Tag: Apache Chemistry

Deal of the Day: 50%-off CMIS & Apache Chemistry in Action

The book I mueller_cover150co-authored with Florian Mueller (SAP) and Jay Brown (IBM), CMIS and Apache Chemistry in Action, is 50% off today (January 30). Use code dotd013014au when you checkout.

If you are doing anything with CMIS, whether that is with Alfresco or some other CMIS-compliant Enterprise Content Management server, like Nuxeo, SharePoint, FileNet, or Documentum, you should really take a look at this book. It provides Java, Python, PHP, and .NET examples including a working web application.

CMIS: An open API for managing content

Most of the content in a company is completely unstructured. Just think about the documents you collaborate on with the rest of your team throughout the day. They might include things like proposals, architecture diagrams, presentations, invoices, screenshots, videos, books, meeting notes, or pictures from your last company get-together.

How does a company organize all of that content? Often it is scattered across file shares and employee hard drives. It isn’t really organized at all. It’s hard enough to simply find content in that environment, but what about answering questions like:

  • Is this the latest version and how has it changed over time?
  • Which customer is this document related to?
  • Who is allowed to read or make changes to this document?
  • How long are we legally required to keep this document?
  • When I’m done making my change to this document, what is the next step in the process?

To address this, companies will often write content-centric applications that try to put some order to the chaos. But most of our content resides in files, and files can be a pain to work with. Databases can store files up to a certain file size, but they aren’t great for working with audio and video. File systems solve that problem but they alone don’t offer rich functionality like the ability to track complex metadata with each file or the ability to easily full-text index and then run searches across all of your content.

That’s where a content repository comes in. You might hear these referred to as a Document Management (DM) system or an Enterprise Content Management (ECM) system. No matter what you call it, they are purpose-built for making it easier for your company to get a handle on its file-based content.

Here’s the problem for developers, though: There is a lot of repository software out there. Most large companies have more than one up-and-running in their organization, and every one of them has their own API. It’s rare that these systems exist in a vacuum. They often need to feed and consume business processes and that takes code. So if you are an enterprise developer, and you are trying to integrate some of your systems with your ECM repositories, you’ve got multiple API’s you need to learn. Or, if you are a software vendor, and you are trying to build a solution that requires a rich content repository as a back-end, you either have to choose a specific back-end to support or you have to write adapters to support a handful of repositories.

The solution to this problem is called Content Management Interoperability Services (CMIS). It’s an industry-wide specification managed by OASIS. It describes a domain language, a query language, and multiple protocols for working with a content repository. With CMIS, developers write against the CMIS API instead of learning each repository’s proprietary API, and their applications will work with any CMIS-compliant repository.

The first version of the specification became official in May of 2010. The most recent version, 1.1, became official this past May.

Several developers have been busy writing client libraries, server-side libraries, and tools related to CMIS. Many of these are collected as part of an umbrella open source project known as Apache Chemistry (http://chemistry.apache.org). The most active Apache Chemistry sub-project is OpenCMIS. It includes a Java client library (including Android), multiple servers for testing purposes, and some developer tools, such as a Java Swing-based repository browser called OpenCMIS Workbench. Apache Chemistry also includes libraries for Python, .NET, PHP, and Objective-C.

The tools and libraries at Apache Chemistry are a great way to get started with CMIS. For example, I’ve got the Apache Chemistry InMemory Repository deployed to a local Tomcat server. I can fire up OpenCMIS Workbench and connect to the server using its service URL, http://localhost:8080/chemistry/browser. Once I do that I can navigate the repository’s folder hiearchy, inspecting or performing actions against objects along they way.

The OpenCMIS Workbench has a built-in Groovy console. One of the examples that ships with the Workbench is “Execute a Query”. Here’s what it looks like without the imports:

String cql = "SELECT cmis:objectId, cmis:name, cmis:contentStreamLength FROM cmis:document"

ItemIterable<QueryResult> results = session.query(cql, false)

results.each { hit ->
hit.properties.each { println "${it.queryName}: ${it.firstValue}" }
println "--------------------------------------"

println "--------------------------------------"
println "Total number: ${results.totalNumItems}"
println "Has more: ${results.hasMoreItems}"
println "--------------------------------------"

