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Staging is an important feature of Liferay WCM. The concept of staging is a simple one: you can modify your site behind the scenes and then publish all your updates in one shot. You don’t want users seeing your web site change before their eyes as you’re modifying it, do you? Liferay’s staging environment allows you to make changes to your site in a specialized staging area. When you’re finished, you can publish all your site changes at once.

Liferay provides site administrators with two different ways to set up staging: Local Live and Remote Live. With Local Live staging, both your staging environment and your live environment are hosted on the same server. When Local Live staging is enabled for a site, a clone of the site is created containing copies of all of the site’s existing pages. Portlet data is also copied, depending on which portlets are selected when staging is enabled. The cloned site becomes the staging environment and the original site becomes the live environment.

When Remote Live staging is enabled for a site, a connection is established between the current site and another site on a remote Liferay server. The remote site becomes the live environment and the current site becomes the staging environment–an instance of Liferay Portal used solely for staging. Content creators can use the staging server to make their changes while the live server handles the incoming user traffic. When changes to the site are ready to be published, they are pushed over the network to the remote live server. Whether you enable Local Live or Remote Live staging, the interface for managing and publishing staged pages is the same.

So when should you use Local Live staging and when should you use Remote Live Staging? Local Live staging allows you to publish site changes very quickly, since the staged and live environments are on the same server. It’s also easier to switch between the staged and live environments using Local Live staging. However, since the staged content is stored in the same database as the production content, the content isn’t as well protected or backed up as with Remote Live staging. Also, you can’t install new versions of portlets for testing purposes in a Local Live staging environment since only one version of a portlet can be installed at any given time on a single Liferay server.

With Remote Live staging, your staging and live environments are hosted on separate servers. This allows you to deploy new versions of portlets and content to your staging environment without worrying about interfering with your live environment. With Remote Live staging, you can also use one Liferay instance as the staging server for multiple production servers. However, publishing is slower with Remote Live than with Local Live since data needs to be transferred over a network. And, of course, you need more hardware to run a separate staging server.

Liferay also offers the Page Versioning feature. This feature works with both Local Live and Remote Live staging and allows site administrators to create multiple variations of staged pages. This allows several different versions of sites and pages to be developed at the same time. Variations can be created, merged, and published using a Git-like versioning system. Let’s jump in to see how to use staging.

Enabling Local Live Staging

Site administrators can enable Staging for a site via the Site Settings UI. To reach this interface, navigate to the Site AdministrationConfiguration page of your site, make sure Site Settings is highlighted in the left menu, and click on Staging listed under the Advanced tab. Under Staging Type, select either Local Live or Remote Live and additional options appear. Staging allows changes to be made in a staging environment so that work can be reviewed, possibly using a workflow, before it’s published to a live site. Enabling Local Live staging is easy. Just select Local Live and decide whether you’d like to enable page versioning. You can enable page versioning on a site’s public pages, private pages, both, or neither. Page versioning allows you to work in parallel on different versions of pages and maintains a history of all page modifications. We discuss page versioning in more detail below.

Enabling Remote Live Staging

When you enable Remote Live staging, the remote site becomes the live environment and the current site becomes the staging environment. The remote (live) Liferay server and the local (staging) Liferay server should be completely separate systems. They should not, for example, share the same the database. When Remote Live staging is enabled, all the necessary information is transferred over the network connecting the two servers.

Before a site administrator can enable Remote Live staging for a site, the remote Liferay server must be added to the current Liferay server’s list of allowed servers. The current Liferay server must also be added to the remote Liferay server’s list of allowed servers. You also need to specify an authentication key to be shared by your current and your remote server and enable each Liferay server’s tunneling servlet authentication verifier. You can make all of these configurations in your Liferay servers’ portal-ext.properties files. Your first step should be to add the following lines to your current Liferay server’s portal-ext.properties file:

tunnel.servlet.hosts.allowed=127.0.0.1,SERVER_IP,[Remote server IP address]
axis.servlet.hosts.allowed=127.0.0.1,SERVER_IP,192.168.0.16,[Remote server IP address]
tunneling.servlet.shared.secret=[secret]
auth.verifier.TunnelingServletAuthVerifier.hosts.allowed=

Then add the following lines to your remote Liferay server’s portal-ext.properties file:

tunnel.servlet.hosts.allowed=127.0.0.1,SERVER_IP,[Local server IP address]
axis.servlet.hosts.allowed=127.0.0.1,SERVER_IP,192.168.0.16,[Local server IP address]
tunneling.servlet.shared.secret=[secret]
auth.verifier.TunnelingServletAuthVerifier.hosts.allowed=

Liferay’s use of a pre-shared key between your staging and production environments helps secure the remote publication process. It also removes the need to send the publishing user’s password to the remote server for web service authentication. Using a pre-shared key allows Liferay to create an authorization context (permission checker) from the provided email address, screen name, or user ID without the user’s password.

