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Sitecore CMS

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Accelerating your Sitecore solutions with Helix and Sitecore Ignition Development Accelerator

Over the past month or so, I have had the opportunity to work with some fine talent here at Perficient who are showing me the ropes on the Sitecore Ignition Development Accelerator as well as how this framework adheres to the Helix patterns, principles, and conventions. Helix is a growing passion of mine, along with our development team, and the more I develop using these patterns, principles, and conventions along with the Sitecore Ignition development accelerator, I am quickly seeing the benefits of Helix & Sitecore Ignition as a great development practice.

Helix gives me the ability to maintain enterprise level Sitecore solutions a lot more easily with the Project, Feature, Foundation approach as well as SOLID patterns, principles, and conventions behind the reason why you should develop in this manner. If you have not started development with Helix, truly consider a shift toward this as it is now considered a best practice, and recommended by Sitecore at this point.

The Ignition framework allows me to hit the quick-start button when starting a new project for a new client, but in addition it allows me to work with Helix patterns, principles, and conventions to accelerate development time. There is more than meets the eyes with the Sitecore Ignition framework, and I felt it best to share my findings now that I have some hands-on experience in both areas.

I started out speaking with Jon Upchurch, major contributor to the Ignition team, who gave me a handful of links to “Ignite the Helix”, those of which are below:

GitHub repo for Ignition: https://github.com/sitecoreignition/SitecoreIgnition

Sitecore Ignition Documentation: http://sitecoreignition.readthedocs.io/en/latest/

Getting Started with Sitecore Ignition (Initial Items & Project Template for VS): https://github.com/sitecoreignition/Ignition.Foundation/wiki

Getting Started with Sitecore Ignition (10 Minute Video): http://blogs.perficient.com/microsoft/2016/06/sitecore-ignition-getting-started/

Getting Started with Sitecore Ignition 2.0 (50 Minute Video): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZX4sAcQFqGM

Webinar on Sitecore Ignition:http://blogs.perficient.com/microsoft/2016/06/sitecore-ignition-a-webinar-overview/

Sitecore Ignition 101 Blog Post by George Chang: http://blogs.perficient.com/microsoft/2016/06/sitecore-ignition-101-overview/

Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/Sitecore-Ignition-1714108435506468/

Twitter Ignition Team: @ignition_sc

The links above will help you to learn more about the Sitecore Ignition accelerator as well as stay informed via your social media favorites Facebook & Twitter.

Initial setup of Sitecore Ignition is not very hard at all if you are following the directions in documentation and videos, and rather than go through the setup in this post, my focus is really on the benefits of why you should consider using the Sitecore Ignition development accelerator for your Helix based Sitecore projects. Below, are a few benefits in relation to Helix that will speed up your Helix initiatives:

  • Ease of setup to initially get started to add into your Helix based Sitecore solution
  • A Visual Studio Sitecore Ignition project template
    • When you add a new “Feature” project, which could be many, then this ability alone to have a template will speed things up dramatically in your daily development.
    • Sitecore Ignition project template comes pre-loaded with a Controllers, ViewModels, and Views folder for you to start creating your modules and get to work quickly.
    • Pre-configured Unicorn predicates for the project setup in the App_Config/Include folder.
    • When using symbolic links with Link Shell Extensions, then you won’t even have to set up the serialization folder for the project because Unicorn will place the serialized items in the right spots in your feature to be included for check-in to your repo. Brilliant!
  • Ignition.Foundation.Core includes SimpleInjector for IoC, and Glass.Mapper as the ORM. So when you create the new project, all you need to do is reference Sitecore.Kernel.dll & Sitecore.Mvc.dll from the official NuGet feed for Sitecore. This will make Glass.Mapper happy during Ignition.Foundation.Core package installation. Once the Sitecore Ignition.Foundation.Core NuGet package is installed, your project is ready to go!

