Installing Sitecore 9 when you’ve installed 9.1

Installing Sitecore 9 was never the easiest of things, particularly when you compare it to how relatively simple Sitecore 8 was. But if you install Sitecore 9.1 on the same machine and then try your trusty Sitecore 9.0 script you may find it’s got even harder and there’s a bunch of new issues to worry about.

Multiple version of SIF

The first issue your probably going to run into is an error saying a name parameter is missing. Your script hasn’t change, but what has changed is the default version of SIF that’s now running.

So the first change you need to make is to ensure your running the correct version of SIF. You can do this either by adding the command to your script or running this before calling you install script. It will take effect for the duration of your PowerShell session.

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

If you want to check what the active version of SIF is you can do this in a PowerShell window using

Get-Command -Module SitecoreInstallFramework | Select-Object -Property name, version

Certificates Error – Part 1

Now we’re calling the right version of SIF, the next issue I encountered was to do with certs. Specifically I got this error:

TerminatingError(New-SignedCertificate): "Cannot process argument transformation on parameter 'Signer'. Cannot convert the "System.Object[]" value of type "System.Object[]" to type "System.Security.Cryptography.X509Certificates.X509Certificate2"."
Install-SitecoreConfiguration : Cannot process argument transformation on parameter 'Signer'. Cannot convert the "System.Object[]" value of type "System.Object[]" to type "System.Security.Cryptography.X509Certificates.X509Certificate2".

This is due to the certificate for Sitecore 9.1 that has been installed. You can remove the certificate but then your Sitecore 9.1 install will break instead.

Alternatively add a “RootCertFilename” to the certificate definition:

# Install client certificate for xconnect
$certParams = @{
  Path = "$SCLocation\xconnect-createcert.json"
  CertificateName = "$prefix.xconnect_client"
  RootCertFileName = "SIF121Root"
}
Install-SitecoreConfiguration @certParams -Verbose

Certificate Error – Part 2

This error looks exactly the same as the error above but you’ve already added that Root Cert File Name, so what’s happening now.

Install-SitecoreConfiguration : Cannot process argument transformation on parameter 'Signer'. Cannot convert the
"System.Object[]" value of type "System.Object[]" to type
"System.Security.Cryptography.X509Certificates.X509Certificate2".
At C:\resourceFiles9.0\install.ps1:47 char:1
+ Install-SitecoreConfiguration @certParams -Verbose
+ ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
    + CategoryInfo          : NotSpecified: (:) [Write-Error], WriteErrorException
    + FullyQualifiedErrorId : Microsoft.PowerShell.Commands.WriteErrorException,Install-SitecoreConfiguration

The error is saying that it expected to find 1 certificate but found many instead. Each time you run the script the number of thumbprints also keeps going up.

TBH I’m not overly certain what causes this as most of the time you get the one root cert and your done forever more. But somehow you get a second and then get you in a loop of repeatedly deleting certificates only to discover they still exist somewhere. You know it’s also not the certificate for the 9.1 install as the certificate has the new name you added to it.

For me the issue was although I had deleted them from my personal certificates, trusted root certificates, and even the c:\certificates folder they were being added to, what I needed to do was run this in powershell.

 Get-ChildItem -Path "cert:\LocalMachine\Root" | Where-Object { $_.subject -like "*SIF121Root*" }
  | Remove-Item

If your wanting to find out what certificates are installed on your machine you can run these

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

Make sure your config is actually correct

This one is really just my mistake. Multiple versions of Siteocore have meant rather than just having one “C:\reousrcefiles\” folder on my machine (as per instructions), I now have a few with the version post-fixed to the end. It only becomes apparent that the path in the install.ps1 file is wrong part way through the install process.

What I learnt at Sugcon 2019

This year Sugcon came to London which given that’s where I’m based is awesome for me. In total it was a 3 day conference starting with Sitecore Experience aimed more at marketers than developers. As a developer I only went to the 2 developer days, so for your benefit here’s a summary of everything I saw.

Day 1

Day 1 started with a keynote, sadly life got in the way and I missed the first few hours. I’m told it was good though.

After that the day was split into a mix of sessions in the big room for all and smaller break out sessions where you could pick 1 of 4 to attend.

