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Alfresco Developer Help: Simplifying Alfresco Extension Development

Simplifying Extension Development in the Yeoman Generator

In this blog post, Bindu Wavell discusses how to create a project structure in the Yeoman generator that is appropriate for customized Alfresco implementations. This drastically reduces the need to search for and copy/paste data in multiple locations. This new alf-dev-helper project focus on reducing clicks in the UI when working on development tasks—eventually, we expect other types of helpers to be added.

Simplifying Alfresco Extension Development

Bindu Wavell, Chief Architect at Zia Consulting

As you may know, Zia Consulting has been working on an open-source Alfresco Yeoman generator that allows for Alfresco extension project scaffolding based on the Alfresco all-in-one archetype

This project also includes some wizards for adding common extensions such as actions, behaviors, models, and web scripts to your project. Additionally, it has helpers for adding AMP files to your project. One of these helpers is alfresco:amp-add-common. Based on which version of the SDK you are using, and if you are targeting Community or Enterprise, this will offer you a list of third-party AMPs that can be added to your project (multi-selection is possible).

In order to do this, the generator relies on these modules being published to a public Maven repository such as Maven Central or Alfresco Artifacts. Initially, the only two AMPs available from one of these repositories were Support Tools for Enterprise installs and Uploader Plus.

We have been advocating in the community for folks to start publishing their AMPs to a public Maven repository. At BeeCon 2016 we had a good discussion with Florian Maul, the author of the awesome JavaScript Console add-on. He went through the process of getting his AMPs pushed to Maven Central and published a how-to article.

There are now a growing number of high-value AMPs available via one of the public Maven repositories. These include common modules such as:

  • Alfresco Office Services (AOS)
  • JavaScript Console
  • Records Management (RM)
  • Support Tools
  • Uploader Plus

In addition, we have recently seen some more specialized projects pushing their AMPs to a public repository, these include:

  • JavaMelody
  • JScript Extensions
  • Share Inbound Calendar Invites
  • Share Site Announcements
  • Share Site Creators
  • Share Site Space Templates

The alfresco:amp-add-common sub-generator supports adding any/all of these to your Yeoman generated projects with a single command.

For years I have felt it should be possible for developers to jump from any node in a document library view directly to the node browser. This is a very simple customization and I finally got around to coding this up in a reusable project. The project is called alfresco-dev-helper and is now also published to Maven Central and has been added to the alfresco:amp-add-common subgenerator.

Besides the new open in node browser document library action, this add-on enables the execute script action that is provided out-of-the-box, but disabled by default. It also exposes the change type action on the browse screens.

Simplifying Extension Development – Exposed Document Library Actions
Exposed Document Library Actions

My plan for this project is to include simple extensions to the platform and share those that will be most useful for developers. I would not expect this module to be deployed to production.

In summary, we are continuing to make progress on the Yeoman generator for Alfresco. Recently, we have been making it easier to quickly add some useful AMPs and have started work on a sister project to the Yeoman generator where some helpful developer tools that run inside the platform and share will be made available to you.

Bindu Wavel, Chief Architect at Zia Consulting

Bindu Wavell is the Chief Architect at Zia Consulting. He has been involved in enterprise system integration consulting for the past 24 years. At Zia, Bindu provides guidance and mentoring around enterprise content management architecture and design in addition to working hands-on with customers to deliver high-value solutions. Bindu has been working on enterprise content management engagements for the past 10 years. Previously he worked at eConvergent and Aspect Communications focusing on customer relationship management systems. Bindu is passionate about tea and quite interested in hobby robotics and automation.

Ephesoft: Four Features of Practical Innovation

By Jake Karnes, ECM Consultant at Zia Consulting

With an eye to the future, Ephesoft continues to deliver practical innovation which improves the capabilities and usability of its core platform, Ephesoft Transact. Ephesoft demonstrates this commitment to current and future customers with four new features: cross-section extraction, automatic data conversion, paragraph extraction, and automatic regular expression suggestions and creations.

Ephesoft INNOVATE 2016 brought together leading minds to discuss the latest industry advances. Software companies face the persistent challenge of delivering practical innovation while staying true to their product’s role in a customer’s organization. Ephesoft tackles this problem with a two-pronged approach. Ephesoft remains on the cutting edge of document capture technology with their new big data analytics platform—Ephesoft Insight. Insight promises to extract content and meaning from documents scattered across an organization using machine learning and patented text-based analysis. In addition to pushing the envelope with Insight, Ephesoft is continuing to expand and strengthen Ephesoft Transact.

