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ColdFusion: Article

Content Management with ColdFusion

How ColdFusion can be used to create a CMS covering every phase of the CMS lifecycle

As the Web develops, the need for easy and efficient Web site and portal management increases.

Developing an easy-to-use future-proof content management system (CMS) from scratch isn't easy. The basic functionalities can be assembled in a reasonable timeframe, meaning that you will be able to edit the structure and the content of the Web site. An enterprise CMS with complex features like scheduled content publishing, content replication, cluster support, sophisticated workflows, roles, and other advanced features can take several years.

In this article I'll explain the purpose of a CMS and its benefits. Then I'll describe the content lifecycle and how ColdFusion can be used in every phase. In the last section I'll provide links to helpful (mostly Open Source) ColdFusion projects that can be integrated into a CMS.

What a Content Management System Is and Why You Should Use One
A content management system delivers functionalities to empower non-technical staff to create new pages on a site and produce and modify existing content.

After the set-up and configuration process, which in many cases still has to be done by technical staff, a product manager can update the information on a new product release without any programming skills, HR managers can publish new job offers, and the PR manager can put press releases on the Web site. Web site templates and structured content classes assure that the company's corporate Web site design will always be maintained.

A flexible CMS allows the comprehensive control and management of digital content by integrating different content types (e.g., text, images, Flash, video, sound, etc.).

One of the most important features of an up-to-date CMS is a comprehensive security system including rights, roles, and groups (see Figure 1). So each Web site team member can participate in the publishing process to the degree desired, permissions such as to create, edit, change, delete, or publish content have to be easily assigned. If there are more than 10 editors you'll find it helpful to assign bundles of rights to roles and assign these roles to the editors. Typical roles are "author" "editor," "translator," and "editor-in-chief." If several sites must be maintained like an intranet, a corporate Web site, and different country Web sites, groups will help to assign the editors to the sites they're entitled to work on. For maximum flexibility it should be possible to assign arbitrary combinations of groups and roles to an editor: a person can be an author for the international Web site and an editor with more permissions for the country Web site.

Workflows help to define processes, e.g., new or changed content has to be reviewed before publishing. The CMS should inform the editor-in-chief via e-mail or an integrated notification system when an article has been finished and has to be approved. Powerful workflow systems can publish an approved article automatically or the article will revert back to the author with comments about changes.

Content management systems help companies efficiently create and maintain intranets, portals, and other Web sites. They structure and speed up the publishing process and guarantee compliance with corporate design. Last but not least, a CMS reduces Web site publishing costs in a significant way, considering that employees can easily provide and publish content and avoid the expense of Web agencies making simple content changes.

Phases of the Content Management Lifecycle
Most CMS experts describe the four phases of content management (see Figure 2) as:

  1. Content creation, editing, integration of external content
  2. Quality assurance and approval
  3. Publishing and content delivery
  4. Versioning and archiving
The first phase includes content creation, editing existing content, and integrating external content through syndication (e.g., sports or stock exchange news). It also means aggregating content, categorizing it (for target groups, personalization, etc.), and defining the metadata for optimized content retrieval. To achieve a high acceptance by editors, content creation has to be simple and accurate: functions like WYSIWYG, preview, libraries, form-based-entry, and direct edit help integrate the content fast and comfortably.

To avoid typos and unwanted information on the Web site, workflows can help create the approval process (the second phase). Sophisticated workflow systems can set up a simple four-eye principle that can be started manually, as well as predefined actions and complex processes that start automatically or periodically. In a workflow several tasks can be approved and forwarded to the next step or rejected to the author. Content repositories or libraries store the content managed and should deliver functions for editors to enable easy retrieval and reuse of captured content. The API defined in the Java specification JSR170 helps access content in a vendor- or implementation-neutral fashion. It contains several content services such as the versioning and query service.

Publishing and content delivery constitute the third phase of the content lifecycle. Publishing is the preparation of content for different target groups and channels (e.g., HTML, print, PDA output), generating files, and distributing them to different servers. Content delivery means serving static, dynamic, or hybrid pages to Web site visitors. Static pages provide highest performance but only dynamic pages allow personalized content. The choice of publishing static or dynamic pages should depend on the content, not the CMS technology.

