It’s been a few months since my last update on Aikau so I thought it would be useful to provide some information on what we’ve been up to recently. I had hoped that we’d be able to make more regular communications on what is included in each weekly release and although the release notes, the JIRA backlog and sprint progress are publicly available, they don’t provide an enormous amount of context on what we’ve been working on. Internally we hold a Sprint review before each release to share with the teams that depend on Aikau the features implemented and bugs fixed, but this isn’t shared outside of the company.
In an ideal world we’d share a more detailed blog post each week, detailing what we’ve done and provide some real-world use cases of how the updates can be used. This week we released 1.0.33 – our 33rd release of the year (not including hot-fixes) – and our team velocity and processes have comfortably stabilized.
Some sprints we find ourselves working on nothing but bugs (as we prioritize these above everything else); some sprints it’s mostly feature development or infrastructure work (such as getting our unit tests working against a Selenium Grid).
In the future I’ll endeavour to provide more frequent updates, and although I can’t cover in detail everything we’ve been working on over the last dozen sprints, I’d like to highlight a few things that might warrant your further investigation.
So in no particular order, here are a few things that you might like to be aware of…
There is lots of work going on behind the scenes in reviewing Share from a design and usability point of view, some of which will be surfaced in the next release of Alfresco. Aikau faces the interesting challenge of supporting releases both past and future, and one of the new design requirements has been a button design. We needed to find a way of preserving the old button style when Aikau is used on a 5.0.n release but also enabling the new improved style in 5.1.n releases. We’ve achieved this through the use of LESS variables and in particular a single variable that allows us to toggle between the old and new styles.
By default Aikau uses the “legacy” style and Share in Alfresco 5.1 will enable the new style by overriding the variable in the LESS XML file (yes, we know… LESS in XML isn’t great – we still haven’t had the opportunity to do anything about that yet!). This also means that buttons can be easily styled per theme, using those LESS variables.
We continue to push more and more of the widget styling into LESS variables to avoid the need for custom CSS selectors as they will invariably be brittle as Aikau development progresses. If there is a specific widget that you would like to see us update to take advantage of LESS then you should raise an issue.
Multiple Document Libraries on a Single Page
One of the internal component teams that is consuming Aikau is implementing a single page that has multiple Aikau Document Libraries within an alfresco/layout/AlfTabContainer. This has been quite a challenge since we’re not completely finished on the Aikau Document Library, and this exercise has flushed out lots of bugs and allowed us to make some great improvements to our publication/subscription framework to ensure that the Document Libraries don’t interfere with each other (e.g. creating content in the wrong location, refreshing all the lists at once, etc). It’s also focused our attention on fixing lots of the little niggly bugs in our Document Library implementation to make it a more polished experience.
Search Without URL hashing or Infinite Scroll
We wrote the new filtered search page for Share 5.0 long before Aikau was abstracted to a project in its own right and it was written very much with a single use case in mind. Since then we’ve done lots of re-factoring and re-work on our list implementations, and quite rightly we’ve had requests to support alternative ways of providing search – namely with basic pagination and without requiring URL hashing. I’m pleased to say that with the release of 1.0.30 both of these things are possible. This will make it much easier to embed the search widgets within pages that aren’t fully dedicated to search.
Document Library Actions
We know that although Aikau predominantly supports Share it should also support other standalone clients. Since those clients won’t have access to the Share Document Library XML action configuration we needed to find a way in which to support actions in a variety of situations. We’ve settled on a fall-back model in which there are 3 ways in which you can define actions:
- Where available the XML configuration will be used
- It is also possible to configure in completely custom menu items as actions
- When nothing else is available fall-back to metadata evaluated actions.
This last approach requires that we map each of the existing Share Document Library action evaluators into individual AMD modules. This means it becomes really easy to add and remove actions as necessary, as well as insert new actions. Where you want to provide an entirely new action, you simply need to include a service to handle the topic that the action publishes. Hopefully this should make action configuration much simpler to re-use and customize dynamically, based on evaluated extension modules. We’re still a long way from completing this exercise but we have at least settled on an appropriate path.
There is steady incremental improvement on forms in Aikau. There’s still a full UX/design review on the horizon but we have made a few tweaks to the design (in particular how form controls are displayed in dialogs). We’ve also provided the ability to auto-save forms and prevent displaying validation errors immediately. It’s also possible to drive form values to and from the browser URL hash.
We’ve added an additional layout widget for forms that allows form controls to be placed in tabs: it’s worth understanding that you can’t use just any layout widget with a form because they won’t necessarily provide the capabilities to delegate the form-to-form-control communications that enable the dynamic validation, display, enablement, and requirement behaviour that Aikau forms provide.
