Site Master Page vs. System Master Page

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



  1. 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?


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


  3. 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.


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


  5. 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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