Getting Started with Sitecore Experience Accelerator

For the past two years I’ve been running a demo site, called the Paragon Coffeehouse. With the official release of Sitecore Experience Platform (XP) 9, I realized it was time for an upgrade. The Coffeehouse site was built on MVC but before Helix was the best practice for Sitecore site development, so I was hesitant to just upgrade my code references and run the upgrade package. So instead I thought about how I might as well take this opportunity to refresh the site with a new build. Given a mixture of needs as well as for curiosity sake, I’ve decided that this re-build would be done on Sitecore Experience Accelerator (SXA).

SXA Background

SXA was a highly talked about feature at the Sitecore Symposium 2016 as a new offering with the release of Sitecore 8.1. The biggest downside at the time I felt was the extreme additional cost in licensing for a customer, so I never heavily researched it as an alternative. The change to licensing structure with Sitecore XP 9 allows this module to be included by default allowing for it to be a true alternative for site builds.

The idea behind SXA is to provide a speed to market approach to a site build leveraging a collection of pre-built components and providing a way to extend and style (or theme) them as needed by the organization.

“SXA separates structure from design, so front-end designers, creative designers, content authors, and developers can work in parallel and you can deploy and maintain multiple sites quickly and cost effectively. Once a basic user experience plan is in place, everyone can get started on the platform. For example: the content author can start entering the content in the wireframe environment, while the front-end developer works on the theme, and the developer sets up the data templates.” (Introducing Sitecore Experience Platform, Getting Started with SXA, March 21, 2018)

Where to Start, how about installing…..

Before SXA can be installed you will need to install Sitecore PowerShell Extensions, you’ll see it listed as ‘Sitecore PowerShell Console’ when searching for the module from the Sitecore Marketplace. You will want the latest version available https://marketplace.sitecore.net/en/Modules/Sitecore_PowerShell_console.aspx

Once this has been installed via the package manager, download and install the SXA package from dev.sitecore.net. If you are installing in a more production ready scenario, where CM is separated from the CD, be sure to follow the additional configuration steps in the SXA 1.6 Installation Guide. Which boils down to coping some files manually to each CD server to support SXA.

Building the Site

Tenant vs Site

SXA is built around the idea of a single install that can support many URL scenarios, while providing a consistent editing experience, shared content resources, and shared/unique security. To allow for this type of separation and sharing SXA resolves around the ideas of tenants and sites.

Tenant is a collection of sites. All sites within a tenant can share assets (this include themes, data/content, page designs, partial designs, and composite renderings). Sharing across tenants is not possible.

“With SXA’s multitenant architecture, you can provide each tenant a dedicated share of the Sitecore instance including its data templates, configuration, user management, tenant individual functionality, and non-functional properties.”

Sites is a collection of pages that are referenced/visited by a unique URL. A site can have many URLs associated to it (i.e. ways to visit) but each URL can only point/references ONE site.

“Sites in the same tenant are related, for example, because they share the same set of templates or part of the media library. Sites are the items that represent the website and consist of pages, data, designs, and partial layouts.”

Creating the Coffeehouse IA

In planning my new and improved Coffeehouse site I’ve chosen to leverage the ‘tenant folder’ item to add additional structure to Sitecore which should allow me to expand my empire into other lines of business (such as brewery or maybe a hospital) without reworking my IA. This is as simple as right clicking on Content and selecting Insert -> Tenant Folder
SXA - Create Tenant Folder

Within my ‘Paragon Coffeehouse’ tenant folder, I can add further folder structure or begin creating tenant collections. I’ll create two tenants. The first will be called ‘The Coffeehouse’ which will house the main site that will eventually move into production, to support learning and experimentation I’ll also create a tenant called ‘Coffeehouse Experiment’.
SXA - Create Tenant the Coffeehouse

As part of the tenant creation process, the name this item modal looks a bit different, from here you can choose the different features of SXA for any site housed as part of the tenant.
SXA - Create Tenant the Coffeehouse Feature Select

A tenant contains three sections of fields which unless for very specific business reasons should not be changed.
SXA - Tenant Fields

  1. Configuration section most importantly defines the location for ‘data’ templates, themes, and media library artifacts should be referenced from, in addition it allows for post create updating of the types of features that are accessible in the tenant
  2. Sharing allows children sites (siblings) to share content and media assets
  3. Security allows for the designation of a specific user domain users must belong to access, this shouldn’t be manipulated manually but instead via a context menu command ‘Setup Security’ see instructions on Sitecore Document site.