The Apache Chemistry OpenCMIS InMemory Repository ships with some sample data so when I execute the Groovy script, I’ll see something like:

cmis:contentStreamLength: 33216
cmis:name: My_Document-0-1
cmis:objectId: 134
cmis:contentStreamLength: 33226
cmis:name: My_Document-1-0
cmis:objectId: 130
cmis:contentStreamLength: 33718
cmis:name: My_Document-2-0
cmis:objectId: 105
cmis:contentStreamLength: 33617
cmis:name: My_Document-2-1
cmis:objectId: 122
cmis:contentStreamLength: 33807
cmis:name: My_Document-2-2
cmis:objectId: 129
cmis:contentStreamLength: 33364
cmis:name: My_Document-2-1
cmis:objectId: 128
cmis:contentStreamLength: 33506
cmis:name: My_Document-2-1
cmis:objectId: 112
cmis:contentStreamLength: 33567
cmis:name: My_Document-2-1
cmis:objectId: 106
cmis:contentStreamLength: 33230
cmis:name: My_Document-2-2
cmis:objectId: 107
cmis:contentStreamLength: 33774
cmis:name: My_Document-1-1
cmis:objectId: 115
cmis:contentStreamLength: 33524
cmis:name: My_Document-2-0
cmis:objectId: 121
cmis:contentStreamLength: 33593
cmis:name: My_Document-2-0
cmis:objectId: 111
cmis:contentStreamLength: 34152
cmis:name: My_Document-2-2
cmis:objectId: 123
cmis:contentStreamLength: 33332
cmis:name: My_Document-0-0
cmis:objectId: 133
cmis:contentStreamLength: 33478
cmis:name: My_Document-1-2
cmis:objectId: 116
cmis:contentStreamLength: 33541
cmis:name: My_Document-1-2
cmis:objectId: 132
cmis:contentStreamLength: 33225
cmis:name: My_Document-2-0
cmis:objectId: 127
cmis:contentStreamLength: 33333
cmis:name: My_Document-2-2
cmis:objectId: 113
cmis:contentStreamLength: 33698
cmis:name: My_Document-1-0
cmis:objectId: 114
cmis:contentStreamLength: 33746
cmis:name: My_Document-0-2
cmis:objectId: 135
cmis:contentStreamLength: 33455
cmis:name: My_Document-1-1
cmis:objectId: 131
Total number: 21
Has more: false

So that query returned three properties, cmis:objectId, cmis:name, and cmis:contentStreamLength, of every object in the repository that is of type cmis:document. We could have restricted the query further with a where clause that tested specific property values or even the full-text content of the files.

Now I also happen to be running Alfresco, which is an open source ECM repository. The beauty of CMIS is demonstrated by the fact that I can run that exact same Groovy script against Alfresco. I simply have to reconnect using Alfresco’s service URL, which is http://localhost:8080/alfresco/cmisatom (for the Atom Pub binding). My local Alfresco repository has many more objects than my OpenCMIS InMemory repository so I won’t list the output here, but the code runs successfuly unchanged.

Readers who spend their days enjoying standardized SQL that works across databases or the benefits of ORM tools that abstract their code from any specific relational database will no doubt be unimpressed by this feat. But I promise you that those of us who have to work with ECM repositories like SharePoint, Documentum, FileNet, and Alfresco, sometimes all on the same project, are rejoicing.

The next time you need to integrate with an ECM repository, CMIS should definitely be on your radar. I’ve created a list of CMIS resources to help you.

Alfresco Berlin Meetup Agenda

On Friday, May 10, we’ll be having a half-day meetup in Berlin, Germany in conjunction with the Codemotion conference happening at the same time. Everyone is welcome to attend and there is no cost, even if you are not registered for the Codemotion conference. You can register for the meetup here. The agenda will be as follows:

15:00 to 15:15 Welcome (Jeff Potts, Alfresco)
15:15 to 15:45 Introducing the Alfresco API (Jeff Potts)
15:45 to 16:15 Group Discussion: How Are You Using Alfresco? (All)
16:15 to 16:45 SmartWCM (Florian Maul, fme)
16:45 to 17:00 BREAK
17:00 to 17:30 Enhanced Script Import Tooling (Axel Faust, Prodyna)
17:30 to 18:00 Alfresco Workdesk (Bernhard Werner, Alfresco)
18:00 to 18:15 Invitation to Join the Community (Jeff Potts)
18:15 to 19:00 Bratwurst, Beer, & Networking

If you would like to present a 30-minute customer case study on how your organization implemented Alfresco, please let me know.