Finally we’ve added support for dynamically showing and hiding warnings based on the changing values of the fields in the form.
Screenshot showing a form displaying dynamically evaluated warnings
We’ve extended the alfresco/lists/AlfSortablePaginatedList to create an alfresco/lists/AlfFilteredList. This provides the additional ability to update the request for data to include additional filters. Although this doesn’t perform any filtering on the client, it does enable filters to be passed to an API. It also supports the ability to set the filters as browser URL hash parameters to support back button navigation and sharing of bookmarks. This widget can best be seen in the Aikau Unit Test application home page.
Screenshot showing the Aikau Unit Test Application index page
When the Aikau project first started we had the alfresco/logging/SubscriptionLog widget for debugging communication over the publication/subscription layer. We’ve since replaced this with the much improved alfresco/logging/DebugLog which provides the additional capabilities to clear logs, filter on type or text and has expandable/collapsible payload rendering. We’re going to continue to improve this widget over time (any suggestions that you think would be useful are always appreciated) and you can make use of this already in Alfresco Share when client-debug mode is enabled via the Debug Menu in the header bar.
Screenshot showing the DebugLog widget in a dialog
One of the core benefits of Aikau is its unit testing framework. This allows us to release frequently and be confident that we haven’t caused any regressions from the previous release. When the occasional regression does slip through the net we will hotfix the release containing the bug and add a new unit test to prevent any future regressions. When we first abstracted Aikau from Share we weren’t able to remove all of the core Share/YUI2 dependencies from all modules. Dashlets were an example of this, meaning they couldn’t be used outside of Share and couldn’t be unit tested. We’ve since completely removed all of those Share and YUI dependencies which has enabled us to fully unit test the Dashlet widget. Aikau Dashlets also make full use of LESS variables which means that they can be easily themed in Share.
We continue to add layout widgets and improve the behaviour of the existing layout widgets. I thought it would be worth calling out a few of the recent additions and updates…
The alfresco/layout/HorizontalWidgets widget has been updated so that it now takes into account changes to the visibility of its immediate child widgets. This means that the full horizontal space is always consumed as widgets are displayed and hidden. It does this by using the visibilityConfig and invisibilityConfig attributes on its child widgets, and then resizes and recalculates as they are hidden or revealed. Coupled with the existing ability to mix and match fixed widths, percentage widths, and automatically assigned widths on its child widgets, makes this a very powerful tool for fluid layouts.
As its name suggests, the alfresco/layout/FixedHeaderFooter provides the ability to define fixed-height header and footer widget models, with a scrollable central panel. It can be configured to have a fixed height or can automatically grow to consume all of the available vertical space from its offset within a page. This makes it possible to have key controls always visible on the page such as the pagination controls for a list or a menu bar that relates to the scrolling content.
The alfresco/layout/InfiniteScrollArea is designed to work with the alfresco/lists/AlfSortablePaginatedList (or one of its descendant modules). It can be thought of as the inverse of infinite scrolling – instead of scrolling triggering the loading of the next page of data, pages of data are continually requested until the available vertical space is used up. If more space is then provided (for example if it was included in a resizeable Dashlet that was then expanded) then more data will automatically be requested.
During a prototyping exercise we looked at various layout options and one that has since been integrated into Aikau is the alfresco/layout/StripedContent. This widget allows for a fixed width vertical column to be added to a page where stripes are rendered across the full width of the page. A few stripe styles are included out-of-the-box that can be configured through LESS variables.
Drag And Drop
The Content Modelling feature in Alfresco 5.1 makes heavy use of the Aikau drag-and-drop capabilities. This has meant that we’ve had the opportunity to flush out lots of bugs and make drag-and-drop in Aikau really simple. All the drag-and-drop modules were re-written (and can be found in the alfresco/dnd package) to be completely abstract to support custom data modelling. Really, this needs a blog post or a set of tutorials in its own right, but the unit test pages should give you an idea of what’s possible. Again, just something to be aware of – at some point it would be great if we could make use of the capabilities for a complete drag-and-drop development environment (we even have a unit test page that allows you to build drag-and-drop data models for this purpose!) – but sadly we just don’t have the bandwidth to work on it at the moment.
Where To Find Out More
It’s a great idea to keep a clone of the Aikau GitHub repository up-to-date so that you can use the Unit Test Application to see examples of all the widgets in action. Although this application is intended for unit testing rather than demonstration purposes it is a great way of seeing various configurations of all the widgets in action.