Once we have our tenant defined and created, we can begin adding sites. This is as easy as a right click Insert, as well.
SXA - Create Site

Followed by a setup modal allowing additional configuration steps to be taken of your site, split over four tabs.
SXA - Create Site - General and Features Tabs

On the General tab you assign the Site name (#1) and most importantly the URL that will serve-up the content in ‘Host Name’ (#2). The next tab Features allows for the designation of specific SXA site level features that will be available for your site. Outside of a very specific micro-site scenario all these options should be left selected to maximize creative freedom (#3).
SXA - Create Site - Theme and Grid Tabs

The next two tabs relate to the styling/design aspects of the site. The Theme tab provides the opportunity to set the default theme for the site from the existing themes (#2) as well as the creation of a new one (#1). The Grid tab allows you to select from one of the foundational CSS frameworks used by the site, the options available are Bootstrap, Foundation, and Grid960.

After creating the second test site our Content Tree looks like the following and supports two unique URLs without ever editing configuration files….
SXA - Starting out IA

References for the deeper dive

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Helix Project Creation Script

Creating Helix Solutions and Modules with PowerShell

Helix is a set of overall design principles and conventions for Sitecore development, put forth by Sitecore in hopes of providing the community a path toward standardized solution development. As noted in the official documentation:

Helix provide a set of guidelines for your Sitecore projects. The Habitat example provides you with a pre-built and tested set of common modules that you can use as an inspiration to your project. Both improve the efficiency of your projects, reduce costs and time to market. As more and more people and organisations adopt the Helix conventions and principles, it will become a Sitecore standard. This means that people who are familiar with the conventions or the Habitat example will be able to work more easily on other convention-based projects with minimal training. It will be easier for Sitecore Product Support to understand projects built using the conventions, enabling them to resolve issues more quickly. Sitecore will test its software using the conventions so any compatible project that has been implemented for a customer will be more reliable. And since Sitecore will test its software using the conventions, Sitecore will be able to provide better guidance on how to update and upgrade existing Sitecore projects when new versions and new products are released.

(“Why be interested at all in Helix or Habitat?“, http://helix.sitecore.net/introduction/what-is-helix.html#why-be-interested-at-all-in-helix-or-habitat, April 16, 2018)

Some Basic Principles

Before we can dig into the script and creating Helix based solutions and modules, I want to reference some basic principles from the Helix documentation.

A Module is a conceptual grouping of assets which relates to a business requirement. For example, when the company asks that their Sitecore solution contains website search, all assets, business logic and configuration relating to search belongs to the Search module.

In technical terms, project often refers to Visual Studio project, but conceptually can also to the process of implementing the business requirements into an implementation.

The layer concept in Helix supports the architecture by making the dependency flow completely clear everywhere in the solution, in Sitecore, in Visual Studio and even in the file system. Furthermore, the layers provide a structure that is extremely suitable for creating and maintaining solutions of any size and steers both new and experienced developers to producing more maintenance-friendly and clean code. Layers helps control the direction of dependencies the importance of which is described by the Stable Dependencies Principle or SDP, which is one of the cornerstone principles in Modular Architecture:

Helix - Dependencies Direction

File System and Solution Layout

In the Helix documentation, (and a review of the sample Habitat site) one will find a very specific recommended (if not expected) layout and naming of folders both in the Visual Studio Solution as well as the file system. The uniqueness of this ‘recommended’ layout makes the initial setup of a solution very time consuming and increasingly error prone when you start to deal with adding modules at the different layers. The following two images, taken from the Helix documentation show what the Visual Studio Solution and corresponding file system begin to look like.