JSS Immersion – Lessons learned and looking ahead with Anastasiya Flynn

To kick things off I went to a talk on JSS, mostly because JSS is a subject I know very little about. This was something that became even more apparent as the talk went on! At the end of it I came away with an appreciation that I need to invest some time in learning a lot more, but my other take away was a few links on things that will help me out if I ever try some React stuff.

https://www.styled-components.com

https://www.react-spring.io

PAAS It on: Learning’s from a year on Sitecore with Criss Titschinger

Criss works as a dev opps person and over the last year went on the journey of having a Sitecore 8.2 install upgraded to 9 using a fully cloud architecture in Azure.

Overall his experience sounded positive but he did have a few warnings from pain he experienced:

  • Beware of cold start up times with web apps. These can be a real performance hit, especially when Azure decides its going to move your web app instance
  • Web app slots share processing usage so when your warming one up, your live one is taking a hit. If you run on the edge of capacity, this will be an issue
  • Azure search is easy to install but it has a field limitation of 1000 to watch out for
  • Data migration in an upgrade takes a long time the second time. It took 9 days to migrate a years data from mongo! Only do it once.
  • Run your upgrade on clean instances and do the code in visual studio.
  • Web apps need to be on the premium service plan. The others are to weak
  • Use elastic pools for your database to save money. The microservice architecture introduces a LOT of new dbs which are going to cost money in azure resources. Most of the time they also don’t do that much so put them in a pool to share resources
  • Moving to 9 is going to increase hosting charges. Be honest with clients about it.

Day 2

On Day 2 I got to attend from the start so it was a much fuller day for me.

10x your Sitecore development with Mark Cassidy

The day started with a talk on questioning how long it should take to build a Sitecore site. It was a question that never really got answered but the main thing Mark really raised was, do we over engineer what we do and would simpler actually be enough? He went on to show a time lapse video of himself implementing a bootstrap template in Sitecore which took 15 hours.

To build this site he didn’t install any modules (no glass) and used just the standard Sitecore api. As he pointed out, it was all stuff that could be done by a dev with only the basic Sitecore training, which as there’s a short supply of devs in the world, we can potentially make better use of who does what.

Extending and implementing cloud architectures with Rob Habraken

After one talk on cloud the day before I almost gave this one a miss, but I’m glad I didn’t.

Rob gave us some of his learning’s and things to look out for. As the the previous session the theme of Sitecore 9 becoming far more complex came up and he had some interesting takes on it:

  • Use what you need, disable roles that you don’t. I see plenty of Sitecore customers not making use of all the features, and when your in a microservice architecture it does raise the question of why even have this stuff turned on. If you don’t use marketing automation then you don’t need the role running. It’s just costing money to do nothing.
  • Scale down when your not using resource. Unlike a VM web apps can not be turned off so they always cost money. You can delete and recreate, but that’s a pain. Instead set up a pipeline to scale them to the lowest resource setting when not being used.
  • He went on to discuss and show how we can use azure functions and logic apps to implement our code rather than building into the main Sitecore project. However you should be careful overdoing it as it can become complex quickly and it’s easy to end up with a massive unorganised list of individual azure functions.

Automated personalisation with Chris Nash and Niels Kuhnel

Chris and Niels pointed out the flaw in Sitecores reporting on personalised content. How do we know the rate each converts to a goal at? There’s the A/B Test report’s but that’s not quite the same thing.

They went on to show how they had started measuring the display impressions and click through on personalised content. Then linking the results collected in the reporting db up to a Power BI dashboard.

Sitecore identity: A new Sitecore authentication mechanism with Himadri Chakrabarti

Himadri gave us a look at the new Identity Server framework in Sitecore 9.1:

  • Identity server 4 framework
  • Still uses old asp net membership provider underneath
  • Can work with sub providers like Azure

Measure if you want to go faster with Jeremy Davis

Jeremy was in the situation where a site they were developing would have TV adverts during one of the most watch programs on British TV. Naturally he got scared and went looking for tools to help with performance. He told us about two of them:

  • Sitecore debug tool in experience editor showing the time it takes for components to load.
  • Using Visual Studio debugger to monitor processor usage and memory usage.

