5 rules you must follow on every Alfresco project

I know that people are often thrown into an Alfresco project having never worked with it before. And I know that the platform is broad and the learning curve is steep. But there are some rules you simply have to follow when you make customizations or you could be creating a costly mess.

The single most important one is to use the extension mechanism. Let me convince you why it’s so important, then I’ll list the rest of the top five rules you must follow when customizing Alfresco.

All-too-often, people jump right in to hacking the files that are part of the distributed WARs. I see examples of it in the forums and other community channels and I see it in client projects. Not every once-in-a-while. All. Of. The. Time.

If you’ve stumbled on to this blog post because you are embarking on your first Alfresco project, let this be the one thing you take to heart: The extension mechanism is not optional. You must use it. If you ignore this advice and begin making changes to the files shipped with Alfresco you are entering a world of pain.

The extension points in Alfresco allow you to change just about every aspect of Alfresco Share and the underlying repository without touching a single file shipped with the product. And you can do so in a way that can be repeated as you move from environment to environment or when you need to re-apply your customizations after an upgrade.

“But I am too busy,” you say. “This needs to be done yesterday!”, you say. “I know JavaScript. I’m just going to make some tweaks to these components and that’s it. What’s the big deal?”

Has your Saturday Morning Self ever been really angry at things your Friday Night Self did without giving much consideration to the consequences? That’s what you’re doing when you start making changes to those files directly. Yes, it works, but you’ll be sorry eventually.

As soon as you change one of those files you’ve made it difficult or impossible to reliably set up the same software given a clean WAR. This makes it hard to:

  • Migrate your code, because it is hard to tell what’s changed across the many nooks and crannies of the Alfresco and Share WARs.
  • Determine whether problems you are seeing are Alfresco bugs or your bugs, because you can’t easily remove your customizations to get back to a vanilla distribution.
  • Perform upgrades, because you can’t simply drop in the new WARs and re-apply your customizations.

People ask for best practices around customizing Alfresco. Using the extension mechanism isn’t a “best practice”–it’s a rule. It’s like saying “Don’t cross the foul line” is a “best practice” when bowling. It’s not a best practice, it’s a rule.

So, to repeat, the first rule that you have to abide by is:

  1. Use the extension mechanism. Don’t touch a single file that was shipped inside alfresco.war or share.war. If you think you need to make a customization that requires you to do that I can almost guarantee you are doing it wrong. The official docs explain how to develop extensions.

Rounding out the top five:

  1. Get your own content model. Don’t add to Alfresco’s out-of-the-box content model XML or the examples that ship with the product. And don’t just copy-and-paste other models you find in tutorials. Those are just examples, people!
  2. Get your own namespace. Stay out of Alfresco’s namespace altogether. Don’t put your own web scripts in the existing Alfresco web script package structure. Don’t put your Java classes in Alfresco’s package structure. It’s called a “namespace”. It’s for your name and it keeps your stuff separate from everyone else’s.
  3. Package your customizations as an AMP. Change the structure of the AMP if you want–the tool allows that–but use an AMP. Seriously, I know there are problems with AMPs, but this is what we’re all using these days in the Alfresco world. Ideally you’ll have one for your “repo” tier changes and one for your “share” tier changes. An AMP gives you a nice little bundle you can hand to an Alfresco administrator and simply say, “Apply this AMP” and they’ll know exactly what to do with it.
  4. Create a repeatable build for your project. I don’t care what you use to do this, just use something, anything, to automate your build. If a blindfolded monkey can’t produce a working AMP from your source code you’re not done setting up your project yet. It’s frustrating that this has to be called out, because it should be as natural to a developer as breathing, but, alas, it does.

The Alfresco Maven SDK can really help you with all of these. If you use it to bootstrap your project, and then only make changes to the files in your project, you’re there. If you need help getting started with the Alfresco Maven SDK, read this.

These are the rules. They are non-negotiable. The rest of your code can be on the front page of The Daily WTF but if you stick to these rules at a minimum, you, your team, and everyone that comes after you will lead a much less stressful existence.

You might also be interested in my presentation, “What Every Developer Should Know About Alfresco“. And take a look at the lightning talk Peter Monks gave at last year’s Alfresco Summit which covers advice for building Alfresco modules.

 

Posted in Alfresco, Alfresco Developer Series | Tagged , , , | 25 Comments

Five new features in Alfresco 5.0 in about five minutes

Hopefully you saw that Alfresco 5.0.a Community Edition was released last week. Kevin Roast did a nice write-up on a few of the new features. I created a screencast based on his write-up. It is embedded below or use this link.

You might want to make the video full-screen and take the settings up to HD.

