Add a New Reference in Magento

Add a New Reference in Magento

If you already performed some Magento research, you will know that it is built on a fully modular model that gives great scalability and flexibility for your store. While creating a theme, you are provided with many content blocks that you can place in structural blocks. If you are not sure what they are, please read Designer’s Guide to Magento first. Magento provides few structural blocks by default and many content blocks. This article tells what needs to be in place to create new structural block.

What are structural blocks?

They are the parent blocks of content blocks and serve to position its content blocks within a store page context. Take a look at the image below. These structural blocks exist in the forms of the header area, left column area, right column…etc. which serve to create the visual structure for a store page. Our goal is to create a new structural block called “newreference”.


Step 1: Name the structural block

Open the file layout/page.xml in your active theme folder. Inside you will find lines like:

<block type="core/text_list" name="left" as="left"/>
<block type="core/text_list" name="content" as="content"/>
<block type="core/text_list" name="right" as="right"/>

Let’s mimic this and add a new line somewhere inside the same block tag.

<block type="core/text_list" name="newreference" as="newreference"/>

Good. Now we told Magento that new structural block exists with the name “newreference”. Magento still doesn’t know what to do with it.

Step 2: Tell Magento where to place it

We now need to point Magento where it should output this new structural block. Let’s go to template/page folder in our active theme folder. You will notice different layouts there. Let’s assume we want the new structural block to appear only on pages that use 2-column layout with right sidebar. In that case we should open 2columns-right.phtml file.

Let’s assume we wish the “newreference” block to be placed above the footer. In this case, our updated file could look like this:

<div class="main-container col2-right-layout">
            <div class="main">
                <?php echo $this->getChildHtml('breadcrumbs') ?>
                <div class="col-main">
                    <?php echo $this->getChildHtml('global_messages') ?>
                    <?php echo $this->getChildHtml('content') ?>
                <div class="col-right sidebar"><?php echo $this->getChildHtml('right') ?></div>
            <div><?php echo $this->getChildHtml('newreference') ?></div>

Step 3: Populating structural block

We have the block properly placed, but unfortunately nothing is new on the frontsite. Let’s populate the new block with something. So let’s create new file app/design/frontend/[base]/[default]/template/newreference.phtml with the following content:

<h1 style="background-color:yellow">Hello New Reference!</h1>

Go to appropriate layout XML file (page.xml) and add this block to appropriate place (for testing purpose you could place it under “default” handle).

<reference name="newreference">
   <block type="core/template" name="newReferenceBlock" template="newReference.phtml" />

Now if you visit your frontend you should see something like this:

Note, you could include any Magento block this way (you didn’t need to include our newly created:

<block type="core/template" name="newReferenceBlock" template="newReference.phtml" />

). Just be careful to do it properly!

Step 4: Add new reference in a proper way!

Sure that you’ll not modify Magento core files. Revert changes in page.xml and create local.xml file.

Inside of your local.xml file type something like this:

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?>
		<reference name="root">
			<block type="core/text_list" name="newreference" as="newreference" translate="label">
				<label>New Reference</label>
		<reference name="newreference">
			<block type="core/template" name="newreferenceblock" template="newreference.phtml" />

That’s it. I hope it will help someone 🙂

Note! This article was revised on Nov 26, 2012. by Ivan Galambos. You will notice that some of the comments are older. This is because the original article was posted in 2009.

In case you’re wondering how to improve the experience of your users even more, make sure to check out our UX & usability audit! it’s a perfect way to get a detailed insight into what would make customers love your store even more!

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    1. paste this in Layout XML on CMS->PAGES->Home page, instead of page.xml.

  1. Thanks so much for this! I was tearing my hair out trying to add a custom block for a full-width section (outside of container). This worked for me in 1.9.1, but I only did step 4 and the line from step 3:

     <div><?php echo $this->getChildHtml('newreference') ?></div>

    which I added to my theme’s 1column.phtml file (


    ). This is the Magento-recommended way since it is upgrade-proof and theme specific. Of course you could add it to


    if you wanted it to be available for all themes, but I try to avoid that myself for future upgrade compatibility.

    I really think you should consider removing sections 1 & 2 and moving section 4 before section 3 for clarity, as modifying core files is a bad idea if you plan on ever upgrading to newer versions.

    1. Thanks! You are a real time saver, I just tried the article’s original method and it doesn’t works on 1.9.2, but your comment worked instantly.