Feature 1: Cross-Section Extraction

Ephesoft Transact, formerly Ephesoft Enterprise, adds several powerful features in the upcoming 4.1 release with roots in customer feedback and provide out-of-the-box functionality which previously required customization. One such feature is cross-section extraction. This technique uses the intersection of two keys to find the correct value. In the example below, the two keys are “Services Borrower Did Not Shop For” and “Borrower-Paid” which meet at the value “$236.55.” This triangulation using multiple keys allows for the extraction of values which are ill-suited for existing extraction methods such as table extraction.

closingcostdetails

Feature 2: Automatic Data Conversion

Another feature which comes from business use cases is automatic data conversion. This feature allows extracted dates and other values to be automatically normalized to a standard format. For example, a date extracted as “MAR 21 2016” can automatically be converted to “03/15/2016” and vice versa. Other possible data conversions include predefined suffixes and prefixes, data replacement, upper or lower case conversion, and more. One novel use for this functionality would be to clean up imperfect OCR results. The extraction rules could be defined to allow for missing or erroneous characters, and the values could then be corrected during this data conversion step by removing or substituting the known, correct character(s).

dateconversion

Feature 3: Automatic Regular Expression Suggestion and Creation

Another example of Ephesoft’s dedication to improving user experience by expanding Transact’s functionality is the new, automatic regular expression suggestion and creation. Ephesoft has recognized the pain of writing regular expressions by hand, and helps minimize these efforts by suggesting regular expressions automatically. These suggestions are sourced from Ephesoft’s own library of common regular expressions, such as emails, dollar amounts, and dates. But Ephesoft can even help you create custom regular expressions based on the examples provided during extraction training. This strikes a powerful balance between the flexibility to write your own and the ease of having them automatically suggested or created for you. The usefulness of regular expressions is now unlocked without burdening the user with learning the complex regular expression notation. As an added bonus, this feature is already included in the latest release of Transact, and further information can be found at Ephesoft’s wiki page here or in a video demonstration below.

Feature 4: Paragraph Extraction

Paragraph extraction demonstrates Ephesoft Transact capabilities of mining valuable information from unstructured documents. This features enables the user to define values to be extracted from within larger bodies of text, without specific keywords or fixed locations. As an example, consider the following sections of a mortgage note:

Paragraph extraction can be used to extract each of the highlighted values. Even values which wrap around multiple lines (e.g. “Super Mortgage Inc”) can be handled with ease. Previously, this would have required custom scripting or a complex combination of different extraction techniques. Paragraph extraction allows the user to unlock information from their documents which may have been unused before.

These features indicate that Ephesoft’s innovation is not limited to their groundbreaking analytics platform. They continue to implement practical innovation which is equally important for new and existing customers. These features provide straightforward solutions to common pain points. By inviting and accepting feedback from their customers and partners, Ephesoft is pushing the capture industry forward on multiple fronts.

borrow

Jake Karnes – ECM Consultant Zia ConsultingJake Karnes is an ECM Consultant at Zia Consulting. He extends and integrates Ephesoft and Alfresco to create complete content solutions. In addition to client integrations, Jake has helped create Zia stand-alone solutions such as mobile applications, mortgage automation, and analytic tools. He’s always eager to discuss software to the finest details, you can find Jake on LinkedIn.

Tech Post: Extracting Metadata in Alfresco

Extracting Metadata in Alfresco

by Jeff Rosler, Solutions Architect at Zia

When importing files, each is uploaded with additional information including things like title, description, and text. Out of the box, Alfresco extracts the properties that have been mapped and metadata is taken from the content using Apache Tika. The TikaAutoMetadataExtracter class loads the supported mime types so all users have to do is create a bean that references that class and then set the properties desired in extraction.

The following are some simple samples for how metadata can be pulled from different mime types and set to Alfresco properties. Since Apache Tika is used as a basic metadata extractor in Alfresco, you can use that to extract metadata for all the mime types that it supports. The current version of Tika that Alfresco is using (for Alfresco 5.0.2.5 and 5.1) is basically Tika 1.6 which supports the following file types. The TikaAutoMetadataExtracter class loads all the mime types that embedded version of Tika supports. So, all you need to do is to create a spring bean that references that class and set the properties to extract and set the Alfresco properties you’d like to have set. You don’t have to write any custom code.

Example 0 – Set logging to see what metadata can be extracted

Before defining your metadata extraction, it’s good to set your logging level for metadata extraction to DEBUG. When you do this, the extracted metadata for a file is shown in the log. This lets you correctly choose the embedded metadata property names to configure. You can set this by going to your log4j.properties file for the repo (alfresco) and adding the following line.

log4j.logger.org.alfresco.repo.content.metadata.AbstractMappingMetadataExtracter=DEBUG

Restart alfresco and import a file. You should see something like this in the log. You can see properties with name spaces such as dc:title (the dc stands for dublin core, a metadata standard) as well as other properties that don’t contain a namespace. You can use these embedded properties to map to standard or custom Alfresco properties.

