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Apply Custom Master Pages in SharePoint 2010

by on October 14, 2010

First you have to enable the Publishing feature

Site Actions > Site Settings > Site Actions section > Manage Site Features

SharePoint Server Publishing > Click on Activate

Now create a  Custom Master Page

Site Actions > Edit in SharePoint Designer

In SharePoint Designer

  1. Select your site
  2. Click on Master Pages on the left
  3. In the Ribbon click on Blank Page Master
  4. Name appropriately
  5. Download Randy Driscoll’s Starter Master Pages for SharePoint 2010
  6. Unzip and copy the Foundation (foundation) or SharePoint Server (publishing) version of the master page, depending on your installation, and paste into your new master page content.
  7. save the custom master page

Note: You can also duplicate a master page by right clicking on the listing, then using copy and paste.

Make new master page available

Site Actions > Site Settings > Galleries > Master pages and page layouts

Click on master page to select the row

In the ribbon, click on “Check In” if it is available

In the ribbon, click on “Approve/Reject” to approve your new master page for use

If the “Compatible UI Version(s)” field does not have the correct UI(s), click on the Edit Properties in the ribbon and add or change the UI Version (3 is if you are using the legacy UI, usually from an upgrade – 4 is for the new 2010 UI)

Apply your custom master page

Site Actions > Site Settings > Look and Feel > Master Page (available now that publishing has been enabled)

Site Master Page > Specify a master page > select custom master page

Note: This is used by publishing pages, select reset all subsites if you like!

System Master Page > Specify a master page > select custom master page

Note: This is used by forms, “view” pages and pretty much everything that is not a publishing page on your site. Select reset all subsites if you like!

Alternate css url > specify a css file > browse and select the css file

Note: select reset all subsites to inherit this alternate css url if you like!

Click on OK and watch the magic! You can now edit the master page without fear of destroying your site! If you are really good with CSS (you will need to use alot of parent-child type of css to alter preset styles) you should not have a problem. If you need to brush up, you can start with checking out for a refresher.

  1. Ninix permalink

    I followed your steps but I got this error:

    soap:ServerServer was unable to process request. —> Value does not fall within the expected range.

  2. MTH83 permalink


    pls give me suggestion …

    I created 2 master pages..
    one for Site Master Page(customM.master) that have left menu
    and apply at Site Master Page setting.

    another for System Master Page(systemM.master) that does not have left menu
    and apply at System Master Page setting.

    but when I go to Pages … it does not show customerM.master

    all the website pages and site setting page show systemM.master …

    Why Site Master Page setting and System Master Page setting do not apply separately?

    pls reply to me

    • Here’s the basics.

      Site Master Page (CustomMasterURL) is used by publishing pages only – this is essentially everything that exists in the Pages library created by SharePoint’s Publishing infrastructure. What you consider a publishing page and what Microsoft considers a publishing page are not necessarily the same thing. Try using a different Type of site (meeting workspace, enterprise wiki, publishing site, oddly blog doesn’t seem to work).

      System Master Page (MasterURL) is applied to everything other than what Microsoft considers publishing pages.

      To get started, you could always create a page and make that your site homepage:

      1. Go to page
      2. Click on Page tab
      3. Ribbon > Page Actions > Make Homepage

      Also, be sure that any subsites do not have their own master page settings, if you are trying (or avoiding) the application of the custom master page at that level.

  3. shayan permalink

    please help me
    I made a custom master page for a publishing page in sharepoint 2010. This page works correctly in all browsers except Mozilla!! The Mozilla browser does not show correctly and Top left shows the ribbon.How do I solve this problem?

  4. Roy permalink

    Thanks! I’m new the SharePoint and I’m here at the 2011 conference in Anaheim, and there was a huge panic back home about a change to the master page for a pilot that starts tomorrow.

  5. Kaksi Satoor permalink


    When trying to perform step “Apply your custom master page” – I can not see the custom Master Page in dropdown? Why?


    • You probably do not have publishing enabled. Publishing is not available to SharePoint Foundation installations.

      • Kaksi Satoor permalink

        Hi Emerson,

        Current license is “SharePoint Server with Enterprise Client Access License”.
        “SharePoint Server Publishing” is already activated on Site Features page.

        Not sure why Master Page is not showing up in a dropdown?

  6. Where are you looking for the dropdown? You can apply the master page in SP Designer > Master Pages “Folder” > Right click on the Master Page or on the Look & Feel > Master Pages.

    Also, the master pages must be checked in and approved (I usually turn off approval during the initial development period).

  7. Sonia permalink

    Hello Emerson,

    Do you have to apply a custom master page to System Master Page when you have a custom Site Master Page? I would like to use the default v4.master for the system master and use my custom for the Site Master Page.

    The problem is if I specify a different system master page for the site, check the box Reset all subsites to inherit this site master page setting with the radio button for all sites that inherit from it: selected only the master page I choose for the system master is showing for both the system and site.


  8. no, you do not have to – as you can see, there are two settings, one for custom and one for system. Unfortunately, what you may consider system and custom may be different from what SP considers system and custom (for example, all list pages are system, but a page you create and put a list view on is custom).

    You may need to play around with these settings and see what best suits your needs. If you are having a specific problem, please let me know what it is in detail, and I will try to clarify.