Both of these tools are very good at pointing you in the direction of smelly code and the best part is you already have them.

Unfortunately it’s the kind of demo that really doesn’t convert to text to write here.

We released JSS, you’ll never guess what happened next with Adam Weber & Kam Figy

Adam and Kam showed us JSS working with SXA and Sitecore Forms. As mentioned before I don’t know much about JSS but after this talk I’m convinced I definitely need to.

Right now it doesn’t sound like I would make a site using it, but it could definitely be the future of how we build sites.

The stand out thing is being able to keep your Sitecore install unmodified which would essentially lead us to a real SAAS solution where a Sitecore instance could be spun up from the marketplace and then all other functionality added through server-less functions and a headless front end.

API Routes stopped working in Sitecore 9

We recently undertook a Sitecore 9 upgrade and one issue we encountered was controllers we had set up for API routes stopped working on content delivery servers. Content management and single server setups were unaffected.

Our routes had been set up by the controllers inheriting from SitecoreController and then using the default route which Sitecore would create. e.g. /api/sitecore/foo/getFoo

public class FooController : SitecoreController
{
    ...
    [System.Web.Http.HttpPost]
    public ActionResult GetFoo(FooModel queryModel)
    {
        ...
    }
}

MVC.LegalRoutes

After a bit of investigation we found a new setting in Sitecore 9 called MVC.LegalRoutes. From the documentation:

MVC: Pipe separated list of route URL’s that are not valid for use with Sitecore.Mvc.
For instance, the default ASP.NET route ({controller}/{action}/{id}) catches most requests that are actually meant to be handled by the default Sitecore route.
Default: “{controller}/{action}/{id}”

If we added our route to the list everything started to work ok.

<setting name="Mvc.LegalRoutes" value="|Sitecore.Mvc:sitecore/shell/api/sitecore/{controller}/{action}|Sitecore.Mvc.Api:/api/sitecore/{controller}/{action}|" />

A different approach

Not wanting to just change random settings we stumble across we contacted Sitecore support to see what they thought.

The route ‘api/sitecore/{controller}/{action}’ is a pre-defined Sitecore SPEAK route for Sitecore Client usage. So when trying to access on a content delivery server where the Sitecore Client is disabled, it no longer works.

So to get around the issue we can start registering the route on content delivery servers through the Global.asax file.

public override void Application_Start(object sender, EventArgs args)
{
    base.Application_Start(sender, args);

    if (System.Configuration.ConfigurationManager.AppSettings["role:define"] == "ContentDelivery")
    {
        System.Web.Routing.RouteTable.Routes.MapRoute("Sitecore.Speak.Commands", "api/sitecore/{controller}/{action}");
    }
}

Sitecore – Creating an admin menu item

If your building a Sitecore admin application, your going to need to link to them from the Sitecore start screen/launch pad.

To create a menu item on Sitecores start screen:

  1. Log into Sitecore and switch to the core db
  2. Open content editor and navigate to /sitecore/client/Applications/Launch Pad/PageSettings/Buttons
  3. You will see groupings for each of the sections that appears on the start screen/launch pad
    Launchpad buttons
  4. Add a new Launch Pad-Button item to the section you want it to appear in
  5. Give it a name, icon and link
    Button details
  6. Your button now appears on the start screen
    New button

Related Posts

A first look at Sitecore SPEAK 3

Sitecore SPEAK 3 – Creating an application

At the end of last year I wrote a post on A first look at Sitecore SPEAK 3 which gave an overview of what Speak is, and the large architecture change that has happened between Speak 1/2 to 3.

In this post I’m going to share my experience on how to set up a Speak 3 application with Angular.

Step 1 – Creating the Angular project

To start your going to need a few things installed:

  • An IDE – I’m using VS Code
  • NodeJs – This is to get access to node package manager and to run your application in debug mode
  • Angular

If you don’t already have Node and Angular installed, I suggest going through Angular’s quick start guide. If your also new to Angular I suggest going through their Tour of Heroes tutorial first. This will give you a good understanding of how Angular applications are built and some knowledge around a few key files.