Earlier in the day I’ll be giving a talk at Codemotion Berlin on CMIS and Apache Chemistry in Action. So, if you are at Codemotion and you want to learn how to use an industry standard API to manage content in ECM repositories like SharePoint, FileNet, and Alfresco, come to my talk.

I hope to see you there!

Announcement: Apache Chemistry cmislib 0.5.1 now available

The Apache Chemistry project is pleased to announce that cmislib 0.5.1 is now available (home, docs). Developers can use cmislib to write Python applications against any CMIS-compliant repository such as Alfresco, SharePoint, Nuxeo, and FileNet. You can download the client library from the Apache Chemistry cmislib home page or use Setup Tools to install the library quickly and easily.

This release features support for renditions, so if your repository supports things like thumbnails, you can retrieve a list of those for a given object. The new release also supports passing in arbitrary HTTP headers. That is one way to enable authentication scenarios beyond basic authentication such as OAuth2, which is the authentication mechanism Alfresco in the Cloud uses.

If you are brand new to CMIS, here are a few links to get you started:

In addition, I’ve been working on an Apache Chemistry and CMIS in Action book with Jay Brown and Florian Mueller. The book is available now through Manning’s early-access program.

My New Book: CMIS and Apache Chemistry in Action

I’ve been working on another book project along with Jay Brown from IBM and Florian Mueller from SAP. It’s called “CMIS and Apache Chemistry in Action” and we intend for it to be the definitive guide to CMIS. I’m having a great time working with Jay and Florian who are two guys who have been heavily involved with the CMIS spec and Apache Chemistry from the beginning.

The book is being published by Manning and should be out in April of 2013. Today it has just been made available through the Manning Early Access Program (MEAP). We’re excited about having the book on MEAP because it means you can buy the book today and get the chapters as they are written. This gets drafts of the chapters in your hands quickly so you can apply what you learn to your projects immediately, but, even more importantly, gives you a chance to give us feedback that we can incorporate into the book.

I hope that everyone who wants to write content-centric applications on top of repositories like Alfresco, FileNet, SharePoint, Documentum, and so on, will benefit from the book, whether you are writing those apps in Java, Groovy, Python, PHP, JavaScript, C#, or Objective-C. The book starts out with an intro to CMIS and then moves through a real world example–a CMIS-based music mash-up application–built step-by-step. Once we’ve sufficiently covered the client-side stuff we move on to the server-side for those that need to know how to implement their own CMIS repositories.

The book covers the current 1.0 specification as well as the forthcoming 1.1 version of the specification.

We’ve still got a lot to write, but it feels great to reach the MEAP milestone. I look forward to hearing feedback from all of you as we continue to knock out chapters this Winter.

If you want to buy the book (MEAP or print, when it is available), you can use this code to get 37% off: 12cmisal.

cmislib extension supports Alfresco aspects

I can’t believe I didn’t know about this sooner. It completely passed me by. Patrice Collardez created an extension for cmislib that gives it the capability to work with aspects. Patrice’s version works with cmislib 0.4.1. I cloned it and made the updates necessary for it to work with cmislib 0.5.

What this means is that you can now use Python and cmislib to work with Alfresco aspects. Patrice’s extension adds “addAspect”, “removeAspect” and “getAspects” to Document and Folder objects. It also allows you to call getProperties and updateProperties on Folders and Documents even when those properties are defined in an aspect.

Check it out:

properties = {}
properties['cmis:objectTypeId'] = "D:sc:whitepaper"
properties['cmis:name'] = fileName

docText = "This is a sample " + TYPE + " document called " + NAME

doc = folder.createDocumentFromString(fileName, properties, contentString=docText, contentType="text/plain")

# Add two custom aspects and set aspect-related properties
props = {}
props['sc:isActive'] = True
props['sc:published'] = datetime.datetime(2007, 4, 1)
props['sc:product'] = 'SomePortal'
props['sc:version'] = '1.1'

Also, if you saw the webinar yesterday you know I showed some Python examples in the shell, but I then switched over to some OpenCMIS Java examples in Eclipse that I included in the custom content types tutorial. I didn’t want my fellow Pythonistas to feel neglected, so I ported those OpenCMIS examples to Python. Grab them here.

The examples assume you also have Patrice’s extension installed (my clone if you are using cmislib 0.5). If you don’t want to use Patrice’s extension for some reason, just comment out the “import cmislibalf” statement as well as the lines in the createTestDoc method that deal with aspects and aspect-defined properties. You should then be able to run the examples in straight cmislib.

