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Experience Sitecore! | All posts tagged 'Placeholders'

Experience Sitecore!

Martin Miles on Sitecore

Mythical SXA body-top placeholder shown in Experience Editor

Recently I came into a weird situation. So, to start with ...

I got Sitecore 9.0 update 2, installed SXA 1.8 for 9.0 on top of it. Created a tenant and a site, also made few pages for test and some initial settings as we usually do as per documentation, so far so good. 

Then I made a solution, configuration and serialized everything I made on the previous step, then reinstalled an instance in order to test my solution, configuration and serialization deploys well on top of clean Sitecore and to confirm everything works as expected.

Build process went fine, deployment worked well, Unicorn ran and created the site with all my pages and all relevant items - all good, except for one issue. Before Sitecore reinstallation, a new page in Experience Editor looked that way:


After the deployment on top of the new clean instance, running Experience Editor brought the following layout:


Clearly, there was something missing from either my configuration or serialization. So I started troubleshooting and comparing.

In both scenarios, I had instances sites of the same version and both with SXA 1.8. Since this issue was reproducible, next time I made git init just within webroot in order to get a version diff with a post-deployment state, so that I could see all modified files and see the diff as I usually do with git tools. However, nothing suspicious found at bin and within App_config folder. Deployment went as expected so that should be something in Sitecore then.

First of all, I compared templates and standard values, but they were the same for both cases. Next, I ensured presentation details are also identical, even ensured Layout files and binary equal.  Yes, it contains body-top placeholder, but in one scenario it is presented for some reason.

Then I went to the actual page items in order to compare those, but they were also the same. View options have same parameters checked. No idea then...

Finally, after spending plenty of time I figured out that something was wrong with SXA themes. Unfortunately, did not identify what exactly causes the problem, but after re-creating it at serialization config and re-serializing items the issue has gone. So, the outcome is: if you see unexpected placeholders - please make sure your SXA theme is in the correct state and serialized properly.

Migrating existing code to Helix. Fixing invalid dynamic placeholders

Recently I have inherited a project that utilised dynamic placeholder in a weird way:

public static HtmlString DynamicPlaceholder(this SitecoreHelper helper, string placeholderKey)
{
    if (string.IsNullOrEmpty(RenderingContext.Current.Rendering?.DataSource))
        return helper.Placeholder(placeholderKey);

    var currentRenderingId = Guid.Parse(RenderingContext.Current.Rendering.DataSource);
    return helper.Placeholder($"{placeholderKey}_{currentRenderingId}");
}

instead of more commonly used way suggested by Jason Bert:

namespace DynamicPlaceholders.Mvc.Extensions
{
	public static class SitecoreHelperExtensions
	{
		public static HtmlString DynamicPlaceholder(this SitecoreHelper helper, string placeholderName)
		{
			string text = PlaceholdersContext.Add(placeholderName, RenderingContext.Current.Rendering.UniqueId);
			return helper.Placeholder(text);
		}
	}
}

In two words, the first approach generates placeholder name using an ID of datasource item. The second approach is more traditional and is default for Helix. It was suggested by Jason Bert and also utilised by sitecore - that relies on rendering's UniqueID. In both cases, dynamic placeholders look like: /content/name-of-placeholder_017c3643-0fef-475c-95d2-bb1107beb664.

So I need to update it across entire solution. Let's iterate our items.

First of all, I do not need to go through all of item, but only those that are pages and have presentation configured, as I am going to adjust it. Secondly, those items are located under /sitecore/content folder. As many of you should know, presentation details (or deltas) for a page are kept within two fields of Standard Template - Renderings and Final Renderings that correspond to configuration you see at Shared Layout and Final Layout tabs. These thoughts resulted in using following Sitecore query to identify those items:

/sitecore/content//*[@__Renderings != '' or @__Final Renderings != '']

So far, so good. Also need to mention that I will perform the operation for master database only and for Default device:

private const string DatabaseName = "master";
private const string DefaultDeviceId = "{FE5D7FDF-89C0-4D99-9AA3-B5FBD009C9F3}";

I am using Sitecore presentation API in order to achieve my goal. Below is my Iterate() method:

public Dictionary<Item, List<KeyValuePair<string, string>>> Iterate()
{
    var result = new Dictionary<Item, List<KeyValuePair<string, string>>>();

    var master = Factory.GetDatabase(DatabaseName);
    var items = master.SelectItems(ItemsWithPresentationDetailsQuery);

    var layoutFields = new[] {FieldIDs.LayoutField, FieldIDs.FinalLayoutField};

    foreach (var item in items)
    {
        foreach (var layoutField in layoutFields)
        {
            var changeResult = ChangeLayoutFieldForItem(item, item.Fields[layoutField]);

            if (changeResult.Any())
            {
                if (!result.ContainsKey(item))
                {
                    result.Add(item, changeResult);
                }
                else
                {
                    result[item].AddRange(changeResult);
                }
            }
        }
    }

    return result;
}

That method iterates through each item from returned from the query and calls ChangeLayoutFieldForItem for that item twice - for both presentation fields Renderings and Final Renderings.