One you’ve got everything installed, create a new angular project from the command line.

ng new app-name

1 - Create Angular app

At this point you could try manually installing the various modules Sitecore provide, covering things like common components, logout functionality etc. However I personally found this a bit awkward. Unless you know what your doing your probably going to run into issues such as compatibility between the latest version of Angular and the Sitecore components (at time of writing Angular is on version 5 but Speak 3 only supports Angular 4).

Instead I would recommend downloading the sample application from https://dev.sitecore.net/Downloads/Sitecore_SPEAK/3/Sitecore_SPEAK_3.aspx and then copy over the .npmrc and package.json file to your solution.

By including these files, the .npmrc file will add a reference to Sitecores package repository and the package.json file will make sure the right packages and versions will be installed. Use npm to install the packages.

npm install

1 - Install NPM Packages

Next we need to update a couple of files in the application to reference some Sitecore specific bits. This is explained in Sitecores documentation, in my examples though I’ve also included referencing some modules that you are likely to use.

app.module.ts

The app module file defines the modules that are going to be used in the application. Here we need to add the references to the Sitecore modules.

import { BrowserModule } from '@angular/platform-browser';
import { NgModule } from '@angular/core';

import { ScAccountInformationModule } from '@speak/ng-bcl/account-information';
import { ScActionBarModule } from '@speak/ng-bcl/action-bar';
import { ScApplicationHeaderModule } from '@speak/ng-bcl/application-header';
import { ScButtonModule } from '@speak/ng-bcl/button';
import { ScGlobalHeaderModule } from '@speak/ng-bcl/global-header';
import { ScGlobalLogoModule } from '@speak/ng-bcl/global-logo';
import { ScIconModule } from '@speak/ng-bcl/icon';
import { ScMenuCategory, ScMenuItem, ScMenuItemLink, ScMenuModule } from '@speak/ng-bcl/menu';
import { ScTableModule } from '@speak/ng-bcl/table';
import { ScPageModule } from '@speak/ng-bcl/page';
import { CONTEXT, DICTIONARY } from '@speak/ng-bcl';
import { NgScModule } from '@speak/ng-sc';

import { AppComponent } from './app.component';

@NgModule({
  declarations: [
    AppComponent
  ],
  imports: [
    BrowserModule,
    ScAccountInformationModule,
    ScActionBarModule,
    ScApplicationHeaderModule,
    ScButtonModule,
    ScGlobalHeaderModule,
    ScGlobalLogoModule,
    ScIconModule,
    ScPageModule,
    ScMenuModule,
    ScTableModule,
    NgScModule.forRoot({
      contextToken: CONTEXT, // Provide Sitecore context for SPEAK 3 Components (optional)
      dictionaryToken: DICTIONARY, // Provide translations for SPEAK 3 Components (optional)
      translateItemId: '0C979B7C-077E-4E99-9B15-B49592405891', // ItemId where your application stores translation items (optional)
      authItemId: '1BC79B7C-012E-4E9C-9B15-B4959B123653' // ItemId where your application stores user access authorization (optional)
    })
  ],
  providers: [],
  bootstrap: [AppComponent]
})
export class AppModule { }

app.component.ts

The component file needs updating to call init on the ngScService.

import { Component, OnInit  } from '@angular/core';
import { NgScService } from '@speak/ng-sc';

@Component({
  selector: 'app-root',
  templateUrl: './app.component.html',
  styleUrls: ['./app.component.css']
})
export class AppComponent implements OnInit {

  constructor(
    private ngScService: NgScService
  ) {}

  ngOnInit() {
    this.ngScService.init();
  }
}

.angular-cli.json

In the angular-cli.json file you will see a styles section which references the main css file in the solution. Here you will need to add an additional reference to Sitecores css file.

../node_modules/@speak/styling/dist/styles/sitecore.css

Launch

You can now launch your application from the command line and see the default start screen.

ng serve --open

Step 2 – Building your application

It’s not time to start building your application. If you don’t know Angular I suggest going through a couple of tutorials, and go from there. I’m not going to go into any details about how Angular apps are and should be written, but I am going to go through a few of the Sitecore controls needed to make an application that fit’s the Sitecore admin.

Example Page


To make this page first I cleared out everything from app.component.html and started adding some Sitecore components. Normally you would start generating your own components to represent things like pages, but for the purposes of the example I placing everything in the one file.