The values that you can specify for the tunneling.servlet.shared.secret property depend on the configured encryption algorithm, since different encryption algorithms support keys of different lengths. Please see the HTTP Tunneling properties documentation for more information. Note that the following key lengths are supported by the available encryption algorithms:

  • AES: 128, 192, and 256 bit keys
  • Blowfish: 32 - 448 bit keys
  • DESede (Triple DES): 56, 112, or 168 bit keys (However, Liferay places an artificial limit on the minimum key length and does not support the 56 bit key length)

To prevent potential character encoding issues, you can use one of the following two strategies:

  1. Use hexadecimal encoding (recommended). E.g., if your password was abcdefghijklmnop, you’d use the following settings in your portal-ext.properties file:

    tunneling.servlet.shared.secret=6162636465666768696a6b6c6d6e6f70
    tunneling.servlet.shared.secret.hex=true
    
  2. Use printable ASCII characters (less secure). This degrades the password entropy.

    If you don’t use hexadecimal encoding, i.e. if you use the default setting tunneling.servlet.shared.secret.hex=false, the value of the tunneling.servlet.shared.secret property must be ASCII compliant.

Once you’ve chosen a key, make sure that value of your current server matches the value of your remote server.

Remember to restart both Liferay servers after making these portal properties updates. After restarting, log back in to your local Liferay portal instance as a site administrator. Then navigate to the Site AdministrationConfiguration page for your site. Next, click on Site Settings in the left menu and then on Staging listed under the Advanced tab. Select Remote Live under Staging Type and additional options appear.

remote-live-staging-settings.png

Figure 3.20: After your remote Liferay server and local Liferay server have been configured to communicate with each other, you have to specify a few Remote Live connection settings.

First, enter your remote Liferay server’s IP address into the Remote Host/IP field. If the remote Liferay server is a cluster, you can set the Remote Host/IP to the load balanced IP address of the cluster in order to increase the availability of the publishing process. Next, enter the port on which the remote Liferay instance is running into the Remote Port field. You only need to enter a Remote Path Context if a non-root portal servlet context is being used on the remote Liferay server. Finally, enter the site ID of the site on the remote Liferay server that will be used for the Live environment. If a site hasn’t already been prepared for you on the remote Liferay server, you can log in to the remote Liferay server and create a new blank site. After the site has been created, note the site ID so you can enter it into the Remote Site ID field on your local Liferay server. You can find any site’s ID by selecting Actions → Edit next to the site’s name on the Sites page of the Control Panel. Finally, it’s best to check the Use a Secure Network Connection field to use HTTPS for the publication of pages from your local (staging) Liferay server to your remote (live) Liferay server.

That’s all you need to do to enable Remote Live Staging! Note that if you fail to set the tunneling servlet shared secret or the values of these properties on your current and remote servers don’t match, you won’t be able to enable staging and an error message appears. When a user attempts to publish changes from the local (staging) server to the remote (live) server, Liferay passes the user’s email address, screen name, or user ID to the remote server to perform a permission check. In order for a publishing operation to succeed, the operation must be performed by a user that has identical credentials and permissions on both the local (staging) and the remote (live) server. This is true regardless of whether the user attempts to publish the changes immediately or attempts to schedule the publication for later.

If only a few users should have permission to publish changes from staging to production, it’s easy enough to create a few user accounts on the remote server that match a selected few on the local server. However, the more user accounts that you have to create, the more tedious this job becomes and the more likely you are to make a mistake. And you not only have to create identical user accounts, you also have to ensure that these users have identical permissions. For this reason, we recommend that you use LDAP to copy selected user accounts from your local (staging) Liferay server to your remote (live) Liferay server. Liferay’s Virtual LDAP Server application (EE-only), available on Liferay Marketplace, makes this easy.

Next, you’ll learn how to configure your portal to use IPv6 addresses for Remote Live Staging.

Validating IPv6 Addresses

If your portal is set up to validate IPv6 addresses, you’ll need to configure your Remote Live Connection Settings. Restart your Liferay instance and navigate back to the Staging page. Select the Remote Live radio selector and specify the fields for your remote site. The Remote Host/IP field should match the host you specified as your tunnel.servlet.hosts.allowed property in the portal-ext.properties file (e.g., [0:0:0:0:0:0:0:1]). Make sure to include the brackets. Fill in the rest of the information relevant to your site and click Save.