Versioning and archiving is the fourth and last step in the content lifecycle. Changes to published content have to be saved and should be restorable with minimal effort. If content has been deleted by mistake or typos have been overlooked, rollback functions should reactivate former versions of the content in a few clicks.

Over seven major revisions ColdFusion has empowered many developers to rapidly build powerful Internet and Web applications. High-performance and scalable CMS software can and has already been built using it. In the next sections I'll show you how ColdFusion can be used to create a CMS covering every phase of the CMS lifecycle.

Using ColdFusion in the Content Creation Phase Acquisition
ColdFusion has built-in tags for HTTP support like CFHTTP, CFHeader, and CFContent.

CFHTTP can be used to retrieve data from another page or site. You can also have ColdFusion automatically save the files to the server when it gets the information back from the URL.

The conversion and import of external data (like Microsoft Office data or XML data) is possible through COM objects. For all kinds of COM questions cfComet is a good resource.

Dave Raggett's HTML TIDY is a free utility to fix HTML mistakes automatically and tidy up sloppy editing into nicely laid-out markup. Tidy can also be configured for HTML code saved from Microsoft Word.

Greg Steward wrote the ColdFusion function makexHTMLValid, which takes a string and URL as arguments and uses jTidy to parse and validate the XHTML.

Aggregation
Incoming syndication feeds (like RSS or Atom feeds) can be retrieved using CFHTTP. The ColdFusion XMLParse function can be used to parse the document. This is also a validating parser, so it will choke if you pass invalid XML.

The CFXML tag is used to create an XML document that will later be converted to a string and written to a file. This lets you create an RSS feed for your site.

ColdFusion has built-in support for Web Services and provides a function (CreateObject) and a tag (CFINVOKE) for Web Service consumption. It's easy to integrate external data using Web Services even if they're developed in other languages.

Authoring
Some CMS Web-based text editors are very feature-rich and almost content management tools in themselves. Others are essentially plug-ins that act as form fields. Some are free and some are extremely expensive. The FCKeditor (see Figure 3) is one of the most popular and with good reason: it's free Open Source (LGPL, Closed Distribution Licence), easy to customize, and it works very well. On the server side, FCKeditor offers a complete integration pack for ColdFusion.

XStandard is another standards-compliant WYSIWYG plug-in editor for desktop applications and browser-based content management systems. The editor generates clean XHTML Strict or 1.1, uses CSS for formatting, and ensures the clean separation of content from presentation. Ben Nadel programmed a ColdFusion version of the XStandard Web Service.

CFFM is a cfml-based media asset repository manager intended for integration into existing Web site management solutions. It's for uploading, creating, renaming, deleting, and editing of files and directories.

The ASF File Explorer is a file manager to browse, add, and remove directories and files from a specific server location. It was built using CFForms and Flash remoting.

Using ColdFusion in the Quality Assurance and Approval Phase
Workflow
An appealing Workflow GUI could easily be built using Flash or Flex. Workflow messaging, e-mail, or SMS notifications can be realized with CFMAIL and the SMS Event Gateway.


More Stories By Harry Klein

Harry Klein is cofounder and CTO at CONTENS Software GmbH, a leading supplier of enterprise content management software. He is a Certified Advanced ColdFusion developer and Microsoft MSCE.

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Most Recent Comments
gg 12/19/06 04:03:20 PM EST

As the Web develops, the need for easy and efficient Web site and portal management increases. Developing an easy-to-use future-proof content management system (CMS) from scratch isn't easy. The basic functionalities can be assembled in a reasonable timeframe, meaning that you will be able to edit the structure and the content of the Web site.

Richard Fallis 12/12/06 12:44:52 PM EST

While recognizing this forum is particularly concerned with programming, I would suggest the first Phase of any CMS project is what we at Acumium.com call the 'Discovery' that determines business needs first.

Only by performing a highly interactive 'Discovery'with everyone affected by the CMS--sales, marketing, shipping, receiving, CEO, accounting etc...can a CMS be created that truly meets business needs. On time. On Budget. Everytime. Guaranteed.

In many respects the technology used is secondary.

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