To start I have a sc-page containing a header. This comes out of Sitecores demo application and will give you the standard bar that sites at the top of the Sitecore admin, informing users where they are.


<div>
    
      <a href="#"></a>
      <!-- AccountInformation gets accountName and accountImageUrl automatically from Sitecore context which is configured in AppModule -->
      
    </div>

To create the menu I’m using an sc-menu. Notice how some items are marked as active.


<aside>
    
      
        
          <a>Menu item 1</a>
        
        
          <a>Menu item 2</a>
        
      
      
        
          <a>Menu item 3</a>
        
        
          <a>Menu item 4</a>
        
      
    
  </aside>

Lastly to create the main content of the page I’m using a scPageAppHeader, scPageContent and an scTable for the table.

<div>
    </div>
<article>
<table>
<thead>
<tr>
<th>Name</th>
<th>Status</th>
<th>Created by</th>
<th>Created data</th>
</tr>
</thead>
<tbody>
<tr>
<td>Lorem</td>
<td>Active</td>
<td>sitecore\admin</td>
<td>Jan 20, 2018</td>
</tr>
<tr>
<td>Ipsum</td>
<td>Active</td>
<td>sitecore\admin</td>
<td>Jan 20, 2018</td>
</tr>
<tr>
<td>Foop</td>
<td>Inactive</td>
<td>sitecore\admin</td>
<td>Jan 22, 2018</td>
</tr>
</tbody>
</table>
</article>


The complete code looks like this:


<div>
    
      <a href="#"></a>
      <!-- AccountInformation gets accountName and accountImageUrl automatically from Sitecore context which is configured in AppModule -->
      
    </div>
<aside>
    
      
        
          <a>Menu item 1</a>
        
        
          <a>Menu item 2</a>
        
      
      
        
          <a>Menu item 3</a>
        
        
          <a>Menu item 4</a>
        
      
    
  </aside>
<div>
    </div>
<article>
<table>
<thead>
<tr>
<th>Name</th>
<th>Status</th>
<th>Created by</th>
<th>Created data</th>
</tr>
</thead>
<tbody>
<tr>
<td>Lorem</td>
<td>Active</td>
<td>sitecore\admin</td>
<td>Jan 20, 2018</td>
</tr>
<tr>
<td>Ipsum</td>
<td>Active</td>
<td>sitecore\admin</td>
<td>Jan 20, 2018</td>
</tr>
<tr>
<td>Foop</td>
<td>Inactive</td>
<td>sitecore\admin</td>
<td>Jan 22, 2018</td>
</tr>
</tbody>
</table>
</article>


To avoid some build errors later on we also need to update the app.components.ts file (think of this as a code behind file), to have an additional property and service.

import { Component, OnInit  } from '@angular/core';
import { NgScService } from '@speak/ng-sc';
import { SciLogoutService } from '@speak/ng-sc/logout';

@Component({
  selector: 'app-root',
  templateUrl: './app.component.html',
  styleUrls: ['./app.component.css']
})
export class AppComponent implements OnInit {

  isNavigationShown = false;

  constructor(
    private ngScService: NgScService,
    public logoutService: SciLogoutService
  ) {}

  ngOnInit() {
    this.ngScService.init();
  }
}

How to find more components

Unfortunately the Sitecore documentation doesn’t currently contain a list of what’s available. However if you look in your node_modules folder there is a change log containing information on each component here \node_modules\@speak\ng-bcl\CHANGELOG.md.

Step 3 – Publishing the application

Once you’ve built the application you need to publish it and copy it into Sitecore.

There are some differences in the way a Speak 3 Angular application needs to work which differ from the normal way an Angular application runs. Among others these include having an index.apsx page rather than an index.html and the application not being located in the root of a site. You can read more about this in Sitecores documentation. The good news though is Sitecore have provided a post build step to sort this out for you.

If you copied the package.json file at the beginning this will already be set up, one thing you do need to do though is update the base location to be where your application is going to live.

Once this is done you can run a build.

npm run-script build

Note this is using npm to run the build script from the packages.json file rather than doing a regular ng build from Angulars CLI.

