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Macromedia's DevNet Resource Kit: Just the Beginning

Macromedia's DevNet Resource Kit: Just the Beginning

What is the Macromedia DevNet Resource Kit, and how can I get it? As both a Macromedia DevNet Resource Kit (DRK) product manager, and the Macromedia Server Community Manager, I hear these questions often from both the online and offline ColdFusion communities. Starting with volume 3, the DRK has become extremely relevant to ColdFusion developers, and future volumes will be no exception.

The DRK is a developer resource that Macromedia releases quarterly containing components, extensions, utilities, sample applications, and reference materials for several Macromedia products. DRK volumes 1 and 2 heavily emphasized Macromedia Flash and Dreamweaver; however, the goal of DRK 3 was to provide the ColdFusion community with a comprehensive and diverse set of ColdFusion content, including ColdFusion components, user-defined functions, custom tags, sample applications, book chapters, and articles. And although I can't go into detail about future DRKs, I can say that DRK 3 is just the beginning.

ColdFusion content on DRK 3 is divided into three parts: custom tags and components, utilities, and sample applications. In this article, I discuss my favorite projects in each category.

Custom Tags and Components
DRK 3 contains several custom tags and components that are designed to be integrated into other ColdFusion projects or utilities. Rather than being standalone applications, they can be considered application building blocks.

The Calendar Component
The calendar component is a model of a single page in a calendar. All you have to do is set the month and the year, then call getPage to get back a two-dimensional array that models the columns and rows of a calendar page. The two-dimensional array will always have seven columns (for every day of the week) and the right number of rows for the specified month and year. The values of the elements in the two-dimensional array will either be the appropriate day of the month, or -1 when they fall outside of the month's range.

The calendar component is really designed to encapsulate the messy logic you need to render calendar pages in HTML. It has all the functions you need to quickly and easily add a calendar to your site.

The Init Custom Tag
The init tag is a sophisticated encapsulation technique many developers already use to initialize and configure their applications. Any code in the body of the init tag is only executed the first time the tag is encountered during the life span of the application, so it's a great place to put your applications' initialization routines, like defining application variables for data sources, parsing XML files, etc. It is thread-safe, but not entirely synchronized, so you can use it in your Application.cfm file without worrying about single-threading your application and dramatically slowing it down. The init tag also allows you to dynamically reevaluate any code in its body simply by passing a special query string parameter in to the page that contains the tag, so you can update your configuration without having to restart your server.

The Recordpager Custom Tag
The recordpager custom tag automatically generates linked page numbers to allow users to browse through multiple pages of records returned from a database query. It is used in circumstances where you want to limit the number of records to display on a single page, but still allow users to access the rest of the records on subsequent pages. The generated page numbers are linked to a page that you specify, or will automatically default to the current page since paging through record sets usually means making multiple requests to the same page. The recordpager tag will also automatically pass the specified page the record number that it should start with when displaying the next set of records, as well as optionally allow you to pass in a struct with name/value pairs that also need to be passed to other pages of query results. Finally, you can pass style class definitions in to the recordpager in order to adapt its look and feel to any application.

DRK 3 contains a set of ColdFusion projects that are considered utilities, which means they are more extensive than just single tags and components, but are still designed to be integrated into larger projects. Here are two of my favorites:

Data File Access (DFA)
DFA allows ColdFusion developers to interact with XML and comma-delimited files (CSVs) as though they were database tables. The easiest and most flexible way to store and retrieve data in an application is to use a database and SQL; however for smaller projects, creating an entire database can be more hassle than it's worth. With DFA, you get all the advantages of using SQL to both save and retrieve data, but the underlying data structure is either an XML or CSV file.

Let's say you decide to put together a quick survey to allow your co-workers to vote on their favorite activity for a company picnic. You want to be able to save and retrieve the results quickly using SQL, but you might not want to go through the hassle of setting up a database. Using DFA, you can use a simple XML or CSV file to store your data while still being able to leverage the convenience of SQL. DFA even comes with the dfaQuery tag, which works almost exactly like the cfquery tag you are already accustomed to using.

