Skip to main content

Sitecore – One man’s opinion

I recently spent about 6 months building a web site in Sitecore 5.3.2. As this was my first time using Sitecore I wanted to put down some thoughts I have about the platform. While there was definitely some very frustrating aspects to Sitecore there are also so very slick and cool things about it. While the install I was working on was version 5.3.2 I took a trip to San Francisco to get certified in version 6.0. 

Learning Curve

Sitecore is build on .Net, XPATH and heavy use of XSLTs. If you are familiar with these technologies the learning curve for Sitecore is not to bad. I had a development team of 5 developers offshore. The team was able to get up to speed on Sitecore in about a week. Really the trickiest part of Sitecore to learn is the administration UI and the use of templates, masters and standard values (these are all Sitecore objects). You really need to think through how you will use these objects.

The UI

The UI for Sitecore is pretty interesting. It is all browser based. When you login to what they call the “desktop” interface it looks like you have a windows desktop sitting in your browser window, and sure enough this is how it acts too. There are a lot of tools available to you in this interface. All the tools work pretty well. The only area I have to complain about is the installation wizard. This tool lets you import packages from other Sitecore environments. This process moves Sitecore items (and even physical files) from one environment to another. The process works well with small packages, but (and this can be a big but) if your packages get large the process is really slow, time consuming and error prone.

The API

The API is actually really robust. We were pleasantly surprised by how robust its API was. There was not anything we needed to do that we could not find an API for. 

XSLT

All the content data you create is stored in Sitecore in XML format. In my opinion using XSLT to transform XML data for UI display is pretty slick and a great way to do UI and content separation. You can make Sitecore API calls in your XSLTs using Sitecore’s built in XSLT extension into its API (the documentation for this though is week and you are normally left looking at standard code behind API calls and guessing how to create that call in an XSLT format).

Overall the XSLT ability in Sitecore is impressive but you have to beware that when you have large Sitecore content trees the XPATH calls in your XSLTs to get your data can get slow really fast. When possible it is best to use Sitecore’s search engine to pull data from large content trees. XSLT extension are a great way to do this.

Moving it, Testing it and Source Control

This is really the area I have the most complaint around Sitecore. The nature of using a lot of XSLTs makes unit testing hard to do. Sitecore does not make this any easier given how the XSLT pages are dependant on the Sitecore datacontext object. You can mock up an datacontext object for unit tests but it is really slow to instantiate. You are still then left to create your own XSLT unit test framework. In our case 90% of our UI was created using XSLTs. Sitecore also provides no build in approach to unit testing for its objects. So when you create a template there is no out of the box solution to unit testing it and making sure default values really do default correctly.

Once you have created everything in your development environment and you are ready to move it to your test or production environment it can get interesting. You can create a package to move all the Sitecore objects and the physical files. This can be a large package an when trying to move from an offshore environment to an onshore environment can cause issues. I have also found Sitecore package installation to be unreliable (Sitecore objects will install corrupted sometimes).

Sitecore also has no source control. Everything you create for sitecore (even xslt, aspx and ascx files) have a Sitecore item associated with them which is stored in the database. All the templates, masters, standard values, etc you create for your Sitecore site is all stored in the database. The only source control you have for these items is a database backup, and let me tell you now, you will need this. The Sitecore database likes to become corrupt. The UI is not sophisticated enough yet to stop you from doing something that will corrupt you database (easiest way this happens is you set up your template inheritance so as to create a circular reference. Once you do this most likely your only way back is to restore a backup). 

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

MVVM light and Model Validation

I have been using the MVVM light toolkit for a project recently. It is a great toolkit but is missing a couple things and Laurent Bugnion does a good job trying to cover those holes. One of the things the toolkit does not support is Validation. The good news is there is a great CodePlex project out there call Fluent Validation that makes this pretty easy to add and really powerful. My objective was to add validation to my model so I could call “IsValid” on the model itself (similar to the MVC attribute approach). Fluent Validation has you create a new class file that holds you validation rules for a given model. This is the approach I took to enable each model to have an “IsValid” property and a “Errors” property that returns the validation errors.First I setup my ValidationFactory:publicclass ValidatorFactory : FluentValidation.ValidatorFactoryBase{publicoverride FluentValidation.IValidator CreateInstance(Type validatorType) {return SimpleIoc.Default.GetInstance(validatorType) as …

Experience Profile Anonymous, Unknown and Known contacts

When you first get started with Sitecore's experience profile the reporting for contacts can cause a little confusion. There are 3 terms that are thrown around, 1) Anonymous 2) Unknown 3) Known. When you read the docs they can bleed into each other a little.

First, have a read through the Sitecore tracking documentation to get a feel for what Sitecore is trying to do.

There are a couple key things here to first understand:

Unless you call "IdentifyAs()" for request the contact is always anonymous. Tracking of anonymous contacts is off by default. Even if you call "IdentifyAs()" if you don't set facet values for the contact (like first name and email) the contact will still show up in your experience profile as "unknown" (because it has no facet data to display).  Enabled Anonymous contacts


Notice in the picture I have two contacts marked in a red box. Those are my "known" contacts that I called "IdentifyAs" on. I know they say &…

Excel XIRR and C#

I have spend that last couple days trying to figure out how to run and Excel XIRR function in a C# application. This process has been more painful that I thought it would have been when started. To save others (or myself the pain in the future if I have to do it again) I thought I would right a post about this (as post about XIRR in C# have been hard to come by). Lets start with the easy part first. In order to make this call you need to use the Microsoft.Office.Interop.Excel dll. When you use this dll take note of what version of the dll you are using. If you are using a version less then 12 (at the time of this writing 12 was the highest version) you will not have an XIRR function call. This does not mean you cannot still do XIRR though. As of version 12 (a.k.a Office 2007) the XIRR function is a built in function to Excel. Prior version need an add-in to use this function. Even if you have version 12 of the interop though it does not mean you will be able to use the function. The a…

WPF Localization - RESX Option

About a year ago I was building a WPF project in .Net 3.0 and Visual Studio 2005. I wanted to revisit this subject and see what has changed in .Net 3.5 and Visual Studio 2008. I will make a few of these posts to try and cover all the different options (RESX option, LocBaml option, Resource Dictionary Option). In this blog I will focus on using a resx file to localize an application. To show how the resx option is done I created a WPF form with three labels on it. The first label has is text set inline in XAML, the second has it text set via code behind from the resx file and the third has its text set via XAML accessing the resx file. The first thing that needs to happen to setup a project for localization is a small change to the project file. To make this change you will need to open the project file in notepad (or some other generic editor). In the first PropertyGroup section you need to add the follow XML node <UICulture>en-US</UICulture>. So the project file node woul…

Uniting Testing Expression Predicate with Moq

I recently was setting up a repository in a project with an interface on all repositories that took a predicate. As part of this I needed to mock out this call so I could unit test my code. The vast majority of samples out there for mocking an expression predicate just is It.IsAny<> which is not very helpful as it does not test anything other then verify it got a predicate. What if you actually want to test that you got a certain predicate though? It is actually pretty easy to do but not very straight forward.Here is what you do for the It.IsAny<> approach in case someone is looking for that. this.bindingRepository.Setup(c => c.Get(It.IsAny<Expression<Func<UserBinding, bool>>>())) .Returns(new List<UserBinding>() { defaultBinding }.AsQueryable()); This example just says to always return a collection of UserBindings that contain “defaultBinding” (which is an object I setup previously). Here is what it looks like when you want to pass in an expressi…