If you take a peek under the covers you’ll likely see that there are still some deprecated chunks of code hanging around, libraries that still need to be upgraded, and features you might have expected but that aren’t yet implemented. This is still an early release. You should expect several more named releases before Community Edition 5.0 stabilizes.

Use this release as a preview for what’s coming, to test your own add-ons, or to help find and report issues. If you are running Community Edition in production I’d stick with 4.2.f for now.

Posted in Alfresco, Alfresco Community | Tagged , , , | 21 Comments

Alfresco Anti-Patterns: When You Probably Shouldn’t Use Alfresco

There are plenty of write-ups listing what Alfresco can do–I thought it might be instructive to list the things people often try to use Alfresco for but shouldn’t. I’ve got five examples in my list. The first two are common mistakes people make during product selection. The last three are more architectural.

Anti-Pattern #1: Dynamic Web Content Management (like Drupal or WordPress)

I think this is happening less, but every once in-a-while I’ll still see people trying to compare Alfresco to dynamic WCM platforms like Drupal or WordPress. Alfresco has very little in common with systems like these. If you install Alfresco and expect it to serve up a pretty web site out-of-the-box with downloadable themes and tons of modules or widgets you can use to add features to your web site, you’ll be disappointed. This isn’t a shortcoming of the tool, it’s just not what it was built for.

There are plenty of people who use Alfresco to manage assets that are eventually served up to the web. They’ll use Alfresco Share or a custom UI as the “administrative” interface for managing content. Then, they’ll push that content out to some other system on the presentation tier (Saks Fifth Avenue and New York Philharmonic are two examples).

There are partners who have created WCM solutions on top of Alfresco (see Crafter). Solutions like that leverage the power of Alfresco as a content repository and then add in the missing pieces, which are mostly about presentation layer, site building, and content creation.

The bottom-line is if you find yourself comparing out-of-the-box Alfresco to systems like Drupal or Wordress you have made a mistake in your evaluation.

Anti-Pattern #2: Full-featured wiki, portal, blog, forums, or calendar

I’ve encountered several people looking to replace major collaboration systems in their IT footprint with Alfresco. Maybe they’ve decided to use Alfresco for document management, but they want to see what else they might be able to replace. They have a wiki they want to replace, they see Alfresco has a wiki. Problem solved, right? This is where box-checking against a feature list gets you into trouble.

Alfresco is a document management repository with a powerful embedded workflow engine. Alfresco Share, the web client that sits on top of Alfresco, is great for basic document management, processes around documents, and team collaboration.

For teams and projects, Alfresco Share uses a “site” metaphor to keep everything related to that team or project together. Each site has a dashboard. Out-of-the-box “dashlets” can be used to summarize or highlight information stored in the site. Out-of-the-box, everyone sees the same dashboard for a site, which is configured by a site manager. There is no easy way for a power user to specify which dashlets should be restricted to which users or groups of users through the UI like there would be in a portal, for example. So, although dashlets look like “portlets” Alfresco Share doesn’t really have much else in common with portals. If you what you really want is a full-blown portal server you should look at something like Liferay or Exo.

Each site can also be configured with a number of collaborative tools such as discussions, blog, wiki, and calendar. These are more than adequate to facilitate most of what a team, project, or department needs. But none of them individually are going to replace full-featured, standalone systems. If you need the power of a full wiki, install MediaWiki. If you need a blog server, install WordPress. And so on.

Those are two where I see people making adjustments in their expectations early in the product evaluation phase. Now let’s look at a few that may not get uncovered until an architect or developer gets involved…

Anti-Pattern #3: Highly relational solutions

Alfresco relies on three main pillars to deliver its functionality: The file system, a search engine (Lucene or Solr), and a relational database. But you won’t be touching any of those directly. Instead, you’ll work with an abstraction which is simply, “the repository”.

Don’t be misled by the inclusion of a relational database as one of its dependencies. It is there to manage metadata. As you start to customize Alfresco to meet your specific requirements, you’ll define the content model. Alfresco will do the work of reading your content model and storing metadata for instances of those content types in the database.

Objects in the repository can be related to each other through “associations”. These are essentially pointers between one or more objects. There are a couple of challenges with these. First, they cannot easily be queried. You can ask an object for its associations and then you can iterate over those, but you cannot do a traditional “join” across objects.

For example, suppose you have a “whitepaper” object that has an association to one or more “product” objects. You cannot execute a single query that says “Give me all whitepapers containing the word ‘performance’ that are associated with the product named ‘Acme Widget'”.

One way people work around this is to de-normalize their data, then implement code that keeps it in sync. In this example, you could add a multi-value property on the whitepaper object that would store the names of the products a whitepaper is related to. Then you’d be able to run that example query.

If the name stored on the product object changes, your code would trigger an update on all corresponding whitepapers to keep the product name in sync. If you have a small number of such relationships with a reasonable number of objects on either side of the relationship this is fine, but you can see how it might quickly get out-of-hand.

