All of the PowerShell blog posts so far were about using the console. Being the developer however, you probably think – well that’s good for admins, but what’s in it for me? How can I benefit from it in my code? Well you can. With the latest update you can run the PowerShell environment in your application and take advantage of its scripting power, by getting the results out of it and pulling them into your app.


So How do I tap into the PowerShell goodness?

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State of PowerShell for Sitecore for April 2012

While I’m updating it on a separate page I thought for the purpose of having a record and further tracking – it would be interesting to capture the state of the PowerShell knowledge in the Sitecore community here as well.

Image Courtesy: Steven Tieulie

How do I get the PowerShell Console for Sitecore?

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Easy Enum property for EPiServer

One of the most frequently and eagerly used programming constructs of the Microsoft.Net Framework is Enum. There are several interesting features that make it very compelling to use to for all kinds of dropdowns and checklists:

  • The bounds factor – proper use of Enum type guarantee that the selected value will fall within the constraints of the allowed value set.
  • The ability to treat Enums as flags (and compound them into flag sets) as well as a one-of selector.
  • The ease of use and potentially complete separation of the “Enum value” from the underlying machine type representation that ensures the most efficient memory usage.

Surprisingly enough EPiServer as it stands right now does not have an easy facility to turn Enums into properties. To give credit where credit is due, the EPiServer framework provides a nice surrogate that mimic that behaviour to a degree. The relevant property types are:

  • PropertyAppSettingsMultiple  – which “creates check boxes with options that are defined in the AppSettings section in web.config. The name of the property should match the key for the app setting.”
  • PropertyAppSettings  – which “creates a drop down list with options that are defined in the AppSettings section in web.config. The name of the property should match the key for the app setting.”

You quickly realize though that the properties have some limitations that makes their use a bit less compelling:

  • The properties are not strongly typed
  • The property entry in AppSettings section has to have the name that matches the property name on the page.
  • It’s rather poorly documented, Other than relating to this blog entry or Erik’s post documenting it I could not find any other examples on how to use them. (but then again, who needs docs really when we have Reflector)
  • You cannot have the very same property duplicated on the page since you can only have a single property of a given name per page. So you need to have multiple entries in AppSettings that match the name of each of those properties on your pages. I know… semantics but still…
  • You are working on strings rather than enums (Did i mention it’s not type safe?)
  • The values in the AppSettings are stored in a somewhat DLS-y manner (consecutive options are separated from each other with the ‘|’ character, the name and the value are separated with a ‘;’, for example: <add key = "RegionId" value="First Option;Option1|Default Option;Option2|Disabled Option;Option3" /> ) and I have had on an occasion entered a string there that caused the server to crash.
  • The values are not translatable, or at least I could not find how to do it and any Reflector digging rendered no results either.

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Advanced Language Manipulation Tool for EPiServer

Have you ever (or have your customers) created and edited a page in one language only to realize that their selected locale was wrong? Have you ever wished you could delete a master language branch of a page  after creating its localized counterpart but you could only delete the newly created slave language instead? Have a customer ever requested that they could copy a whole branch and you convert it to another language so that they could then translate in-place?

Well I have… and I’m sure I will. And so did Fredrikj on the our #epicode IRC channel ;).

Basically I had the tool that would convert from one language to another, but Fredrikj requested something that would switch master language of a page from one to another. Since I’ve already had some of the work done, I’ve updated the stored procedure I’ve written some time ago and slapped a nice GUI up on it. Here’s the result:



What the tool allows you to do is perform either language conversion or master branch switching on a selected page and all of its children (if you choose so).

The stored procedure have been updated to work on CMS5 R2 (will no longer work on R1 – but if you need that functionality, comment here or give me a shout and I’ll create a compatible version for you).

A word of caution though – I take no guarantee whatsoever about its operation. Especially, if you wreck your client’s database with it. I did what I could to prevent some of the obvious problems (like switching to a non existing master or converting to an existing one) but I will not be responsible if it won’t work for you. make a database backup and experiment there before you do any changes on the real data. That said – it works for me, so I think it should also work for you.

You can download the archive containing the tool here. unzip it to your EPiServer web application folder keeping the folder structure or the plugin reference will be wrong. Include the *.aspx and the *.cs files in your project and apply the SQL file to your database (The manipulation is performed by a stored procedure located in the file).

Also if you’re performing the change in a load balanced environment, you may need to restart the other servers once you do the changes. I reset the DataFactory cache, but I am not sure it propagates through to other servers.

Simple registration for files served by EPiServer

With the culture of knowledge sharing and open source spreading, everyone races to show they have something valuable that you may want. And while you may not ask for money for your content you may still want to get something in return, say a contact, an email address that’s verified (or not), to keep in touch with the consumer of your content.

Yet a full fledged registration doesn’t seem like a proper thing to do – cluttering your EPiServer user repository with (let’s face it – for a large part fake or temporary email addresses that user create only to get your content).

While there may be a lot of ways to handle that (streaming it through a page Response.WriteFile might seem as one of the more obvious ones), I would like to show you a cleaner, simpler and more elegant way that I’ve come up with.

