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This chapter is from the book

.NET and Web Services Integration

Up to this point, we have been implementing standard MCMS functionality, albeit in the larger context of our portal master plan. With .NET and web services integration, the true potential of the portal is realized. While MCMS is the heart of the portal platform, it is .NET that provides the overarching framework. Some services in the portal exist entirely outside MCMS, others are displayed within pages based on MCMS templates, and still others are web services either inside or outside the enterprise.

.NET integration means the use of the .NET Framework to extend functionality beyond MCMS to include additional server platform products such as SharePoint Portal Server, SQL Server, and Commerce Server, or non-Microsoft products based on the .NET platform. Not all .NET integration requires the use of web services. The fact that Microsoft has moved or is moving all its enterprise server products to a common application platform provides tremendous benefits in terms of your taking advantage of developer skills and component reuse.

With web services integration, you are free to connect to an even broader range of applications beyond the .NET world, such as Java, WebSphere, and any other service that jumps on the web services bandwagon. You now have the opportunity to syndicate content from news sources or tap into financial services for transactions, currency conversions, online marketplaces, and a host of other solutions.

I have omitted coverage of the Site Stager component of MCMS, as it is not compatible with ASP.NET-based sites. It is used to push static copies of HTML and ASP pages to other servers, including non-Windows servers.

.NET Integration

MCMS provides a wealth of power with its out-of-the box user interface for content management and the Windows administrative clients for webmasters. You are likely to rely on these extensively in your implementation. They are not the only options for clever .NET programmers, however. You can create custom .NET applications that take advantage of all MCMS features, but with an interface of your choosing. For instance, you may find that some of the options available to users in the standard browser-based Web Author are more (or less) than what your users need to accomplish their tasks. You can hide or simplify options. You can create specialized interfaces to run in an Office application that guide users through the steps of content creation. These are called MCMS web applications to distinguish them from MCMS web services. Within Visual Studio.NET, projects are stored in solutions, which are stored with the file extension .SLN.

Another way to extend MCMS is to customize the approval process discussed earlier in the chapter, providing email notification to users when an item awaits their approval. Similarly, you could implement more sophisticated routing rules for the approval process as a custom MCMS application.

MCMS provides several project templates in Visual Studio.NET (Table 9.1). You can use both Visual Basic and Visual C# to create these projects.

These three template types appear in the Templates list in Visual Studio.NET when you create a new project. The MCMS projects are like other project templates, except that they automatically run some preliminary steps to make MCMS components available in the project. The standard console is copied into the project as the basis for a custom console, changes are automatically made to the Web.config file, and users are authenticated against MCMS and their rights are checked.

MCMS projects provide additional toolbox items, the Template Explorer menu bar, and menu items on the Tools menu. The Content Management Server tab in the Toolbox window contains the placeholder controls you need to design MCMS templates. The Template Explorer window provides a hierarchical view of the templates along with the ability to view template properties. The Content Management Server menu item on the Tools menu provides direct links to Site Manager, Database Configuration Application, Server Configuration Application, and Web Author.

Table 9.1. Visual Studio Content Management Projects

Project Template Name

Description

MCMS Web Application

Used to create an MCMS application with a web user interface

MCMS Web Service

Used to create MCMS XML web services that can be used from other applications

MCMS Empty Web Project

Used to create an empty project for an MCMS web application

You can convert an existing Visual Studio.NET project to an MCMS project. To do so, open the project and select Enable as CMS Project from the Project menu.

Do not remove references to MCMS components that have automatically been generated by Visual Studio.NET. Removing these references will produce unpredictable and undesirable results.

Web Services Integration

Web services are probably the most widely touted benefit of the .NET platform because they provide the ability to integrate heterogeneous systems and even make Microsoft and Unix solutions talk to one another. MCMS 2002 brings web services into the fold in a content management product. Along with adopting Visual Studio.NET as the development environment for MCMS, you can create and consume web services with MCMS. Taking this approach results in new openness and the promise of even greater interoperability. It also raises many architectural and design options that require sorting through.

If you already know how to create web services, you know how to create them for MCMS. The big difference is that you must invest the time to learn the MCMS object model to get the most out of your web services.

Web services configured to directly access the MCMS publishing API create a potential security vulnerability, as they make it possible for the service to write changes to your MCMS repository, overriding a read-only configuration. Be sure to practice safe coding on your web service to prevent dangerous or malicious changes.

Consuming Web Services

While MCMS may more commonly be used to provide a web service to another application, there are excellent opportunities to have MCMS play the other role and consume web services. This is the case for content syndication. MCMS can periodically retrieve news or other data from another web service.

It is possible to configure MCMS to consume a web service in real time. For instance, a user could view a web page with current weather information, prompting MCMS to request weather data in XML from a weather web service. MCMS would package the resulting data using the page template and display it for the user. In most cases, this is not the most attractive option. Users of your portal would be exposed to additional latency of the Internet and would be vulnerable to any outage or performance degradation of the web service. As usage rises, the load on the web service also rises, increasing the processing cost for the service and potentially increasing the financial cost depending on the revenue model. Real-time concurrency is not often worth this price.

Another problem with posting content directly from a web service is that you have fewer options for error-handling or human intervention to correct errors. You may expose your organization to legal liability by publishing incorrect information on your site, so you need a review process for content.

A better option is to take the data consumed by the service and store it in the CMS repository. This function can be performed on a scheduled basis to ensure a reasonable degree of concurrency. For instance, an hourly update of a four-day weather forecast might be acceptable, or an update on sports scores every minute. For even less volatile data, you could take the data from the web service and launch the content management routing and approval process.

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