Below are some benefits I have run into in a short period of time using the Sitecore Ignition framework:

  • No Global.asax or RouteConfig.cs you need to worry about in the solution. Which is just less files/folders you need to worry about and more clean in my opinion, which is always good. When doing AJAX work you simply need to setup on your JSON returning methods for them to use [PublicRoute] along with [HttpPost] and that’s it. The rest is done behind the scenes for routing. Pretty slick!
  • Experience Editor friendly just met developer friendly when the Sitecore Ignition team created a way for you to simply name a .cshtml file with a certain naming convention i.e. “_EE”, and now that view is automatically Experience Editor friendly. Big win for teams with juniors!
  • Dynamic placeholders are OOTB with this accelerator so there is no need to roll your own, download one off the Sitecore Marketplace, or pull one in from NuGet.

Overall, I am very excited about working with Helix patterns, principles, and conventions now in my every day Sitecore development role as well as the ability to accelerate that development with the use of Sitecore Ignition. Thanks for the hard work Sitecore Ignition team!

I have a good feeling that I will be working with the contribution team when I can to help make this accelerator even better than it already is for the Sitecore community. Looking forward to when that time  comes. Now go and “Ignite the Helix”!

 

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!

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!

Sitecore Training

Sitecore Training Is Always Valuable

When I first started down the path of doing Sitecore development back in 2008, I was told by the company that I worked for at the time that they had a new CMS system they were going to be using to manage all the customer websites. The company was in the restaurant advertising business, and when they got new a new restaurant we would take the website they had currently, and add them into Sitecore to be managed. Back at that time, CMS systems were just gaining some ground in popularity, and .NET web development was a hot topic. I had been doing some work before with ASP but not a ton of .NET web development much less with enterprise level CMS systems. I was at a Junior level in my development efforts in .NET with lots of knowledge, but not a lot of practical uses of said knowledge in the form of implementations. With that being said, I knew that I had a lot of work ahead of me to learn .NET Web Development, and then learn Sitecore intimately from every angle in order for me to be able to deliver solid solutions. At that time in 2008, the version that had everyone excited was version 6.0. Sitecore, in my opinion, has always been good at providing documentation. However, with that being said, I still had to rely mostly upon Google searches to find most of what I needed to help me out in any way shape or form. It was at this time that John West and his blog posts generally saved the day for most of us that come from that era of Sitecore development, and the reason why he is a lifetime Sitecore MVP. He literally paved the way for us current MVP’s to share our knowledge as back then we were just looking for nuggets anywhere we could get them. From all of us in the community, thank you John West!

Now, back on topic, my company saw that this was a tall order for me to take on, and decided to send me to Sitecore certification training in San Francisco, CA. This turned out to be the best move they could make and money well spent to get me up to speed VERY quickly. I flew out to San Francisco, and for a week learned the nuts and bolts about how to develop a website into the Sitecore CMS system. To be honest, it was a lot to take in and being new to .NET development, some of it was over my head, and I struggled to gain the deep understanding that I very much desired. Luckily, all my documentation I read through before the course and the Google searches paid off because I was more so gaining the validity to what I had been doing on my own versus learning brand new concepts. Days were filled with training and examples, and nights were filled with soaking up what I learned that day and studying for the exam at the end of the course. At the end of the week, I flew back home as a Sitecore Certified Developer.

Armed with my knowledge, certification, and newfound passion for Sitecore, I set out to start building websites. I was able to build my first website in 6.0 that had around 20 micro-sites within it that we were able to manage easily in a very short period of time!

Fast-forward 8+ years later, my previous employer, had an instructor fly out, and provide a group training in SItecore 8.1+ . First, we started out with training on how Content Editors use the system from Content Editor as well as heavy use of the Experience Editor, and all it’s functionality and tools to edit content. Then for the rest of the week, we took a deep dive into how to develop websites into the Sitecore CMS using the latest and greatest tools utilizing best practices for Sitecore development. Having been through Sitecore Certification Training in the past, I was sure that I would not see much new that I didn’t know. To my disbelief, I was blown away at all that I learned that I didn’t know about, in addition to using tools that would help my team’s productivity overall. For instance, in the course, we made extensive use of SIM (Sitecore Instance Manager) and Sitecore Rocks for our development. I have used Sitecore Rocks before, here and there for certain tasks, but not strictly for development forcing me to have to get used to use the tool. It was great see just how easy things were to get what I wanted accomplished without ever leaving Visual Studio! Now, I am using Sitecore Rocks more than ever to help me with my day-to-day Sitecore tasks.

