Alternative Stylesheets for Different Browsers

On a site I’ve been working on recently various Css Hacks are used to ensure that the site is displayed consistently on all browsers.  However, as more and more browsers are released the css files just got messier and harder to maintain.  Moving the ‘hacks’ into their own file and selectively including them would make life a lot easier.  The usual way to achieve this is using conditional comments.  This is only supported in IE, but as most of our css hacks were around IE this was acceptable.

The problem with this however, is that the site was using ASP.Net Themes, and that automatically adds the relevant stylesheets to the page for you - meaning that you have no way of selectively choosing the correct stylesheets!  (Incidentally, I’d love to be proved wrong about this so please let me know if I’m missing something!).

I decided to write a more flexible theming system instead.  The plan was to load all the stylesheets in a certain directory and add them to the pages automatically in the same way ASP.Net themes do.  But it would also support convention-based subdirectories containing the ‘hacks’ for the different browsers.  The structure would be something like this:


Any css files in the Theme1 directory would always be included, but css files in the IE directory would only be included if the user was using IE.  The convention for the names of the folder is to match the Browser property of the HttpBrowserCapabilities class (accessible from Request.Browser).  I ended up also allowing further sub-directories so that different browser versions could have different stylesheets.


If you need a stylesheet for a specific version of a browser, you just create a folder with the version number as its name.  e.g. To have a stylesheet specifically for FireFox v2, create a folder called ‘2’ in the FireFox folder.  If you want a stylesheet for IE versions 6 and below, you can place it in a folder called ‘6-‘.  Likewise, if you want a stylesheet for versions 7 and up, you should place it in a folder called ‘7+’.  In the future I may extend this convention to allow things like ‘1-3’ and ‘4-7’ so that ranges of versions can be included.

I have uploaded this theming engine here.  To use the engine you must register the StylesheetManager control on your webforms/masterpage like so:

<%@ Register Assembly=”SPL.WebSite.Projects” Namespace=”SPL.WebSite.Projects.WebControls.Theming” TagPrefix=”spl” %>

And then in the <head /> section include an instance of the control:

<spl:StylesheetManager runat=”server” ThemeDirectory=”~/DemoPages/DemoStyles” />

The only property you need to set is the location of the root directory of your theme.  When the control renders it will figure out which stylesheets are required based on the user’s browser and write out <link /> tags for each one.

When running in release mode, instead of linking to n stylesheets, the control will link to an HttpHandler instead which will merge the css files into one and write them directly into the response.  To get this working you need to include this handler in your web.config:

<add verb=”GET” path=”CssCombiner.axd” type=”SPL.WebSite.Projects.HttpHandlers.Theming.CssCombineHandler, SPL.WebSite.Projects”/>

Note that the handler will cache the css to avoid multiple disk accesses on each request.  Currently this is cached for a hard-coded time of 1 hour.  Depending on your circumstances you may wish to change this to use a configuration value instead.

Feel free to use this theming engine if it meets your needs and please let me know if you have any improvements.  Note that the uploaded version doesn’t contain things like error handling, logging, etc and the http handler it uses hard-coded.  These are all things you will probably want to modify before using in anger.

A demo page is available here.