SharePoint Search Center uses minimal.master – and why you should care about that!

Loyal reader of this blog may have noticed that I recently wrote about some changes to search in SharePoint 2010 – specifically about some subtle changes in philosophy.  The main point of this blog post is to point out another one of those changes, explain why it’s a good thing, and then highlight some ways that users familiar with MOSS 2007 might get tripped up. 

So what’s this new philosophical change? Search is very important to almost every organization that has SharePoint installed. With SharePoint 2010 the idea is that rather than having a search center for every site collection (which was how MOSS 2007 did things), it makes more sense to have a common search center that all site collections use.  For organizations that have more robust search requirements they often customize their search centers and rather than recreate this custom search experience for every site collection it would make more sense to have a single common search center. 

If you’ve ever run a search in SP2010 you’ll know that there’s a lot of information being returned on the search results page that takes up a lot of space on the page.  There’s also the powerful new capabilities of FAST Search for SharePoint which provide even more options for search – and it’s results can take up a ton of space on the screen.  The point I’m getting at here is that in order to facilitate all of the powerful features of SharePoint Search and FAST (or provide more room for custom search solutions) it was necessary to use a Master Page that allowed for more room.  This is why the SharePoint Search Centers (Basic, Enterprise, and FAST) all use minimal.master.

Why you should care about the search centers using minimal.master

You should care because of the following reasons which I think almost everyone will run into at one point or another:

1) Minimal.master has no navigation. Let’s pretend your user goes and runs a search gets some search results and then wants to jump back to the root site – can’t do it with the out of the box minimal.master applied.  The only way to do it is to modify the URL.

2) Applying most other master pages to the search center will make your search center not work so well. This is probably most easily described with pictures.  Here’s your regular old run of the mill search center – nothing too exciting here:


Now let’s do what so many companies do.  We’ve created a site collection and then created a search center underneath (or maybe just created a publishing portal which already has a search center created).  We’ve got a corporate brand, so let’s make sure to apply our custom master page to all subsites.  In this case I’m going to demonstrate the point by simply using nightandday.master:


Notice anything?  Where’s the search box?  It’s actually hiding:


If you look at the code for the search center you’ll notice that the control for the search box actually lives in the breadcrumb placeholder.  This works just fine when minimal.master is applied, but if you try to apply any of the other out of the box master pages – or even your own custom master page simply by clicking the “apply to all subsites” box you could end up wondering how you broke your search center.  I did when I first ran into this while presenting about branding and then later presenting about search.  I kind of dismissed the issue as being some user error but later on I made this happen again and dug deeper and got to the root of the problem.

The lesson here is that if you want to apply custom branding to your search center you are most likely going to either just add a theme to the site or create a new master page that accounts for this – either by creating a custom minimal.master or by moving the control out of the breadcrumb (which works just fine).  If you were to choose to create your own minimal.master it would be possible to add navigation as well to make it easier for users to get around.

The new search features in SP2010 are awesome.  I’m very excited about them. But as I’ve mentioned in my other post there are some subtle differences from the way the search centers in MOSS 2007 worked that are easy to address but can be a little tricky if you don’t know what you are looking for.


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