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The Maypole iBuySpy Portal

Maypole::Manual::BugSpy - The Maypole iBuySpy Portal


Maypole::Manual::BugSpy - The Maypole iBuySpy Portal


I think it's good fun to compare Maypole against other frameworks, so here's how to build the ASP.NET tutorial site in Maypole.

We begin with a lengthy process of planning and investigating the sources. Of prime interest is the database schema and the initial data, which we convert to a MySQL database. Converting MS SQL to MySQL is not fun. I shall spare you the gore. Especially the bit where the default insert IDs didn't match up between the tables.

The ibsportal database has a number of tables which describe how the portal should look, and some tables which describe the data that should appear on it. The portal is defined in terms of a set of modules; each module takes some data from somewhere, and specifies a template to be used to format the data. This is quite different from how Maypole normally operates, so we have a choice as to whether we're going to completely copy this design, or use a more ``natural'' implementation in terms of having the portal display defined as a template itself, with all the modules specified right there in Template Toolkit code rather than picked up from the database. This would be much faster, since you get one shot of rendering instead of having to process each module's template independently. The thing is, I feel like showing off precisely how flexible Maypole is, so we'll do it the hard way.

The first thing we need to do is get the database into some sort of useful shape, and work out the relationships between the tables. This of course requires half a day of playing with GraphViz, Omnigraffle and mysql, but ended up with something like this:

This leads naturally to the following driver code:

    package Portal;

    use Maypole::Application;


    use Class::DBI::Loader::Relationship;

    Portal->config->loader->relationship($_) for (

        "A module has a definition",  "A module has settings",

        "A tab has modules",          "A portal has tabs",

        "A role has a portal",        "A definition has a portal",

        "A module has announcements", "A module has contacts",

        "A module has discussions",   "A module has events",

        "A module has htmltexts",     "A module has links",

        "A module has documents",

        "A user has roles via userrole"



As you can see, a portal is made up of a number of different tabs; the tabs contain modules, but they're separated into different panes, so a module knows whether it belongs on the left pane, the right pane or the center. A module also knows where it appears in the pane.

We'll begin by mocking up the portal view in plain text, like so:

    use Portal;

    my $portal = Portal::Portal->retrieve(2);

    for my $tab ($portal->tabs) {

        print $tab,"\n";

        for my $pane (qw(LeftPane ContentPane RightPane)) {

            print "\t$pane:\n";

            for (sort { $a->module_order <=> $b->module_order }

                $tab->modules(pane => $pane)) {

                print "\t\t$_:\t", $_->definition,"\n";



        print "\n";


This dumps out the tabs of our portal, along with the modules in each tab and their types; this lets us check that we've got the database set up properly. If we have, it should produce something like this:



                    Quick link:     Quicklink


                    Welcome to the IBuySpy Portal:  Html Document

                    News and Features:      announcement

                    Upcoming event: event


                    This Week's Special:    Html Document

                    Top Movers:     XML/XSL


Now we want to get the front page up; for the moment, we'll just have it display the module names and their definitions like our text mock-up, and we'll flesh out the actual modules later.

But before we do that, we'll write a front-end URL handler method, to allow us to ape the ASP file names. Why do we want to make a Maypole site look like it's running .aspx files? Because we can! - and because I want to show we don't necessarily have to follow the Maypole tradition of having our URLs look like /table/action/id/arguments.

    our %pages = (

        "DesktopDefault.aspx" => { action => "view", table => "tab" },

        "MobileDefault.aspx"  => { action => "view_mobile", table => "tab" },


    sub parse_path {

        my $self = shift;

        $self->path("DesktopDefault.aspx") unless $self->path;

        return $self->SUPER::parse_path if not exists $pages{$self->path};

        my $page = $pages{$self->path} ;



        my %query = $self->ar->args;

        $self->args( [ $query{tabid} || $query{ItemID} || 1] );



Here we're overriding the parse_path method which takes the path slot from the request and populates the table, action and args slots. If the user has asked for a page we don't know about, we ask the usual Maypole path handling method to give it a try; this will become important later on. We turn the default page, DesktopDefault.aspx, into the equivalent of /tab/view/1 unless another tabid or ItemID is given in the query parameters; this allows us to use the ASP.NET-style DesktopDefault.aspx?tabid=3 to select a tab.

