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Every single page on every single SharePoint site uses something called a master page. A master page describes the overall layout of the pages on a site, so that you don't have to rewrite the common things like the logo, the navigation down the left-hand side, the navigation along the top. In fact, you can change the master page. I am going to go to my Site Settings of this site with publishing enabled. I will actually find the word master page used in two places. We have a Master pages and page layout gallery in our Galleries section and then I find the master page in the Look and Feel section.
Now, you'll only see this entry in the Look and Feel section if you have publishing enabled. If you don't have publishing enabled, the only place you can change the master page is actually using SharePoint Designer. So if I select that one, it takes me to the Site Master Page Settings where it says here is where you can specify a master page to be used by this site and all sites that inherit from it, and it's showing me the out of the box master page called nightandday.master. The only choice I actually see here is v4. V4.master is actually the standard SharePoint master page for team sites, Document Workspaces. In fact, anything.
Just changing that and clicking OK, I am going to go back to the homepage of this Internet site and we can see instead of having the blue bar with Adventure Works, we are now back to that standard SharePoint look and feel. So by changing the master page we can pretty much change the whole layout of every page in the SharePoint site. Going back into our Site Settings, selecting master page, going back to nightandday.master. Now, nightandday.master is the master page used by all the public facing pages.
As you will see the actual page we're on right now looks like standard SharePoint stuff and it is. That's because the system pages, all the behind scene stuff, the settings pages, pages for effecting look and feel and navigation, they are all using the standard SharePoint v4.master, which is probably what you want to leave them as. It's hard enough finding out where all the different links are without shifting them around and changing the fonts on them. And if you're a designer, you will be interested in this part. Here is where you can actually specify an alternate CSS file to be used by this site and all sites that inherit from it.
SharePoint CSS is quite a story in itself, but this version of SharePoint is using pretty good, web-standard, pretty good XHTML and CSS for design and layout. Once you understand the SharePoint CSS file, and a bit about how it does things, it's quite easy to change. In previous versions of SharePoint they used to have a few more master pages available. Master pages can be changed on the fly as you've just seen. The master pages are located in what's called your Master page and page layouts gallery.
They have to end in the word .master. So we've got there the nightandday.master and v4.master. Default.master is actually old school SharePoint. It's really the 2007 look and feel and minimal.master is used by the search pages. The real issue with master pages is you are going to want to get your designers to design your own master page, and they can. You can pretty much take the tips from things like v4.master and nightandday.master as to how you layout a page, where you put the placeholders for navigation, where you put the placeholders for content, then uploading those master pages to this master page gallery will allow you then to be able to change it and select your own for your own website look and feel.
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