If all succeeds your dist folder will now contain a compiled version of the application.

Copy these files into the destination folder in your Sitecore site. For me this is \sitecore\shell\client\Applications\Speak-Example. You should now be able to log in and view your application.

Notice the logout button now functions and the current user is displayed in the top right. The menu sections are also collapsible, but other than that our application doesn’t actually do anything.

Moving on from this there’s lot’s more to cover on building out the functionality in the application and you may have also noticed in the app.module.ts file a reference for translations which I never created, but this should be enough to get anyone started with building an Angular Speak 3 project and then publishing it into Sitecore.

Related Links

Speak 3 Official documentation
Speak 3 Downloads

A first look at Sitecore SPEAK 3

SPEAK (Sitecore Process Enablement and Accelerator Kit) is the framework for constructing admin interfaces in Sitecore. It was introduced to the platform prior to Sitecore 8, but really became the way to do things after Sitecore 8’s UI refresh which introduced the start page and made accessing full page SPEAK applications logical.

Sitecore9StartScreen

SPEAK 1 and 2

The goals of SPEAK were to:

  • Provide a streamlined approach to application development.
  • Enable reuse of UI elements.
  • Enforce a consistent look and feel.

In order to achieve this SPEAK 1 and 2 provides a component library of controls that can be used to construct pages. This ensures that the UI retains a consistent look and feel, and also minimizes the amount of work on a Sitecore developer. Logic is then added to an application using JavaScript for the front end and C# for server side code.

While this all sounds great many developers find SPEAK hard to use. In order to construct a UI out of the re-usable components, Sitecore lent on it’s existing functionality to be able to construct pages out of presentation items, however there is no WYSIWYG editor and the only real way to construct the layout is through Sitecore Rocks. This in itself isn’t awful, but when combined with the fact the average Sitecore developer doesn’t need to build an admin application that often, it presents a steep learning curve using a tool they may not use to put together components they’re not familiar with.

SPEAK 3

SPEAK 3 aims to address complaints in previous versions by introducing a completely new framework based on Angular.

Since SPEAKs initial incarnation, client side application development has moved on a long way, so rather than continuing to construct their own framework, Sitecore has chosen Angular as the the platform to use going forward.

Begin Angular, SPEAK 3 applications can run independently of Sitecore, however the purpose of SPEAK 3 is still to make it simple to integrate Sitecore-branded applications into the content manager.

My First Look

Before being a Sitecore back-end developer I worked on bespoke web based applications using client side frameworks such as Knockout, so the news that Sitecore was going to adopt Angular was great. Digging into Angular again however has given me a first hand experience of how fast the JavaScript world is changing. Gone is the promotion of MVC on the client being replaced with service/controller patterns. Whereas with Knockout and AngularJS (what Angular 1.x is now known as) we could add data binding to just an aspect of a page, Angular is really for running an entire application, routing and all.

Building an SPEAK 3 application really means building an Angular application with some modules provided by Sitecore. These modules will provide integration features such as:

  • Sitecore context
  • Translations for applications
  • Translations for the SPEAK 3 component library
  • Component user access authorization
  • Preventing cross-site request forgery (Anti-CSRF)

In addition to this the SPEAK 3 components will also sort out compatibility issues such as modifying the routing so that the application no longer needs to be in the route of the site and can be in a sub-folder of sitecore.

Angular for a Sitecore dev

To start it’s good to know an outline of what developing Angular involves.

Angular 2+ is built using TypeScript. You don’t need to use TypeScript, but as most of the examples are you probably will want to too. TypeScript is a superset of of JavaScript which adds strong typing support as well as other features of ECMAScript 2015 to backport it to older versions of JavaScript.

TypeScript needs to be compiled into JavaScript before it can run in the browser.

The easiest way to get started with Angular and TypeScript is using Node.js to install tools via NPM. Node is not a requirement for Angular and you won’t need it in production, but for local dev using Node to host your application can make life a lot easier.

Angular has a CLI which makes things easy to create and run an Angular application.

Visual Studio can be used as an IDE for TypeScript and Angular, but you might find life easier using Visual Studio Code.

It’s better than it sounds 🙂

All this might sound a bit daunting to the average C# developer. Technologies like Node and NPM traditionally are more at home in the open source community.