If you don’t have cmislib you can install it by typing “easy_install cmislib”.

Webinar: Getting Started with CMIS

If you are brand new to CMIS or have heard about it but aren’t sure how to get started, you might want to join me in a free webinar on Thursday, January 26 at 15:00 GMT. I’m going to give a brief intro to the Content Management Interoperability Services (CMIS) standard and then I’m going to jump right in to examples that leverage Apache Chemistry OpenCMIS (Java), Apache Chemistry cmislib (Python), and Groovy (via the OpenCMIS Workbench).

UPDATED on 1/26 to fix webinar link (thanks, Alessandro). See comments for a link to webinar recording and slides.

Apache Chemistry cmislib 0.4 incubating now available

Apache Chemistry LogoThe Apache Chemistry development team is pleased to announce that the 0.4 incubating release of cmislib, the Python client API for CMIS, is now available for download. You may have to use one of the backup servers until the mirrors fully update. Alternatively, you can use easy_install to install cmislib by typing “easy_install cmislib”.

This release has various fixes and enhancements that the community has contributed since cmislib joined the Apache Chemistry project with its 0.3 release. If you are using Alfresco, you might be interested in an enhancement in cmislib 0.4 that makes it possible to use ticket-based authentication instead of basic auth.

For those who haven’t used it, cmislib makes it easy to work with CMIS-compliant repositories from Python.

Deconstructing DeckShare: A brief look at Alfresco Web Quick Start

Last Fall, just before the Developer Conference in New York City, Alfresco approached Metaversant with a small project–they needed a web site to share presentations from the DevCon sessions and other events. There are several generic slide-sharing sites out there–Alfresco and I have both used SlideShare for that sort of thing pretty extensively. But Alfresco was looking for something they could have complete control over, plus they were looking to exercise their new Web Quick Start offering. So I rounded up a sucker–I mean a collaborator–named Michael McCarthy from over at Tribloom, and we knocked it out.

Although it makes good marketing sense for Alfresco to use its own offering for the site, I do think the “private presentation-sharing” use case is also generally applicable to many other businesses out there. Technology companies, of course, but also any company with a large sales force or even more modest extranet needs could benefit from a solution like this. SlideShare is great when what you want to share is public. When presentations need to be securely shared, many companies use expansive portals to share sales collateral, marketing presentations, or company communications, but those often come with a very low signal-to-noise ratio. The solution we built–we call it “DeckShare”–is laser-focused on one thing: Making it easy for content consumers to find the presentations they need, quickly.

DeckShare is built on top of Alfresco’s new Web Content Management (WCM) offering called Web Quick Start. Honestly, Web Quick Start, as the name implies, provides a good starting point for building a dynamic web site on top of Alfresco, and the sample site was so close to what a basic slide-sharing site needed, we didn’t have to do a whole lot of work. Even so, if you want to do slide-sharing on top of Alfresco, you can save even more time by starting with DeckShare.

I thought it might be cool to walk you through how we got from the Web Quick Start sample app to DeckShare as a way of getting you familiar with Web Quick Start and to help you understand how DeckShare works in case you want to use it on your project.

Some of this write-up is also included in the “About” page within the DeckShare site. Alfresco is currently branding DeckShare to meet their needs so I have no idea if the About page will still be there when the site goes live, so I may or may not be repeating myself somewhat.

What is DeckShare?

Alfresco’s DeckShare implementation isn’t live yet, so let me give you the nickel tour. DeckShare is a solution for quickly creating a self-hosted presentation-sharing site on top of Alfresco without having to write any code. DeckShare lets non-technical users manage and categorize presentations that are then consumed by end-users. End-users can find presentations by browsing one or more hierarchies (“Topics”, “Events”, “Audience”, for example), performing a full-text search, or by browsing the list of the latest and “featured” presentations. Content managers can associate presentations with “related” presentations and can link supporting files with a presentation.

In this solution, Content Managers are a different set of users than Content Consumers. As it stands, the solution doesn’t accomodate user-contributed presentations, unlike SlideShare. Obviously, it could be customized to do that.

Here’s what it looks like when a Content Manager edits the metadata for a particular presentation (click the image for full-size):

DeckShare Manage Details Screenshot

Those familiar with Alfresco can tell from the screenshot that Content Managers use Alfresco Share as the “content administration” user interface. Optionally, you could turn on Alfresco’s Web Editor Framework and allow Content Managers to edit the site in-context, but that will require some minor tweaking if you go that route. Using Share for content administration works really well. What started out as a team collaboration web app has essentially turned into Alfresco’s uber client.