private List<KeyValuePair<string, string>> ChangeLayoutFieldForItem(Item currentItem, Field field)
{
    var result = new List<KeyValuePair<string, string>>();

    string xml = LayoutField.GetFieldValue(field);

    if (!string.IsNullOrWhiteSpace(xml))
    {
        LayoutDefinition details = LayoutDefinition.Parse(xml);

        var device = details.GetDevice(DefaultDeviceId);
        DeviceItem deviceItem = currentItem.Database.Resources.Devices["Default"];

        RenderingReference[] renderings = currentItem.Visualization.GetRenderings(deviceItem, false);

        var datasourceGuidsToRenderingUniqueIdMap = renderings
            .Where(r => !string.IsNullOrWhiteSpace(r.Settings.DataSource))
            .Select(r => new KeyValuePair<string, string>(Guid.Parse(r.Settings.DataSource).ToString(), r.UniqueId));

        if (device?.Renderings != null)
        {
            foreach (RenderingDefinition rendering in device.Renderings)
            {
                if (!string.IsNullOrWhiteSpace(rendering.Placeholder))
                {
                    var verifiedPlaceholderKey = FixPlaceholderKey(rendering.Placeholder, datasourceGuidsToRenderingUniqueIdMap);
                    result.Add(new KeyValuePair<string, string>(rendering.Placeholder, verifiedPlaceholderKey));
                    rendering.Placeholder = verifiedPlaceholderKey;
                }
            }

            string newXml = details.ToXml();

            using (new EditContext(currentItem))
            {
                LayoutField.SetFieldValue(field, newXml);
            }
        }
    }

    return result;
}

Further down it creates a list of matches for all the renderings within current presentation field of that particular item - datasource GUIDs matching to unique rendering IDs to go through it and do a replacement - that is done in FixPlaceholderKey method. Once everything is replaced, save the field by calling LayoutField.SetFieldValue() of course wrapping that call with EditContext as we are modifying item's field value.

FixPlaceholderKey is a simple method that just does case insensitive replacement by using Regex:

private string FixPlaceholderKey(string renderingInstancePlaceholder, IEnumerable<KeyValuePair<string, string>> map)
{
    var value = renderingInstancePlaceholder;

    foreach (var oldValue in map)
    {
        value = Regex.Replace(value, oldValue.Key, Guid.Parse(oldValue.Value).ToString(), RegexOptions.IgnoreCase);
    }

    return value;
}

That is pretty everything about the dynamic placeholder fixing logic.

But as for my case - I was aware that I'll need to run this dynamic placeholder replacements few more times in future and will likely need to implement some other similar small tools. So I decided that it would be great to place it under /sitecore/admin folder along with other admin tools - exact location by purpose! And since we're now going Helix, I decided to follow good principles and created a foundation module called AdminTools, where I will be adding similar admin folder tools. So here's how it looks for me in the Solution Explorer:


FixDynamicPlaceholders.aspx is a classical ASP.NET WebForm with one line markup (ah-h, I was so lucky not to deal with Webforms for couple past years till the moment)

<%@ Page Language="C#" AutoEventWireup="true" CodeBehind="FixDynamicPlaceholders.aspx.cs" Inherits="HomeServeUsa.Foundation.AdminTools.sitecore.admin.Maintenance.FixDynamicPlaceholders" %>

and the codebehind. Since FixDynamicPlaceholders.aspx is admin tool page - codebehind is inherited from Sitecore.sitecore.admin.AdminPage:

public partial class FixDynamicPlaceholders : AdminPage
{
    protected void Page_Load(object sender, EventArgs e)
    {
        var fixRenderings = new DynamicPlaceholdersModifyService();
        var result = fixRenderings.Iterate();

        OutputResult(result);
    }

    private void OutputResult(Dictionary<Item, List<KeyValuePair<string, string>>> result)
    {
        Response.ContentType = "text/html";

        Response.Write($"<h1>{result.Count} items processed</h1>");
        foreach (var pair in result)
        {
            Response.Write($"<h3>{pair.Key.Paths.FullPath}</h3>");

            foreach (var kvp in pair.Value)
            {
                if (kvp.Key != kvp.Value)
                {
                    Response.Write($"<div>{kvp.Key} ==> {kvp.Value}</div>");
                }
            }
        }
    }
}

Finally, it is complete. Hope this helps someone!