So if your underlying data is highly-relational, don’t try to force it into an Alfresco content model. Instead, move the relational data to a database and use Alfresco only for the content pieces.

Anti-Pattern #4: JSON/XML object store

It’s really common to store chunks of JSON or XML as content in Alfresco. For example, maybe you have some data that isn’t expressed well as name-value pairs. Or maybe the content you need to manage just happens to be in one of those formats. But if that’s all you need to persist in the repository you really ought to be asking yourself why you are using Alfresco when there are many lighter-weight, more scalable technologies that are purpose-built for this.

One limitation of storing JSON or XML as content in Alfresco is that the repository has no semantic understanding of the content. For example, suppose you have a book object that is represented by JSON and you store that JSON as content. It’s likely that the JSON would contain properties like “title”, “author”, or “ISBN”. Out-of-the-box, none of those will be queryable by property. Alfresco will simply attempt to full-text index the content like any other content stream. It doesn’t understand the difference between “title” and “author” because that meaning is embedded in the content itself, not the object. The same is true for XML.

You can work around this by setting up metadata extractors to grab data out of the JSON or XML and store it in properties on the object. Then, you can query the object’s properties through Alfresco. But if all of your objects are similarly-structured it might make more sense to use a document-oriented NoSQL repository or an XML database instead. When you store a JSON document in something like Elasticsearch, Couch, or MongoDB, no extra work is necessary because those systems natively understand JSON.

Anti-Pattern #5: Storing lots of content-less objects

A content-less object is an object that lacks a content stream. It’s common to have one or two types of content-less objects in your Alfresco-based solution because there are usually good reasons to have objects that don’t have a file associated with them. Maybe you are storing some configuration as properties on an object, for example. But if you need to store nothing but content-less objects, you are throwing away many of the benefits you get from a repository like Alfresco that is built specifically for managing file-based content like full-text search, transformations, and file-based protocols.

If you just need to store objects that have properties but no file-based content, you might be better of with a document-oriented NoSQL repository or a key-value store.

Summary

As I mentioned at the start of the post, there are a lot of cases where Alfresco makes sense and you can find many of these around the net. The goal of this post was to list common misconceptions or even misuses of Alfresco that can cost you time and money.

Any time you invest in a platform you’ll find corner cases that the platform wasn’t meant to address and you can often work around those with code. What you don’t want to do, though, is have your entire system be a corner case relative to the platform’s sweet spot. That’s no fun for anybody.

Posted in Alfresco, NoSQL | Tagged , , , | 13 Comments

How I successfully studied for the Alfresco Certified Engineer Exam

Back in March I blogged about why I took the Alfresco Certified Administrator exam (post). Today I passed the Alfresco Certified Engineer exam. I took it for the same reasons I took the ACA exam, as outlined in that post, so in this post, I thought I’d share how I studied for the test.

Let me start off with a complaint: There is nowhere I could find that describes which specific version of Alfresco the test covers. This wasn’t that big of a deal for the ACA exam, but for the ACE exam, I felt a little apprehensive not knowing.

I know Alfresco probably doesn’t want to lock the exam version to an Alfresco version. But the blueprint really needs to give people some idea. Ultimately, I decided 4.1 was a safe bet.

I can’t tell you what was on the test, but I can tell you how I studied.

First, review the blueprint

The exam blueprint is the only place that gives you hints as to what’s on the test. If you look at the blueprint, you’ll see that the test is divided into five areas: Architectural Core, Repository Customization, Web Scripting, UI Customization, and Alfresco API.

The blueprint breaks down each of those five areas into topics, but they are still pretty broad. Some of them helped me figure out what to review and some of them didn’t. For example, under Architectural Core, topics like “Repository”, “Subsystems”, and “Database” were too vague to be that helpful in guiding my study plans.

Next, identify your focus areas

Looking at the blueprint, most of those topics have been in the product since the early days and haven’t changed much. I figured I could take the test cold and pass those. But Share Configuration and Customization has changed here and there between releases. With a lot of different ways to do things, and ample opportunity for testing around minutiae, I figured this would be where I’d need to spend most of my study time. I also wanted to spend time reviewing the various API’s listed under Architectural Core because I typically just look those up rather than commit the details to memory.

To validate where I thought my focus areas should be I took the sample test on the blueprint page, which was helpful.

Now, study

For Architectural Core, I spent most of my time reviewing the list of public services in the Foundation API found in Appendix A of the Alfresco Developer Guide, the JavaScript API (also in Appendix A as well as the official documentation), and the Freemarker Templating API documentation.