2016-02-03 10:03:49,474 DEBUG [content.metadata.AbstractMappingMetadataExtracter]
 [http-bio-8080-exec-10] Extracted Metadata from ContentAccessor[ 
 contentUrl=store://2016/2/3/10/3/068b7c2b-1f7f-4b12-aa90-e78794eb8e77.bin, 
 mimetype=application/vnd.openxmlformats-officedocument.wordprocessingml.document,
 size=286436, encoding=UTF-8, locale=en_US]
 Found: {date=2016-01-22T18:59:00Z, Total-Time=1, extended-properties:AppVersion=14.0000,
 meta:paragraph-count=12, subject=beer, ipsum, meta:print-date=2016-01-22T18:59:00Z,
 Word-Count=405, meta:line-count=45, Manager=null, Template=Normal.dotm, Paragraph-Count=12,
 meta:character-count-with-spaces=2246, dc:title=Tom's Ipsum Beer, modified=2016-01-22T18:59:00Z,
 meta:author=Jeff Rosler, meta:creation-date=2015-12-31T15:49:00Z,
 Last-Printed=2016-01-22T18:59:00Z, extended-properties:Application=Microsoft Macintosh Word,
 author=Jeff Rosler, created=2015-12-31T15:49:00Z, Creation-Date=2015-12-31T15:49:00Z,
 Character-Count-With-Spaces=2246, Last-Author=Jeff Rosler, Character Count=1853, Page-Count=2,
 Application-Version=14.0000, extended-properties:Template=Normal.dotm, Author=Jeff Rosler,
 publisher=Zia Consulting, meta:page-count=2, cp:revision=4,
 Keywords=beer, ipsum, meta:word-count=405,
 dc:creator=Jeff Rosler, extended-properties:Company=Zia Consulting,
 description=beer, ipsum, dcterms:created=2015-12-31T15:49:00Z,
 Last-Modified=2016-01-22T18:59:00Z, dcterms:modified=2016-01-22T18:59:00Z,
 title=Tom's Ipsum Beer, Last-Save-Date=2016-01-22T18:59:00Z, meta:character-count=1853,
 Line-Count=45, meta:save-date=2016-01-22T18:59:00Z, Application-Name=Microsoft Macintosh Word,
 extended-properties:TotalTime=1, extended-properties:Manager=null,
 Content-Type=application/vnd.openxmlformats-officedocument.wordprocessingml.document,
 creator=Jeff Rosler, comments=null, dc:subject=beer, ipsum, meta:last-author=Jeff Rosler,
 xmpTPg:NPages=2, Revision-Number=4, meta:keyword=beer, ipsum, dc:publisher=Zia Consulting}

Example 1 – Set author, title, description

Specify your spring bean. You can name the id anything you want (that is a legitimate XML id) and point to the TikaAutoMetadataExtracter class (yes I know, that isn’t the way you spell Extractor, but the code has misspelled Extractor with an “e” instead of an “o”). In the code block below, we are overriding the default mapping and pointing to a separate property file. The properties could have been listed inline here, but pointing to the property files allows for easier editing.

 

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?>
<beans xmlns="http://www.springframework.org/schema/beans"
       xmlns:xsi="http://www.w3.org/2001/XMLSchema-instance"
       xsi:schemaLocation="http://www.springframework.org/schema/beans http://www.springframework.org/schema/beans/spring-beans.xsd">

   <bean id="extractor.auto" class="org.alfresco.repo.content.metadata.TikaAutoMetadataExtracter" parent="baseMetadataExtracter">
      <constructor-arg>
         <ref bean="tikaConfig"/>
      </constructor-arg>
      <property name="inheritDefaultMapping">
         <value>false</value>
      </property>
      <property name="mappingProperties">
         <bean class="org.springframework.beans.factory.config.PropertiesFactoryBean">
            <property name="location">
               <value>classpath:alfresco/extension/TikaAutoMetadataExtracter.properties</value>
            </property>
        </bean>
      </property>
   </bean>

</beans>

After specifying your spring bean that points to a properties file (e.g. TikaAutoMetadataExtracter.properties), within the properties file, set any Alfresco namespaces you’re specifying for the content model and then each property to be mapped. Note that during the extraction if you specify properties on aspects, those aspects will be applied to the content node automatically for you. Note that you put the embedded metadata property name on the left of the equal sign and the Alfresco property on the right. If you are specifying an embedded property that has a namespace prefix (e.g. dc:title) remember to escape the colon with a backslash (e.g. dc\:title). You don’t need to do that on the property value, just the property.

 

# Namespaces
namespace.prefix.cm=http://www.alfresco.org/model/content/1.0
&nbsp;
# Mappings
author=cm:author
dc\:title=cm:title
description=cm:description

Example 2 – Setting multiple Alfresco properties 

Embedded Metadata can be mapped to multiple Alfresco properties by specifying those properties as comma separated values. The example below shows setting the embedded author value to both cm:author and cm:description.