P.S. of course, that would be easier (and more elegant) to perform with Sitecore PowerShell extension. But unfortunately I am the only person in the organisation who uses it regardless of my promotional activity.

Sitecore 8: Federated Experience Manager - what is all about?

One of the greatest features of Sitecore 8 is Federated Experience Manager (FXM). What is FXM about and how can it help us?

Previously we had Page Editor - the tool allowing content editors to author and save content inline, right on the page. It also offered other flexible options to operate with non-visible content of features that cannot be edited inline (ie. Edit Frames), also do customisation (A/B multivariate testing), personalisation on rule-based criteria and much more. So far, so good.

In Sitecore 8, Page Editor was replaced with a new feature called Experience Editor (EE). EE is not just a rename for Page Editor, despite it does all the same old good features, it brings great new opportunities in chain with FXM.

With FXM it is now possible to customise any other website page, not only those coming from Sitecore, but even any PHP or just static HTML. And further on, with EE it is now possible to do all good old Page Editor features, such as replace content on external website, create placeholders and append sitecore components there, apply personalisation, set goals etc.

Sounds fantastic and impossible? Not as much - all that is working out box now, and moreover is very simple. Let's take a look on how that works and what is involved.


FXM is an applications shipped out of box and is available from Launchpad - just a usual SPEAK application. As soon as it loads, you'll get a management screen to register external websites. Clicking Add External Website will load you the following screen:


What is required on that step is to provide a hostname for external website and add one line of code into external website pages - a javascript reference for a beacon:


So, it stands obvious that you need to have an access to modify the code of pages on that website. Normally you'd do that for all pages, so it makes sense to modify some master layout or any sort of global header.

One important thing to note: external html should be properly formed, otherwise there will be an error. Saying properly formed I mean just opening and closing tags for html head and body, as minimal as:

<!DOCTYPE html>
<html lang="en" xmlns="http://www.w3.org/1999/xhtml">
    <head></head>
    <body></body>
</html>
After that done - it becomes possible to open that external website with Experience Editor. And here you can perform:
  • tracking of external website into xDB
  • create placeholders before, after or instead certain html elements on external website
  • having Sitecore-controlled placeholders it is now possible to append components from Sitecore there
  • components from Sitecore can be literary everything, even WFFM forms (however not yet in current version)
  • cleaning up, replacing or extending original content from external website
  • apply customisation and / or personalisation to external content, controllable from Sitecore
  • set goals


It is essential to understand that those features work due cross site scripting called CORS, so certain limitations should be taken off, other wise it won't work

After site has been created at /sitecore/system/Marketing Control Panel/FXM/External you need to open that node and create a rule in order to match the same domain. Without doing that it would work only in Experience Editor, but not on the live website.



When opening external website it in Experience Editor, click on Add Placeholder button twice (to get it activated), then click first paragraph. You will see it identified as div with three options on how to insert a Sitecore-controllable placeholder: before, after or replace that div element. Let's choose after, in order to implement sitecore controllable rendering in between those two paragraphs on external website:

After choosing where exactly to implement a placeholder, you'll be prompted to enter placeholder name and select parent website:


Note: licensing is important to mention. FXM works only with new license issued with Sitecore 8, so if you have license file from one of previous versions, it would not have appropriate permission (Sitecore.Federated Experience) for running FXM. For some reasons Sitecore did not implement obvious message telling that you are not able to set a placeholder externally because of license. I spent decent time previously trying to understand why that did not work for me. Please find more details in my answer on StackOverflow for that question.

Once done, there will be last screen, showing newly created placeholder exactly in between those two paragraphs and offering to append a rendering to it:


To make things easier, I have just slightly modified Sample Rendering that comes with Sitecore, so that it now looks like that:
<?xml version="1.0" encoding="UTF-8"?>
<xsl:stylesheet version="1.0"
  xmlns:xsl="http://www.w3.org/1999/XSL/Transform"
  xmlns:sc="http://www.sitecore.net/sc"
  xmlns:sql="http://www.sitecore.net/sql"
  exclude-result-prefixes="sc sql">
  <xsl:output method="html" indent="no" encoding="UTF-8"  />

  <xsl:template match="*">
    <div>
      <h3>FXM-powered placeholder</h3>
      <span>This content comes from Sitecore and is editable with Experience Editor. 
      Other cool features as personalization are also available with FXM.</span>
      <br/><br/>
    </div>
    
  </xsl:template>
</xsl:stylesheet>
That's mostly done! Do not forget to publish your site definition (under FXM node) with children (there will be placeholder item we've just created) to content delivery environment in order to work there. Let's now test it! I enter http://external into a browser and get exactly what expected - there is a sitecore controllable placeholder in between the paragraphs and it has a rendering being set into it:



Opening that in any dev. tools like Firebug will show the following nice and clean code has been rendered: