Stefan Goßner

Senior Escalation Engineer for SharePoint Products and Technologies

Site Master Page vs. System Master Page

Site Master Page vs. System Master Page

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I recently received a question regarding site and system master pages in SharePoint. It seems that the purpose of these two master pages is not clear to everyone so here is a short summary:

By default the following rule applies:

  • Site Master Pages: used by all publishing pages - and only by publishing pages
  • System Master Pages: used by everything else including forms and view pages

You cannot change the default behavior - but you can use SharePoint Designer to change the master page assignment for individual pages if required.

If you open a page in SharePoint Designer you can see a MasterPageFile setting which can be modified:

  • "~masterurl/default.master": the page will use the system master page
  • "~masterurl/custom.master": the page will use the site master page


  • Hey Stefan, did you mean to say that the default.master will display the system master page, and the custom.master will display the site master page?

  • Yes. Sorry :-)

  • Thanks for this, but what I don't understand is what IS a publishing page exactly? & how is that different from a view page?

  • Hi Karen,

    see here:



  • Nice one..

  • I have weird issue i tried to apply my custom master page to Site master page wasn't applied only worked when applied to System master page. any overcome of this.

  • Hi Vinod,
    sounds as if you were not using Publishing Pages.
    As outlined above only publishing pages use the Site Master Page.

  • Stefan, I am using the Publishing master page it only works when i applied on System master page not in Site Master page. due this i have fix the all system pages styling now.

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