Getting Started with HTL getting-started-with-htl

HTML Template Language (HTL) is the preferred and recommended server-side template system for HTML in Adobe Experience Manager. As in all HTML server-side templating systems, an HTL file defines the output sent to the browser by specifying the HTML itself, some basic presentation logic, and variables to be evaluated at runtime.

This document gives an overview of the purpose of HTL as well as an introduction to fundamental concepts and constructs of the language.

This document presents the purpose of HTL and an overview of its fundamental structure and concepts. If you have questions about specific syntax, please refer to the HTL specification.

HTL Layers layers

HTL as used in AEM can be defined by a number of layers.

  1. HTL Specification - HTL is an open-source, platform-agnostic specification, which anyone is free to implement.
  2. Sling HTL Scripting Engine - The Sling project has created the reference implementation of HTL, which is used by AEM.
  3. AEM Extensions - AEM builds on top of the Sling HTL Scripting Engine in order to offer developers convenient features specific to AEM.

This HTL documentation focuses on using HTL to develop AEM solutions. As such, it touches all three layers, linking external resources as necessary.

Fundamental Concepts of HTL fundamental-concepts-of-htl

The HTML Template Language uses an expression language to insert pieces of content into the rendered markup, and HTML5 data attributes to define statements over blocks of markup (like conditions or iterations). As HTL gets compiled into Java Servlets, the expressions and the HTL data attributes are both evaluated entirely server-side, and nothing remains visible in the resulting HTML.

To run most examples provided on this page, a live execution environment called the Read Eval Print Loop can be used.

Blocks and Expressions blocks-and-expressions

Here’s a first example, which could be contained as is in a template.html file:

<h1 data-sly-test="${properties.jcr:title}">

Two different kinds of syntaxes can be distinguished:

  • Block Statements - To conditionally display the <h1> element, a data-sly-test HTML5 data attribute is used. HTL provides multiple such attributes, which allow attaching behavior to any HTML element, and all are prefixed with data-sly.
  • Expression Language - HTL expressions are delimited by the ${ and } characters. At runtime, these expressions are evaluated and their value is injected into the outgoing HTML stream.

See the HTL specification for details on both syntaxes.

The SLY Element the-sly-element

A central concept of HTL is to offer the possibility of reusing existing HTML elements to define block statements, which avoid the need of inserting additional delimiters to define where the statement starts and ends. This unobtrusive annotation of the markup to transform a static HTML into a functioning dynamic template offers the benefit of not breaking the validity of the HTML code, and therefore to still properly display, even as static files.

However, sometimes there might not be an existing element at the exact location where a block statement has to be inserted. For such cases, it is possible to insert a special sly element that will be automatically removed from the output, while executing the attached block statements and displaying its content accordingly.

The following example…

<sly data-sly-test="${properties.jcr:title && properties.jcr:description}">

…will output something like following HTML, but only if there are both, a jcr:title and a jcr:description property defined, and if neither of them are empty:

<h1>MY TITLE</h1>

One thing to keep in mind is only to use the sly element when no existing element could have been annotated with the block statement. This is because sly elements deter the value offered by the language to not alter the static HTML when making it dynamic.

For example, if the previous example would have been wrapped inside a div element, then the added sly element would be abusive:

    <sly data-sly-test="${properties.jcr:title && properties.jcr:description}">

and the div element could have been annotated with the condition:

<div data-sly-test="${properties.jcr:title && properties.jcr:description}">

HTL Comments htl-comments

The following example shows an HTL comment on the first line and an HTML comment on the second line.

<!--/* An HTL Comment */-->
<!-- An HTML Comment -->

HTL comments are HTML comments with an additional JavaScript-like syntax. The whole HTL comment, and anything within will be entirely ignored by the processor and removed from the output.

The content of standard HTML comments however will be passed through and expressions within the comment will be evaluated.

HTML comments cannot contain HTL comments and vice versa.

Special Contexts special-contexts

In order to be able to make the best use of HTL, it is important to understand well the consequences of it being based on the HTML syntax.

Please refer to the Display Context section of the HTL specification for more details.

Element and Attribute Names element-and-attribute-names

Expressions can only be placed in HTML text or attribute values, but not within element names or attribute names, or it wouldn’t be valid HTML anymore. In order to set element names dynamically, the data-sly-element statement can be used on the desired elements, and to dynamically set attribute names, even setting multiple attributes at once, the data-sly-attribute statement can be used.

