Just a Theory

By David E. Wheeler

Posts about Ajax

Bricolage 2.0 Drops

Bricolage 2.0 was released today. This is a pretty big deal, and a long time coming. The most important changes, from my point of view, are:

  • Revamped UI. As a 2006 Google Summer of Code project, Marshall Roch added a slew of Ajaxy goodness to the Bricolage UI. It used to be that, to dig down into a document, you needed to click through reloads for every level. Now the entire structure of a document is available on a single screen, and digging down takes place in situ. This means faster, easier document editing.

    There are other niceties too, thanks to Marshall, like as-you-type autocompletion of category URIs and keywords, popups for associating related documents, dynamic field generation for document keywords and user contacts, and animated workflow actions for moving, deleting, and publishing documents.

    These changes mark a truly impressive improvement in usability for the people who use Bricolage every day, and will by far be the most welcome change for our users.

  • Finer content control. Thanks to another 2006 Google Summer of Code project, Christian Muise implemented what we call “element occurrence specification.” Bricolage document structure is controlled by administrators creating document types with hierarchies of elements. Elements may contain fields—the types and value of which may also be specified (text, textarea, select list, etc.)—and other elements.

    In previous versions of Bricolage, if an element was a subelement of a document, one could add any number of that element to a document. Fields were a bit more controlled: you could only say whether one or many instances of a field were allowed in a given element.

    Element occurrence specification allows administrators to have much finer control over document elements by specifying the minimum and maximum number of instances of an element or field may occur. For example, one can say that a document may have only one instance of a field, or must have three, or may have between 3 and 5, or may have at least 3, or may have any number, including none.

    Bret Dawson put it really well in the Bricolage 2.0 Changes:

    Want every book review you publish to contain at least three but no more than 10 ISBN numbers? Want exactly four pull-quotes in every article? You can do that in Bricolage 2.

  • MySQL support. This, too, was a 2006 Google Summer of Code project, by Andrei Arsu. Yes, you can run Bricolage 2.0 on MySQL 5.0 if you want. This was a pretty big project, and I’m surprisingly pleased at how well it works now that all the kinks have been worked out (special thanks to Waldo Jaquith for being brave (foolish?) enough to start a Bricolage project on MySQL and thus to shake out some bugs).

  • Apache 2 support. This was started quite some time ago by Chris Heiland, hacked on later by Scott Lanning, and finally finished by yours truly. I look forward to dumping Apache 1 in the future.

There’s other stuff, too, lots of little things and not-so-little things. Altogether they go a long way toward making Bricolage better.

It’s been quite a day, and I’m glad to have it out the door. Four years is a long time to wait for a major release, and it happened not because of me, but thanks to the work of others who have picked up the gauntlet. Huge thanks especially to:

Many others provided feedback, patches, and bug reports, and I appreciate all the help. I hope to see you all for Bricolage 2.2!

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Moving Towards Bricolage 2.0

Today I’ve finished just about over two and a half weeks of hacking on Bricolage. It has been a couple of years since I gave it much attention, but there was so much good stuff that other people have contributed that, since I had a little time, it seemed worth it to give it some love. So here’s a quick list of all that I’ve done in the last two weeks:

  • Fixed all reported issues with Bricolage 1.10. Scott Lanning kindly released 1.10.5 yesterday with all of those fixes.

  • I integrated the element occurrence branch that Christian Muise had worked on as his 2006 Google Summer of Code project. Christian’s project added support for maximum and minimum specifications for subelements in Bricolage, which allows administrators to define how many fields and elements can occur in a story or media document. All I had to do was add a few UI tweaks to support the new fields and their specification in the story profile, and all was ready to go. Oh, and I did have to go back and make the SOAP interface work with the feature, but the only reason it never did was lazy hacking of the SOAP interface (way before Christian’s time). Nice work, Christian, and thank you for your contribution!