For the Repository Customization I figured I had most of that down cold and just spent a little time reviewing Activiti BPM XML and associated workflow content models. The workflow tutorial on this site is one place with sample workflows to review and obviously the out-of-the-box workflows are also good examples.

According to the blueprint, the UI Customization section is now focused entirely on Alfresco Share, so I didn’t spend any time reviewing Alfresco Explorer customization. Instead, I read through the Share Configuration and Share Customization sections of the documentation. There are now tutorials on Share Customization in the Alfresco docs so I went through those again just to make sure everything was fresh. The Share configuration examples in my custom content types tutorial are another resource.

The Alfresco API section consists of questions about the Alfresco REST API and CMIS. This is only 5% of the test so I spent no time reviewing this. I also ignored Web Scripts, figuring my existing knowledge was good enough.

After studying the resources in my focus areas I took the sample test once more. It’s always the same set of questions, so taking it repeatedly isn’t a great way to prove your readiness, but at least you know you won’t miss those questions if they show up on the real test.

Feel ready? Go for it

If you get paid to work with Alfresco, you really ought to take this exam (and the ACA exam). Obviously, what I’ve reviewed here is a study plan for someone who has significant experience with the platform doing real world projects. If you are new to Alfresco you’ll have to adjust your plan and preparation time accordingly. Better yet, get a few projects under your belt first. I think it would be tough for someone with no practical experience to pass the test with any amount of study time, which is the whole point.

So there you go, that’s how I studied. Your mileage will vary based on what your focus areas need to be. Now go hit the books!

Posted in Alfresco, Alfresco Developer Series, Alfresco Tutorials | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

New tutorial on Share customization with Alfresco Aikau

Alfresco community member, Ole Hejlskov (ohej on IRC), has just published a wonderful tutorial on customizing Alfresco Share with the new Alfresco Aikau framework.

You may have seen one of Dave Draper’s recent blog posts introducing the new framework. Ole’s tutorial is the next step you should take in order to understand the framework and how it can be used to make tweaks or additions to Alfresco Share.

I was happy to see Ole follow my example for the format and publication of his tutorial and that he’s made both the tutorial itself and the source code available on GitHub for anyone that wants to make improvements.

Thanks for the hard work and the great tutorial, Ole!

Posted in Alfresco, Alfresco Developer Series, Alfresco Tutorials | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Five steps you can use to figure out how anything in Alfresco Share really works

A forums user recently asked how to use the “quick share” feature from their own code. The implementation is easy to figure out, but I thought illustrating the steps you should use to dig into it would be instructive, because it is the same general pattern you would follow to learn how anything works in Alfresco.

What is Quick Share?

Quick Share makes it easy for end-users to share any document with anyone whether or not that person is a member of a site or has specific permissions on a document. Clicking the “Share” link in the document library or document details displays a dialog with a shortcut URL that will allow anyone to see a preview of the document. If that person also has access to the document, they can optionally download the document as well.

The Quick Share feature in Alfresco Share

 

How does this work behind-the-scenes? Let me show you how to figure that out. These steps can be used to demystify any Share-based functionality you need to learn more about.

Step 1: Determine the call Share makes to the repository

Share is just a front-end web application. It always talks to the repository via HTTP. Step 1 is to take advantage of that. Use Firebug or a similar browser-based client-side debugging tool to watch the network traffic between Share and the repository. If you turn that on you’ll see that when you click “Share” the browser makes a POST to:

http://localhost:8080/share/proxy/alfresco/api/internal/shared/share/workspace/SpacesStore/f70e2505-5002-42b7-a71b-2e09aca0c2d0

What comes back is JSON representing the quick share ID:

{
"sharedId": "oD9wUfV_SPS9eG-CFEpwbQ"
}

The first part of that URL, “/share/proxy/” is the Share proxy. It simply forwards the request on to the repository tier. In this case that’s a web script residing at “/alfresco/api/internal/shared/share”. The rest of the URL is the node reference of the node being shared.

As a side-note, unsharing works similarly. Share sends a DELETE to http://localhost:8080/share/proxy/alfresco/api/internal/shared/unshare/oD9wUfV_SPS9eG-CFEpwbQ

That returns JSON with the return flag:

{
"success" : true
}

So now you know how Share interacts with the repository. The next step is to dig into the repository tier implementation.

Step 2: Look at the repository web script

Now that you know the repository web script URL you can go to the web script console, http://localhost:8080/alfresco/s/index, to learn more about the web script. I find searching by URI to be easiest. Here’s the web script in the list:

web-script-index

Clicking on that link shows high-level information about the web script. Make note of this web script’s lifecycle–it is set to “internal”. That means you shouldn’t call it from your own applications or customizations. If you do, you may be creating a future maintenance headache because the web script may change without warning.

