Extending and customizing Liferay

Liferay provides many out-of-the-box features, including a fully featured content management system, a social collaboration suite, and several productivity tools. For most installations, these features are exactly what you need; but sometimes you’ll want to extend these features or customize their behavior and appearance.

Liferay is designed to be customized. Multiple plugins and plugin types can be combined into a single WAR file. Let’s take a look at these plugin types and how they can be used.

Customizing the look and feel: Themes

Themes let you dictate your site’s look and feel. You can specify color schemes and commonly used images. You’ll apply styling for UI elements such as fonts, links, navigation elements, page headers, and page footers, using a combination of CSS and Velocity or FreeMarker templates. With Liferay’s Alloy UI API framework, you use a consistent interface to common UI elements that make up your page. This makes it easy to create sites that respond well to the window widths of your users’ desktop, tablet, and mobile devices. Most importantly, themes let you focus on designing your site’s UI, while leaving its functionality to the portlets.

Adding new predefined page layouts: Layout Templates

Layouts are similar to themes, except they specify the arrangement of portlets on a page rather than their look and feel. You can create custom layout templates to arrange portlets just the way you like them. And you can even embed commonly used portlets. Like themes, layout templates are also written in Velocity and are hot-deployable.

Customizing or extending the out-of-box functionality: Hook plugins

Hook plugins are how you customize the core functionality of Liferay at many predefined extension points. Hook plugins are used to modify portal properties or to perform custom actions on startup, shutdown, login, logout, session creation, and session destruction. Using service wrappers, a hook plugin can replace any of the core Liferay services with a custom implementation. Hook plugins can also replace the JSP templates used by any of the default portlets. Best of all, hooks are hot-deployable plugins just like portlets.

Advanced customization: Ext plugins

Ext plugins provide the largest degree of flexibility in modifying the Liferay core, allowing you to replace essentially any class with a custom implementation. However, it is highly unlikely that an Ext plugin written for one version of Liferay will continue to work in the next version without modification. For this reason, Ext plugins are only recommended for cases in which an advanced customization is truly necessary, and there is no alternative. Make sure you are familiar with the Liferay core so your Ext plugin doesn’t negatively effect existing funcitonality. Even though Ext plugins are deployed as plugins, the server must be restarted for their customizations to take effect.

Now that you’re familiar with the best options for developing applications on Liferay and customizing Liferay, let’s consider some of the tools you’ll be using.

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