  • I fixed a few bugs with Arsu Andrei’s port of Bricolage to MySQL, which was his 2006 Google Summer of Code project. Arsu did a terrific job with the port, with only a few minor things missed that he likely could not have caught anyway. This work had already been merged into the trunk. Thanks Arsu!

  • I fixed a bunch of bugs from Marshall Roch’s AJAXification of Bricolage, carried out during his 2006 Google Summer of Code project. Marshall actually did a lot more stuff than he’d planned, as it all went quite smoothly. I found only a few minor oversights that I was able to easily address. This work represents the single most visible change to how users user Bricolage since we launched the project back in 2001. Editing stories, in particular, is now a lot cleaner, with far fewer page loads. Thanks a million, Marshall!

  • I completed the work started by Chris Heiland of the University of Washington, Bothell, and Scott Lanning of the World Health Organization to port Bricolage to Apache 2. They really did most of the hard work, and I just spent several days integrating everything, making sure all the features work, and updating the installer to handle differences in configuration. I thought this would take me a day or two, but it actually took the better part of a week! So much has changed, but in truth Bricolage is now better for running on mod_perl 2. Expect to see Apache 2 bet the recommended platform for Bricolage in a release in the near future.

  • I integrated a number of patches from Brian Smith of Gossamer Threads to allow the installer to be run as a non-root user. The key here is if the installer has to become the database super user, which is required for ident authentication, and of course whether files are to be installed somewhere on the system requiring super user access. This work is not done, yet, as make upgrade and make uninstall are not quite there yet. But we’re getting there, and it should be all done in time for 2.0, thanks to Brian.

  • I added support for a whole slew of environment variables to the installer. Now you can set environment variables to override default settings for installation parameters, such as choice of RDBMS, Apache, location of an SSL cert and key, whether to support SLL, and lots of other stuff, besides. This is all documented in the “Quick Installation Instructions” section of Bric::Admin/INSTALL.

  • I fully tested and fixed a lot of bugs leftover from making the installer database- and Apache-neutral. Now all of these commands should work perfectly:

    • make
    • make cpan
    • make test
    • make install
    • make devtest
    • make clone
    • make uninstall
  • I improved the DHTML functionality of the “Add More” widget, which is used to add contact information to users and contributors, rules to alert types, and extensions to media types. I think it’s pretty slick, now! This was built on Marshall’s AJAX work.

All of these changes have been integrated into the Bricolage trunk and I’ve pushed out a developer release today. Please do check out all the goodness on a test box and send feedback or file bug reports! There are only a couple of other features waiting to go into Bricolage before we start the release candidate process. And, oh yeah, tht title of this blog post? It’s not a lie. The next production release of Bricolage, based on all this work, will be Bricolage 2.0. Enough of the features we’d planned for Bricolage lo these many years ago are in the trunk that the new version number is warranted. I for one will be thrilled to see 2.0 ship in time for OSCON.

And in case it isn’t already clear, many thanks to the Google Summer of Code and participating students for the great contributions! This release would not have been possible without them.

Also in the news today, the Bricolage server has been replaced! The new server, which hosts the Web site, the wiki and the instance of Bricolage used to manage the site itself, is graciously provided by the kind folks at Gossamer Threads. The server is Gossamer Threads’s way of giving back to the Bricolage community as they prepare to launch a hosted Bricolage solution. Thaks GT!

The old Bricolage server was provided by pair Networds for the last five years. I’d just like to thank pair for the generous five-year loan of that box, which helped provided infrastructure for both Bricolage and Kineticode. Thank you, pair!

And with that, I’m going heads-down on some other projects. I’ll pop back up to make sure that Bricolage 2.0 is released in a few months, but otherwise, I’m on to other things again for a while. Watch this space for details!

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Bricolage GSoC Projects Completed

I’m very pleased to report that the Google Summer of Code Bricolage projects have all been successfully completed. The contributions of the three Summer of Coders, Marshall Roch, Christian Muise, and Andrei Arsu, will be included in the next major release of Bricolage. On behalf of the Bricolage community, like to extend my gratitude to Google for sponsoring these three excellent students to dramatically improve the interface, capabilities, and compatibility of Bricolage.