In this case, we don’t want to call the web script, we want to know what the web script is doing. Clicking on the web script ID will tell you more about how it is implemented. Here’s the URL where you’ll end up:

http://localhost:8080/alfresco/s/script/org/alfresco/repository/quickshare/share.post

This page is really helpful because it shows you the details about the web script implementation, including its views and controllers.

Web Script Implementation Details

In this case, the web script uses a Java controller implemented in the following class:
org.alfresco.repo.web.scripts.quickshare.ShareContentPost

The next step is to dig into the web script implementation.

Step 3: Read the source code for the implementation

If you search through your Alfresco source code you’ll find ShareContentPost.java. It’s a very simple web script. Here’s the line that does the work:

QuickShareDTO dto = quickShareService.shareContent(nodeRef);

Cool, so there is a QuickShareService. I’m going to make a time-saving leap here which is to assume that anything named like FooService is likely defined as a Spring bean that I can inject in my own code.

Step 4: Find the QuickShareService bean

If you’re going to write some Java code that leverages the QuickShareService you’ll probably want to see the Spring bean configuration for that bean. To find that, go into $TOMCAT_HOME/webapps/alfresco/WEB-INF/classes/alfresco and do a grep for QuickShareService. You’ll see that it is defined in quickshare-services-context.xml.

Now you have a Spring bean ID you can use as a dependency in your code.

Step 5: Understand the content model

You might choose to do this in an earlier step, but if you haven’t already, you should use the node browser in Share to see what happens to a node when it is shared just in case you need to make use of any of that information. By doing that you’ll see that a shared node has an aspect called qshare:shared. When it gets shared, the qshare:sharedId and qshare:sharedBy properties get set. In this example, the QuickShareService handles that for you–you shouldn’t have to set those manually. But it is good to know those properties are there in case you need them.

If you needed to learn more about the content model you could grep for that aspect ID, qshare:shared, in $TOMCAT_HOME/webapps/alfresco/WEB-INF/classes/alfresco/model to figure out where the model XML is.

Now you have everything you need to make use of this functionality in your own code. For example, if you wanted to create a rule action that automatically shared everything matching a certain criteria, you could easily do that by injecting the QuickShareService into your action and then calling the shareContent() method (see my actions tutorial).

This example covered the Alfresco Quick Share feature in the Alfresco Share web client, but you can use these steps to dig into any functionality in Alfresco Share that you need to deconstruct.

Posted in Alfresco, Alfresco Developer Series | Tagged , , | 8 Comments

I’m leaving Alfresco, remaining part of the community

After much contemplation about what’s best for the Alfresco community, the company, and my own happiness, I’ve decided to leave the company. My last day as Chief Community Officer will be Friday, June 6.

With all of the changes the company has seen over the last year or so I know there are some who will suspect that something nefarious is underfoot. I want to be really clear about this: It was my decision to leave, I’m excited about this change, and I hope you’ll be excited for me too.

If it’s all good, why leave?

Ultimately,  I’m leaving because I miss delivering content-centric solutions to clients. When I took the position three years ago, I thought that the part of my role that requires me to help flatten the learning curve for people would satisfy my creative and technical itch. It did partially, but it wasn’t enough.

Of course, there have been changes I haven’t always agreed with–until you are your own boss that will always be true. But the primary reason I’m leaving is because I need to be building stuff again.

What does this mean for the Alfresco Community?

The company remains committed to the Alfresco community and there are no major changes planned that I am aware of. I know whomever takes over my responsibilities will continue with the important work as beekeeper.

I intend to continue making contributions to the community just as I did before I joined the company. In fact, having me back in the field means more real world implementations to draw on that I can write about, speak about, and share with others.

My personal mission to take down legacy ECM with open source hasn’t changed. I think many of you are aligned with me on that mission, and this move allows us to continue the fight side-by-side.

What does this mean for Alfresco Summit?

I’m proud of what I was able to accomplish with the annual DevCon/Alfresco Summit conference. It was fun growing that so much year-over-year while maintaining the integrity and feel of the event. But I’m no event planner. And the bigger it grew the more time it required. Last year we actually made the decision to take if off my hands. I’ve been helping with programming content for Alfresco Summit 2014 but 2013 was the last one I was primarily responsible for, which makes the transition pretty seamless. (This year’s conference promises to be better than ever, and you should totally sign up if you haven’t done that yet).

What’s next?

For these next two weeks, I’m completely focused on getting everything transitioned smoothly. I’ll share more about what’s next for me after June 6, but I’m sure it will be surprising to absolutely no one.

Until then, please know that I have truly enjoyed my time serving as the leader of this wonderful community. I know there is work left to do but, man, we got so much done!

Perhaps more importantly, I have established what I hope will be life-long friendships, both in the community and inside the company, with people all over the world. The best thing about this change is that I know those will continue, regardless.