The moral of this story is that Sitecore training is ALWAYS valuable for partners as well as clients! Make no mistake about it, you are only as effective as what your level of knowledge is when it comes to Sitecore. Once you get the training you need in your role, you will be more confident, productive, and ultimately happy working inside the Sitecore CMS. Happy coding!

Sitecore Developer Toolbox Chunk

Sitecore Developer Toolbox Module for Sitecore 7.2+

Have you ever tried to remember what the URL is to the Show Config or the Cache page in your Sitecore instance when using the Administration Tools?

Did you know that there is a Database Browser that the old-schoolers use to Brute Force work they need to get done with Sitecore OR an XPath building tool you can lean on to help you with Sitecore queries?

If you don’t know what I am speaking of, I am eluding to some old-school tools that can be very useful for every day administration and development. For example, the Administration tools page with links to all kinds of tools from the backend, XPath Builder to help you write and validate queries/fast queries, and File Explorer to help you view Website folders/files on the Sitecore instance you have the Sitecore Developer Toolbox (SDT) installed on. When you install the Sitecore Developer Toolbox, you get quick access to these tools via the Developer tab in the Content Editor.

Here is a look at what the module will add to your Content Editor Contextual Ribbon:

Sitecore Developer Toolbox Chunk

Sitecore Developer Toolbox – Chunk

Administration Tools:

Sitecore Developer Toolbox Admin Tools

Sitecore Developer Toolbox – Admin Tools

XPath Builder:

Sitecore Developer Toolbox XPath Builder

Sitecore Developer Toolbox – XPath Builder

File Explorer:

Sitecore Developer Toolbox File Explorer

Sitecore Developer Toolbox – File Explorer

Here is the link to the module on the Sitecore Marketplace: https://marketplace.sitecore.net/en/Modules/S/Sitecore_Developer_Toolbox.aspx

If you like the module please recommend to the community, provide a rating, and/or review. Thanks and happy coding!

How To Setup, Configure, and Connect to xDB Cloud 2.0 – Part 1

In this post, I am going to run through my experience of setting up, configuring, and connecting to xDB Cloud 2.0. However, this is going to be a multi-post, because there are some steps that you need to take place so you can have the xDB Cloud set provisioned before you can connect. Once we get through the initial setup and provisioning by Sitecore, we will  go a little deeper on the connection that may need to take place depending on your environment.

First, I started my journey off by taking a look at some basic documentation on xDB Cloud and realized that I needed to use Version 2.0 as seen below, since the agreement was signed before July 21st:

Use Version 2 Instead of Version 1

Use Version 2 Instead of Version 1

Once I knew I needed to work with Version 2, I started looking through some documentation on Version 2 specifically here. When looking through the overviews, I needed to find out what xDB Cloud Set was compatible with my version of Sitecore, which is Sitecore 8.1 rev.160302 (Update 2). The xDB Cloud Service Compatibility Tables can be found here. I see that my version is supported for creating new xDB Cloud Sets and keep on trucking.

I move on to the “Connect to xDB Cloud 2.0” documentation. My Prerequisites are met so my next step is to “Request the xDB Cloud Customer Set” by putting in a Sitecore Support ticket with the following information:

  • License ID (Sitecore License ID & xDB License ID)
  • Deployment ID (This is the name you want to give to the set i.e. “companynameprod1”)
  • Sitecore Version (Sitecore 8.1 rev.160302 (Update 2)
  • Preferred Location (West US)

Then I waited for Sitecore Support to get back to me with the connection strings, and reporting service settings.

In Part 2, we will take a look at making the connections, and any other configurations that may need to take place to connect to your xDB Cloud set.