Theming Wikipedia

December 13, 2023

Earlier this year, Wikipedia got a nice redesign. When it happened, I didn’t notice. I’ve been using a non-default theme for nearly 20 years.

A while back I mentioned this to some friends who were surprised to learn this was a thing. It makes sense that it isn’t well known: changing or customizing themes (called “skins” by MediaWiki) requires creating a Wikipedia user account. Since the site is perfectly usable without logging in, I’d bet only a tiny percentage of users have accounts. Theming looks to have been introduced with the “Cologne Blue” skin in 2002, so it’s been around for a while! 1.

The Wikipedia:Skin page contains the following screenshots of each currently supported skin:

The same page also has screenshots of two deprecated skins:

I’m currently using a theme based on Timeless. I had been using the base Timeless skin for effectively since signing up, but decided to tweak it a bit in 2021. I increased the size of the type, increased the spacing between lines, and set the default typeface to Palatino. Here’s a link to the 2021 version of my global.css file.

Earlier this year, after I learned of the Wikipedia redesign, I checked back in on my overrides. I realized that it would likely be better to have the CSS associated directly with the theme, so I moved things from global.css to timeless.css. Here’s a link to the current version of my timeless.css override.

The Wikipedia:Skin page has instructions for how to customize a skin, if you want to try this for yourself. You can also add or override JavaScript behaviour globally or for a specific skin, though I haven’t done this.

For the curious, this is what my theme looks like in Safari. As well as the changes above, I also shrunk the size of the main content column, and removed the band of colour just below the sticky header.

  1. It was definitely around in 2005 when I created my account to remove an errant smiley from the World of Warcraft page