Now we have to create our tab/view template; the majority of this is copied from the DesktopDefault.aspx source, but our panes look like this:

    <td id="LeftPane" Width="170">

        [% pane("LeftPane") %]


    <td width="1">


    <td id="ContentPane" Width="*">

        [% pane("ContentPane") %]


    <td id="RightPane" Width="230">

        [% pane("RightPane") %]


    <td width="10">



The pane macro has to be the Template Toolkit analogue of the Perl code we used for our mock-up:

    [% MACRO pane(panename) BLOCK;

        FOR module = tab.modules("pane", panename);

            "<P>"; module; " - "; module.definition; "</P>";



Now, the way that the iBuySpy portal works is that each module has a definition, and each definition contains a path to a template: $module->definition->DesktopSrc returns a path name for an ascx component file. All we need to do is convert those files from ASP to the Template Toolkit, and have Maypole process each component for each module, right?

Components and templates

Dead right, but it was here that I got too clever. I guess it was the word ``component'' that set me off. I thought that since the page was made up of a large number of different modules, all requiring their own set of objects, I should use a separate Maypole sub-request for each one, as shown in the ``Component-based pages'' recipe in the Request Cookbook.

So this is what I did. I created a method in Portal::Module that would set the template to the appropriate ascx file:

    sub view_desktop :Exported {

        my ($self, $r) = @_;



and changed the pane macro to fire off a sub-request for each module:

    [% MACRO pane(panename) BLOCK;

        FOR module = tab.modules("pane", panename);

            SET path = "/module/view_desktop/" _;



    END; %]

This did the right thing, and a call to /module/view_desktop/12 would look up the Html Document module definition, find the DesktopSrc to be DesktopModules/HtmlModule.ascx, and process module 12 with that template. Once I had converted HtmlModule.ascx to be a Template Toolkit file (and we'll look at the conversion of the templates in a second) it would display nicely on my portal.

Except it was all very slow; we were firing off a large number of Maypole requests in series, so that each template could get at the objects it needed. Requests were taking 5 seconds.

That's when it dawned on me that these templates don't actually need different objects at all. The only object of interest that /module/view_desktop is passing in is a module object, and each template figures everything out by accessor calls on that. But we already have a module object, in our FOR loop - we're using it to make the component call, after all! Why not just PROCESS each template inside the loop directly?

    [% MACRO pane(panename) BLOCK;

        FOR module = tab.modules("pane", panename);

            SET src = module.definition.DesktopSrc;


                PROCESS $src;

            CATCH DEFAULT;

                "Bah, template $src broke on me!";



    END; %]

This worked somewhat better, and took request times from 5 seconds down to acceptable sub-second levels again. I could take the view_desktop method out again; fewer lines of code to maintain is always good. Now all that remained to do for the view side of the portal was to convert our ASP templates over to something sensible.

ASP to Template Toolkit

They're all much of a muchness, these templating languages. Some of them, though, are just a wee bit more verbose than others. For instance, the banner template which appears in the header consists of 104 lines of ASP code; most of those are to create the navigation bar of tabs that we can view. Now I admit that we're slightly cheating at the moment since we don't have the concept of a logged-in user and so we don't distinguish between the tabs that anyone can see and those than only an admin can see, but we'll come back to it later. Still, 104 lines, eh?