<h1 data-sly-element="${myElementName}" data-sly-attribute="${myAttributeMap}">...</h1>

Contexts Without Block Statements contexts-without-block-statements

As HTL uses data attributes to define block statements, it is not possible to define such block statements inside of following contexts, and only expressions can be used there:

  • HTML comments
  • Script elements
  • Style elements

The reason for it is that the content of these contexts is text and not HTML, and contained HTML elements would be considered as simple character data. So without real HTML elements, there also cannot be data-sly attributes executed.

This may sound like a significant restriction, however it is a desired one, because the HTML Template Language shouldn’t be abused to generate output that isn’t HTML. The Use-API for Accessing Logic section below introduces how additional logic can be called from the template, which can be used if it is needed to prepare complex output for these contexts. For instance, an easy way to send data from the back-end to a front-end script, is to have the component’s logic to generate a JSON string, which can then be placed in a data attribute with a simple HTL expression.

Following example illustrates the behavior for HTML comments, but in script or style elements, the same behavior would be observed:

    The title is: ${properties.jcr:title}
    <h1 data-sly-test="${properties.jcr:title}">${properties.jcr:title}</h1>

will output something like following HTML:

    The title is: MY TITLE
    <h1 data-sly-test="MY TITLE">MY TITLE</h1>

Explicit Contexts Required explicit-contexts-required

As explained in the Automatic Context-Aware Escaping section below, one objective of HTL is to reduce the risks of introducing cross-site scripting (XSS) vulnerabilities by automatically applying context-aware escaping to all expressions. While HTL can automatically detect the context of expressions placed inside of HTML markup, it doesn’t analyze the syntax of inline JavaScript or CSS, and therefore relies on the developer to specify explicitly what exact context has to be applied to such expressions.

Since not applying the correct escaping results in XSS vulnerabilities, HTL does therefore remove the output of all expressions that are in script and style contexts when the context has not been declared.

Here is an example of how to set the context for expressions placed inside scripts and styles:

<script> var trackingID = "${myTrackingID @ context='scriptString'}"; </script>
<style> a { font-family: "${myFont @ context='styleString'}"; } </style>

For more details about how to control the escaping, refer to the Expression Language Display Context section of the HTL specifications.

General Capabilities of HTL general-capabilities-of-htl

This section quickly walks through the general features of the HTML Template Language.

Use-API for Accessing Logic use-api-for-accessing-logic

The HTML Template Language (HTL) Java Use-API enables an HTL file to access helper methods in a custom Java class through data-sly-use. This allows all complex business logic to be encapsulated in the Java code, while the HTL code deals only with direct markup production.

See the document HTL Java Use-API for more details.

Automatic Context-Aware Escaping automatic-context-aware-escaping

Consider following example:

<p data-sly-use.logic="logic.js">
    <a href="${}" title="${logic.title}">

In most template languages, this example would potentially create a cross-site scripting (XSS) vulnerability, because even when all variables are automatically HTML-escaped, the href attribute must still be specifically URL-escaped. This omission is one of the most common errors, because it can be easily forgotten, and it is difficult to spot in an automated manner.

To help with that, the HTML Template Language automatically escapes each variable accordingly to the context in which it is placed. This is possible thanks to the fact that HTL understands the syntax of HTML.

Assuming following logic.js file:

use(function () {
    return {
        link:  "#my link's safe",
        title: "my title's safe",
        text:  "my text's safe"

The initial example will then result in following output:

    <a href="#my%20link%27s%20safe" title="my title&#39;s safe">
        my text&#39;s safe

Notice how the two attributes got escaped differently, because HTL knows that href and src attributes must be escaped for URI context. Also, if the URI started with javascript:, the attribute would have been removed entirely, unless the context were explicitly changed to something else.

For more details about how to control the escaping, refer to the Expression Language Display Context section of the HTL specifications.

Automatic Removal of Empty Attributes automatic-removal-of-empty-attributes

Consider following example:

<p class="${properties.class}">some text</p>

If the value of the class property happens to be empty, the HTML Template Language will automatically remove the entire class attribute from the output.

Again, this is possible, because HTL understands the HTML syntax and can therefore conditionally show attributes with dynamic values only if their value isn’t empty. This is very convenient as it avoids adding a condition block around attributes, which would have made the markup invalid and unreadable.

Additionally, the type of the variable placed in the expression matters:

  • String:

    • not empty: Sets the string as attribute value.
    • empty: Removes the attribute altogether.
  • Number: Sets the value as attribute value.