There is however a lot to be positive about. If your the type of dev that prefers writing c# to JavaScript, then the inclusion of TypeScript is going to please you, as it brings the type checking structure and class organisation that we’re used too.

The angular cli (command line interface) is also a reason to be pleased. One large difference between the .net and open source world has been the ability to click a button and get going. Open source typically comes with the setup of many components to get a solution working. At times when you try to learn something it can feel like your spending more effort doing setup that actual dev on the platform. Angular still needs to have all these components put together, but the cli takes care of all this for you, effectively recreating a file new project experience, just through a command line.

Top features in Sitecore 9

Sitecore 9 is out and with it comes cool new wizzy stuff. Here’s my top features from the new version of the platform.

#1 – New Forms module

Sitecore 9 Forms

I think everyone would agree that Web Forms for Marketers was starting to show it’s age and the UI was getting a bit dated compared to the rest of Sitecore.

The new Forms module, which is just called forms is completely new from the ground up. It has a new drag and drop UI with long awaited support for multiple page forms.

Like WFFM, the module is extendable through custom save actions and comes with a number of useful default ones out of the box.

There is no upgrade option for moving a WFFM form to the new module but WFFM will continue to work on Sitecore 9 and is being dropped in Sitecore 9.1.

I think more than anything the UX improvements will make a real difference for users by being much simpler to understand and will drive to much more use.

#2 – Marketing Automation

Sitecore 9 Marketing Automation

In Sitecore 9 Engagement Plans are being replaced with Marketing Automation. Like the forms module, this is completely new from the group up rather than an UI update to the existing Engagement Plans.

The new Marketing Automation module has a really easy to use drag and drop ui which is a vast improvement over the old Silverlight implementation engagement plans had. It’s also directly accessible from the dashboard rather than being hidden in the Marketing Control Center.

One of the biggest changes (aside from the UI) is there is now no need to enroll users in a plan at a specific state either by code or a wffm save action. I found this one of the most confusing aspects to end users who were expecting creating states with a trigger to automatically add people once they had triggered a goal, so this is great to see fixed.

Plans now have very clear start and end points with a number of options on the start node (goals, events), which can be combined to trigger who should be added to the plan.

Overall for the moment you try creating a plan just to see what it can do, the whole process is so much simpler that I think this will have a significant aspect on users. Engagement Plans were something that needed to be learn’t in order to get anything out of them, and wernt intuitive enough leading to frustration. With Marketing Automation I think a lot of people that were put off before will now benefit from this module.

#3 – xConnect

xConnect is a new service layer that sits between xDB and the client. That could be the CMS, a device or some other custom server side process that needs to read or write xDB data.

With xConnect as the service layer this means that no system has direct access to the collection database or search indexes. Any system wanting to access this data will go through xConnect which also helps with support for things like GDPR.

xConnect is installed separately from Sitecore itself and does not have any dependencies on the Sitecore kernel. When you install Sitecore locally you will see two IIS entries, one for Sitecore and one for xConnect. Communication with xConnect is done via a set of RESTful API’s over HTTPS, making integrating with it extremely simple to do.

What xConnect really brings to the table is the ability to scale an combine many more systems rather than just the CMS. e.g. Phone Apps.

#4 – Sitecore Installation Framework (SIF)

Installing Sitecore 9 is very different to previous versions (see my Sitecore 9 installation tips here), gone are the days of copying a web-root and restoring some db’s. The entire installation is now done with a new framework based on PowerShell scripts.

While this is going to create a pain point in the amount of time it takes to get started. It will almost certainly vastly improve DevOps tasks as it opens up numerous options to put the installation scripts in deployment pipelines.

Sitecore 9 installation tips

Sitecore 9 released this week and with it comes a whole new installation process. Gone are the days you could just download the web root and restore some dbs or just run the installation gui and enter a db connection string. Sitecore 9 has some fairly fundamental architectural changes with multiple IIS entries and and some windows services to go with it. Server roles are now also being properly configured rather than updating config files to match what it says in an excel doc.

Along with these changes, the installation process has moved to be based on powershell scripts, which on one hand has made things a bit harder, but it also brings great positives that the process can now be customized with scripts that are repeatable without the risk of mistakes.

