Monthly Archives: May 2017

Parameter Templates for Pointing to Content Items

Dynamic Parameter Templates for Pointing to Content Items

Have you ever been in a predicament, in code, where you need to point to an item in the Sitecore content tree?

For instance, you are building a Search Component, and when the user clicks search, you are going to send over the keyword/s in a query string to the Search Results Page for use in processing and displaying the results. In code, I will need that URL in my Search Component in order for me to send over the results. Let’s analyze what our options are on this scenario:

For sake of simplicity, I will leave the null checking and exception handling to you. These are simply options to get ultimately to my point:

Option 1 (Rookie Option):

var searchResultsPage = Sitecore.Context.Database.GetItem("/sitecore/content/Home/Search Results");
var searchPageUrl = LinkManager.GetItemUrl(searchResultsPage);

We can get the item using the path, then get the item URL at that point. However, we NEVER want to do this with content items! If that path changes then now you have a broken Search Component. Just because we can use paths to get items in Sitecore, doesn’t mean it’s a good practice. As a matter of fact, I would consider it bad practice all around, so steer clear of this method.

Option 2 (Better Option):

var searchResultsPage = Sitecore.Context.Database.GetItem(ID.Parse("F6778EA3-1B76-4BBF-AD21-63E9EA847FDE"));
var searchPageUrl = LinkManager.GetItemUrl(searchResultsPage);

A better method to pointing to items is with the ID using the item GUID. Why? Performance reasons. Sitecore will pick that item up faster using the ID. More importantly the ID is tied to that item ONLY and anywhere the Content Editor moves the item, Sitecore will still be able to fetch it, and nothing will break on the Search Component.

Option 3 (Even Better Option):

Typically, in most solutions that I have come across for Sitecore, there is Constants file that has ID’s in the Constants file something like this:

public class ItemIDs
     public const string NewsCategoriesFolder = ID.Parse("{B866EC76-54ED-447D-9AB2-5E05A0699586}");
     public const string SearchResultsPage= ID.Parse("{F6778EA3-1B76-4BBF-AD21-63E9EA847FDE}");

As you can see from above there is an item for the News Categories Folder and the Search Results Page. Both of which need to be referenced in code, and the reason why they are in the Constants file. Using the method of putting those ID’s in the Constants file makes it easier to manage those ID’s in one place. When doing so, you can then get your item more clean and like so, in this case the Search Results page:

var searchResultsPage = Sitecore.Context.Database.GetItem(Constants.ItemIDs.SearchResultsPage);
var searchPageUrl = LinkManager.GetItemUrl(searchResultsPage);

If you make a change to the Item ID, then it will make that change across your solution versus having that ID out there in 5 other components you will need to change manually.

Option 4 (Best Option using TDS & Glass.Mapper with Code Generation):

Option 3 is definitely considered a best practice, but what if we can make this even easier to manage dynamically using TDS & Glass.Mapper, and keep ID’s out of the Constants file altogether except for rare circumstances?

Now that you have seen a few ways to point to the item in the Content Tree, let’s discuss Parameter Templates. Parameter templates are a way for you to add fields to your rendering that can help out the Content Editor in their daily Content Editing experience. Below are links to helpful information regarding Parameter Templates:

Now, that you have a good idea of what Parameter Templates are and how to set them up, let’s talk about why we would want to use them as a best practice in components for item pointing.

Parameter templates help to manage the solution while providing a better experience for your Content Editors. We simply create a Parameter Template to be used with the Search Component that has this criteria:

  • Name: Search Results Page
  • Field Type: DropTree
  • Data Source: /sitecore/content/Home/

We create a Standard_Values for the Parameter Template and set it to the Search Results Page by default.

When added to the Search Component, it is by default set to the Search Results page, but if the Content Editor ever wanted to point to an alternative Search Results page (for whatever reason), they now have that option. But more importantly, you bypass having to now add this to the Constants file, if your Parameter Template is strongly typed as one of your Models. Using TDS with Glass.Mapper “Code Generation”, this will allow you to create your Parameter Template for the Search Component, then have it auto-generate the Model in your solution for use where you can then call on the Parameter Template like so using Glass.Mapper (notice Search_Results_Parameter):

var renderingParameters = GetRenderingParameters<Search_Results_Parameter>();
var item = Context.Database.GetItem(ID.Parse(renderingParameters.Search_Results_Page));
var pathInfo = LinkManager.GetItemUrl(item, UrlOptions.DefaultOptions);

The Search Results Parameter is now dynamically generated anytime there is a change in the item in Sitecore. Hence, you never had a need to create the model OR add the item ID/path to the Constants file.

Keep in mind you can still do this without TDS/Glass.Mapper “Code Generation” feature, but then you will need to create a model manually for your Parameter Template. The benefit is that you have given the Content Editor the ability the point to the Search Results page versus having this functionality in code that needs to be changed by a developer, and that is the benefit to the client. To my knowledge, you can also do this same type of “code generation” functionality with Unicorn/Synthesis as well.

I have found going this route equates to maximum productivity for the development team once the concept is understood, and helps in manageability of your solution overall. Happy coding!

Sitecore Sandbox Reviews

Sitecore Sandbox Video Reviews Introduction

In an effort to help out all the developers in the Sitecore Community, I have created a channel on YouTube that is dedicated to essentially putting Sitecore things and stuff in the Sitecore Sandbox for review and then sharing with the community! This way we all can benefit from the review.

What is it that will be reviewed?

Anything that is related to Sitecore that will make our daily development a more productive enjoyable experience. Typically, we will review modules in the Sitecore Marketplace, Accelerators, or even just features in Sitecore Launchpad. In either case, I am sure we will unlock some more tools that can be added to your toolbox, and help us all reach our true Sitecore potential.

