ratio
        .bookfig {
            width: 100%;
            height: auto;
            max-width: 100%;
            max-height: 100%;
        }

        ## Figures are slightly smaller than a page, so they
        ## will use one fully.
        div.figure {
            height: 88vh;
            margin: 0;
        }

        ## Minor tweak
        div.topic {
            margin: 0;
        }

        ## Follow paragraph typesetting conventions from the original book.
        div.section > p {
            text-indent: 1em;
            margin-bottom: 0;
            text-align: justify;
        }
    </style>
</%block>

<%block name="content">
<article class="storypage" itemscope="itemscope" itemtype="http://schema.org/Article">
    <div class="frame">
    <div class="scrolling-cont" id="scrolling-cont" name="scrolling-cont">
    <div class="e-content entry-content chapter" itemprop="articleBody text">
    <h1>${post.title()}</h1>
    ${post.text()}
    </div>
    </div>
    </div>
</article>
</%block>

## The extra_js block goes always at the end, right before closing the <body> tag.
<%block name="extra_js">
    ## Load FlowType.JS and apply it to the main text.
    <script src="//cdnjs.cloudflare.com/ajax/libs/Flowtype.js/1.1.0/flowtype.min.js"></script>
    <script>
        $('#scrolling-cont').flowtype({
            minimum: 500,
            maximum: 1200,
            minFont: 20,
            maxFont: 40,
            fontRatio: 50
        });
    </script>
</%block>

And here’s our much more nicely typeset book.

Interaction

Pages are not just text anymore. They need to interact with the user in the right way. In this case, the scrolling horizontally to read another page is horrible:

  • It’s hard to stop at the right place
  • You end up between pages 99% of the time

So, let’s fix that with a little more JS at the end of the template:

$(document).ready(function() {
    var elem = $('#scrolling-cont');
    elem.click(function(event) {
        var x1 = elem.position().left;
        var pw = elem.width() + 20;
        var x2 = event.pageX;
        if (x2 - x1 < pw / 2) {
            pw = -pw;
        }
        elem.animate({
            scrollLeft: '+=' + pw
        }, 500)
    });
});

If you click on the right half of the book, it moves 2 pages to the right. If you click on the left half it moves two pages to the left. Improvements are left as exercise to the reader, but please share!

And here’s the final result: A Bid For Fortune; Or; Dr. Nikola’s Vendetta and the template I used: book.tmpl

Final Note

Eventually, you will find something Nikola simply doesn’t let you do. For example, while doing this, I found that enabling typogrify from a page’s metadata did not work well, that using magic links to listings is buggy and, while there is a way around it, filed a feature request about not double-loading JQuery.

And you know what happened? I fixed the bugs, and I will implement the feature request! And if you try to do cool crazy stuff with Nikola, you will find bugs, and will ask for features, and there is a pretty good chance we will fix them, or find workarounds. After all we have already done it at least 1179 times.

So, please enjoy, experiment, and communicate. Everyone wins.


[1] Sadly, the title is actually “A Bid For Fortune” and “Dr. Nikola’s Vendetta” is the subtitle, but it works for me.