 

# Namespaces
namespace.prefix.cm=http://www.alfresco.org/model/content/1.0
 
# Mappings
author=cm:author,cm:description

Example 3 – Specifying when properties are extracted

The Metadata extractor has something called an OverwritePolicy. The OverwritePolicy specifies when an Alfresco property is overwritten. For example, you might not want your extractor to overwrite every time a new version is stored of a file as this would overwrite any of the mapped property values that were updated manually via Share or automatically through actions, workflows or other processes. Therefore, Alfresco defaults the OverwritePolicy to PRAGMATIC. This basically sets it to extract if the extracted property is not null  and the Alfresco property is not set or is empty.

However, if you want to change the behavior so that the extraction happens all the time (e.g. when content is updated), then you should set the OverwritePolicy to EAGER. This can be done by passing that as a parameter within your extractor bean as can be seen below.

<bean id="extractor.auto" class="org.alfresco.repo.content.metadata.TikaAutoMetadataExtracter" parent="baseMetadataExtracter">
   <constructor-arg>
      <ref bean="tikaConfig"/>
   </constructor-arg>
   <property name="inheritDefaultMapping">
      <value>false</value>
   </property>
   <property name="overwritePolicy">
     <value>EAGER</value>
   </property>
 
   <property name="mappingProperties">
      <bean class="org.springframework.beans.factory.config.PropertiesFactoryBean">
         <property name="location">
            <value>classpath:alfresco/extension/TikaAutoMetadataExtracter.properties</value>
         </property>
      </bean>
   </property>
</bean>

Example 4 – Setting tags

Support for mapping tags was added in Alfresco 4.2.c. Details are mentioned in this blog post. You can easily add that to your extraction mapping. It just needs to be enabled in the extract-metadata bean and then the mapping set within your properties file.

NOTE: When setting tags, don’t do this while running from the Alfresco SDK using springloaded. Tagging won’t work and as soon as you try and import some content with tags (after you’ve made the updates below), your content will fail to load.

ALSO NOTE: I noticed in Alfresco 5.0 that the embedded keywords are getting concatenated into a single comma separated tag. This has been identified as a bug and a JIRA (MNT-15497) was created for fixing it. The fix was put in 5.0.4 and 5.1.1.

The following code block can be added to your spring bean xml config file to enable tagging.

 

<!--
    Override metadata extraction bean from action-services-context.xml to turn on the taggingService and enableStringTagging
    This will allow keywords to get mapped to tags.
 -->
<bean id="extract-metadata" class="org.alfresco.repo.action.executer.ContentMetadataExtracter" parent="action-executer">
  <property name="nodeService">
    <ref bean="NodeService" />
  </property>
  <property name="contentService">
    <ref bean="ContentService" />
  </property>
  <property name="dictionaryService">
    <ref bean="dictionaryService" />
  </property>
  <property name="taggingService">
      <ref bean="TaggingService" />
  </property>
  <property name="metadataExtracterRegistry">
    <ref bean="metadataExtracterRegistry" />
  </property>
  <property name="applicableTypes">
    <list>
      <value>{http://www.alfresco.org/model/content/1.0}content</value>
    </list>
  </property>
  <property name="carryAspectProperties">
    <value>true</value>
  </property>
  <property name="enableStringTagging">
    <value>true</value>
  </property>
</bean>

After tagging is enabled, just update your property file to map the appropriate embedded Keywords property to cm:taggable. The example below uses the embedded Keywords property.

# Namespaces
namespace.prefix.cm=http://www.alfresco.org/model/content/1.0
 
# Mappings
Keywords=cm:taggable

 

Metadata and Alfresco by Jeff Rosler, Solutions ArchitectJeff Rosler has more than 15 years’ experience architecting and developing enterprise content management solutions for customers across multiple verticals to help solve different business challenges. These solutions include digital asset management, component content management using XML, business process management, and web content management utilizing Alfresco and related standards, technologies, and products.

Our Thoughts on the All-New Ephesoft Universe

Ephesoft UniverseToday the industry received word of an innovative new technology—Ephesoft Universe. Universe is a tool that matches enterprise Big Data with intelligent capture, allowing you to process and analyze all of the content contained in your organization’s documents, even if unstructured. I have had the pleasure of early access to the product for evaluation and want to share my thoughts with you. 

Universe allows business users to define different documents and data they would like to analyze in an easy and intuitive fashion. By automatically identifying large amounts of data fields like addresses, amounts, etc., users can tag the values with appropriate names used in the business (e.g., primary address, loan amount, SSN, employer). Universe then analyzes the values and determines the best ways to extract the data as more documents are processed. Once the definitions are set up, very large groups of documents can be processed in a very short time by utilizing Apache Spark clusters. This can be deployed on premise or in the cloud.  

