Tag: Sitecore 9

Managing Redirects in Sitecore

One of the most important aspects if not the most important aspect to managing a website is SEO. It doesn’t matter how good your website is, it doesn’t really matter if nobody can find it. Creating good SEO is a lot about having pages match what users are searching for, which then results in a high ranking for those pages. However, a second part to this formula is what happens with a page when it no longer exists. For instance, one day this blog post may no longer be relevant to have on our site, but up until that point search engines will have crawled it, people will have posted links to it and all of this adds to its value which we would to lose should it be removed. An even simpler scenario could be that we rename the blog section to something else and the page still exists under a different URL, but links to it no longer work.

Fortunately, the internet has a way of dealing with this and it’s in the form of a 301 redirect. 301 redirect are an instruction to anyone visiting the URL that the page has permanently moved to a different URL. When you set up a 301 redirect it achieves two things. Firstly, users following a link to your site end up on a relevant page rather a generic page not found message. Secondly search engines recrawling your site update their index with the new page and transfer all the associated value. So, to avoid losing any value associated with a page, whenever you move, rename or remove a page you should also set up a redirect.

Sitecore

Given how important redirects are it’s then surprising that an enterprise CMS platform like Sitecore doesn’t come with a universal way to set redirects up out of the box.

Typically, when we’ve taken over a site one of the support requests we will eventually receive is a question surrounding setting up a redirect from a marketer who’s ended up on Sitecore’s documentation site and is confused why they can’t find any of the things in this article https://doc.sitecore.com/users/sxa/17/sitecore-experience-accelerator/en/map-a-url-redirect.html.

The article appears to suggest that creating redirects is a feature that is supported, however it’s only available to sites built using Sitecore Experience Accelerator rather than the traditional approach.

More often that not, the developers who created the site will have added 301 redirect functionalities but will have done it using the IIS Redirect module, which while serves the purpose of creating redirects does not provide a Sitecore interface for doing so.

301 Redirect Module

Fortunately, there are some open source modules available which add the missing feature to Sitecore. The one we typically work with is neatly named 301 Redirect Module.

Once installed the module can be found in the System > Modules folder. Clicking on the Redirects folder will give you the option to either create another Redirect Folder to help group your redirect into more manageable folders, Redirect URL, Redirect Pattern or Redirect Rule.

This is by far the most common redirect to be set up. You specify an exact URL that is to be redirected and set the destination as either another exact URL or a Sitecore item. There’s even an option to choose if it should be a permanent or temporary redirect.

Redirect patterns are slightly more complex and require some knowledge of being able to write regular expressions. However, these are most useful if you ever want to move an entire section of your site. Rather than creating rules for each of the pages under a particular page, one rule can redirect all of them. Not only does this save time when creating the redirects, but it also makes your list of redirects far more manageable.

Auto Generated Rules

One of my favourite features of the 301 Redirect Module is that it can auto generate rules for any pages you move. For instance, if you decide a sub-page should become a top-level page moving it will result in a rule automatically being generated without you having to do a thing.

Summary

A marketer’s ability to manage 301 Redirect is as important as them being able to edit the content on the site and while traditional Sitecore sites may be missing this functionality it can easily be added using 3rd party modules, best of all they’re free!

Debugging Sitecore 9 Analytics Issues

With Sitecore 9 the way analytics is recorded and processed changed. Rather than everything being done by the IIS application, the architecture changed to include:

  1. A second IIS application called xconnect
  2. A windows services called Sitecore XConnect Search Indexer

As well as this Mongo was replaced by:

  1. SQL Server databases
  2. A SOLR XDB Core

Sitecore 9 also introduced data being secure in transit as well as at rest which means all traffic is encrypted using certificates.

While all these peices can be considered good, it does also create more points of failure that becomes harder to debug. So after spending a decent amount of time debugging why no analytic reports were loading and then why no data was appearing in the reports, I've made a checklist to go through.

Debugging Sitecore Analytics Checklist

1. XConnect Connection String

The main Sitecore application has connection strings for where it will find the XConnect service. They will look like this:

<add name="xconnect.collection" connectionString="https://mysite.xconnect" />
<add name="xconnect.collection.certificate" connectionString="StoreName=My;StoreLocation=LocalMachine;FindType=FindByThumbprint;FindValue=EF7F38B623E6664359110F2C6EB6DA00D567950F" />

One gives the path to the XConnect service and the other gives the path to find the certificate.

Firstly check that the XConnect path is correct and that you can access it and secondly check that the thumbprint corresponds with a certificate in the certificate store.

You can see what certificates are on your machine using this PowerShell script:

Get-ChildItem -Path "cert:\LocalMachine\Root" | Format-Table Subject, FriendlyName, Thumbprint
Get-ChildItem -Path "cert:\LocalMachine\My" | Format-Table Subject, FriendlyName, Thumbprint
Get-ChildItem -Path "cert:\CurrentUser\My" | Format-Table Subject, FriendlyName, Thumbprint

2. Check certificate expiry date

Having a certificate is a good start, but it could still have expired.