Now let’s take a look at the Content Consumer user interface:

DeckShare Home Screenshot

If you’ve seen either of the sample Web Quick Start applications, the layout will look familiar. The home page includes a featured content carousel, a recently added document list, and a document category tree. We’re using a different carousel widget than the Web Quick Start sample apps and the category tree is also something we’ve added.

The set of categories is almost completely arbitrary and can be managed by DeckShare administrators. In fact, if you are running DeckShare on top of an existing Alfresco repository, you can specify the subset of categories you want to show in the category tree. When you click a specific category, the resulting page looks like this:

DeckShare Category Page Screenshot

The category page shows only the presentations for a specific category and features the same category tree browser that appears on the home page.

Ultimately, an end-user will either download a presentation or they’ll click on the details page link to learn more. The details page, shown below, shows high-level metadata about the presentation, supporting files that accompany the presentation, related presentations, and a flash-based document preview. The flash-based preview allows end-users to browse the presentation without downloading the entire file.

DeckShare Presentation Details Screenshot

That’s really it from a Content Consumer perspective. The site also has full-text search and that page is very similar to the category list page.

From a Content Manager’s point of view, DeckShare, like all Web Quick Start sites, is built on concepts familiar to anyone who has built or managed a web site: A site consists of collections of assets that get categorized and tagged and then presented in various ways across one or more pages. The look-and-feel of the end-user web site can be completely customized to match client branding needs. And, both the metadata model and category hierarchy can be extended to support specific client requirements.

Assets are stored in Alfresco’s Document Management repository and managed through the Alfresco Share User Interface. Alternatively, Content Managers have several other options for getting presentations into the repository, including FTP, drag-and-drop via Windows Explorer or Mac Finder, emailing content into the repository, drag-and-drop from within Microsoft Outlook or Lotus Notes, or saving directly from Microsoft Office as if the repository were a Microsoft SharePoint Server. Regardless of how the files arrive, Alfresco automatically takes care of creating thumbnails and PDF renditions of the presentations.

What is Web Quick Start?

Web Quick Start is a sample web application built with Spring, Spring Surf, and Apache Chemistry’s OpenCMIS library. It is essentially a sample web application that sits on top of the Web Quick Start API (Java), some presentation tier services, some repository tier services, and an extended content model.

Assets are stored in Alfresco’s Document Management repository and managed through the Alfresco Share User Interface. That means you can use all of the familiar building blocks present in the repository such as custom types and aspects to model your data, behaviors, and web scripts.

The presentation tier uses Alfresco Surf to lay out pages and to define regions on those pages. Regions get their content from presentation tier web scripts. What’s different with Web Quick Start as opposed to previous Surf-based web application examples is the use of the Apache Chemistry OpenCMIS library. Instead of using Surf’s object dispatcher to load and persist objects, the Web Quick Start API uses OpenCMIS to make CMIS requests between the front-end and the repository tier. There are some places where the Web Quick Start API uses non-CMIS web scripts, so it is not a pure CMIS implementation, however.

The Web Quick Start API is exposed to the Alfresco JavaScript API and Freemarker API on the presentation tier, so everything you’ve already learned about Spring Surf is immediately leverageable when you build the front-end. However, if you’ve decided on another framework, you can still use the Web Quick Start API, the services, the content model, and Share for editing content. For example, Metaversant recently worked with a client that chose Spring 3 and Apache Tiles for the front-end because that was their standard, but they used Web Quick Start for everything else from the API, back.

Web Quick Start sites have a flexible deployment configuration which can be boiled down to “single-server” or “multi-server”. In the single-server approach, the same Alfresco server is used for content authoring and content serving whereas in the multi-server approach, Alfresco’s transfer service is used to move content from the “authoring” or “editorial” web server to the “Live” server (it doesn’t have to be one hop, you could throw in one or more “QA” servers as well if you want to, for example).

High-level steps

Web Quick Start is meant as a starter application. It’s functional out-of-the-box, but you’re expected to use as much (or as little) of it as you need. Here are the high-level steps we took to reshape the starter app into DeckShare.

