Saturday, February 12, 2011

xPages Extension Library for beginners - Part 1: Getting started with my first real-world xPages app

I have not posted much on this blog lately due to a number of reasons, but one of them is that I haven't been doing a lot of development lately. I've been doing admin, support, project management, just not a lot of development and very little of it with new things.


I have a need to add a simple web front-end to one of our Notes apps - it's a basic document storage app but we now need to provide a portion of the content to a business partner, and have decided the easiest way to do this is via a web front-end.

I dedided to try out the new xPages extension library available from OpenNTF. as I wanted to create something that showed off the new capabilities of Notes & Domino. However I found that it was quite hard to get started with the extension library and decided to share my experience to hopefully help some others get there a little quicker.

I have not used xPages much yet. I have done a basic one-day xPages course lead by Stephan Wissel and worked my way through Declan Lynch's Learning xPages series, but have not tried to use xPages in a 'real world' scenario.

The Application

The web application needs to present documents which use a single form to the users, with some basic meta-data fields at the top and a Rich Text field. In Notes, the data is in a single view with 4 levels of categorisation. I wanted to present this using a variation of the OneUI theme modified to our company colors, and using some styling from a recently deployed Intranet (not built on Domino) that has impressed the business. So I need to build a view or document list, with searching, and a page to display the document content. I want to retain the categorisation, but not necessarily in a categorized view. I want to use the top-level category as a menu on the left, then either use a categorised view with the next levels or use drop-down selections to filter the view. As at the time of writing this I have not yet decided which way to go and will share my trials and errors along the way.

The xPages Extension Library

The xPages Extension Library is available through OpenNTF and provides a number of additional xPages controls to extend core controls and allow you to quickly build consistent web apps that implement the IBM OneUI interface.

Once you download the extension library, follow the instructions in the included pdf to install the controls both on Designer and on your server. I found these instructions clear and easy to follow so I won't repeat them here. You can then open the example database to see how various controls can be used. So far so good. However once I decided to start building some pages, I scratched my head in confusion. As an xPages beginner, the process was far more complicated than I thought and took some trial and error to get going with them. And documentation is scarce.

I decided that I want to use the Application Layout control and the Domino View control at least, so I'll explain how to get them working in the posts to follow. If I get time, I'll also try to post the resulting application at the end.

Up until now, I had sort of thought of xPages and Custom Contols as analogous to forms and sub-forms. This is only sort-of true. When you start to use the Extension Library you can see the areas how the xPages model is much more powerful. The custom controls can not only sit within the parent xpage but contain and control content that is within the page. This is how the Application Layout control works. You configure it to provide the 'look & feel' of your pages then add it to your xPage. You then specify where within the layout your page content goes.

Next post: How to use the Application Layout Control in detail.

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