Find the certificate in the certificate store by hitting start > manage computer certificates and find it in one of the folders.

Check the expiration date. If it's in the past then it's not going to work. This is common because the installation script for Sitecore 9 will set the expiration date to a year after install by default.

If it has expired you will need a new cert, you can create this by using the same script that you used to install sitcore origionally (Just the certificate bit).

#Switch to correct vesion of SIF
Remove-Module -Name SitecoreInstallFramework
Import-Module -Name SitecoreInstallFramework -RequiredVersion 1.2.1

#define parameters
$prefix = "SitePrefix"
$PSScriptRoot = "C:\resourcefiles9.0"
$XConnectCollectionService = "$prefix.xconnect"
$sitecoreSiteName = "$prefix.sc"

#install client certificate for xconnect
$certParams = @{
Path = "$PSScriptRoot\xconnect-createcert.json"
CertificateName = "$prefix.xconnect_client"
RootCertFileName = "SIF121Root"
}

3. Check security permissons on the certificate

If you have a certificate and it's still valid then it could be that the app pool the site is running in doesn't have access to read the certificate.

To check this:

  1. Right click the certificate
  2. All Tasks
  3. Manage Private Keys
  4. Check that the app pool user for your site is listed in the list of users and that it has read permission. If it's not there add it using the name
    IIS APPPOOL\app pool name

4. Check License Files

Partner licenses only last for a year so if your using one of those it may have expired.

We're all used to checking the license file in the Sitecore application but XConnect has a license too.

These will be in:
sitename.xconnect\App_data\
sitename.xconnect\App_data\jobs\continuous\IndexWorker\App_data
sitename.xconnect\App_data\jobs\continuous\AutomationEngine\App_Data

Only the first will be used when your viewing the site, but it's worth knowing about the others to, incase you ever run a job manually.

5. Check manual rebuild of indexes

You can trigger a manual rebuild of the xDB index by following these instructions:

https://doc.sitecore.com/developers/90/sitecore-experience-platform/en/rebuild-the-xdb-index-in-solr.html

Remember in point 4 that it has it's own license file. It also has it's own connection strings.

6. Check XConnect site works in a browser

If you open XConnect in a browser you should recieve no certificate errors and a timestamp saying how long XConnect had been running for.

7. Check certificates are in the right store

This stack overflow post was a big help for me (https://stackoverflow.com/questions/26247462/http-error-403-16-client-certificate-trust-issue ). I was at the point where everything seemed right, but moving the certificates as shown here got it to the point of the analytics reports loading.

Windows 2012 introduced stricter certificate store validations. According to KB 2795828: Lync Server 2013 Front-End service cannot start in Windows Server 2012, the Trusted Root Certification Authorities (i.e. Root) store can only have certificates that are self-signed. If that store contains non-self-signed certificates, client certificate authentication under IIS returns with a 403.16 error code.

To solve the problem, you have to remove all non-self-signed certificates from the root store. This PowerShell command will identify non-self-signed certificates:

Get-Childitem cert:\LocalMachine\root -Recurse | 
  Where-Object {$_.Issuer -ne $_.Subject}

In my situation, we moved these non-self-signed certificates into the Intermediate Certification Authorities (i.e. CA) store:

Get-Childitem cert:\LocalMachine\root -Recurse | 
  Where-Object {$_.Issuer -ne $_.Subject} | 
  Move-Item -Destination Cert:\LocalMachine\CA

Checklist for data not going into Analytics

If you've got to the point of the analytics reports working, but not showing any data, this is my checklist for making sure data goes in. In my case I was trying to log site searches as per my article from a few years ago https://himynameistim.com/2017/09/13/populating-the-internal-search-report-in-sitecore/ there wern't any errors, but no data ever showed.

1. Enable Analytics Debugging

In Sitecore.Analytics.Tracking.config there is a setting to set the analytics logging level to debug. You will also need to set the log level on log4net root in Sitecore.config to debug.

2. Disable Robot Detection

In my case Sitecore thought I was a robot. Changing these settings will disable that:

<setting name="Analytics.AutoDetectBots" set:value="false" />
<setting name="Analytics.Robots.IgnoreRobots" set:value="false" />

3. Test analytics is tracking something

One of the hardest parts about analytics is it's not instant. The initial tracking only goes into the DB at the end of the users session and that's only for collection. It won't appear in the reports until processing has happened. So to speed this up:

Create a page called kill.aspx as follows. This will end the users session and trigger the data to be fed into the DB.

<%@ Page language="c#" %>

<!DOCTYPE html>
<html>
<head>

</head>
<body>

<div>Session Abandoned</div>
<% Session.Abandon(); %>

</body>
</html>

Next do something on the site that will cause some tracking to get added to the DB. In my case it was the search. Then go to kill.aspx to force session abondon.

Check the logs. You should see something like this...