It’s all well and good to rattle off some technical specs and usage but why should you, and I, care? While Ephesoft at Innovate 2015Ephesoft Enterprise for intelligent capture allows you to automate the intake of documents to drive business process and archival, it doesn’t harness the immense amount of data you already have in your enterprise. Imagine, as a mortgage insurance company, being able to set rates based on data you already have from the many closing packages you have processed. With Universe, this data is found by looking at defaults in various zip codes, size of homes, loan amounts, home values, and more. You can even look at the data you have and project it out for months. Consider a fraud detection company having the ability to determine how many loan applications a particular name or social security number has applied for in a specified amount of time. Many companies pay other entities for this information—data that already exists in documents they process in their enterprise.

We are excited about this innovative technology and the advanced solutions it will enable Zia to provide to our clients. Ephesoft Universe is going to save our customers time and money while lowering risk. Please contact us to discuss how this technology can help you.

– Pat Myers, EVP and Co-Founder of Zia Consulting

Video Demo – Adhere for Alfresco: Legal – Part 1

In this demo, Sr. Solutions Engineer Jon Solove demonstrates the creation of a case using Adhere for Alfresco: Legal, a content management solution from Zia Consulting.

For many corporate legal departments and AM100 law firms, the choice of a document management system has often been limited to a small number of legacy vendors with complex and costly offerings that users are forced to accept, rather than working the way they want to work. The result is “ECM avoidance” with users finding ways around their ECM system–utilizing email, shared drives, or cloud technologies.

Today there is an alternative: Adhere for Alfresco: Legal, powered by Alfresco and delivered by Zia Consulting. Zia understands that when systems are easy-to-use and leverage existing tools like Office or Google Docs, the result is increased utilization and an improvement in control and compliance. Our Adhere for Alfresco: Legal solution delivers document and records management that’s as simple as using email or file systems, with the power of enterprise-class CMS features and functionality.

Alfresco Development—Past, Present, and Future

alfresco-logo

by Bindu Wavell, Chief Architect at Zia Consulting

There are two reasons I decided to write this post. First, I want to acknowledge Alfresco for their recent investments in the developer ecosystem. The other reason is to explain where I think we are heading with our development efforts. My ulterior motive is to find people to collaborate with us on these efforts.

Since Thomas DeMeo joined Alfresco as VP of Product Management a bit over a year ago, we’ve noticed a dramatic increase in the focus on system integrators being key stakeholders for Alfresco—and not just based on expertise in sales and business development. After the release of Alfresco One 5.0 at the Alfresco Summit, we saw the likes of Peter Monks and Gabriele Columbro tapped to bring focus to user stories that are important for administrators and developers within the product management organization. Recently, Richard Esplin transitioned from the community lead to focusing on the Community Edition within product management. Alfresco hired Martin Bergljung and Ole Hejlskov to focus on developer tooling/evangelism and community outreach. Within weeks of starting, these individuals put together a new release of the SDK; incorporating contributions, adding new capabilities, and completely revamping the documentation. I’m thrilled that Alfresco is focusing resources in these areas because I think we will see resolution of a lot of technical debt—and that allows for better solutions in less time, leading to a bigger and more vibrant community.

In the past year or so, Alfresco engineering has begun to reorganize into smaller, more agile, scrum teams. This reorganization—along with the focus on product management—will drive initiatives like release agility to provide more frequent and better tested releases of distinct products. It should also provide a platform for resolving technical debts in a more sustained and predictable fashion than we’ve seen in the past. We can also expect cool new products that are easier to integrate and customize. Things like Activiti Enterprise—the integration between Activiti Enterprise and Share—enhanced Office services, reporting/analytics, media management, and even new Case Management features. Not to mention, significant improvements in the repository, Share, and records management.

As the Chief Architect at Zia, part of my mission is to facilitate improvements in developer productivity and satisfaction. In addition, I want to help the team find ways to improve project quality and consistency. I’d like to share where we are heading in these areas, but first let’s cover where we’ve been.

In the past year or so, most of our projects have been based on the third major revision of our development framework. We call the framework—the project structure and the associated tooling—Zia Alfresco Quickstart (for more information, watch this video). Quickstart includes a standard project structure that we evolved from the all-in-one archetype provided by the Alfresco 1.0 Maven SDK. It features reusable code, examples, best practices, and, to some extent, standardizes how we version and deliver our projects and reusable sub-projects.

With version 1.0 of the SDK, as well as our earlier project structures, we were seeing cycle times (from the point when we saved our code to when we were able to exercise the code) of between two and five minutes on very powerful laptops with lots of RAM and solid-state disks. One of the main reasons we started evolving the SDK was to reduce this cycle time. When we started using Quickstart for customer projects, we were able to reduce the cycle time for most edits to about 10 seconds. We did this by taking advantage of incremental compilation and hot deployment techniques. If I was writing this post a couple of years ago, it would have been all about flow. It was hard to experience flow when you had time for tea and a bagel after most code/config changes. Fortunately, this is not as much of an issue anymore. The Alfresco 1.1.x SDK made some similar techniques available for the wider developer community. With the 2.0 SDK, this has been improved even more—but there’s still work to be done.