The actual tab list is presented here: (reformated slightly for sanity)



            <asp:datalist id="tabs" cssclass="OtherTabsBg" 

 repeatdirection="horizontal" ItemStyle-Height="25" 

 SelectedItemStyle-CssClass="TabBg" ItemStyle-BorderWidth="1" 

 EnableViewState="false" runat="server">


                    &nbsp;<a href='<%= Request.ApplicationPath %>/

 DesktopDefault.aspx?tabindex=<%# Container.ItemIndex %>&tabid=

 <%# ((TabStripDetails) Container.DataItem).TabId %>' class="OtherTabs">

 <%# ((TabStripDetails) Container.DataItem).TabName %></a>&nbsp;



                    &nbsp;<span class="SelectedTab">

 <%# ((TabStripDetails) Container.DataItem).TabName %></span>&nbsp;





But it has to be built up in some 22 lines of C# code which creates and populates an array and then binds it to a template parameter. See those <%# and <%= tags? They're the equivalent of our Template Toolkit [% %] tags. Request.ApplicationPath? That's our base template argument.

In our version we ask the portal what tabs it has, and display the list directly, displaying the currently selected tab differently:

    <table id="Banner_tabs" class="OtherTabsBg" cellspacing="0" border="0">


    [% FOR a_tab = portal.tabs %]

        [% IF == %]

            <td class="TabBg" height="25">

                &nbsp;<span class="SelectedTab">[]</span>&nbsp;

        [% ELSE %]

            <td height="25">

                &nbsp;<a href='[%base%]DesktopDefault.aspx?tabid=[]' 


        [% END %]


    [% END %]



This is the way the world should be. But wait, where have we pulled this portal variable from? We need to tell the Portal class to put the default portal into the template arguments:

    sub additional_data {

        shift->{template_args}{portal} = Portal::Portal->retrieve(2);


Translating all the other ASP.NET components is a similar exercise in drudgery; on the whole, there was precisely nothing interesting about them at all - we merely converted a particularly verbose templating language (and if I never see asp:BoundColumn again, it'll be no loss) into a rather more sophisticated one.

The simplest component, HtmlModule.ascx, asks a module for its associated htmltexts, and then displays the DesktopHtml for each of them in a table. This was 40 lines of ASP.NET, including more odious C# to make the SQL calls and retrieve the htmltexts. But we can do all that retrieval by magic, so our HtmlModule.ascx looks like this:

    [% PROCESS module_title %]

    <portal:title EditText="Edit" EditUrl="~/DesktopModules/EditHtml.aspx" />

    <table id="t1" cellspacing="0" cellpadding="0">

        <tr valign="top">

            <td id="HtmlHolder">

            [% FOR html = module.htmltexts; html.DesktopHtml; END %]




Now I admit that we've cheated here and kept that portal:title tag until we know what to do with it - it's obvious that we should turn it into a link to edit the HTML of this module if we're allowed to.

The next simplest one actually did provide a slight challenge; ImageModule.ascx took the height, width and image source properties of an image from the module's settings table, and displayed an IMG tag with the appropriate values. This is only slightly difficult because we have to arrange the array of module.settings into a hash of key_name => setting pairs. Frankly, I can't be bothered to do this in the template, so we'll add it into the template_args again. This time additional_data looks like:

    sub additional_data {

        my $r = shift;

        shift->template_args->{portal} = Portal::Portal->retrieve(2);

        if ($r->objects->[0]->isa("Portal::Module")) {

            $r->template_args->{module_settings} =

                { map { $_->key_name, $_->setting } 

                  $r->objects->[0]->settings };



And the ImageModule.ascx drops from the 30-odd lines of ASP into:

    [% PROCESS module_title; %]

    <img id="Image1" border="0" src="[% module_settings.src %]" 

      width="[% module_settings.width %]" 

      height="[% module_settings.height %]" />


Our portal is taking shape; after a few more templates have been translated, we now have a complete replica of the front page of the portal and all its tabs. It's fast, it's been developed rapidly, and it's less than 50 lines of Perl code so far. But it's not finished yet.

Adding users



Contents, Next That's all folks! Time to start coding ..., Previous Flox