Step 1: Extend the content model

Web Quick Start has a simple content model that provides for articles, images, and user feedback. For DeckShare, we added two new aspects to our own model. One is used to associate a presentation with zero or more related presentations. The other is used to associate a presentation with zero or more supporting files (like source code downloads). At some point we may also add an aspect to track fine-grained event metadata such as session time, speaker, etc. Extending the model with your own aspects is pretty easy–it’s some XML to define the model and then some XML to expose the model to the Share interface.

Step 2: Set up site sections and collections

Web Quick Start has a default folder structure that lives in the Document Library of the Share site being used to manage the content. Within that there is one folder for editorial content and one for live content. Then, it breaks down into “section” folders for site assets (publications, in this case) and collections. Each section will typically map to a section of a site and will therefore show up in the site navigation, but you can exclude sections from the navigation.

Every section folder has a set of collections. A collection is an arbitrary grouping of site assets. Collections can either be static or query based. For a static collection, Content Managers choose the assets that belong in that section with standard Share “picker” components. For a query-based collection, Content Managers can use either CMIS Query Language or Lucene to define queries that identify the assets that are included in the collection. Either way, from the Web Quick Start API, a developer just says, “Give me this collection and let me iterate over the assets in it” to produce a list of the assets in a collection.

There are two sample data sets that ship with Web Quick Start. One is for a Finance example site and the other is for a Government site. We started with the Finance site (the choice was based on luck–there’s really not much of a difference between the two other than images and content). Once we imported the sample site, we deleted all of the sample content and then tweaked the collection definitions. The “latest” collection, for example, contains the most recently-added presentations. The “featured” collection is static out-of-the-box, but we wanted it to be dynamic. So, we simply edited the collection metadata to add a query that returns all of the presentations that have been categorized as “Featured”. Alfresco runs the query periodically so that Content Consumers don’t take the performance hit when the page is rendered.

The carousel works similarly. We wanted Content Managers to be able to specify which presentations appear in the carousel simply by applying the “Carousel” category to the content from within Share, so the carousel collection looks for content that has that category applied.

The other tweaks we made to the sample data set include telling Web Quick Start which rendition should be used for the various thumbnails in the site. We added a new rendition definition for the images shown in the carousel and a new rendition for the thumbnails used everywhere else. Web Quick Start has its own rendition definitions, but the thumbnails aren’t set to maintain the aspect ratio when they are resized and that looks a little weird for images of thumbnail presentations, hence the need for our own.

Step 3: Customize page layout

Once we had some sample data in place and our collections defined, it was time to start laying out the pages. As luck would have it, the requirements matched up fairly closely to the layout of the sample financial site. Surf pages and templates are used for layout, but you don’t have to be a Surf Guru to make changes. Surf templates are just FreeMarker, after all. Other than minor re-arranging, our template modifications were limited to adding additional regions to existing templates.

Once you define your page layouts, you use metadata on the section folders to tell Web Quick Start which page layout to use for a given piece of content. The mapping is type-based. For a given section, you might say, “All instances of ws:indexPage in this section should use the ‘list’ template” which is expressed like this:


The template mapping is hierarchical. That means for a given piece of content, Alfresco will look at that content’s section for the template mapping but if it isn’t specified, it will look in that section’s parent, and so on. So if we specify:


in a high-level section folder, all instances of cmis:document in child sections will be layed out using publicationpage1 unless it is overridden by a child section.

Note: If you are familiar with Surf, don’t be confused by the use of the word “template” here. It’s used by Web Quick Start in a generic sense. In the example above, “list” and “publicationpage1” are actually page data objects in Surf. For the Metaversant client that used Spring 3 and Tiles, for example, the template mapping specified which Tile definition to use.

Step 4: Add custom components

We spent most of our time on components. In Surf, components are implemented as web scripts. A web script implements the Model-View-Controller (MVC) pattern. In this case, controllers are JavaScript. Here’s what one of the controllers looks like:

model.articles = collectionService.getCollection(context.properties.section.id, args.collection);

if (args.linkPage != null) 
	model.linkParam = '?view='+args.linkPage;

This one is simply grabbing a collection of articles and a parameter and sticking them on the model for the FreeMarker-based view to pick up. Behind the scenes, the Web Quick Start API is making RESTful calls to the repository to retrieve (and cache) objects. This is a typical controller–in this app, most of the controllers are less than 10 lines long.

Web Quick Start already has components for different types of content lists. So doing something like the carousel was relatively easy: The collection service returns the “carousel” collection and a FreeMarker template dumps the collection metadata into a list that the YUI carousel control can grok.