To check if the remote site is running on an IPv6 address, add a new portlet to the staged site, and then select StagingPublish to Remote Live from the Dockbar. The changes are published to your remote staged site.

Your portal instance now validates the IPv6 address you specified for your remote live site. Great job!

Next, you’ll learn how to enable local live staging.

Example: Enabling Local Live Staging

Let’s create a Local Live staging environment for the Lunar Resort home page. Before we begin, let’s add a new page. Click Add → Page from the left side menu in the default site and name the new page News and Events. Next, click News and Events to view the page. Then add the Alerts and Announcements portlets to the News and Events page.

When you activate staging Local Live staging, Liferay creates a clone of your site. This clone became the staging environment. Because of this, we recommend only activating staging on new, clean sites. Having a few pages and some portlets (like those of the example site we’ve created) is no big deal. However, if you have already created a large amount of content you might not be able to enable staging on that site. Also, if you intend to use page versioning to track the history of updates to your site, we recommend that you enable it as early as possible, before your site has many pages and lots of content. Your site’s update history won’t be saved until you enable page versioning. Page versioning requires staging (either Local Live or Remote Live) to be enabled.

Now you’re ready to activate staging for this site. Go to AdminSite AdministrationConfigurationSite Settings and select Staging from under the Advanced heading. We’ll assume you don’t have a separate staging server, so select the Local Live staging type. If you do have a separate server to use for staging, follow the instructions in the previous section for configuring it and your local server for remote staging. Either way, once you make a selection (either Local Live or Remote Live), more options become available for page versioning and staged portlets.

Enabling Page Versioning and Staged Portlets

Enabling page versioning for a site allows site administrators to work in parallel on multiple versions of the site’s pages. Page versioning also maintains a history of all updates to the site from the time page versioning was enabled. Site administrators can revert to a previous version of the site at any time. This flexibility is very important in cases where a mistake is found and it’s important to quickly publish a fix. If you’re following the Lunar Resort example, check Enabled On Public Pages to enable page versioning for the Lunar Resort site and then click Save.

04-web-content-staging.png

Figure 3.21: You can decide to use versioning and choose what content should be staged.

Before you activate staging, you can choose which portlets’ data should be copied to staging. We’ll cover many of the collaboration portlets listed under the Staged Portlets heading when we come to the Collaboration Suite chapter. For now, you just need to be aware that you can enable or disable staging for any of these portlets. Why might you want to enable staging for some portlet types but not others? In the case of collaborative portlets, you probably don’t want to enable staging since such portlets are designed for user interaction. If their content were staged, you’d have to manually publish your site whenever somebody posted a message on the message boards to make that message appear on the live site. Generally, you’ll want web content to be staged because end users aren’t creating that kind of content–web content is the stuff you publish to your site. But portlets like the Message Boards or Wiki would likely benefit from not being staged. Notice which portlets are marked for staging by default: if you enable staging and accept the defaults, staging is not enabled for the collaborative portlets.

Using the Staging Environment

After enabling staging (either Local Live or Remote Live) for a site, you’ll notice a colored bar with some new menus on the Dockbar when you navigate to the site. These new menus help us manage staged pages. You’ll also notice that most of your page management options have been removed, because now you can’t directly edit live pages. You now must use the staging environment to make changes. Click on the Staging button to view the staged area. Your management options are restored and you can access some new options related to staging. If you’re following along with the Lunar Resort example, navigate back to the News and Events page and click on Staging to get your page editing capabilities back.

04-web-content-staging-live-page.png

Figure 3.22: You can see the new staging options added to the top of your screen.

Add the Bookmarks portlet and then click on Live from the Dockbar. Notice that the Bookmarks portlet isn’t there. That’s because you’ve staged a change to the page but haven’t published that change yet to the live site. Go back to the staged page and click on the Staging drop-down menu to look at the options you have available. From here you have many options to choose from to help in your staging conquest.

Manage Site Pages Variations: allows you to work in parallel on multiple versions of a staged site page. We’ll explain this later.

Manage Page Variations: allows you to work in parallel on multiple versions of a staged page. We’ll explain this later.

Undo/Redo: allows you to step back/forward through recent changes to a page, which can save you the time of manually adding or removing portlets if you make a mistake.

History: shows you the list of revisions of the page, based on publication dates. You can go to any change in the revision history and see how the pages looked at that point.

Mark as Ready for Publication: After you’re done making changes to the staged page, click this button. The status of the page changes from Draft to Ready for Publication and any changes you’ve made can be published to the Live Site. When you publish a page to live, only the version which was Marked as Ready for Publication is published.