We really don’t want people to deep link to our files without them knowing the files are from our site, that’s just rude – so hiding them behind an obscure URL wouldn’t work (thus we cannot use the regular file providers). We’ve already establish that we don’t want to log them in, so setting file rights are useless. But I want all the benefits including client-side caching.

Basically the solution boils down to creating a thin layer over the File provider of our choice, in my case the versioning file provider. The only method we need to override in it is GetFile. I want to allow downloading for logged in users and I want to allow downloading for all users that have a “magic-cookie” set. If either of the conditions are met, the file just downloads using the underlying provider’s routines including all the logic EPiServer has put for caching and rights. But if neither of the requirements are met, the user is directed to a page of our choice.

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Once you’ll update the framework to the extended one, you will immediately notice that… nothing has changed. Hmm… did something go wrong?

Well, not really. By default the framework will be run in the “legacy mode”. Thanks to an old article by our own Marek Blotny, I’ve learned how to build Plugin settings which are just perfect for the purpose!

So to configure and enable the new features you need to open your admin UI and in the “Config” click on the “Plugin Manager” item and select our framework plugin as shown in the picture


The available options are:

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Back in the day when we started designing our last project we’ve been presented with a following problem – a big number of templates with slightly different sidebars.


Is sidebar a part of content? No, rather not. We don’t want the editors to have to setup the sidebar for every article they write (and the site has a few dozens of articles created on it every day).

Is sidebar more of a template thing? Well… more like it, but still… we have articles all over the site with different sidebar elements when the articles are in different parts of the site (ok so we could add rules what controls display in which part of the site). But wait! There’s more! The sidebar will be different for every language (region). Now we’re talking a dozen of templates or a rules engine just to make the sidebar different. Customising the template with properties isn’t ideal either as it makes EPiServer UI very cluttered. Additionally we want to change sidebars across many templates so the whole branch/section of the site will be able to share the same sidebar.

To a degree this is an academic discussion as we’ve been through it with the previous version of the site and we already knew that integrating this stuff into templates just won’t work and we will be in a world of pain just changing the templates over and over adding little tweaks and changes while the customer ads promotions and performs ad campaigns. Well, we can do it, of course, but it’s not a work a programmer will enjoy, and we all want to do new and more exciting things, don’t we?

We have an internally developed  module to make something like that, that is fully home-grown by another internal team (we now have 3 “squads” capable or making incredible things with EPiServer and we tend to share a lot of technologies and try to rotate people around to adopt the good habits and experiences) and I was (and still am) VERY impressed by it. The technology uses EPiServer pages for defining every module (which are located somewhere outside the site root branch. and then you can mix and match them either declaratively in the code) or by handpicking them in the UI. It’s really cool, though, during the discussions it turned out that we might have to add big chunks of functionality and might end up with separate branches of module-pages for different languages/regions, but… frankly… about that time an article by Ted Nyberg reminded me about a technology I have read about quite a while ago in an article by Stein-Viggo Grenersen and ooohhhhhh… I got seduced. I really wanted to try if for a long time and Ted’s article made it a snap to try and get convinced, and more important… convince Stu ;) that it’s the right way to explore.

So I started to dig.

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The module code is already available on Epicode SVN, the relevant wiki pages will be following as soon as documentation is complete.

The use case is as follows:

  • The client wants the site to look exactly as in a template provided as a image,
  • the text is using a non standard font that is not available on 60% of Windows machines,
  • the site does not use flash.
  • the site needs to be equally good looking in IE6 (more about it later)

The solution was to generate images, but how to do it the right way? This has presented us with a once-in-a-lifetime :) opportunity to create a virtual path provider, do something good and learn something new & cool in the process.

Creating a new virtual path provider.

this functionality in itself is fairly well documented on MSDN one thing to pay attention to is to remember to pass the control to the next provider in the provider queue if your provider does not want to serve the request, so in my case:

public override VirtualFile GetFile(string virtualPath) { if (IsPathVirtual(virtualPath)) VirtualFile file = new TextImageVirtualFile(this, virtualPath); return file; else return Previous.GetFile(virtualPath); }

this is necessary so you don’t have to have all-or nothing solution (your provider either serving everything the user requests or not being accessible at all) and honestly I’ve spent quite a while before I found out that… I was just being silly – thinking the technology by itself will resolve that ;)

If your Virtual path provider does not actually implement directories you don’t have to make the very provider to do a lot of complicated things. you are perfectly fine to limit the implementation to providing a custom constructor so that EPiServer passes you the configuration data and a couple of methods to tell whether a file is what you want to handle or not

// this one is actually really cool - whatever values you set in your web.config // will be passed to you in the collection so you can really make your VPP
// as configurable as necessary public TextImageVirtualPathProvider(string name, NameValueCollection configAttributes)
// This one resolves if the file can be generated public override bool FileExists(string virtualPath) { /* ... */ } // Pretty much only passes the info that directory was not found // found if the virtual path matches a path that we should handle public override bool DirectoryExists(string virtualDir) { /* ... */ } // Retrieves the virtual file that generates the image if the // Virtual path matches our pattern or disregards the request if it doesn't public override VirtualFile GetFile(string virtualPath) { /* ... */ } // Again this is only a pass through method as we don't support directories public override VirtualDirectory GetDirectory(string virtualDir) { /* ... */ }