25016 11:19:13 DEBUG [Analytics]: The CommitSession pipeline, ProcessSubscriptions is skipped - there is no subscriptions for location id: 4ebd0208-8328-5d69-8c44-ec50939c0967

Check the DB an entry should have gone into a shard db for [xdb_collection].[Interactions] table

To speed up processing, restart the main sitecore application.

Removing port 443 from urls generated by Sitecore

For as long as I've been working on Sitecore there has been this really annoying issue where setting the link manager to include server url and running under https will cause urls to be generated with the port number included. e.g. https://www.himynameistim.com:443/ which naturally you don't actually want.

To overcome this there are a few methods you can take.

Method 1 - Set the Scheme and Port on you site defenition

This is possibly the smallest change you can make as it's just 2 settings in a config file.

Setting the external port on site node to 80 (yes 80) tricks the link manager code into not appending the port number as it does it for everything other than port 80.

<configuration xmlns:patch="http://www.sitecore.net/xmlconfig/" xmlns:xdt="http://schemas.microsoft.com/XML-Document-Transform">
<sitecore>
  <sites xdt:Transform="Insert">
    <site name="website">
      <patch:attribute name="hostName">www.MySite.com</patch:attribute>
      <patch:attribute name="rootPath">/sitecore/content/MySite</patch:attribute>
      <patch:attribute name="scheme">https</patch:attribute>
      <patch:attribute name="externalPort">80</patch:attribute>
    </site>     
  </sites>
</sitecore>
</configuration>

What I don't like about this method though, is your setting something to be wrong to get something else to come out right. It's all a bit wrong.

Method 2 - Write your own link provider

The second method which I have generally done is to write your own provider which strips the port number off the generated URL.

For this you will need:

1. A patch file to add the provider:

<configuration xmlns:patch="http://www.sitecore.net/xmlconfig/">
<sitecore>
  <linkManager defaultProvider="sitecore">
    <patch:attribute
        name="defaultProvider"
        value="CustomLinkProvider" />
    <providers>
      <add name="CustomLinkProvider"
           type="MySite.Services.CustomLinkProvider, 
                       MySite"
                     languageEmbedding="never"
                     lowercaseUrls="true"
                     useDisplayName="true"
                     alwaysIncludeServerUrl="true"
        />
    </providers>
  </linkManager>
  <mediaLibrary>
    <mediaProvider>
      <patch:attribute name="type">
        MySite.Services.NoSslPortMediaProvider, MySite
      </patch:attribute>
    </mediaProvider>
  </mediaLibrary>
</sitecore>
</configuration>

2. A helper method that removes the SSL port

namespace MySite
{
  /// <summary> 
  /// Link Helper is used to remove SSL Port 
  /// </summary> 
  public static class LinkHelper
  {
      /// <summary> 
      /// This method removes the 443 port number from url 
      /// </summary> 
      /// <param name="url">The url string being evaluated</param> 
      /// <returns>An updated URL minus 443 port number</returns> 
      public static string RemoveSslPort(string url)
      {
          if (string.IsNullOrWhiteSpace(url))
          {
              return url;
          }

          if (url.Contains(":443"))
          {
              url = url.Replace(":443", string.Empty);
          }

          return url;
      }
  }
}

3. The custom link provider which first gets the item URL the regular way and then strips the SSL port

using Sitecore.Data.Items;
using Sitecore.Links;

namespace MySite
{
  /// <summary>Provide links for resources.</summary> 
  public class CustomLinkProvider : LinkProvider
  {
      public override string GetItemUrl(Item item, UrlOptions options)
      {
          // Some code which manipulates and exams the item...

          return LinkHelper.RemoveSslPort(base.GetItemUrl(item, options));
      }
  }
}

4. The same provider for media

using Sitecore.Data.Items;
using Sitecore.Resources.Media;

namespace MySite
{
  /// <summary> 
  /// This method removes SSL port number from Media Item URLs 
  /// </summary> 
  public class NoSslPortMediaProvider : MediaProvider
  {
      /// <summary> 
      /// Overrides Url mechanism for Media Items 
      /// </summary> 
      /// <param name="item">Sitecore Media Item</param> 
      /// <param name="options">Sitecore Media Url Options object</param> 
      /// <returns>Updated Media Item URL minus 443 port</returns> 

      public override string GetMediaUrl(MediaItem item, MediaUrlOptions options)
      {
          var mediaUrl = base.GetMediaUrl(item, options);
          return LinkHelper.RemoveSslPort(mediaUrl);
      }
  }
}

What I don't like about this method is it's messy in the opposite way. The port number is still being added, and we're just adding code to try and fix it after.

Credit to Sabo413 for the code in this example

Method 3 - Official Sitecore Patch

Given that it's Sitecore's bug, it does actually make sense that they fix it. After all people are paying a license fee for support! This simplifies your solution down to 1 extra patch file and a dll. What's better is as it's Sitecores code they have the responsibility of fixing it, if it ever breaks something, and you have less custom code in your repo.

You can get the fix here for Sitecore version 8.1 - 9.0.

So this may leave you wondering how did Sitecore fix it? Well having a look inside the dll reveals they wen't for method 2.