Will Abson’s Wonderful World of Dashlets

Back when Alfresco first launched Surf, the framework on which Alfresco Share is based, a handful of us went to Chicago to hang out in a conference room on a ship in the harbor where we did a deep dive on the framework and then came up with proposed add-ons that would leverage it. I was at Optaros at the time. Our add-on was the Alfresco Share microblogging component and we also did some Surf Code Camps. The goal, of course, was to get the word out about Surf and encourage others to develop and contribute Share customizations.

The deep dive was great and the code camps that followed were valuable and well-attended. What I think the approach missed was that you don’t need to be a Surf expert to code some simple dashlets. We were handing out “How to Fly the Space Shuttle” when we probably should have started with “Building and Launching Your First Model Rocket”.

That’s why Will Abson is my current Alfresco community hero. At this year’s Alfresco Kickoff meeting in Orlando (notes), Will showed a project he and a few others have been working on called Share Extras. Share Extras is a collection of small projects ranging from “Hello World” dashlets to custom theme, data lists, and document action examples.

For example, the list of what I’d call simple, mash-up examples includes things like:

  • Twitter Feed Dashlet – Shows a specific Twitter user’s feed.
  • Twitter Search Dashlet – Shows a Twitter feed based on a hashtag.
  • BBC Weather Dashlet – Shows weather feed from BBC.
  • Flickr Dashlets – Shows flickr photos in a slideshow.
  • Google Site News – Shows the last ten blog posts from Google News.
  • iCal Feed – Shows entries from an iCal feed.
  • Notice Dashlet – Stores/shows arbitrary text, like what you’d use for a maintenance message or an announcement.
  • Train times – Shows the National Rail train schedule.

From there, you can move on to more extensive examples. For example, rather than simply displaying data from public services, these examples start to store/retrieve data in the underlying Alfresco repository:

  • Site Tags Dashlet – Displays a tag cloud consisting of tags used in your site.
  • Site Poll Dashlet – Uses a custom data list type called Poll to configure a simple poll. Shows results in bar chart.
  • Document Geographic Details – Adds a map using the document’s geocoding metadata just below the permissions section.
  • Sample Data Lists – A simple data list example that lets you capture info on Books (author, title, ISBN).
  • Execute Script Custom Document Action – Shows an example of adding a custom action to the action list that runs server-side JavaScript against a node.

The nice thing is that (almost) every one of these extensions deploys as a self-contained JAR file. Will’s build assumes you are running the repository and the Share web apps in the same container, so it deploys the JAR to $TOMCAT_HOME/shared/classes/lib, but you can obviously tweak that if your config is different. The ability to run everything out of a JAR, including what would normally be file system based resources like CSS, client-side JavaScript, and images is a relatively new feature (3.3, I think). It’s much nicer than fooling with AMPs.

Here is a list of my five favorites from the collection:

  • Node Browser – A port of the Explorer client’s node browser to the Share UI. I like this one because it brings an extremely useful developer tool into Share, which is where most of us are spending time these days. It also shows how you can plug your own tools into Share’s admin console.
  • Red Theme – A simple custom theme example. This is on my favorites list because creating a custom theme is something that is requested often and should be easy to do. Follow this example to create your own.
  • Site Geotagged Content Dashlet – Adds a dashlet that shows a map of geotagged content contained in the document library. I can’t help it. I like maps.
  • Site Blog Dashlet – Dashlet that shows site blog posts. This is a favorite because it plugs a hole in the product. If you’re going to use the blog tool in a Share site, you’re going to want to show those posts somewhere and a dashlet makes a lot of sense.
  • Wiki Rich Content – Automatically puts a table of contents at the top of a wiki page based on the headings contained within the page. Also does a nice job with pre-formatted text. This is another example of a feature that should probably be in the core product.

The Google Code project includes screenshots for each of these projects, but it is really easy to do a checkout on the code, import the projects into Eclipse, create a build.properties file in your home directory to override the tomcat.home prop, then run “ant hotcopy-tomcat-jar” to deploy one and see it in action for yourself. I tried them all out on Alfresco 3.4d Community and they worked great. I think all but one or two will work on 3.3.

The Share Extras project includes a Sample Project with a folder structure and Ant build that you can clone and use as a starting point for your own development. If you create something cool, you should share it on Google Code and then let me know about it. Or give it to Will and he can add it to his ever-growing pile of cool Share add-on examples.

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