Here’s my tips for a smooth local installation (production installs are different to a local install).

Tip #1 – Check the Prerequisites and Requirements

It sounds obvious but when presented with a new toy you want to play with it as fast as possible, and with a 49 page document the urge is there to skip to the installation and hope for the best.

Skipping however is likely to result in install failures as the installer relies on modules such as Web Deploy and the right version of SQL Server which were not needed for the version you may already have installed.

Tip #2 – Make sure you have the right versions

You may have SQL and Solr but are they the right version?

SQL Express 2016

Sitecore 9 supports SQL Server 2014 SP2 and SQL Server 2016. Now that SQL Server 2017 is out, actually finding the link for 2016 express has become a challenge, but here it is.

Download SQL Server 2016 Express

Solr 6.6.1

Sirecore 9 supports Solr version 6.6.1. I typically use Bitnami Solr as it’s a lot easier to install than doing Solr on it’s own. Like SQL though the latest version is newer than what Sitecore supports and finding the link to the older one can be a bit of a challenge.

Download Bitnami Solr 6.6.1

Tip #3 – Solr requires SSL

By default Solr does not install with SSL turned on, but without it your install will fail. More specifically it will fail trying to start an xConnect service.

Enabling SSL for Solr

To create a self-signed certificate for Solr we can use the JDK Keytool which if you’ve installed Solr you should already have installed.

Note: These instructions are based on this guide from Apache and this blog post from Jason St-Cyr.

  1. Open command prompt
  2. Change to the Solr ‘etc’ directory
    cd "{SOLR_HOME}\server\etc"
  3. Execute the keygentool command
    "{JAVA_HOME}\bin\keytool.exe" -genkeypair -alias solr-ssl -keyalg RSA -keysize 2048 -keypass secret -storepass secret -validity 9999 -keystore solr-ssl.keystore.jks -ext SAN=DNS:localhost,IP:127.0.0.1 -dname "CN=localhost, OU=Organizational Unit, O=Organization, L=Location, ST=State, C=Country"

    This will generate the keystore with a password of ‘secret’ as valid for localhost and 127.0.0.1. You can add other DNS and IPs as desired, or skip hostname verification.

  4. Convert generated JKS to PKCS12
     "{JAVA_HOME}\bin\keytool.exe" -importkeystore -srckeystore solr-ssl.keystore.jks -destkeystore solr-ssl.keystore.p12 -srcstoretype jks -deststoretype pkcs12
  5. Enter password when prompted. The password ‘secret’ was used in the previous step. Remember to use your password instead if you changed it in the keygen command parameters.
  6. Open Windows Explorer and navigate to the ‘etc’ directory (“{SOLR_HOME}\server\etc”)
  7. Double-click on the generated ‘p12’ file (solr-ssl.keystore.p12 if you used the default parameters from the previous steps)
  8. In the wizard, specify the following values (there will be some extras you can ignore):
    • Store Location: Local Machine
    • File name: Leave as provided
    • Password: secret
    • Certificate Store: Trusted Root Certification Authorities

    Remember to use your password instead if you changed it during the previous steps.

  9. Open the solr.in.cmd file for editing (e.g. {SOLR_HOME}\bin\solr.in.cmd)
  10. Un-comment the SSL settings:
    set SOLR_SSL_KEY_STORE=etc/solr-ssl.keystore.jks
    set SOLR_SSL_KEY_STORE_PASSWORD=secret
    set SOLR_SSL_TRUST_STORE=etc/solr-ssl.keystore.jks
    set SOLR_SSL_TRUST_STORE_PASSWORD=secret
    set SOLR_SSL_NEED_CLIENT_AUTH=false
    set SOLR_SSL_WANT_CLIENT_AUTH=false

    Remember to update passwords and file paths to match to the parameters you specified.

  11. Restart SOLR to pick up the changes.

Tip #4 – Close management studio

I’m not sure if this was a one off thing, but with management studio open my installation failed with a single user access issue.

Tip #5 – Check the logs

The installation script will output logs to the folder it runs in. If your installation fails it will reference a log file. To find out why the installation failed or get some more info go and check the log referenced.