Posted in Alfresco, Alfresco Community | 24 Comments

Cool things you can do in Alfresco with cmis:item support

allyoursysbaseI’ve been taking a look at the newly-added support for cmis:item in Alfresco. As a refresher for those who may not be familiar, cmis:item is a new object type added to the CMIS 1.1 specification. Alfresco added support for CMIS 1.1 in 4.2 but did not immediately add support for cmis:item, which is optional, according to the spec. Now cmis:item support is available in Alfresco in the cloud as well as the nightly builds of 4.3.a Community Edition.

So what is cmis:item?

We’ve all written content-centric applications that have included objects that don’t have a content stream. You might use one to store some configuration information, for example, or maybe you have some other object that doesn’t naturally include a file that needs to be managed as part of it. There are a few approaches to this in Alfresco:

  1. Create your custom type as a child of sys:base (or cm:cmobject if you don’t mind your objects being subject to the file name constraint)
  2. Create your custom type as child of cm:content and simply do not set a content stream
  3. Ignore the content model altogether and use the attribute service

I’m not going to cover the third option in this post. If you want to learn more about the attribute service you should take a look at the Tech Talk Live we did in April.

The second option is fine, but then you’ve got objects with content properties that will never be set. Your objects look like they want to be documents, but they really aren’t because you don’t expect them to ever have a file as part of the object. Not the end of the world, but it’s kind of lazy and potentially confusing to developers that come after you.

The first option is what most people go with, but it has a drawback. Instances of types that do not extend from cm:content or cm:folder are invisible to CMIS 1.0. Not only are those objects invisible to CMIS 1.0 but relationships that point to such objects are also invisible. Depending on how much you use CMIS in your application this could be a fairly severe limitation.

Thankfully, CMIS 1.1 addresses the issue with a new object type called cmis:item. It’s made precisely for this purpose.

What can I do with it out-of-the-box?

Even if your custom content model doesn’t need a “content-less object” you can still benefit from cmis:item support. Let me walk you through my five favorite object types that you can now work with via cmis:item support in CMIS 1.1 that were not previously available: Category, Person, Group, Rating, and Rule. I tested everything I’m showing you here using Alfresco 4.3.a Community Edition, Nightly Build (4/27/2014, (r68092-b4954) schema 7003) and Apache Chemistry OpenCMIS Workbench 0.11.0.

Category

Man, if I had a bitcoin for every person I’ve seen asking how to get the categories of a document via CMIS, I’d have a garage full of Teslas. With cmis:item support, it’s easy. Here’s how you get a list of every category in the system with a CMIS Query Language (CQL) query:

SELECT * FROM cm:category

That returns a list of cm:category objects that represent each category in the system. Note that this is a flat list. In Alfresco, categories are hierarchical. I’m not sure what the plan to address that is, to be honest.

Now suppose you have an object and you want to know the categories that have been assigned. Here is some Groovy code that does that:

(Can’t see the code? Click here)

Categories live in a property called “cm:categories”. It’s a multi-value field that contains the Alfresco node references for each category that has been assigned to a document. Once you get that list you can iterate over them and fetch the cm:category object to figure out the category’s human-readable name. That’s pretty cool and wasn’t possible before CMIS 1.1 support.

How about assigning existing categories to documents? Sure, no problem. Here’s how.

(Can’t see the code? Click here)

This is a little Groovy function that takes a full path to a document and the name of a category. Obviously it depends on your categories being uniquely-named.

First, it finds the category by name using CQL and snags its Alfresco node reference.

Next, it checks to see if the cm:generalclassifiable aspect has already been added to the document and adds it if it has not.

Finally, it gets the current list of categories from the cm:categories property and adds the new category’s node reference to it.

I started to look at creating new categories with CMIS, but it isn’t immediately obvious how that would work due to the hierarchical nature of categories. The only parent-child association supported by CMIS is the one implied by folder-document relationship. I’ll ask around and see if there’s a trick.

That’s it for categories. Let’s look at Person objects next.

Person

Here’s another frequently-asked how-to: How do I query users through CMIS? Before cmis:item support you couldn’t do it, but now you can. For example, here is how you can use CQL to find a list of the Person objects in Alfresco:

SELECT * FROM cm:person

You can qualify it further based on properties of cm:person. For example, maybe I want all users who’s first name starts with “Te” and who work for an organization that starts with “Green”. That query looks like:

SELECT * FROM cm:person where cm:firstName like 'Te%' and cm:organization like 'Green%'

Suppose you wanted to find every Alfresco Person object that has a city starting with “Dallas” and you want to set their postal code to “75070”. Ignoring cities named “Dallas” that aren’t in Texas (like Dallas, Georgia) or the fact that there are multiple zip codes in Dallas, Texas, the code would look like this:

(Can’t see the code? Click here)

That’s it for Person objects. Let’s look at Group objects.

