Technical Questions in SDL Tridion Foundation and Workshops

After hearing that maybe functional training or workshops aren't for technicals, let me be clear that technical resources should absolutely want to be part of the workshops (that define what you'll have to build). You should also know how to use the software and what CMS designs mean to authors. Most importantly, you'll likely benefit from seeing how we transform wireframes into actual CMS functionality.

After two separate weeks of two BA trainings, I've addressed probably too many technical questions (again, but it's my fault). So, apologies to those that were hoping for some nice, easy software training. You probably learned how to make content, edit pages, and publish the changes plus a whole lot more!

SDL Tridion's business analyst functional training track covers at least:
  1. Foundation: How to use the software.
  2. Content Modeling: What you need the software for and how to document it.
  3. BluePrinting and Authorization: Who can update which parts of the content model and where.
  4. Functional Design: How to document everything above in a way you can implement.

To help future functional trainees and my peers, here are general answers to frequently asked technical Tridion questions. Pick one that fits.
For technicals in a functional class or workshops, please understand that you may be:

  • Asking a technical question from the perspective of someone who hasn't yet seen what authors must do to manage content
  • Asking from the perspective of other CMS's, rather than seeing what this system has to offer first
Even as you get an answer, please work together as a team to implement something practical for your authors, developers, and especially visitors. But first learn what authors must do, what the team must document, and how the system works and do not let a technical format dictate your content model.

You will not find technical closure until you get your hands on code, diagrams, and system diagrams, but here are some FAQs.

Configuration and Maintenance

After showing the publication filter options, someone might ask "How do we configure publication types?"
Follow the docs, but you also have to restart some things.
After explaining the two types of components and how you might consider "Document" as a multimedia type, someone will ask, "Can we add new mime types?"
Yes, of course. XML is reserved for componnets but there are ways to handle it as well.
After someone in the business says, "that's cool" to Custom Urls, someone responsible for building them might pause to ask, "How does custom url pop-up work? Where is the page stored? How does it pass values back to the field?"
Once you make the case that External Content Libraries let you connect SDL Tridion with other systems, this will prompt: "Would my non-Tridion system work with ECL?"
ECL is mainly for systems that manage binaries. Code-side it's "just" a few classes. But it depends... does your non-Tridion system have a web service or API?  
Can we purge all that history? Including queues?
Yes and yes.


Once someone realizes you can localize nearly everything in SDL Tridion, someone will connect the ideas and ask, "Can we add an inheritance model to schemas?"
You mean, like embed related fields to create variations of schema(s)?
"No, more like localize as in BluePrinting?"
Yes, you can localize schema descriptions, but not their structure.
"Can we localize organizational items?"
Yes, you can localize things like bundles, but not their contents. We can localize fields, not structure. You're asking for trouble if you attempt to localize structure with a "key-value" schema approach. Consider translateable labels instead.
"Is BluePrinting inheritance like object-oriented programming?"
Sort of.
"So it's something like C++ under the hood?"
Clever, but BluePrinting is a software feature. Don't ask me about how we did it and though you might find the database, don't go messing with it unless Support told you too.


After showing components can create nearly any form possible, even beyond the typical content forms, someone might ask, "Can we output a flat file or more modular values from SDL Tridion?"

This often means: "can we consolidate or break-apart component to do so?"
Yes, you can output flat files representing your content model or query/setup a scenario of individual fields in delivery. Look up "Tridion Navigation" for the first and "Tridion Dynamic" for the other side. Start with a good content model that works for your authors and business. You'll miss important software features by consolidating for a flat format (e.g. embedding images or items into a single component removes per-item custom metadata).
After mentioning how easy authors can select templates for the fifth time, technicals start to worry about what they need to do to make that drop-down appear and then how it changes that form/template/whatever-it's-called (component based on a schema) into the technical format they're really interested in. You might hear, "What's templating like?!"
You can quickly start a template layout, but the basic approaches are:
  • Your own (X)HTML(5) markup calling schema fields in what we call a (layout) Template Building Block (TBB), which is technically a Component Template itself. See sample syntax on the docs or get a templating overview on SDLTridionWorld. Our templates don't add anything else, though our rich text fields try to validate rich text (XML in the XHTML namespace).
  • Published "flat" files in any file format of your choice with content embedded in them (as part of the file) or with references to Component Presentations (if you don't know what a CP is, please look for one of the several page publishing diagrams in the training materials).
  • Presentation-side code (.NET or Java) calling content independently as Component Presentations in delivery. 
  • In additional, or alternatively, a delivery-side content model lets you call individual fields (if you're mentioning phrases like "CWA" or "DD4T" in my training, it means you know way more and have spent a few hours or more on this with a partner or one of my colleagues already)
In addition to the above, SDL Tridion also offers a Content Delivery Web service, which lets you request pages and component presentations that include dynamic content and links resolved in request, but without requiring any Tridion code in your (presentation-side) Web application servers. But wait, shouldn't we get back to the content modeling discussion?