The videos will ONLY be targeted at being 3-5 minutes in length so they will be something you can watch very quickly. In addition, they will be broken down into series. For instance, if we are reviewing the Sitecore Instance Manager features, we will break it down to one feature per video.

Make sure you subscribe and pass on to your fellow developers, and you will be alerted when new videos are out:



Rebuilding Reporting Database for Experience Profile Data

Are you familiar with the Experience Profile in Sitecore?

This is a phenomenal tool for Marketers that have audacious goals for their organization. The Sitecore marketing team talks about the Experience Profile as such, “Data-driven marketers who want a 360-degree view of their customer’s interaction with all digital channels over time and in real-time will find just that in the Sitecore Experience Profile”. If you have never taken a good look at what is possible with the Experience Profile, check it out!

Now, what does this have to do with rebuilding the reporting database? Good question! Experience Profile is completely dependent upon the Sitecore_Analytics_Index. If there is no data in the Sitecore_Analytics_Index then there will be no data in the Experience Profile. So, how does data get into the Sitecore_Analytics_Index? Let’s a take a look:

In this example using a typical model of a 1 CM (Content Management Server) with 2 CD (Content Delivery Server) environment, the CD server/s will be delivering customer experience data to MongoDB during the customer session/s. When the session/s ends, typically after 20 minutes (unless set to end earlier) then the data gets flushed using the xDB Processing Server/s. If you have not setup the xDB Processing Server/s on a standalone server then the processing will happen on Content Management server. The processing will take this data and migrate it to your Reporting database, where it will reside, and then be indexed, for performance reasons, by the Sitecore_Analytics_Index for use in the Experience Profile.

Now, why might be ever want to rebuild the reporting database and how do we even do that? Good question! If you don’t see any data in the Experience Profile, and you have a license for the functionality, then, “Houston…we have a problem”. Below are some steps to troubleshoot:

  1. Check the logs using Sitecore Log Analyzer on the Sitecore Marketplace, and see if you have any Mongo connection errors. Connectivity may either have been disrupted or never configured properly. If you are using SOLR look for SOLR errors relating to the Sitecore_Analytics_Index as well.
  2. Ensure you have MongoDB connectivity by using RoboMongo to ensure that data is truly being collected in the collections.
  3. Check the Reporting database tables to see if there is any data being collected. If not, then the xDB processing may not be working for some reason OR you have a connection string missing or incorrect to the Reporting database.
  4. Ensure if you are using SOLR that your cores are setup correctly along with configsets particularly for Sitecore_Analytics_Index.
  5. Check the Sitecore_Analytics_Index for any indexed records. More than likely you will see no records.

If you went through 1-4 and the data is all there, but still don’t have any records in your Sitecore_Analytics_Index then you are now looking at rebuilding your reporting database.

But wait, why don’t we just rebuild the index for the SItecore_Analytics_Index? Good question! Adam Conn explains this in his blog post, but we cannot manually do this, as it is done behind the scenes in Sitecore. There is a workaround to get the Sitecore_Analyics_Index to show up with the rest in the Select Search Index dialog box, but it can be problematic as Adam shows in his post.

Now is when the Rebuild Reporting Database tool comes to the rescue. When you rebuild the reporting database you also then set the Sitecore_Analytics_Index to be re-indexed through this process.

To rebuild your reporting database you will actually need to create a second reporting database to use with the Rebuild Reporting Database administration tool. Instructions on how to do that can be found here. Now, once you have a second reporting database in place you can then use this tool in the Administration Tools area of Sitecore:

Rebuild Reporting Database

Rebuild Reporting Database

When you run this tool you will rebuild the reporting database thereby re-indexing the Sitecore_Analytics_Index. At this point, you should start seeing data flow into the Experience Profile. Happy coding!

Find Text In Sitecore Files

Using Notepad++ To Find All Text In Sitecore Files In A Folder

Have you ever wanted to search for text in all files of a folder? Windows search will allow you to search through a folder, but will return the keyword in the filename by default. That’s great if you want to find a file in the folder, but what if you want to go deeper and search through all files in those folders for a certain keyword? I ran across this scenario recently, and I wanted to share with the community of Sitecore developers because it can be a very useful tool when performing some Development Operations type of tasks to help you troubleshoot when in certain situations as you will see. If you have seen this trick before then, “Amen”, but if not then make this a part of your toolbox!

Let’s just say you are troubleshooting a CD server in a typical 1 CM | 2 CD distributed environment that is having issues still referencing the “master” database. You simply want to find out where all the “master” references are in the App_Config folder and sub-folders without having to open each file manually and check. Can you imagine having to do that? As Kamruz Jaman would say, “Ain’t nobody got time for that!” Notepad++ to the rescue!

All you have to do is the following:

  1. Download Notepad++
  2. Open up Notepad++
  3. Either do a “Ctrl-Shift-F” OR click on “Search” tab then click on “Find in Files…”

    Find In Files Search Option

    Find In Files Search Option

  4. Once you click on that option you will get this “Find in Files” dialog box where you can set your settings for your search. For this example, we will set to “master” in the “Find what” text box and set the “Directory” to “D:\App_Config”. Lastly, we will just ensure the “In all sub-folders” is checked as well as seen below. Please note that you can also do a “Replace in Files” as well and even search in hidden folders:

    Find in Files Dialog Box

    Find in Files Dialog Box

  5. Click “Find All” and watch the all the goodness that returns to you!

As you will see below you now have that keyword brought to you in all the files in that sub-folder as well as the filename and path.  Not only that but when you double-click on the line item it will appear above in the text editor so you can view and modify.

Find in Files Search Results

Find in Files Search Results

With this knowledge, now you are armed like a boss to find keywords in files throughout your Sitecore development daily grind that will make you a more productive member of the team. Happy coding!