    2. Hi Giff, Can you give me a working example of this, this does not work for me in 1.9.2. Please help. Thanks!

  2. Thanks for explaining this concept of structural blocks. It is not documented very well in other tutorials!

  3. Hi, thanks for the tutorial. I have a doubt: I’ve created a page “bestsellers.php” in the path “catalog/product/bestsellers.phtml” where I get and show the bestsellers collection. I put the line

    <block type="core/text_list" name="product_bestsellers" as="product_bestsellers" />

    in page.xml and I have a custom template page “home.phtml” in “page/home.phtml” which is my homepage. I put the line

    <reference name="product_bestsellers">
    			<block type="catalog/product" name="product_bestsellers_block" template="catalog/product/bestsellers.phtml"/>

    into page.xml and in home.phtml I have the callout

    <?php echo $this->getChildHtml('product_bestsellers') ?>

    . The point is that the content of bestsellers.phtml hasn’t been displayed. What is wrong?


  4. To create a structural block in product listing page, do this:

    in local.xml,

            <reference name="product_list">
               <block type="core/text_list" name="newreference" as="newreference" translate="label">
                    <label>Custom Reference</label>

    And, in catalog/product/list.phtml,

      <?php echo $this->getChildHtml('newreference') ?>
  5. To create a structural block in product listing page, do this:

    in local.xml,

    Custom Reference

    And, in catalog/product/list.phtml,

    getChildHtml(‘newreference’) ?>

  6. Hi guys,

    Great tip, however I wonder if there isn’t another way to do this using the static blocks in admin and then callout them?
    To make it dynamical it should be better using static blocks.

  7. Hello,

    Very good post, clear and easy to follow.

    I have one question, is it posible to make this block visible from the back-end??? I want to put slider in this block (custom one) and then load it via widget, so that the client could update images via back-end.

    Thanks a lot for the great post!!!


  8. Stuck on step 2.
    Go to appropriate layout XML file (page.xml) and add this block to appropriate place (for testing purpose you could place it under “default” handle).

    Where is the default handle ? nothing about default in page.xml ??

  9. I want to add a block in content block. Is it possible? I want to do it so that i can show right/left bar below the toolbar/pager. Please anybody help.

  10. Very nice tutorial, thanks man. I was looking for a long time for a instruction like this.

    I will use this to create a new reference underneath my menu to point out our unique selling points!

    Thanks Inchoo!

  11. Really Hates off to this blog. Whatever help i need on magento, the first site i prefer to search is your blog..


  12. Yep, same as a few other people here: this doesn’t seem to work in Magento 1.7. I followed everything to the letter and refreshed cache, nothing shows up. I have already tried a bunch of other tutorials for adding custom blocks and after hours of utter frustration I can’t get even a simple “Hello world” to appear where I need it to. What the heck? Can someone confirm if they have managed to get this to work in Magento 1.7 and how they did it? Thanks!

  13. I have done this around 3 times now, cleared magento cache (even though its not turned on) as well as browser cache and it does not work. am on magento 1.7

    Please help, your tutorial seems straight forward, just does not work?

  14. I did exactly as the step-by-step, but nothing happens in my store. What could it be? Have I’m reviewing the page.xml and phtml several time.

  15. Thank you very much.
    You really saved my a good bunch of research hours.

    For all those who had problems, this is what I did:

    – Step 1: go to layout/page.xml
    look up for this code:

    All Pages

    then add you new structural block:

    – Step 2:
    Call the block from a layout page, for instance, 2columns-right.phtml, with this code:

    getChildHtml(‘right’) ?>

    – Step 3:
    Populate the block
    Go to catalog.xml and add:

    [ Add your blocks here]


  16. Followed the instructions and worked on the category pages but not in other pages. On other pages it gives an error

    Fatal error: Call to a member function getMetaTitle() on a non-object in /home/sabatest/public_html/app/code/core/Mage/Catalog/Block/Category/View.php on line 44
  17. hi,
    thank you for your great post!

    i use version and modify the step 2 to

    <div><?php echo $this->getChildHtml('newreference') ?></div>

    have a nice time!

  18. “Go to appropriate layout XML file and add this block to appropriate place.”

    First of all what is the “appropriate” file? Is this the local.xml?

    And why is it added there, seems a bit double to me, I already created a block in my page.xml, why should I add another block reference in another file…?

  19. Sorry but where is the appropriate xml file in step 3? There is no: app/design/frontend/default/yourtheme/layout/local.xml

    1. you have to make a local.xml file that will be automatically included . we make it to avoid to code in other xml files.

  20. The php in the template where you want to output the block needs to be:
    echo $this->getChildHtml(‘newreference’)
    instead of
    which throws an error

  21. If I wanted to add a static block via a widget to a custom reference block, how might I go about doing that?

  22. thankyou .. finally, FINALLY ! i understand reference / blocks / layout / xml / templates .. suddenly i see it , and i thankyou 🙂

  23. How can i add new block inside content?

    i tried to add new ref block inside the content ref but it shows on the top of the page not where i want.

    any help would be appreciated.

  24. Man you are a life safer you know that..

    When ever we are stack in something we finish always in a post you have made.

    I understand so many things today with your post.

    thanks a lot…

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