Comprehensive Theming#

Any application, including Otto, can be loosely divided into two parts:

  • the user interface (“how it looks”),

  • and the application logic (“how it works”).

For example, when considering a product in Otto, the user interface consists of how the products are laid out on the page, how the selectors look, how the checkout button is labelled, what sort of fonts and colors are used to display the text, and so on. The application logic consists of how Otto adjusts product price based on the discount coupons, and how it records that information to be displayed in the future.

Theming consists of changing the user interface without changing the application logic. When setting up an E-Commerce website, the website operator often wants to use their own logo, modify the color scheme, change links in the header and footer for SEO (search engine optimization) purposes, and so on. However, although the user interface may look different, the application logic must remain the same so that Otto continues to work properly. A well-designed theme preserves the general layout and structure of the user interface, so that users of the website still find it familiar and easy to use. Be careful about making sweeping changes to the user interface without warning: your users will be very confused!


Comprehensive Theming can be disabled by setting ENABLE_COMPREHENSIVE_THEMING to False.


Theme Structure#

From a technical perspective, theming consists of overriding core

  • Templates,

  • Static Assets and

  • Sass

with themed versions of those resources. Every theme must conform to a directory structure. This structure mirrors the Otto directory structure and looks like this

    ├── README.rst
    ├── static
    |      └── images
    |      |     └── logo.png
    |      |
    |      └── sass
    |            └── partials
    |                   └── utilities
    |                           └── _variables.scss
    └── templates
            └── oscar
            |     └── dashboard
            |             └── index.html
            └── 404.html


Any template included in ecommerce/templates directory is themable. However, make sure not to override class names or id values of html elements inside a template, as these are used by javascript and/or css and overriding these could cause unwanted behavior.

Static Assets#

Any static asset included in ecommerce/static can be overridden except css files present in ecommerce/static/css. Css styles can be overridden via sass overrides explained below.


Theme names should be unique and no static asset and/or directory name should be same as theme’s name. Otherwise static assets would not work correctly.


Sass overrides are a little different from static asset or template overrides. There are two types of styles included in ecommerce/static/sass:

  • base

  • partials


Styles present in ecommerce/static/sass/base should not be overridden as overriding these could result in an unexpected behavior.

Any styles included in ecommerce/static/sass/partials can be overridden. Styles included in this directory contain variable definitions that are used by main sass files. This is the best place if you want to update things like header/footer background, fonts etc.

Enabling a Theme#

To enable a theme, you must first install your theme onto the same server that is running Otto. If you are using devstack or fullstack to run Otto, you must be sure that the theme is present on the Vagrant virtual machine. It is up to you where to install the theme on the server, but a good default location is /edx/app/ecommerce/ecommerce/themes.


All themes must reside in the same physical directory.

In order for Otto to use the installed themes, you must specify the location of the theme directory in Django settings by setting COMPREHENSIVE_THEME_DIRS in your settings file:

COMPREHENSIVE_THEME_DIRS = ["/edx/app/ecommerce/ecommerce/themes", ]

Where /edx/app/ecommerce/ecommerce/themes is the path to where you have installed the themes on your server. You can list any/all theme directories through this setting.

After installing a theme, it is associated with sites by adding appropriate entries to the following tables

  • Site

  • Site Themes

for local devstack, if Otto server is running at localhost:8002 you can enable a my-theme by

  • Adding a new site with domain localhost:8002 and name “Otto My Theme”

  • and a site theme with Theme dir name my-theme and selecting localhost:8002 from site dropdown.

Otto server can now be started, and my-theme should be applied now. If you have overridden sass styles and you are not seeing those overrides then you need to compile sass files as discussed in Compiling Theme Sass.

Disabling a Theme#

Theme can be disabled by removing its corresponding Site Theme entry using django admin.

Creating or Updating Site and SiteTheme#

If you have already setup COMPREHENSIVE_THEME_DIRS then you can use management command for adding Site and SiteTheme directly from the terminal.

python create_or_update_site_theme --site-domain=localhost:8002 --site-name=localhost:8002 --site-theme=my-theme

create_or_update_site_theme accepts the following optional arguments


settings file to use, default: ecommerce.settings.devstack

python create_or_update_site_theme --settings=ecommerce.settings.production

id of the site that you want to update

# update domain of the site with id 1 and add a new theme ``my-theme`` for this site
python create_or_update_site_theme --site-id=1 --site-domain=my-theme.localhost:8002 --site-name=my-theme.localhost:8002 --site-theme=my-theme

domain of the site to be created,

python create_or_update_site_theme --site-domain=localhost:8002 --site-theme=my-theme

Name of the site to be created, default: ''

python create_or_update_site_theme --site-domain=localhost:8002 --site-name=localhost:8002 --site-theme=my-theme

theme dir for the new theme,

python create_or_update_site_theme --site-domain=localhost:8002 --site-name=localhost:8002 --site-theme=my-theme

Compiling Theme Sass#

Management command update_assets can be used for compiling and collecting themed sass.

python update_assets

update_assets accepts the following optional arguments


settings file to use, default: ecommerce.settings.devstack

python update_assets --settings=ecommerce.settings.production

Space separated list of themes to compile sass for. ‘all’ for all themes, ‘no’ to skip sass compilation for themes, default: 'all'

# compile sass for all themes
python update_assets --theme=all

# compile sass for only given themes, useful for situations if you have installed a new theme
# and want to compile sass for just this theme
python update_assets --themes my-theme second-theme third-theme

# skip sass compilation for themes, useful for testing changes to system
# sass, keeping theme styles unchanged
python update_assets --theme=no

Coding style for compiled css files. Possible options are nested, expanded, compact and compressed. default: 'nested'

python update_assets --output-style='compressed'

This flag disables system sass compilation.

# useful in cases where you have updated theme sass and system sass is unchanged.
python update_assets --skip-system

This flag enables source comments in generated css files

python update_assets --enable-source-comments

This flag can be used to skip collectstatic call after sass compilation

# useful if you just want to compile sass, and collectstatic would later be called, may be by a script
python update_assets --skip-collect


If you have gone through the above procedure and you are not seeing theme overrides, you need to make sure

  • COMPREHENSIVE_THEME_DIRS must contain path for the directory containing themes e.g. if your theme is /edx/app/ecommerce/ecommerce/themes/my-theme then correct value for COMPREHENSIVE_THEME_DIRS is ['/edx/app/ecommerce/ecommerce/themes'].

  • domain name for site is the name users will put in the browser to access the site, it also includes port number e.g. if Otto is running on localhost:8002 then domain should be localhost:8002

  • Theme dir name is the name of the directory of you theme, for our ongoing example my-theme is the correct theme dir name.