"Can we do Tridion templating in another language? We don't like those options."
Yes, you can make your own mediator. But you probably instead want a delivery-side content model instead. Why have your team become CMS developers when they may be much more productive (and maybe even happier) being Web application designers, developers, and engineers. Wait, if I'm already here "post-sales," didn't you already ask that question of my project manager, the solutions architect, your sales contact, and/or the community? 


After explaining workflow, someone might point out they have "certain types of metadata that doesn't start workflow in their old system."
For data about SDL Tridion items that are not in fields, consider Application Data, which is invisible to normal authors. See the AppData inspector or refer to the documentation.
SDL Tridion 2013 introduces bundle workflow, which means any training or workshops might go into rather deep discussions about workflow capabilities.
"Can we restrict who publishes where?"
"Can we integrate with Outlook and do email notifications?"
Yes, with the Outlook Connector.
"What does workflow show reviewers?"
Links to the Tridion items. Multiple links if in a bundle. So email notifications with links to your staging pages is probably a better approach for you then.
"Will any content changes start or prompt workflow?"

Good Near-Technical Functional Questions

After saying components are about text and multimedia, someone may wonder "can authors have a 'widget' that configures some external data source? Are components only about text and multimedia?"
Okay, this is a valid functional questions and the answer is yes, authors could fill out component forms that configures some Website functionality. Components can be anything you want "managed."
"Can the icons for these be unique?"
  • In the content manager explorer they look like components for now. A future version of Tridion may explicitly add "widgets" to product-ize such configuration components.
  • The icons are extendable, but beware of a performance hit the more specific you are. It's probably easy enough to place such widgets in a special folder or name them with something you recognize.
"During session preview, who can see changes?"
Okay, so this is another good functional question. It's implementation-specific, but in summary:
  • (Session) Preview is personal (to you and your browser session, but will show you updates by others for the same page)
  • Staging is (typically) internal
  • Live is public
"How does 'dynamic' publishing work?"
I drew some pictures, but basically publishing something republishes items that use it. Publish a page and everything on it gets published. Publish content and it gets updated everywhere. Unpublish content, and it's removed everywhere it's used (which might include removing pages--be careful with unpublishing components).
"Can we schedule or unschedule publishing?"
Yes, but the right approach depends on your needs. Publish and unpublish dynamic pieces freely using the schedule publishing later feature. For pages and more time-sensitive materials, consider publishing items with dates in metadata and let your delivery-side code show/hide these accordingly.
"Will anything we asked for be easy?" is typically not asked.
Ah, now you're getting somewhere. That depends on you because of the following:
  • Most of my projects seem to be of the "add/replace a WCM and..." type.
  • The "and..." part may or may not have anything to do with SDL Tridion. Are you ready for the new "and..." initiative?
  • To the extent that your team is comfortable with programming, it's all easy.
  • For the parts specific to SDL Tridion, you have the docs, the API, your next technical workshop, the entire online community at your disposal, and me at the next break.


"What about turtle cats?"

You mean, like this?
Don't let my global education lead know what we really work on in training!
Sorry, SDL Buddy, I just might have a new mascot.

My turn!

Question for the technicals, both those in my trainings and those who have done an SDL Tridion implementation:

  • Did you understand Tridion's page and publishing model?
    • Does dynamic templates have any affect on authors? Are you sure?
    • Why aren't wireframes enough to determine a content model?
    • Okay, so what's typically missing from a wireframe or even mock-up before determining a schema?
  • Can you scale a sematic content model?
    • What's the risk (what do you lose) when you choose "yes/no" as a schema option?
    • Say you need to give authors a choice of color. Do you offer hex values, RGB codes, or friendlier color names? Does the type of author matter? Is there another option?
  • Why containers?
    • My client said a specific tab container, "...Allows selection of multiple component links plus user-selectable CT for each. Very flexible. But complicated for developers at the same time."
    • I've given "advanced custom training" just for tabbed-containers.
    • Did you know you can easily group related component presentations?
    • Did you know about the Tridion CIA?
    • Did you know you can use regions and even make them configurable (it's in Electridion Training 2013) or create your own way to output the region markup?
    • Have you tried these containers in Experience Manager?
    • Did you know that customer bought SDL Tridion because of Experience Manager
  • How did you select Tridion without noticing a community that has a ten year-old forum, two thousand questions on StackExchange sites, several open source code repositories, several hundred blog posts, who-knows-how-many lines of code examples across all of the Tridion APIs, and an all-expense-paid trip to Portugal that thanks those who share about Tridion?

Someday I might regret taking the tame to address these technical questions, but:
  1. It should be easier with this cheat sheet going forward.
  2. Today is not that day!
I'll share and answer what I can. Better yet, you might find answers to general Tridion technical answers on StackExchange, maybe asked by yours truly (secretly on your behalf, risking downvotes and my gamified "reputation" in the process). :-)

I don't have all the technical answers, but I know and work with the people who do. And they're willing to help you directly, if you're willing to ask online.

Update 2: As a follow-up to this, I'm now using a parking lot list to note certain questions as they come up to be addressed during breaks or later in the training.

1 comment:

  1. "Turtle cat" was from a hypothetical profiling example for a page with promotional content for dog-, cat-, and turtle-lovers. Someone in class suggested hybrid categories and thus, Turtle-Cat was created.


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