One area where Quickstart enhances the SDK capabilities is an integration testing framework for repository customizations that also supports continuous integration and, to some extent, delivery. After we presented this framework during Tech Talk Live #69 (see video above), the 1.1 SDK added a similar capability—however, that solution has been a bit unreliable. We contributed the Quickstart testing framework to the SDK team and are hopeful it will be incorporated in the near future. We are excited that the 2.1.0 version includes support for the Share Page Object testing extensions to Selenium WebDriver that was, and continues to be, developed by the Share engineering. This will make it much easier to create tests for UI customizations and to make sure our customizations don’t unexpectedly break existing capabilities provided with the products.

With the project structure we used before Quickstart, it often took us between four and eight hours to get a full development environment (just the Alfresco pieces) installed and configured. With Quickstart, we’ve reduced this to around two or three hours.

We often need to work on code for multiple projects in any given week. In order to handle this, and to accommodate customer variations, we usually set up our development environments in Virtual Machines (VM). Nearly every time we’ve had to start from a base OS machine.

Typically, one team member sets up the initial VM, installs the development tools, and sets up the project structure. Then the VM is shared with all of the team members. We make heavy use of VM snapshots and usually someone keeps a pristine copy of the VM that tracks releases. Should a new developer join the project, or an upgrade be performed, we utilize this pristine copy. Often these VMs are over 40GB, requiring a substantial amount of time just to copy the data.

At Zia, we’ve been testing a few different code review approaches. Some projects are doing regular reviews (weekly for example), others are focusing on reviewing each new significant feature. The ability to create pull requests from forks and branches in BitBucket and GitHub has provided enough of a framework for us so far—though we’d love to incorporate more tooling around code quality and coverage to provide consistent feedback to users.

The Path Ahead

Quickstart has been seen as a proprietary solution that allows us to complete projects faster and at lower cost than we were able to previously. One of the downsides to it being proprietary is that there is a smaller community for collaboration and support of the approach. The next version of our project structure is being developed in-the-open using the open source model we admire so much.

The Quickstart project structure is quite different than any of the official SDKs, and there are good reasons for the differences. In many cases, they improve on what is available in the community today. However, what we have is different enough from the standard that new team members often have a steep learning curve to become proficient and ultimately master the structure. So, while a seasoned practitioner will be very productive, newer folks require more time and support to become productive. This turns out to be detrimental to the goal of improving productivity for some team members.

With the next generation project structure, we plan to stay closer to the official SDK so that there is a much larger community for collaboration. While we still plan to include support for certain opinionated features, we will also support and default to using more traditional Alfresco implementation approaches. Our hope is that this change in direction will facilitate quicker onboarding and allow SDK and Alfresco upgrades to be handled more expeditiously.

With Quickstart and all of the Alfresco SDKs to date, we have to duplicate a large portion of the boilerplate code for common Alfresco customizations such as web scripts, actions, behaviors, jobs, and workflows via cut and paste. While most of these aren’t difficult, they do tend to be error prone.

Our new approach is to provide a Yeoman project generator. This automates the construction of a project using the all-in-one archetype from the SDK while adding a few bells and whistles for improved productivity. Though it’s still in its infancy, this part of the project is available now and we are using it for customer projects when appropriate. In addition, we are working on sub-generators for common and boilerplate things like: adding amps (source, third party from git, third party from Maven, and checked into the project), adding webscripts, and adding actions. We also plan to work on sub-generators for adding behaviors, models, workflows, jobs, javascript extensions, and data bootstrapping. We may even create generators for common tasks like switching from h2 to a real database, enabling ldap, hooking up the standard image processing tools, and other common tasks that collaborators think will add significant value during the development phase of Alfresco implementation projects.

The development VMs we’ve been using are difficult to version control, slow to copy, and frankly, take significant CPU, disk, and memory resources that we’d prefer to allocate to development and runtime tasks.

We’ve been toying with setting up our development environments using devops tools such as Ansible, Chef, VMWare, Vagrant, and Docker. Using Docker, we have been able to spin up and exercise clustered Alfresco environments on a single machine for testing and POC activities. We’ve also used Vagrant and Ansible to get about a 40% head start on our development VMs. The hope is to script 90% of the project setup efforts, to reduce project setup time, and increase consistency between our projects. We also hope to utilize Docker or other lightweight container solutions to reduce the overhead of our environments.

To date, we’ve had mixed success using these tools to setup our development environments. It often takes a significant amount of time to create and refine the devops scripts and we don’t expect to see a return on our investment until we’ve utilized and stabilized these tools with a number of projects. Fortunately, we have worked with a few customers to create production quality release/delivery substrates using these tools. Our hope is to incorporate our experiences from these projects into the developer tooling with an eye toward standardizing how we install and configure Alfresco solutions in all environments. We feel that by utilizing these techniques, developers will be able to rebuild small, containerized environments from scratch when needed, rather than maintaining and sharing monolithic VMs. This approach will be much easier to version control, easier to upgrade, easier to share, and will be lighter on resources.