Now that we have ASP passing the request to us we need to wonder how to format the request in a way that is intuitive to the user, I wanted the URL to be straightforward and follow the path of EPiServer’s friendly URL-S so that they are easily formed by editors. So how about:

Ok.. well…, that won’t fly for GIFs – the font will be plain ugly if I don’t use antialiasing and if I do I will have an ugly black background underneath it. The solution to that would be using translucent PNG (which the VPP supports) but IE6 does not support those with transparency without ugly hacks. So I need to replace the blacks with a hint so that it generates a background colour when it merges the background with the font for antialiasing. For the sake of this article let’s assume it was an easy switch (IT WASN’T!) and let’s extend the URL to:

But I need the font to be bold! Ok… ok…

Can I have the image rotated too? Sigh….

The image rotation follows the RotateFlipType enumeration so you can specify any string that is defined in the MSDN documentation for the enumeration.

A sample result for the URL:$eol$from$eol$Cognifide!.gif

Will look as follows


For the curious

The final string format matching regular expression looks as follows:

Regex regex = new Regex( @"^(?<colour> # The first match - starting form the beginning of the string
([0-9a-fA-F]{3}|[0-9a-fA-F]{6}|[a-zA-Z]*)) # match either a 6 hex digit string or a name of a known color - this is for text color / # now we expect the first separating slash (?<hint> # next match group is about background hint for antialiasing ([0-9a-fA-F]{3}|[0-9a-fA-F]{6}|[a-zA-Z]*)) # match either a 3 or 6 hex digit string or a name of a known color - this is for antialiasing color hint / # again separating slash (?<font>[\w\s]*) # font family name - accept white spaces / # yet another separating slash (?<size>[\d]{0,3}) # font size / # oh noes! another slash! ((?<style>[BIUSRN\s]*) # font style Bold, Italic, Underline, Strikethrough /){0,1} # this group is optional. ((?<transform>[\w]*) # transformation name as specified with System.Drawing.RotateFlipType - this group is optional /){0,1} # this group is optional too. (?<text>[\s\S]*[^\.]) # the text to render - basically anything but a dot - use relacement strings for dots [\.] # separating dot - now that's a nice change! (?<extension>(png|gif)) # the file extension - so that we know whether to generate png or gif $ # everything comes to an end ", RegexOptions.Compiled | RegexOptions.IgnoreCase | RegexOptions.IgnorePatternWhitespace | RegexOptions.CultureInvariant);


Usability concerns

The Colours can be provided as both named Colours (red, green, etc..) or html hex formatted colours (e.g. ff00bb, fob, fff, badfoo) both 6 and 3 hex digits strings are accepted.

The URL accepts spaces, and whatever text string that cannot be passed as a part of the url or is invalidated by EPiServer can be escaped by defining a token for it in web.config so for example as you can see in the above url the end of line “\n” character has been escaped into $eol$.

Obviously the font selection is limited to what is installed on your server.

Performance concerns

The basic concern that comes to mind is – how does this impact the server performance if the image is generated every time? Even though the performance impact seemed to be negligible I’ve decided to cache content. These things simply pile up if you have a high load site so why take the chance? Once an URL is called it is saved on first generation asserting the uniqueness of each parameter. Colours like black and 000 will be treated as same colour and cached only once.

Security concerns

So what was done to prevent our server to be an open server for generating images for everyone on the Internet? The VPP only allows for the images to be generated if the request referrer is in a domain or a host that is specified in the web.config. Additionally for testing you can enable the referrer to be null (direct call to images, as opposed to referring to them from a page).

Also as a seconds line of defence, it’s wise to define the cache folder on a share with a quota so we don’t get our server filled up with images should the referrer limiting measure fail for some reason.

Episerver’s brand new blogger

I’m really glad to notice that Marek is getting into blogging about EPiServer. Marek is a really bright developer and a colleague at Cognifide with a number of successful EPiServer projects in his portfolio, we’ve worked together on Faceted Navigation (he’s the brain behind all the nifty editors in it) that I’m working on open sourcing of currently, and on the Setanta Sports Portal and the Setanta corporate site projects. Now he’s out in the wild writing about it. Go ahead and read his analysis on the performance of Episerver 4.x versus CMS 5. It appears that the CMS is getting… nah… I won’t spoil it for you… Read all about it on Marek’s brand new blog!

Posted in ASP.NET, Blogging, EPiCode, EPiServer, Faceted Navigation, Open Source, Software Development
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Faceted Service Structure

This article is a part of the series describing the faceted navigation system for EPiServer that we have developed in Cognifide and that’s already proven to be a robust solution for delivering tagged content a heavy traffic site. The engine will be released shortly as an open source project.

So how is the faceted engine structured?


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