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Make Sections Really Everywhere With Section Groups

make-sections-really-everywhere-with-section-groups

Section groups is a new feature that levels up theme architecture. Before the introduction of this new feature, Sections Everywhere were not everywhere—you could not add a section or app in the header and footer area of a theme. 

This resulted in limited design flexibility from the editor and forced merchants and apps to edit and inject code in the theme which took them off the theme upgrade path. This opened up the merchant to a whole host of potential problems, such as not being able to get bug fixes and new features.

With section groups, those concerns are no more. In this article, we take a look at what section groups are, how they work, and how you can leverage them in your theme design.

What are section groups?

Section groups enable theme developers to create dynamic conglomerations of sections in a theme layout. In other words, they enable you to group certain sections together in your theme. This in turn allows merchants to add, remove, and reorder sections directly in the theme editor.

This functionality is created in the theme’s sections directory and rendered in the theme’s layout files via the {% sections %} Liquid tag.

The Liquid code snippets adding section groups
Code snippet in theme.liquid where section groups are being added.
Screenshot of the sections folder in a theme with red arrows pointing to`footer-group.json` and `header-group.json`. Some information is blurred out.
Screenshot of the sections folder in a theme with footer-group.json and header-group.json.

Section groups also open the opportunity to build features for the header and footer areas of a merchant’s theme with theme app extensions, and is a way to add capabilities (like apps) to any other section groups that are created.

By offering merchants additional levels of control directly from the theme editor, they no longer need to inject code into their theme to achieve what they need to. It also gives you more control over the look of your theme and more in-depth customization abilities.

In the after screenshot below, you can see the new “Add section” option below the header section and above the template in the theme editor, allowing for sections to be added and reordered above the template.

Side-by-side screenshots of before and after the theme editor has the new “Add section” option above the template.
Before and after screenshots of the theme editor showing the new “Add section” option above the template.

In addition to the header example above, section groups are also available in the footer group, as well as any other section groups you decide to create.

Why use section groups

Section groups come with some major benefits for theme developers and merchants.

1. Merchants gain the flexibility to add sections everywhere

Sections can be added in the header, footer, and aside groups, which hasn’t been possible until now. Merchants can add sections above the header and below the footer and customize or reorder the sections within the section groups. In addition to that, sections can be reordered or removed from the theme editor without the need to change code.

2. Theme developers can build more customizable themes

You can now offer a range of sections that can act as headers or footers for merchants to choose from. This gives you and merchants more flexibility in terms of the look of their theme and store.

Moreover, merchants can add sections that are rendered on all pages automatically, instead of having to re-add a section template by template. With the use of section groups, any section added to the group will repeat across all templates.

3. Apps can integrate with themes without modifying theme code

This new feature brings the power of app blocks to areas such as the header and footer, and any other section groups you create, which means merchants can easily integrate third party apps into themes without modifying theme code. Apps can also now target specific theme section groups (such as the header, footer, or aside).

How section groups work

Section groups are available to all themes since its announcement at the Shopify Winter '23 Edition. If you are familiar with statically-rendered sections, then you will also be familiar with the way section groups are organized and integrated into themes. Below, we take a look at the required changes in order to replace statically-rendered sections such as headers and announcement bars with a section group.

Side-by-side graphics showing a comparison of the theme architecture before and after adopting section groups. The new theme architecture shows how section groups contain lists of sections at the top and bottom of the architecture.
Comparison of the theme architecture before and after adopting section groups. The new theme architecture shows how section groups, highlighted in purple areas, contain lists of sections.

Theme structure

Section groups are JSON formatted files that are located alongside Liquid sections in the sections directory of the theme. Each theme can have up to 20 section group files in the sections directory.

In the above example, both footer-group.json and header-group.json in the /sections directory are section groups. When it comes to naming these section groups, we recommend you name them after the storefront areas they represent, or after the type of sections they would group. We also recommend using the “-group” prefix in the file names to indicate that the file is a section group. This convention makes it easier to distinguish between Liquid section files and section groups.

Side-by-side graphics showing the new header group on the left and the new footer group on the right.
The purple areas reflect section groups named after the storefront areas they represent. 

Each section group contains a list of sections and section settings. In other words, they are data files that the mechant can easily manage using the theme editor the same way they manage json templates.

Let's take a look at the content in the header-group.json section group. The below example shows a section group that contains the settings data for two sections: header and announcement-bar.

As you can see, section group json data shares a structure very similar to the one used in json templates. Let’s first examine the fields that are shared in both json templates and section groups:

<

Screenshot of the online store theme editor sections panel with a large red arrow superimposed overtop, pointing out how the section group’s name property is used.
Online store theme editor sections panel showing how the section group’s name property is used.

Name: A required field that represents the name of the section group. This name will be displayed in the theme editor, when the section groups are rendered as part of the page. This field also accepts a translation reference that makes the name translatable.

Sections: An object that uses section IDs as keys and section data as values. You can leave this attribute empty.

The format of the section data is the same as the section data in settings_data.json. Each section group can accept up to 25 Liquid sections. 

Order: An array of section IDs, listed in the order that they should be rendered. The IDs must exist in the sections object.

Now, let’s look at the fields that are allowed in section groups.

Type: Each section group must use one of the standard section group types:

  • Header
  • Footer
  • Aside 

Beside these standardized section groups type, we understand that each theme can have its own layout design, constraints, and use cases, which in return could impact the role each section group plays in the theme. Therefore, theme developers can also create custom section types based on their needs using the following convention:

custom.