We had a couple of places where we had to write our own components. One was the Categories component and another was the Related Presentations component. The Categories component is rendered using a YUI tree control. It gets its data by invoking a Surf-tier web script which, in turn, invokes a repository-tier web script that returns a list of category metadata as JSON. YUI then styles the data as a tree.

The Related Presentations component similarly invokes a repository-tier web script, but its JSON contains only node references. It then asks the Web Quick Start API to convert those into CMIS objects. That allows us to take advantage of the cache if the object has been loaded before, and it means we can re-use the Web Quick Start view templates that already know how to format lists of CMIS objects.

But wait, there’s more

Web Quick Start also has a user feedback mechanism that you can use for comments, “contact us” forms, and, at some point, ratings, but none of that was a requirement for this solution at the time we built it. The capability is there, so we’ll probably expose it at some point. Refer to the wiki for more information on the user feedback functionality.

There’s also a workflow that is used to submit content for review. Once approved, the content is queued up for publishing to the live site. The workflow is the same jBPM engine you are probably already familiar with so the process can be modified to fit your needs.

Although it is a new product and there are still a few hitches here and there, I was happy with Web Quick Start and the time it saved for building a site like this. I’m looking forward to seeing its continued evolution.

DeckShare is a simple site. There is a lot more that could be done with it and, based on client demand (or contributions from others, hint, hint), new features will be added over time. I think it’s a good example of what you can do quickly with Web Quick Start.

Hopefully, this write-up gave you some ideas you can use on your own projects. If you want to dive deeper into the Web Quick Start web application, check out the Web Quick Start Developer Guide on the Alfresco wiki. Feel free to grab the DeckShare source from Google Code and use it on your own projects.

If you’re interested in major customizations to DeckShare or you have a project that might be a fit for Alfresco Web Quick Start, let me know.

Book Review: Alfresco 3 Web Services

I’ve just finished reading Alfresco 3 Web Services, by Ugo Cei and Piergiorgio Lucidi, which Packt sent me to read and comment on.

Alfresco 3 Web Services is meant for developers with a very specific focus: Remotely talking to Alfresco. That might mean communicating via SOAP-based Web Services, RESTful web services (Web Scripts), or either protocol through CMIS. Whichever you choose, Ugo and Piergiorgio have you covered. I really like that the authors set out to write such a focused piece and stuck to it–it allows them to go deep on their topic and keeps the chapter length and total book length digestable.

The book is written very clearly and follows a logical progression. It starts out with SOAP-based services (first 5 chapters), including a chapter on .NET, and then moves on to web scripts (3 chapters). After that, the authors discuss AtomPub, which is an interesting, but not critical, background for the remaining 5 chapters of the book which focus on CMIS.

The discussion on web scripts covers both Java and JavaScript controllers, but JavaScript definitely gets more attention. Something developers new to the platform will find helpful is the chapter on FreeMarker. Most of Alfresco’s documentation and the books that are out there (including mine) relegate the FreeMarker API to appendices or just show examples and assume you’ll look up details later when you need it. Because it is typically such a key component of web scripts and other aspects of Alfresco, it was a good call to include it in the book.

The book comes with several small examples and a couple of tie-it-together examples. None of it runs out-of-the-box without some tweaking which isn’t a surprise given how rapidly things are changing in this area, particularly with regard to CMIS. At the time the book was written, OpenCMIS, the Java API for CMIS available as part of Apache Chemistry, had not been officially released. As I write this, the Chemistry team is about to release their second tagged build. The differences aren’t significant enough to cause confusion–most readers will be able to fidget with the import statements and the other changes required to get the sample code running.

I thought there was a little too much time devoted to SOAP-based Web Services, but that’s just personal preference and the fact that nearly all of my clients over the last four years have gone the RESTful route. The authors note that others may have the same preference and they make it easy to skip over those chapters if the reader wants to.

Although the chapters logically progress and build on each other, the code samples don’t–for the most part, each chapter’s code samples are self-contained. For example, I thought it was kind of strange that the code built in Chapter 13 for the CMIS Web Services binding examples isn’t used in Chapter 14 to build the CMIS Wiki example.

Many Alfresco implementation teams are divided into at least back-end and front-end teams and when the project is large enough, you can definitely have people focused on the middle. This book is perfect for that middle-ware team or for anyone who’s got a handle on the back- and front-ends and just needs to learn how to stitch them together. Nice job, Ugo and Piergiorgio.