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Building a site with Liferay Web Content

When you log into Liferay and look at its default screen, one thing should jump out at you right away: it’s built for all clients that access the web, not just desktop browsers.

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Figure 1.1: When designing pages, Liferay includes a preview that lets you see how it would look when displayed at resolutions for computers, tablets, and phones.

Another thing to notice is that all the page controls are right there for you. For example, to add something, you click the + button, and then you can add any kind of content Liferay supports. The interface–particularly in Liferay 6.2–has been designed to get out of your way and let you do your work.

Liferay WCM scales to work for the tiniest of sites all the way up to the largest of sites. For example, you can click that Add button, choose Web Content Article, and immediately start typing content into a WYSIWYG editor, in place. Or you can set up Liferay Portal to host many different web sites, all with their own domain names. Each site can take advantage of a separate staging server, where content and pages are created by teams of people using structures and templates, and updates to the production server are published on a schedule, only after having gone through a multi-step approval process.

That’s powerful.

By default, Liferay Portal starts with a single site that has a single page. You can build any website you wish out of this, complete with multi-nested page hierarchies, as the figure below shows.

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Figure 1.2: Liferay’s page hierarchies are easy to create, using a tree structure that’s familiar to anyone who has used a file manager.

These pages can have any layout you like: Liferay Portal ships with several built-in, and you can create your own custom layouts and deploy them easily. Pages can be added, removed, or reordered any time, and you have the full flexibility of all the HTML page attributes, such as meta tags and robot file declarations, that you need.

Pages are also integrated with Liferay’s powerful permissions system, so it’s easy to restrict access to certain portions of your site. You can give individual users sites of their own, with public pages that have their content and blog, and private pages that contain their calendars and email.

If you’re running a large website that has lots of different sub-sites for individuals and groups, you can use page templates and site templates. The former enables you to set up templates of pages with predefined layouts and applications already on them, and the latter enables you to create a whole site made up of multiple, predefined pages.

There’s even more. If you have a very large site, you might need multiple people to work on it. And you certainly don’t want the live site changing before your users’ eyes. For that reason, Liferay Portal provides a feature called staging that lets you place your changes in a holding area while they’re being worked on. You can have a local staging server, where the staged site resides on the same server as the live site, or you can have a remote staging server, where all web content work happens on a separate server from your live site. In either case, when you’re ready, site changes can be pushed to the live site, either manually or on a schedule.

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Figure 1.3: Staging supports publishing manually or on a schedule.

Liferay Portal’s web content creation tools are easy and intuitive to use at all levels. If you need only basic content management capabilities for your site, you can jump right in. You can add the Web Content Display application anywhere in your page layout and enter content in place. It’s easy to go from this basic level of content management to more sophisticated levels of functionality.

For example, suppose you wanted to build a news-oriented site. Most of the content you’ll publish is an article of some kind. Liferay’s web content management system lets you create a structure for this, so that you can capture all the information from your writers that you’d need in an article. The figure below shows what this structure might look like to a journalist who’d be entering his or her article into the system.

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Figure 1.4: Structures allow you to specify exactly the type of data that makes up your content. You can also include tooltips to help your users understand what each field is for.

As you can see, you can use structures to make sure writers provide the title of the story, what type of story it will be, and the byline (i.e., the writer’s name). You’ve made sure that all the relevant information for the story is captured in the system.

Web content is one example of an asset. Assets can have meta-data attached to them, and that meta-data is used to aggregate similar assets together in searches or as published content. One way to do this in the example above is to tag and categorize stories so they can be found more easily by users.

This is just one example, of course. But the concept is applicable to any kind of site you’d want to build. For example, if you were building a site for a zoo, you could use web content structures to help users enter data about animals in the zoo, such as their common names, their scientific names, their species, their locations in the wild, and more.

When it comes time to publish content, structures are combined with templates. Templates are instructions for how to display structures, written most of the time in Freemarker or Velocity–both of which are well-known templating languages used for mixing HTML with programmatic elements. Because of this, they’re very easy to write and can help you ensure that your site has a consistent look and feel.

There is much more to web content. You can create abstracts, schedule when content is published and when it should be taken down (or reviewed), define related assets, and more.

This is just the web content portion of Liferay’s content management system. Liferay Portal is also great at managing file-based content.

Keeping track of documents, images, video, and more

It’s rare to find in an open source project a full-featured content management system. Most of the time, you’ll find web content management systems and file-based content management systems as separate projects. Liferay Portal, however, provides you with both. As shown above, the web content management system is as robust as any other you’ll find, and its file-based content management system is the same.

Liferay Portal keeps the UI of its file-based content management system in an application called Documents and Media Library. This application resides on the Site Administration page or can be added to any page, and, as shown below, looks very much like the file manager that you’re already familiar with from your operating system.

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Figure 1.5: Liferay Portal’s Documents and Media library was purposefully designed to be familiar to anyone who uses a computer.

Like a file manager, you can browse files and folders in nested hierarchies. You can also mount other repositories that you might have in your environment, such as Documentum (enterprise subscribers only) or any system that implements Content Management Interoperability Services (CMIS). It provides previews of just about every document type you can think of. And, like a file manager, you can upload, copy, and move files between folders by dragging and dropping them. Of course, if you still want to use your operating system’s file manager, you can, because Liferay’s Documents and Media library supports WebDAV, using the same credentials you use to log in to Liferay.

Liferay Portal’s Documents and Media library, however, is much more robust than a file manager is, because it’s a full content management system. You can define ways of classifying files that may be of different types, but are meant for the same, overarching purpose.

For example, metadata sets, are groups of fields describing attributes of a file. One that ships with the product is called meeting metadata, and it contains fields such as Meeting Name, Date, Time, Location, Description, and Participants. This is a generic set of fields that go together and that you’d want to use as a group. You can create as many of these as you want.

For files, you can define document types. They provide a more natural way of working with files. For example, you might create a document type called Meeting Minutes. The file format doesn’t matter: whether it’s a Microsoft Word document, an HTML file, or a text file, the document contains meeting minutes. Once you’ve created the document type, you can attach the Meeting Metadata set that contains many of the fields you’d want, and you can also add extra fields, such as a field for action items. When users want to add files containing their notes for meeting minutes, they can also add all the relevant metadata about the meeting (such as the time, location, and action items). This captures the context information that goes with the document, and it provides a much more natural way of working with documents than just dumping them into a shared file system.

Of course, the system goes much further than this. Folders can be set so that only certain document types can be added to them. Workflow rules can also be added to folders to run files through an approval process that you define. In short, Liferay’s file-based content management system gives you all the features you need to manage and share files in a group.

Many Liferay Portal users see it as a robust content management system, and they use it primarily for that purpose. Now, hopefully, you can see why. We’ll cover the system in-depth in the body of this book, but for now we need to look at some of the other ways you can use Liferay Portal, starting with its fantastic collaborative tools.

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