Group

Similar to querying for Person objects, cmis:item support gives you the ability to query for groups–all you have to know is that groups are implemented as instances of cm:authorityContainer. Here’s the query:

SELECT * FROM cm:authorityContainer

Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem possible to use CMIS to actually add or remove members to or from the group. Maybe that will change at some point.

Rating

It’s easy to query for ratings:

SELECT * FROM cm:rating

But it’s hard to do anything useful with those objects because, at least in this nightly release, you can’t follow the relationships from or two a rating. As a sidenote, you can get the count and total for a specific node’s ratings by getting the value of the cm:likesRatingSchemeCount and cm:likesRatingSchemeTotal properties respectively. But that’s not related to cmis:item support.

Rule

Rules are a powerful feature in Alfresco that help you automate document handling. Here’s how to use a query to get a list of rules in your repository:

SELECT * FROM rule:rule

Rules are so handy you might end up with a bunch of them. What if you wanted to find all of the rules that matched a certain criteria (title, for example) so that you could enable them and tell them to run on sub-folders? Here is a little Groovy that does that:

(Can’t see the code? Click here)

First the code uses a join to find the rule based on a title. The property that holds a rule’s title is defined in an aspect and that requires a join when writing CQL.

Then the code simply iterates over the result set and updates the rule:applyToChildren and rule:disabled properties. You could also set the rule’s type, description, and whether or not it runs asynchronously. It does not appear to be possible to change the actions or the filter criteria for a rule through CMIS at this time.

What about custom types?

Custom types? Sure, no problem. Suppose I have a type called sc:client that extends sys:base and has two properties, sc:clientName and sc:clientId. Alfresco automatically makes that type accessible via CMIS. It’s easy to create a new instance and set the value of those two properties. Here’s the groovy code to do it:

(Can’t see the code? Click here)

Did you notice I created the object in a folder? In Alfresco, everything lives in a folder, even things that aren’t documents. In CMIS parlance, you would say that Alfresco does not support “unfiled” objects.

The custom object can be queried as you would expect, including where clauses that use the custom property values, like this:

SELECT * FROM sc:client where sc:clientId = '56789'

In CMIS 1.0 you could not use CMIS to work with associations (“relationships”) between objects that did not inherit from either cm:content (cmis:document) or cm:folder (cmis:folder). In CMIS 1.1 that changed. You can create relationships between documents and folders and items. Unfortunately, in the latest nightly build this does not appear to be implemented. Hopefully that goes in soon!

Summary

The new cmis:item type in CMIS 1.1 is a nice addition to the specification that is useful when you are working with objects that are not documents and do not have a content stream. I showed you some out-of-the-box types you can work with via cmis:item but you can also leverage cmis:item with your custom types as well.

Support for cmis:item requires CMIS 1.1 and either Alfresco in the cloud or a recent nightly build of Alfresco 4.3.

Posted in Alfresco, Alfresco API, Alfresco Developer Series, CMIS | Tagged , , | 19 Comments

Nominate an Alfresco community star

Every year I select a handful of “community stars”. These are people who have gone above-and-beyond during the previous year in the Alfresco community. Community stars get a free conference pass to Alfresco Summit and bragging rights for the coming year.

To select community stars the community team and I look at things like:

  • Forum, IRC, and Stackoverflow helpfulness
  • Significant contributions to the product in terms of bug reports, fixes, or other code or documentation contributions
  • Meetup activity
  • Evangelism in social channels
  • Authors of particularly helpful books, blog posts, wiki pages, screencasts, tutorials, or add-ons

The community team has some visibility into the people making a consistent difference in these areas, but we can’t be everywhere all of the time. Every year it is inevitable that we miss one or two deserving individuals.

So I need your help.

If you know of someone who deserves to go to Alfresco Summit for their work in the community, please submit this form. I need their name, contact info, and why you think they should be identified as an Alfresco community star. It should take you less than 5 minutes.

Thanks ahead of time for helping me give our community stars the recognition they deserve!

Posted in Alfresco, Alfresco Community, Alfresco Summit | 8 Comments

Quick Hack: Creating default folder structures in Alfresco Share sites

Someone recently asked how to create Alfresco Share sites with a default folder structure. Currently, out-of-the-box, when you create an Alfresco Share site, the document library is empty. This person instead wanted to define a set of folders that would be created in the document library when a new Alfresco Share site is created.

Although this exact functionality is not available out-of-the-box, there is something similar. It’s called a “space template”. Space templates have been in the product since the early days but haven’t yet been exposed to Alfresco Share. In the old Alfrexsco Explorer client you could specify a space template when you created a new folder, and the resulting folder would have the same set of folders and documents that were present in the template.