An area we are also exploring is the use of cloud development infrastructure (e.g. Codenvy) to develop, run, and test our projects. We’d like to utilize our devops work and create containers that we can use during development and testing and potentially as a vehicle for delivering projects as well. It would be great if this allowed additional interactivity and collaboration during code reviews, while fixing bugs, and for training/coaching users one-on-one or in groups. We’d also like to reduce expenditures on hardware for developers and to deliver progressive capacity to our engineering organization. The ultimate goal is to work smarter with our in-house, remote, and offshore team members.

Our first usable effort in the area of cloud development is the contribution workflow for our new Yeoman generator. By clicking a button on the project GitHub page, we can provision a development environment that has access to the project source code and a docker container that has been set up with the appropriate versions of Java, Maven, Node, and Yeoman. It would also have the local (in the container) Maven repository pre-seeded with assets needed for compiling and running the Alfresco projects we build while testing out the generators. Someone wishing to make a contribution can start developing and testing in under a minute and can send us a pull-request directly from the generated project on Codenvy.

View a generator contribution demo video here

We’d like to invite you to collaborate on these ideas and deliverables. Currently, we are focused on completing our first pass on the Yeoman generator and some high value sub-generators. We’d love to collaborate in order to continue evolving the developer/implementer experience for Alfresco extensions. If you are interested, please leave a comment, send an email, or ping me here on IRC. Once the generator is in good shape, we’ll likely set up a cloud-based development experience. This will be driven by the generators and backed by pre-packaged containers that can be used in the cloud, on our development machines, and possibly in customer dev, stage, and prod environments. Imagine quickly packaging your configuration and customizations with Alfresco into an all-dependencies included container. You could then run tests against the container, deploy that tested container to stage, perform UAT and—assuming everything is accepted—promote the exact same (tested and accepted) container to production.

Now that’s the future of Alfresco development.

What’s in your Liferay 6.0 lar file? Part 1

LIFERAY_LOGOS_SERVICE_PARTNER_GOLD_BACKGROUND_WHITE(1)

We have written a lot about Liferay over the last few months touting its benefits as an integration platform and its flexibility. Recently I needed to transfer content from on Liferay system to another. I only wanted content changes that occurred in a certain date range. To do this, I navigated to pages in the control panel clicked on the export tab and selected the desired date range as shown in the picture below.liferay_lar

The resulting lar file was much larger than I anticipated. This got me thinking…what’s actually in a lar file? …  

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Alfresco Names New CEO

dennerline

Alfresco has appointed former SuccessFactors President Doug Dennerline as their new CEO.  Doug was previously President of the Software as a Service (SaaS) provider SuccessFactors which was acquired by SAP last year for $3.4 billion; before that he was chief executive of the Webex division of Cisco.

Doug replaces John Powell, cofounder with John Newton of Alfresco Software in 2002 and CEO up until now.

We have enjoyed a great relationship with John Powell over the years and have appreciated his support.  John visited with us last October when he gave a keynote address at the Zia sponsored Paper to mobile Summit here in Boulder.  (you can see his address in its entirety here.)  While he was here we had a chance to interview him about Alfresco’s relationship with Zia.  Here’s what he had to say.

inside_look icon

 

Check out this inside look video.

 

And of course, we are  looking forward to working with Doug going forward.  We are impressed with credentials and with his vision for ECM and we are anxious to share our views with him.

You can read the complete text of the Alfresco press release here.

 

5 Things We Love About Liferay

Liferay Gold Partner

 

There are a number of things we like about Liferay and once you start using Liferay it is easy to see why. Liferay is a leader in the portal space (according to Gartner, not just Zia). It also has a highly flexible user interface and integration platform that makes it easy to use. In fact, we recommend it as a go to technology for Web development and integration.

With so many great things about Liferay, it was hard for me to narrow it down to 5 things for our recent Webinar. In case you missed the “Favorite Things about Liferay” webinar, here are the top five reasons Zia loves Liferay:

1) Open architecture – Liferay is extremely flexible as an environment and can be used with any Java application server and any database that is JDBC compliant. This means that most companies will able to leverage existing technology investments with Liferay. You can use products like Tomcat, JBoss, WebLogic, WebSphere, MySQL, Oracle or SQL Server. You can also use any Java web framework such as Liferay MVC, Spring Portlet MVC, Struts, JSF or GWT. As with any open source product, Liferay customers benefit from being able to ‘see under the hood’ and look at the source code to address problems and report bugs/fixes. This open architecture makes Liferay both an excellent social platform (wikis, blogs, etc.) and integration platform. On a recent customer engagement, I used Liferay to integrate with an ERP, CRM, ESB and several web services.