How to render section groups

Now that we have a section group created and saved in the sections directory of the theme, we can start integrating it with our theme layout code using the sections Liquid tag. Section groups can only be integrated into theme layout files, which will allow section groups to get rendered on all templates using that layout. In order for a section group to be rendered in a layout file, such as layouts/theme.liquid, we can simply reference the name of the section group file without the .json extension inside a sections Liquid tag. For example, take our below theme structure:

We can simply reference footer-groups.json and header-group.json inside the layout/theme.liquid file:

{% sections "header-group" %} {% sections "footer-group" %}

Using a separate Liquid tag to integrate and render section groups gives you additional flexibility:

  • No restrictions on how theme layouts are designed and structured
  • Each section group can easily be styled

Let’s take a look at how Dawn replaced statically rendered sections with section groups in the layout/theme.liquid file:

Side-by-side screenshots of the difference in the `theme.liquid` file in the Dawn theme showing the process of replacing statically-rendered sections with section groups. The left side is red and is the old version and the right side is green and is the new version.
The difference in the theme.liquid file in the Dawn theme showing the process of replacing statically-rendered sections with section groups.

How to control what sections can be added to a sections group

As the famous quote says, with great power comes great responsibility. Section groups bring a lot of flexibility and control for merchants to design their storefronts. It allows merchants to add, remove, and reorder sections freely inside these section groups. And since section groups are rendered on all pages, we want to make sure you are able to guide merchants when it comes to building the best storefronts. Because of this, we deprecated the theme section templates attribute and replaced it with two new, more powerful and extendable attributes: enabled_on and disabled_on.

With these new theme section attributes, you can control where each section can be inserted via the theme editor, consequently preventing the merchant from adding sections in places that they are not supposed to be inserted.

Before and after screenshots shown side by side of section properties for the header section group.
The left image shows how the featured collection and featured product sections are available for the header section group. The right image shows how the new enabled_on and disabled_on section properties make the featured collection and featured product sections unavailable for merchants to insert in the header section group.

Let’s take the simple featured product section as an example.

Scenario 1: The section can be added to all templates and all section groups

Since the section did not use any of the attributes—enabled_on, disabled_on, or templates—the section will automatically be available for insertion to all templates and section groups. 

This also equivalent to saying:

{ "enabled_on": {   "templates”: ["*"],   "groups”: ["*"] } 

Scenario 2: The section cannot be added to password templates, however it can still be added to all section groups

We can see how easy it is to disable a section on certain templates using the disabled_on section attribute. This will prevent the merchant from accidentally adding the section to the password template.

Scenario 3: The section cannot be added to password templates nor header groups

With this configuration, we can make sure the merchant does not add the simple featured product to the password template or the header groups.

Migrating merchant customization automatically during theme upgrade

We understand that merchants have already customized their statically-rendered sections such as the header and footer sections in older themes. We introduced a mechanism to automatically migrate the merchant's settings to ensure a seamless experience when updating to a theme that uses section groups.

In other words, when a theme is being updated, we check for all section types referenced in the section groups of the new version, and try to find and match customization in the settings-data.json config of the old version.

Graphics of the old theme and the update path to what the new theme looks like with different section groups.
The update process automatically copies statically-rendered sections customizations from the old version of the themes to the section groups of the new version of the themes.
Flow chart graphic showing how the section groups update process creates a new theme version based on the section type.
The update process automatically copies statically-rendered sections customizations from the old version of the theme to the section groups of the new version based on the section type.

 However, this update only happens when the merchant upgrades a theme from a version that does not have section groups to a new version in which section groups exist.

Section groups use cases

This new functionality opens up numerous possibilities to build interesting solutions and highly customizable themes for merchants.

1. Make your theme header, footer, and sidebars customizable, flexible, and extendable

One of the main use cases of section groups is making certain areas of the theme layout customizable, flexible, and extendable. Our data reflected that many of the code changes to layout/theme.liquid file was to add and remove a statically-rendered section or integrate a third party app into the header and footer area of the theme. By converting these areas into section groups, we’re giving the merchant full control via the theme editor and without the need to edit code.

Side-by-side comparison of a theme layout with (right) and without (left) section groups. Header, aside, and footer groupings show how theme developers can create customizable areas.
Comparison of a theme layout with and without section groups. The purple groupings show how theme developers can create customizable areas such as headers, footers, and sidebars.

2. Group related sections

Another interesting use case that section groups can support is grouping related sections that don’t belong to theme header and footer groups. We allow you to define section groups of custom types and have theme sections that are only supported in such sections. Let’s take following as an example of a such group section:

Section groups can group related sections. Combined with the section’s `enabled_on` and `disabled_on properties`, these related sections can only be inserted in certain sections.
Section groups can group related sections. Combined with the section’s enabled_on and disabled_on properties, these related sections can only be inserted in certain sections. 

With this configuration, the merchant can remove these system sections, or add new ones anytime they wish using the theme editor and without any code modifications. At the same time, you can maintain the integrity of the system of your design by making sure such sections are only supported in the custom group type.

Level up your theme

Section groups allow you to break the theme layout down into extensible and flexible groups that merchants can customize using theme sections and app blocks. By replacing the statically-rendered sections with section groups, merchants will be able to manage and customize the sections and blocks inside these groups via the theme editor and without the need to edit theme code.

Section groups also allow apps to integrate into theme layouts seamlessly and without any code injections. All these benefits give merchants more flexibility and control over their themes, while leveling up theme architecture for developers.

Graphics by Chaz Moore.

This article originally appeared on the Shopify Web Design and Development blog and is made available here to educate and cast a wider net of discovery.
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