Helix - Visual Studio Solution, from Sitecore           Helix - File System, from Sitecore

Helpful but difficult

My team enjoys the flexibility as well as cleanliness of a solution built on the Helix principles. What we find most difficult is the extra leg work required in making the file system as well as the Visual Studio Solution appropriate to meet the principles. Trying to solve this problem has led us to try several solutions available in the Sitecore Community, many function very nicely, but didn’t always meet the needs of my teams. So I setout to solve some of these issues, including :

  • No use of custom templates and files to ease setup across machines
  • Option for serialization project creation
  • Pre-loading basic NuGet packages for a module
  • New projects added into the solution by default

Helix Project Creator PowerShell Module

Enough with the intro stuff and into the meat of what you’ve come looking for…a script to ease your Helix headaches and focus on the fun of implementing solutions. TheCodeAttic.Helix.ProjectCreator can be pulled from GitHub at https://github.com/gillissm/TheCodeAttic.Helix.PowerShellProjectCreator.

Setup and Use the Simple Manual Process

The first thing you need to do is retrieve the script from the GitHub repository. As this is hosted on GitHub there are numerous ways you can go about getting things ready to use. In an attempt to make adaption as easy as possible I’ve simplified setup to the following four steps for you:

  1. Open PowerShell command prompt as Admin.
  2. Change the directory to a working/temporary location
  3. Enter the following command
    (Invoke-WebRequest -UseBasicParsing -Uri https://raw.githubusercontent.com/gillissm/TheCodeAttic.Helix.PowerShellProjectCreator/master/ProjectCreatorEasyInstall.ps1).Content | Out-File "ProjectCreatorEasyInstall.ps1"
  4. Then enter
    .\SELRES_09210478-5ac2-4be5-81ef-480eb16e800fSELRES_66c735a3-48ae-4ec2-9967-83d5f083a6f6SELRES_906c181e-dccb-4538-a6c3-1eb25a8f6853ProjectCreatorEasyInstallSELRES_906c181e-dccb-4538-a6c3-1eb25a8f6853SELRES_66c735a3-48ae-4ec2-9967-83d5f083a6f6SELRES_09210478-5ac2-4be5-81ef-480eb16e800f.ps1
  5. Now go implement some awesome Sitecore solutions!

Setup and Configure the Manual Way

As an alternate to the above, you can pull the script from the GitHub repository and load it into Package Manager Console each time you need it with the following steps:

  1. Download from the GitHub repository to your local system in the manner that suits your workflow the best.
  2. Each time you wish to leverage the module in Visual Studio you will need to enter the following in the Package Manager Console
    Import-Module "C:\MyFiles\TheCodeAttic.Helix.PowerShellProjectCreator.psm1"

    Helix - Open Package Manager Console

Manual Process – Full Setup

OR you could download and configure the module manually (this is what ProjectCreatorEasyInstall.ps1 does for you.)

  1. Go to C:\Users\\Documents\WindowsPowerShell\Modules
  2. Create a new folder called “TheCodeAttic.Helix.PowerShellProjectCreator”
  3. Download the GitHub repository into the above directory
  4. Go up a level in the file system, should be at C:\Users\\Documents\WindowsPowerShell\
  5. Open (or create) NuGet_profile.ps1
  6. Add the following
    Import-Module TheCodeAttic.Helix.PowerShellProjectCreator
  7. Each time you run Visual Studio the module will be available to use in the Package Console Manager

Using Helix Project Creation

Create a new Helix Solution

  1. Open Visual Studio as Admin
  2. Open the Package Manager Console
    Helix - Open Package Manager Console
  3. Create a new Helix based solution by running Invoke-VisualStudioSolution
    Invoke-VisualStudioSolution -SolutionPath 'C:\Code\Coffeehouse.Demo.SXA'  -SolutionName 'Coffeehouse.Demo.SXA'