With a little bit of work using the out-of-the-box extension points we can get Alfresco to use space templates when creating new sites in Share. I’ve created this as an add-on and the code lives on GitHub. I thought it might be instructive to review how it works here.

Approach

The first thing to realize is that a space template isn’t special. It’s just a folder that happens to live in Data Dictionary/Space Templates. In fact, there aren’t any API calls specific to space templates. If you go looking for a createFolderFromTemplate() method on a Folder object you’ll be disappointed. When the Alfresco Explorer client creates a folder from a template, it simply finds the template folder and copies its contents into the newly-created folder.

On the Alfresco Share side, a site isn’t that special either. It’s just a special type of folder. The document library that sits within a Share site is also just a folder, albeit a specially-named folder with an aspect. Normally, the document library folder does not get created until the first user actually opens the site and navigates to the document library.

So all we really need to do is write some code that gets called when a site is created, looks up the space template, and then creates the document library folder with the contents of the space template.

What’s the best way for the code to know which space template to use? One way would be to use a specially-named space template for all Share sites. But using a single space template for all Share sites seems limiting. Alfresco Share already has a mechanism for selecting the “type” of site to create–it’s called a preset. So a better approach is to use the preset’s ID to determine which space template to use.

Code

We need to run some code when a site is created. One way to do this is with a behavior. The behavior is Java code that will be bound to the onCreateNode policy for nodes that are instances of st:site. The init() method does that:

// Create behaviors
this.onCreateNode = new JavaBehaviour(this, "onCreateNode", NotificationFrequency.TRANSACTION_COMMIT);

// Bind behaviors to node policies
this.policyComponent.bindClassBehaviour(QName.createQName(NamespaceService.ALFRESCO_URI, "onCreateNode"), TYPE_SITE, this.onCreateNode);

So any time a node is create that is an instance of st:site, the onCreateNode() method in this class will get called.

The first thing the onCreateNode() method needs to do is find the space template. To keep things simple, I’m going to assume that the space template is named the same thing as the site preset ID, so all I need to do is grab that preset ID and do a Lucene search to find the template:

NodeRef siteFolder = childAssocRef.getChildRef();

if (!nodeService.exists(siteFolder)) {
logger.debug("Site folder doesn't exist yet");
return;
}

//grab the site preset value
String sitePreset = (String) nodeService.getProperty(siteFolder, PROP_SITE_PRESET);

//see if there is a folder in the Space Templates folder of the same name
String query = "+PATH:\"/app:company_home/app:dictionary/app:space_templates/*\" +@cm\\:name:\"" + sitePreset + "\"";
ResultSet rs = searchService.query(StoreRef.STORE_REF_WORKSPACE_SPACESSTORE, SearchService.LANGUAGE_LUCENE, query);

If there aren’t any space templates the method can return, otherwise, the space template should be copied into the site folder as the new document library folder:

documentLibrary = fileFolderService.copy(spaceTemplate, siteFolder, "documentLibrary").getNodeRef();

//add the site container aspect, set the descriptions, set the component ID
Map<QName, Serializable> props = new HashMap<QName, Serializable>();
props.put(ContentModel.PROP_DESCRIPTION, "Document Library");
props.put(PROP_SITE_COMPONENT_ID, "documentLibrary");
nodeService.addAspect(documentLibrary, ASPECT_SITE_CONTAINER, props);

I used the fileFolderService to perform the copy, then I set the properties and aspect on the new document library folder with the values that Alfresco Share expects a document library to have.

I’ve left out some insignificant code bits here and there–you can look at the source if you need to. The project was bootstrapped using the Alfresco Maven SDK and includes a unit test that makes sure the behavior works as expected.

Result

The project creates an AMP file. If you’ve checked out the source you can build the AMP using mvn install. Then you can install the AMP into the Alfresco WAR by placing the AMP in the amps directory and run apply_amps.sh. Alternatively, you can use mvn alfresco:install. After installing the AMP into the Alfresco WAR you can test it out.

Out-of-the-box Alfresco Share has a single site type called “Collaboration Site”. The preset ID for that type of site is “site-dashboard”. You might have additional site types configured in your installation. To set up the template for the default collaboration site, navigate to Data Dictionary/Space Templates and create a folder called “site-dashboard”. Then add whatever folders and documents you want to that folder. Now, anytime a “Collaboration Site” gets created in Alresco Share, the document library will automatically be created with the same folders and documents you’ve set up in your space template.

This was not a mind-blowing, deeply-technical extension to Alfresco. Hopefully, it shows you that, with even a few lines of code, you can easily add useful functionality to Alfresco.

Posted in Alfresco, General | Tagged , , | 17 Comments