Lindex (Lucene Indexing Engine)
One of the most powerful aspects of ColdFusion MX is that it is implemented almost entirely in Java. Writing utilities that leverage Java is less a matter of integrating ColdFusion MX and Java and more a matter of naturally using Java to extend ColdFusion. The fact that Java can be used so easily to extend ColdFusion means that developers can leverage all of the open-source Java projects out there, such as those being developed under the Apache Jakarta project.

DRK 3 contains a project called Lindex, which stands for Lucene Index. Lucene is an open-source Apache Jakarta project for creating and searching document collections. ColdFusion comes bundled with the Verity text search engine; however, the advantage of using Lindex to integrate Lucene into your applications is that since it is pure Java, it will run on any platform that ColdFusion MX runs on, including Macintosh OS X. That means you can develop and deploy your ColdFusion MX application on two separate platforms without having to worry about compatibility issues.

Lindex works almost identically to Verity in that you create collections which you then populate with text, HTML, PDF, and ColdFusion files. Lindex includes both a ColdFusion and a Java API, as well as an administrative interface very similar to the ColdFusion Verity interface.

Sample Applications
DRK 3 contains two sample ColdFusion applications. You can use the ColdFusion sample applications on the DRK to learn best practices and see examples of development techniques and principles, or you can simply install them for your own use.

Macromedia XML News Aggregator
The Macromedia XML News Aggregator, or MXNA, is an extremely useful application for gathering, parsing, storing, and displaying RSS news feeds. RSS, or Really Simple Syndication, is an XML format that many news sites and weblogs publish in order to allow RSS aggregators to syndicate their content. For example, my weblog (www.macromedia.com/go/cantrell) does not just contain an HTML version of my posts, but it also produces an XML version, as well (www.macromedia.com/go/ccantrell_rss). Anyone is welcome to use my RSS feed to either aggregate the content of my weblog locally on their computer, or to republish the content of my XML feed anywhere they want.

MXNA is based on the source code for the Web site fullasagoog.com, which is a very popular aggregator of Macromedia MX - related weblogs. The MXNA source code on DRK 3 has a very different look than fullasagoog, however, and has a few extra features. You can see a production version of MXNA focusing on Macromedia MX technologies, technology news, and Web development in general, running at www.macromedia.com/go/weblogs.

If you go to Macromedia's version of MXNA, you will find that we are aggregating somewhere in the neighborhood of 150 feeds. Imagine trying to keep up with 150 news sites and weblogs which make anywhere between one and probably a dozen posts a day. MXNA allows you to visit a single site, browse by category, and quickly find posts that are relevant to you.

Running your own version of MXNA will allow you to customize both your feeds and your categories. At Macromedia, we run one external version of MXNA (at the URL above) and one internal version which we use to aggregate things like internal project status reports. With MXNA, you can easily set up your own personal RSS aggregator, or launch your own RSS portal.

RSS 1.0 XML Feed Creation and Management Application (RSSify)
RSSify is a Rich Internet Application, or RIA, which means the user interface is implemented in Macromedia Flash MX while the back end is implemented as a ColdFusion component. RSSify is an excellent example of integrating Macromedia Flash and ColdFusion using Macromedia Flash Remoting in order to achieve a richer, more efficient user experience.

RSSify provides users with a simple and intuitive interface for creating and managing RSS XML feeds. The interface allows users to import, save, load, delete, and author RSS feeds, as well as publish them to a server where they can be made accessible to the rest of the world. The Macromedia Flash interface handles the creation and formatting of the XML document while the ColdFusion back end handles the persistence and publishing of the feeds. RSSify is perfect when you need to generate an RSS news feed (to be aggregated by MXNA, for instance), but you don't already have an automated process for doing so.

To find out more about these and other ColdFusion projects on DRK 3, visit the DRK 3 home page at www.macromedia.com/go/drk3. To find out more about how you can get DRK 3 and future versions of the DRK, visit the Macromedia DevNet subscription page at www.macromedia.com/devnet/ subscriptions.

Note: Portions of this article were originally published on the Macromedia DevNet Resource Kit, Volume 3.

More Stories By Christian Cantrell

Christian Cantrell is the Macromedia Server Community Manager. He has been developing large-scale, Web-based applications in ColdFusion, Java, JSP, and Macromedia Flash for the last five years. He is the author of numerous tutorials and white papers, and is coauthor of Flash Enabled: Flash Design & Development for Devices. Keep up with Christian by reading his blog at www.macromedia.com

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