  • Boolean:

    • true: Displays the attribute without value (as a Boolean HTML attribute
    • false: Removes the attribute altogether.

Here’s an example of how a Boolean expression would allow control of a Boolean HTML attribute:

<input type="checkbox" checked="${properties.isChecked}"/>

For setting attributes, the data-sly-attribute statement might also be useful.

Common Patterns with HTL common-patterns-with-htl

This section introduces a few common scenarios and how to best solve them with the HTML Template Language.

Loading Client Libraries loading-client-libraries

In HTL, client libraries are loaded through a helper template provided by AEM, which can be accessed through data-sly-use. Three templates are available in this file, which can be called through data-sly-call:

  • css - Loads only the CSS files of the referenced client libraries.
  • js - Loads only the JavaScript files of the referenced client libraries.
  • all - Loads all the files of the referenced client libraries (both CSS and JavaScript).

Each helper template expects a categories option for referencing the desired client libraries. That option can be either an array of string values, or a string containing a comma-separated values list.

The following are two short examples.

Loading multiple client libraries fully at once loading-multiple-client-libraries-fully-at-once

<sly data-sly-use.clientlib="/libs/granite/sightly/templates/clientlib.html"
     data-sly-call="${clientlib.all @ categories=['myCategory1', 'myCategory2']}"/>

Referencing a client library in different sections of a page referencing-a-client-library-in-different-sections-of-a-page

<!doctype html>
<html data-sly-use.clientlib="/libs/granite/sightly/templates/clientlib.html">
        <!-- HTML meta-data -->
        <sly data-sly-call="${clientlib.css @ categories='myCategory'}"/>
        <!-- page content -->
        <sly data-sly-call="${clientlib.js @ categories='myCategory'}"/>

In this example, in case the HTML head and body elements are placed in different files, the clientlib.html template would then have to be loaded in each file that needs it.

The section on the template & call statements in the HTL specification provides more details about how declaring and calling such templates work.

Passing Data to the Client passing-data-to-the-client

The best and most elegant way to pass data to the client in general, but even more so with HTL, is to use data attributes.

The following example shows how the logic (which could also be written in Java) can be used to conveniently serialize to JSON the object that is to be passed to the client, which can then easily be placed into a data attribute:

<!--/* template.html file: */-->
<div data-sly-use.logic="logic.js" data-json="${logic.json}">...</div>
/* logic.js file: */
use(function () {
    var myData = {
        str: "foo",
        arr: [1, 2, 3]

    return {
        json: JSON.stringify(myData)

From there, it is easy to imagine how a client-side JavaScript can access that attribute and parse again the JSON. This would, for instance, be the corresponding JavaScript to place into a client library:

var elements = document.querySelectorAll("[data-json]");
for (var i = 0; i < elements.length; i++) {
    var obj = JSON.parse(elements[i].dataset.json);

Working with Client-Side Templates working-with-client-side-templates

One special case, where the technique explained in the section Lifting Limitations of Special Contexts can legitimately be used, is to write client-side templates (like Handlebars for instance) that are located within scrip elements. The reason this technique can safely be used in that case, is because the script element then doesn’t contain JavaScript as assumed, but further HTML elements. Here’s an example of how that would work:

<!--/* template.html file: */-->
<script id="entry-section" type="text/template"

<!--/* entry-section.html file: */-->
<div class="entry-section">
    <h2 data-sly-test="${properties.entrySectionTitle}">
    {{#each entry}}<h3><a href="{{link}}">{{title}}</a></h3>{{/each}}

As shown above, the markup that will be included in the script element can contain HTL block statements and the expressions don’t need to provide explicit contexts, because the content of the Handlebars template has been isolated in its own file. Also, this example shows how server-side executed HTL (like on the h2 element) can be mixed with a client-side executed template language, like Handlebars (shown on the h3 element).

A more modern technique altogether, would however be to use the HTML template element instead, as the benefit would then be that it doesn’t require to isolate the content of the templates into separate files.

Lifting Limitations of Special Contexts lifting-limitations-of-special-contexts

In the special cases where it is needed to bypass the restrictions of the script, style, and comment contexts, it is possible to isolate their content in a separate HTL file. Everything located in its own file will be interpreted by HTL as a normal HTML fragment, forgetting the limiting context from which it might have been included.

See the Working with Client-Side Templates section further down for an example.

This technique can introduce cross-site scripting (XSS) vulnerabilities, and the security aspects should be carefully studied if this must be used. There usually are better ways to implement the same thing than to rely on this practice.