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User Assistance

Master Page and Skin Components for TopNav in MadCap Flare

Published in ISTC Communicator, Autumn 2017.


One of Flare's most popular and innovative features is its TopNav HTML5 output format. This enables you to create user assistance that has the same layout and navigational features of a modern website. Configuring the layout to suit your precise needs and to match your own in-house style is, however, not a trivial task. In addition to editing the main skin file, you must also set up a suitable master page, and configure a number of other skin components. This article provides some tips, based on my own experience, on setting up these additional requirements.

Master page

When the user looks at a page within the TopNav output, they typically see not just the content of the topic, but also a number of other navigational components wrapped around it. The most obvious of these is the main skin, which is always displayed at the top, and contains a logo, a horizontally arranged set of menus, and a search bar. Beneath this there is often a side menu (containing links to related topics), a topic toolbar, and a bread crumb, in addition to the topic content. It is the job of the master page to arrange these items in the required layout beneath the main skin.

Screenshot showing layout controlled by master page

Due to the number of different components involved in the layout, the master page can be a little challenging to set up. I therefore recommend copying a ready-made master page from one of MadCap's project templates into your own project (obviously this won't be necessary if you created your project from one of MadCap's TopNav project templates). A good template to use is Top Navigation Basic2, which contains only a single master page. You can create a temporary new project from this template, copy its master page into your project, and then delete the temporary project. This master page uses a style class (called sideContent) of the div element to float the toolbar and side menu to the right of the topic content, so you will need to add the following code to your project’s style sheet:

float: right;
margin-left: 10px;
margin-bottom: 10px;
width: 33.33%;

Toolbar skin component

To control the buttons that are displayed on the topic toolbar, you must add a topic toolbar skin component to your project, and then customise it using the Topic Toolbar Skin Editor. Using this editor, you can select the standard buttons that you would like to be included on the toolbar, and you can even add your own new custom button by clicking the New Style button. This will require you to specify the appearance and action of the new button using the Styles tab.

Screenshot showing custom toolbar button

Given that the topic toolbar is normally displayed to the right of the topic content, it looks best if the buttons are right-aligned on the toolbar so that the right-most button is correctly aligned with the topic content. Using the Styles tab, you can achieve this by setting the Toolbar > Alignment > Horizontal property to right.

Features added in 2017 r2

In the 2017 r2 release of Flare, MadCap added some useful new options that affect the way that the skin is displayed. In my opinion, the most useful of these is the Fixed Header option, which ensures that the topic header does not move out of view as the user scrolls down through a topic. This means that the top navigation menus and search bar are always available. This option is on the Setup tab of the Topnav HTML5 Skin Editor, and can be turned on for specific mediums, or for all.

Screenshot showing fixed header option for skin

I also like the option to show the slide-out table of contents as an expanding and collapsing Tree, rather than the Drilldown presentation that was always used in previous versions of the Topnav skin.

Further information

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