So what got done? Here’s a rundown:

  • Marshall Roch added many slick Ajax features to Bricolage. The story profile now manages the editing of all elements and subelements in a single screen, with no loading of a separate screen for subelements. You can navigate to subelements by clicking on a tree structure right in the story profile. Subelements more than three levels down will be loaded dynamically when you get to them. You can also drag and drop fields and elements to reorder them.

    Other stuff that Marshall Ajaxified:

    • Document and category keyword editing

    • Document category association

    • Document output channel associations

    • Organizations in the source profile

    • The “Add More” sections of the user, contributor, media type, and alert type profiles

    • Roles in the contributor profile

    • Assets on desks and My Workspace

    Marshall worked hard to integrate more interactive features into this 2000-era application, and I, for one, appreciate his hard work. Great job, Marshall!

  • Christian Muise added support for an occurrence specification to element types and field types. That means that when you make an element type a subelement of another element type, you can specify the minimum and/or maximum number of times that it can be a subelement. So when an element of the parent type is created, it will automatically add the minimum number of instances of a subelement specified for that parent type. This will allow an entire element tree to be pre-populated as soon as you create a new story or media document. Leaving the min and max occurrence set to 0 (zero) maintains the old behavior (no required subelements and an unlimited number can be added).

    Christian did the same for field types, too. The old “Required” and “Repeatable” attributes are gone; now you just specify a minimum number to require that number of instances of a field, and a maximum number to limit the number of instances. Together with the element type occurrence specification, this functionality allows Bricolage administrators to have a lot more control over the structure of the documents created by editors.

    Christian worked hard to complete this project, despite other huge demands on his time this summer (including a full-time job!). But thanks to his active participation on the developer mail list and his willingness to ask questions of his mentor, Scott Lanning, and myself, he overcame all obstacles to implement these features. He even wrote a number of new tests to ensure that it works properly and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

    Excellent work, Christian, and thank you so much for your contribution!

  • Andrei Arsu ported Bricolage to MySQL 5. Bricolage has always run on PostgreSQL and used a number of PostgreSQL-specific features to ensure that it ran properly and well. Andrei took these on, converting the existing PostgreSQL DDL files to work on MySQL, figuring out how to convince MySQL to work with some of their idiosyncrasies, and writing compatibility functions in the MySQL driver and upgrade module so that things should largely “just work.” As a result, for the first time ever, you can now build and run Bricolage on MySQL. Can compatibility with other databases be far behind?

    Andrei picked up Perl very quickly during this project, and was able to understand how such horrible code as the Bricolage installer worked without running screaming from the project. His code was well-written and his approaches to compatibility flexible and scalable. Well done, Andrei!

Future Plans

The next tasks toward getting this code integrated and released are as follows:

  • Andrei will merge his MySQL port into subversion trunk. This should actually be fairly straight-forward.

  • Marshall will merge his Ajaxification work into trunk. I don’t expect that there will be any conflicts with Andrei’s work, as the two projects were orthogonal.

  • Christian will merge his occurrence specification work into trunk. This will require that he work some with Andrei to ensure that his changes to the PostgreSQL DDLs are propagated to the new MySQL DDLS. He will also then need to work with Marshall to make sure that the occurrence specification works properly with the Ajaxified UI.

Once these tasks have been completed, we’ll be ready to release a development version of Bricolage with all three of these major improvements. The development release will allow members of the Bricolage community to start to play with the new features, report bugs, and make further suggestions for improvement. Expect the release sometime in the next six weeks or so.

Again, my thanks to Marshall, Christian, and Andrei for their hard work this summer, and for all that they have contributed to the Bricolage community and project. I hope that each will remain involved in the community, not only to support the features they’ve added, but to work with other members of the community to add new features, help newbies, and generally to spread the word.

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