    Helix - Open Package Manager Console

Add a new module to a solution

  1. Open Visual Studio as Admin
  2. Open your Solution
  3. Open the Package Manager Console
  4. ‘Wake-up’ the $dte object by running
    $dte.Solution.FullName
    Helix - Wake-up $dte
  5. Add new module by running Invoke-NewModule
    Invoke-NewModule -ModuleName 'Coffeehouse.Demo.SXA.Coupon' -Layer 'Feature' -UseGlass -UseTDS

    Helix - Executing Invoke-NewModule

    Helix - Invoke-NewModule output

    Helix - Invoke-NewModule output, continued

  6. Go write some Sitecore code!!!!

Proof is in the pudding, they say

After running the Invoke-NewModule command your solution explorer should now look like the following:

Helix - New Module in Solution Explorer

And your file system will have the this:

Helix - New Module in File Explorer

References

The Sitecore Community members are always out to help each other, and some other Helix project creation solutions that may fit your work stream better are:

The Easier Way to Sitecore XP 9

This article was originally posted in its entirety on the Paragon Blog here: http://www.paragon-inc.com/blog/sitecore-9-install-the-easy-way.


You’ve either arrived because you made it through the full series or a quick google landed you here as you where looking for a quick and easy Sitecore XP 9 install.

Most of the following was taken from the Sitecore Installation Guide but is a little buried in all the documentation, so this will be a long term refernece for myself, my teams, and now you!

Prerequisites

The Steps

  1. Install MS SQL 2016 SP1 or later
  2. Install Web Deploy 3.6 for Hosting Servers (done via the Web Platform Installer)
  3. Install Url Rewrite 2.1 (done via the Web Platform Installer)
  4. Install Microsoft SQL Server Data-Tier Application Framework (DacFx) version 2016
  5. To support DacFx, the target SQL server needs to allow users and logins at the DB level, this can be configured/confirmed by running the following SQL script
    sp_configure 'contained database authentication', 1;
    GO
    RECONFIGURE;
    GO
  6. Extract the contents of Sitecore 9.0.1 rev. 171219 (WDP XP0 packages).zip to a working directory. You should see the following
    • Sitecore 9.0.1 rev. 171219 (OnPrem)_single.scwdp.zip
    • Sitecore 9.0.1 rev. 171219 (OnPrem)_zp0xconnect.scwdp.zip
    • XP0 Configuration Files 9.0.1 rev 171219.zip
  7. Extract the contents of XP0 Configuration Files 9.0.1 rev 171219.zip, and you should have the following JSON configuration files, this should be the same directory as the WDP packages in step 6:
    • sitecore-solr.json
    • sitecore-XP0.json
    • xconnect-createcert.json
    • xconnect-solr.json
    • xconnect-xp0.json

    At this point the working directory should look like this:
    Sitecore Easy Install - Working Directory

  8. Open a PowerShell Command prompt as Admin
  9. Change directory to your Working Directory as defined in step 7
  10. Download the install script from Sitecore Easy Install Gist by running the following
    (Invoke-WebRequest https://gist.githubusercontent.com/gillissm/1a3d826e6287e4cd106acea941748643/raw/c59dd9cef02d7e4adec1a90188d099948af43662/SitecoreEasyInstall.ps1).Content | Out-File "SitecoreEasyInstall.ps1"
  11. Open SitecoreEasyInstall.ps1 in your favorite editor (my recommendation is to open the entire working directory in Visual Studio Code).
  12. The first section of the file are global parameters that will define how your environment is configured and installed so update accordingly based on the instructions. At a minimum all values in the ‘CUSTOM TO THE ENVIRONMENT’ section should be completed.
    Sitecore Easy Install - Install Parameters
  13. From the PowerShell prompt run
    .\SitecoreEasyInstall.ps1
  14. Grab some coffee (or beer, I won’t judge) while it runs. (On my machine I was up and runninng in about 10 minutes.)
  15. Enjoy Sitecore Experience Platform 9!!!