The Publish to Live button gives you the option to publish to Live Now or Schedule a publication to Live.

Now: immediately pushes any changes to the Live Site.

Schedule: lets you set a specific date to publish or to set up recurring publishing. You could use this, for example, to publish all changes made during the week every Monday morning without any further intervention.

The Publish to Live button also gives you options to select pages, applications, content, and permissions. Furthermore, you’re given the Current and Previous and Scheduled tabs. The Current and Previous tab lets you view past publications along with their authors and create/completion dates. The Scheduled tab lets you view what publication processes are scheduled for publishing.

Pages gives you the option to choose which pages to include when you publish. You can see the default settings in the gray text below the header. Click the Change button to configure these options to suite your needs.

Application Configuration allows you to select which applications you want to publish. Select the Choose Applications radio button to configure the applications and settings to be published.

Content allows you to configure the content to be published. Clicking the select option under All Content allows you to delete the portlet metadata before publishing. Clicking the Choose Content option lets you filter the content to be published, based mainly on the date range and content type. There are other filtering sub-options for certain content types. Next, you’ll look at these content filtering options.

The Date Range feature provides you with another way to select specific content to publish. Specifying a date range allows you to choose content to publish based on when it was created or last modified. You can change the date range by clicking the Change button next to it. You have several options to choose from:

All: publishes content regardless of its creation or last modification date.

From Last Publish Date: publishes content that was created or modified since the last publish date. This is the default option.

Date Range: publishes content based on a specified date range. You can set a start and end date/time window. The content created or modified within that window of time is published.

Last: publishes content based on a set amount of time since the current time. For example, you can set the date range to the past 48 hours, starting from the current time.

Under the Date Range section, you have a section that shows the different types of content that can be published. This list is populated based on the provided date range. For example, if at least one article has been created or modified in the given date range, a Web Content section appears in the list, and the number of articles is shown next to the Web Content label. Otherwise, the Web Content section is absent.

Categories and OpenSocial Gadget Publisher content types are not dependent on the date range, and are always shown in the list.

Unchecking the checkbox next to a certain content type excludes it from the current publication to Live.

Some of the content types in the list, like Web Content and Documents and Media, have further filtering options related to them. For instance, when the Web Content section is present and checked, it shows a comma-separated list of related items to be published, including the articles themselves. A sample list of related items for web content might look like this: Web Content(12), Structures(3), Referenced Content, Version History. You can remove items by clicking the Change button next to the list.

Referenced Content is represented by the Documents and Media files included in web content articles. Documents and Media content gets referenced when a user uses the editor to insert an image or if the article is based on a structure that has a field of the Documents and Media type.

Web content tends to be frequently updated, often more so than other kinds of content. Sometimes this can result in high numbers of versions, into the hundreds. This makes it take a long time to publish these articles. Liferay addresses this issue by allowing you to choose whether or not to publish the Version History, or the past versions of the web content articles to be published. If you disable this option, only the last approved version of each web content article is published to Live. This can significantly speed up the publication process.

web-content-version-history-box.png

Figure 3.23: Click the Change button and uncheck the version history box to only publish the latest approved version of web content articles that have multiple versions.

You can set this option globally. There is a portal property, journal.publish.version.history.by.default, that sets the default behavior. The default value is true, so site administrators must manually uncheck the Version History box to publish only the latest approved version of web content articles. To change the default behavior, change the property to false in your portal-ext.properties file.

When the Documents and Media section is present (because at least one document has been created or modified in the provided date range), you can disable the transfer to live of the previews and thumbnails associated with the documents to be published. This can also speed up publication time.

Permissions allows you to include permissions for the pages and portlets when the changes are published.

Now that you have an idea of the available staging options, click Mark as Ready for Publication, and then click Publish to LiveNow. Select Publish to publish your Bookmarks portlet to the live site.

Content publication can be also controlled using staging. Bookmarks are staged by default (this can be changed in Staging Configuration). If you create a bookmark in the staged site, it isn’t visible in the live site until you publish it to the live site. If workflow is enabled for any new resource, the resource needs to go through the workflow process before it can be published to the live site.

04-web-content-staging-publish.png

Figure 3.24: Ready to publish to the live site.

One of the most powerful features of staging is page variations. Let’s see how to use them to create multiple different variations of your site’s pages for different purposes.

Using Site Pages Variations

Let’s say you’re working on a product-oriented site where you’ll have several major changes to a page or a set of pages over a short period of time. Also you need to be working on multiple versions of the site at the same time to ensure everything has been properly reviewed before it goes live. With staging in Liferay 6.2 you can do this using Page Variations.