    • Sonia permalink

      Thanks so much for replying now that I know the master pages should work independently there is something weird going on in my environment. I understand the system/custom differences the thing is I cannot set them seperately it’s either all or nothing and I’m not sure why.

      If I set the System Master Page to v4.master and the Site Master Page to my custom.master the entire site uses the v4.master System Master Page only ignoring my custom.master Site Master Page. In order to see my custom.master I have to set it for both the Site Master Page and System Master Page.

      • make sure it is checked-in, published, and approved as needed. Also make sure it is valid (can you set it as the system master page? does it give an error when you try to apply saying it is invalid? did you remove, rather than move things to a hidden panel?)

  9. Sonia permalink

    The pages are checked-in, published, and approved and there are no invalid messages. I hide the social taging delagate control, but I removed a set of control_template tags and switched the SiteMapProvider so that I could use custom navigation. I will go back and review my edits and step through it piece by piece.

    Thanks again.

    • I know this is a bit late, but wanted to reply for future visitors.

      Most things created by sharepoint (including site home pages) are considered system pages.

      pages that live in the Pages library are Publishing pages, but those in the Site Pages library are system.

  10. David permalink

    Hi, really great article…
    but when I change my master page and create a new site collection the old master page is used. Do you have any idea why this happens? (new master page is check in and approved and set as default for System and Site master page)…
    Thanks a lot

    • The short answer – inheriting the master page is linked to publishing features (don’t know why they decided that, probably just so it was not available in foundation).

      You have to enable publishing or manually change the master page.

      The other option is to create a feature which “staples” the design peices (master page, logos, theme, etc.) to the site type. This means that when a site is created the Feature Stapling automatically enables these things on the site.

      The only othe option is to use Publishing feature to periodically push out the master page to subsites manually (or you could set up a timed job to run) or to manually apply the master page via SharePoint Designer to each new site 😦

      Very annoying and short-sited in my opinion.

      If you need a custom Design Feature, you can consider contacting the company I work for (I designed the site by the way, and it is running on SP ^_^)

  11. Janet Wu permalink

    Hi Emerson,

    It is a great article.

    I created the new custom master page, but the new master page did not show up in step 2 (Apply your new master page), so I could not approve it and make it available. any idea why?

  12. You need to approve the master page in the Master Pages Library.

    Did you test it with no modifications after creating it? It will usually show up, even if not properly formatted.

    Are you looking in the root site (or site where you created the Master Page) in SharePoint?

    Also, can you actually get to: Site Actions > Site Settings > Look and Feel > Master Page

    If you do not see Master Page, publishing may not be enabled. Try enabling it. You may also not have permissions to edit the master page. This requires Design permissions, I beleive.

    You can also right click on the new MP in SharePoint Designer, if you do not have Publishing (standard and enterprise) and select “set as default” and “set as custom”. Default are most of the pages, including Home pages SP creates for you. Custom are mostly anything in the Pages library (associated with Publishing).

  13. Janet Wu permalink

    Hi Emerson,

    Thank you so much for the response

    Yes. I tested it with no modification. but it did not show up for some reason.
    I am looking it in the site where I created the Master page.
    I can go to: Site Actions -> Site Settings – > Look and Feel -> Master Page, and I can go to: Site Actions from the Site Where I created the Master Page -> Site Settings – > Gallaries -> Master Page and Page Layout for the list of the Master pages, but I did not see the new master page I created.

    I did not see the new Master Page take effect when I select “set as Default” and “Set as custom” when clicking the new MP in SharePoint Designer.

    what did you mean when you say “You need to approve the master page in the Master Pages Library”? did you mean go to: Site Actions from the Site Where I created the Master Page ->Site Settings – > Gallaries -> Master Page and Page Layout ? or something else?


    • Yes, in the site where you are creating the master page in SPD and applying the master page (will only be available to that site if it is a subsite – rather than root – or if you have Foundation).

      Site Settings > Galleries > Master Page & Page Layouts > document dropdown arrow > approve or reject > select approve > save

      Alternatively, if this is just a dev site, you may find it useful to turn off approval and just allow versioning (which will still require checkin – but you can do that from SPD).

  14. kashif permalink

    what is system master page and application master page?

    • system/application master page are the same thing – they apply to almost everything SharePoint creates for you. Custom/publishing master page is used primarily for publishing pages you create (in the Pages library).

  15. kashif permalink

    thanks a lot for reply one more quest please……what is share service provider and why not included in sharepoint 2010

  16. Ssp are a way to centrally share and manage certain services, like profiles, in SP 2007.

    This was a bit unweildy, so the model was changed in 2010 to Service Applications. Now you have one app for each service and services have their own databases (very important for search, etc.). It really is a cleaner and more appropriate approach.

    More info:

  17. kashif permalink

    thanks a lot

  18. Kashif permalink

    How can I search in a prticular list in sharepoint 2007 & 2010?

  19. What about applying it to a page?

  20. Bam permalink

    Are custom master pages used for publishing pages only, not wiki pages, not web part pages???

    Thanks in advance

    • Custom master pages are used only for things the user creates, primarily the publishing pages. The rest of the pages, including default pages SharePoint creates for you are “System” master pages. Yes it is very counterintuintive.

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