 

2) Fast Site Creation – For any company that is consistently adding or updating site content, Liferay makes it easy to quickly create and add a web page. Content creators can create new pages with little technical background and with minimal or no IT involvement. This puts the control back in the content creator’s hands and frees up IT resources. From a developer standpoint, it is easy to mock up sites for new projects and manage overall site creation. Liferay’s content management system manages all file types including images, documents, videos, and web content. Web content can be a simple snippet of HTML, or a complex mix of images and HTML that are neatly organized using structures.  The structure is then combined with a template for displaying the web content, so that content contributors can focus on the content and not technical details. Liferay makes it easy to create content, update navigation menus, and create pages and sites in minutes.

 

3) Liferay Plugins – With Liferay you do not need to re-create the wheel. The functionality you need to build your web presence is often available in an existing Liferay plugin. A brief list of the most commonly used plugins are web content display, sign in (user login and forgot password), social media features (such as chat, Wikis, message boards, blogs, etc.) and web proxy. The web proxy feature is great because it allows you to expose legacy web applications in your enterprise through Liferay so that they are all managed the same way. You can customize Liferay plugins in several ways, including the portlet’s UI configuration settings, control panel, and portal-ext.properties. This saves time by avoiding rewriting code. If configuration changes are not enough, you can use Liferay hooks to change JSPs, CSS, and actions (to name just a few). Zia has a lot of experience customizing Liferay using hooks. For example, we have helped many companies customize the sign in plugin by putting in a company’s own look and feel or adding in pages and documents / terms that a user has to agree to. Hooks can also be used to integration with other systems such as LDAP, ERP, CRM, etc.

 

4) Fast Theme Development – Themes are a common way to customize the ‘look’ of a portal. Using themes is easy in Liferay compared to other technologies. In some cases it might be fine to build a quick site using the Classic theme that comes with Liferay. For a public facing site or sites geared towards a large number of users – custom themes are a must. You can modify the look and feel using basic web technologies such as Velocity, HTML, JavaScript, CSS and images.

 

5) Responsive Layout – A major trend in the web world is responsive layout. This allows a website to be used on any web enabled device – not just the traditional desktop. With tablets and smartphones dominating the marketplace, companies need websites that work on these smaller screen sizes. Responsive layout enables you to develop a site that works on tablets and smartphones. This ensures that your site will be relevant for a long time, thereby reducing your annual IT spending. Liferay can detect the screen width of a device, using CSS media queries and JavaScript. All you need to do is specify the CSS for each of the four common display sizes. A great example of this is the Liferay website. Test it using your iPad, iPhone and desktop. You will see how the images decrease in size or are hidden while the content and navigation remains the same. Companies need to incorporate this into websites today to avoid building new websites in a year or two.

There are lots of things I love about Liferay and these are just the top five. One additional feature specific to Version 6.1 that I am excited about is the out of the box previewing of PDF and Word documents. This will save companies a lot of development time.

If you want more information on these features, view our On Demand Webinar to see how easy it is to create pages, use plugins and custom development pages. Or contact Zia directly for more information on how we can help you leverage Liferay in your organization.

Simplify Invoice Processing Using Ephesoft

Invoice processing is no easy task and can be a time consuming and resource intensive task. Even with a variety of different solutions on the market, most companies still manually process invoices. Technology costs and complexity have been barriers to automating invoicing, but with Ephesoft that is no longer the case.

We recently helped a growing ecommerce site, eReplacementParts.com, implement Ephesoft to automate its invoicing processing to improve overall procurement and accounting processes. Like most growing businesses, eReplacementParts’ manual invoicing process had become inefficient. For a company that promotes reuse and sustainability, the process was anything but green.

Zia worked with eReplacementParts to assess their needs and determine how Ephesoft could be used in their environment and on their budget. eReplacementParts is a tech savvy company and while they did the implementation themselves – they needed help to ensure they configured and customized the system properly for their environment. Zia also provided support through their implementation.

Today, the company can quickly and easily convert paper invoices to electronic ones – regardless of document format documents to electronic. When invoices are received they can be scanned into the system and sent directly to the Ephesoft server where text is extracted from the documents into forms and integrated with the company’s ERP system. The system retrieves the appropriate data fields for classification and validates the information with POs. It will also flag exceptions or direct a document to the appropriate system for processing.

With Ephesoft, eReplacementparts has moved from a manual process to an automated process – saving time, improving system accuracy and reducing paper waste. They are a great example of how companies can cost effectively use intelligent document capture technology to simplify the task of invoice processing. If you are struggling to manage your invoice process – Ephesoft could be the right solution for you!

Download the full case study to learn more about eReplacementparts use of Ephesoft or check out our newly published book on Ephesoft titled, Intelligent Document Capture with Ephesoft