For example, you can create several page variations, enabling the marketing team to give your site a completely different look and feel for Christmas. At the same time, the product management team can work on a different version that will be published the day after Christmas for the launching of a new product. Additionally, the product management team is considering two different ideas for the home page of the site, so they can create several page variations of the home page inside their product launch site.

Variations only affect pages and not the content, which means all the existing content in your staging site is shared by all your variations. In different site page variations you can have different logos, different look and feel for your pages, different applications on these pages, different configuration of these applications and even different pages. One page can exist in just one site page variation or in several of them.

By default, we only have one site page variation which is called Main Variation. To create a new one, use the dropdown next to the Staging link and click on Manage Site Pages Variations. This brings you to a list of the existing site page variations for your site. Click Add Site Pages Variation to create a new one. From the Add Site Pages Variation screen, you can set a Name, Description, and also set your new variation to copy the content from an existing variation. There are several options to choose in this selector.

All Site Pages Variations: creates a new variation that contains the last version marked as ready for publication from any single page existing in any other variation.

None (Empty Site Pages Variation): creates a new, empty variation.

Main Variation: creates a new site page variation that contains only the last version of all the pages that exist in this variation. The current variation must be marked as ready for publication.

You are also able to rename any variation. For example, edit the Main Variation and change its name to something that makes more sense in your site, such as Basic, Master, Regular and create a variation for Christmas.

You can switch between different variations by clicking on them from the staging menu bar. It’s also possible to set permissions on each variation, so certain users have access to manage some, but not all variations.

You can now go to the home page of your Christmas variation and change the logo, apply a new theme, move portlets around, change the order of the pages and configure different portlets. The other variations won’t be affected. You can even delete existing pages or add new ones (remember to Mark as Ready for Publication when you are finished with your changes).

When you delete a page, it is deleted only in the current variation. The same happens when you add a new page. If you try to access a page which was deleted in the current variation, Liferay informs you this page is not enabled in this variation and you must enable it. To enable it, navigate to the Site AdministrationPagesSite Pages screen. Here all the existing pages for all the variations are shown in a tree. Pages not enabled for the current variation are shown in a lighter color. You can also access Staging options from the Site Pages screen by clicking the Staging drop-down menu located above the pages tree.

To publish a variation to the live site, click on Publish to LivePublish in the dropdown next to the variation name. Publications can also be scheduled independently for different variations. For example, you could have a variation called Mondays which is published to the live site every Monday and another one called Day 1 which is published to the live site every first day of each month.

You can also have variations for a single page inside a site page variation, which allows you to work in parallel in different versions of a page. For example, you might work on two different proposals for the design of the home page for the Christmas variation. These page variations only exist inside a site Page variation.

To create a new page variation, click Manage Page Variations on the staging toolbar. This brings you to a list of existing page variations for the current page (by default, there is only one called Main Variation). You can create more or rename the existing one. You can switch between different page variations using the toolbar containing the page variations below the site pages variations toolbar. When you decide which page variation should be published, mark it as Ready for Publication. Only one page variation can be marked as ready for publication and that is the one that gets published to the live site.

For example, we could create a page variation called Thanksgiving for the News and Events page inside of the Christmas variation and another one called Christmas Day to display different content on those particular days.

04-web-content-branch-thanksgiving.png

Figure 3.25: This is an example of a Thanksgiving Page Variation.

Another powerful feature is the possibility of merging Site Pages Variations. To merge two Site Pages Variations, you need to go to the Manage Site Pages Variations screen. From there, click on Merge on the Site Pages Variation you want to use as the base. You will be asked to choose the Site Pages Variation to merge on top of it. Merging works in the following way:

  • New pages that don’t exist in the base Variation, will be added.
  • If a page exists in both Site Pages variations, and at least one version of the page was marked as ready for publication, then the latest version marked as ready will be added as a new Page Variation in the target page of the base Variation. (Note that older versions or page variations not marked as ready for publication won’t be copied. However, merge can be executed as many times as needed and will create the needed pages variations in the appropriate page of the base Site Pages Variation).
  • Merging does not affect content nor will overwrite anything in the base Variation, it will just add more versions, pages and page variations as needed.

Let’s finish our discussion of staging by outlining a few more features.

Wrapping up Staging

You can enable staging on an individual site basis, depending on your needs. This makes it easy to put strict controls in place for your public web site, while opening things up for individual sites that don’t need such strict controls. Liferay’s staging environment is extremely easy to use and makes maintaining a content-rich web site a snap.

Let’s examine teams next.

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