Business users of IBM WebSphere Portal version 8.5 can offer customers better digital experiences by using Vanity URLs.
by David Wilkerson
Let’s face it URLs are important. However, difficult to remember URLs are often so cumbersome that they must rely on alternative mechanisms for delivery. Perhaps you, like me, have had the misfortune of pasting a long URL into the browser locator bar only to discover that you are missing the final characters of the string. Microblogs, such as Twitter, have introduced an era of the shortened URL and with it the ability to communicate concisely. However, it is important to remember that a shortened URL is not always the most effective.
For example a terse url such as http://wp.me/1ll9G, offers the recipient no hint of the link’s meaning.
Previous versions of WebSphere Portal relied upon some combination of Friendly URLs, URL Mappings, and HTTP rewrite rules. We’ll continue this discussion by reviewing the function of each of these.
Friendly URLs have been around for a while and provide a simple mechanism for page creators to assign a “url” to their page. As with many solutions friendly URLs should probably have been named something else; I believe they should be called “Friendly Paths”.
For example if you have a hierarchy of pages such as Home with a child page named Sales, the complete URL to the page would be /wps/portal/Home/Sales. In turn, if a child of the Sales page exists with a Friendly URL page named “Northeast”, the actual URL would be /wps/portal/Home/Sales/Northeast.
There are two key points to keep in mind with Friendly URLs. If the page is moved to another location in the portal page hierarchy its path changes and bookmarks pointing to the page will no longer take the user to the intended target. Also Friendly URLs can become long if the page hierarchy is several nodes deep.
URL Mappings were a popular mechanism for solving the key limitation of Friendly URLs. A URL mapping could be created for any page in the node hierarchy and doing so meant that each page could have it’s own unique URL that wouldn’t need to be updated if the page were moved. The URL syntax of a URL mapping for the Sales page could be wps/portal/SalesPage and the child, Northeast, could be wps/portal/NortheastPage. URL Mappings had their own limitations. First, if you noticed something “odd” about the URL mapping example, the use of the name “NortheastPage” was used because URL Mappings could not have the same identifier as a Friendly URL assigned to a page. A second limitation was that only users with access to the administrative tools were able to define URL Mappings.
URL Mappings are no longer recommended in WebSphere Portal 8.5 but there is no need to worry. Vanity URLs are an improvement. They are available to page creators and incorporate some remarkable features to leverage managed web content as well.
What can a Vanity URL do for you? Instead of passing along a URL with the long encoded portal state information or a URL with a “brittle” Friendly URL path, you can forward URLs that reference the vanity URL servlet such as /wps/vanityurl/Sales.
As wonderful as it seems that business users are able to define their own URLs there are more benefits. Suppose, for example, a user needed to provide a different URL for various demographic sectors. Using Vanity URLs we are able to create a URL such as /wps/vanityurl/OurCompany and /wps/vanitryurl/AboutUs while serving the same page.
Even if this is not enough, there’s more. User’s can specify a language such that the page displays “in the language that the user has configured for the portal.” To do this, select a specific language to display the page and it will be encoded in that language in the Vanity URL.
Finally, to top off the features, users can associate content with each of the Vanity URLs associated with the page. Doing this will require placing the Vanity URL into “edit mode” and then navigating to content using, for example, a WCM Menu Component or Navigator that has been placed on the page. Once content is selected the user can return to the page properties and select the relevant radio button choice for content.
Here’s a tip: When examining your Vanity URLs the “path” or “site area hierarchy” is shown on the left but the actual content item is named on the right of the Vanity URL properties. See the screen shot for more information.
One more tip for Administrators: Vanity URLs are not managed using XMLAccess. Instead, they are managed through Web Content Manager library syndication. This is another powerful aspect to the feature. As a WCM artifact, they are subject to project/draft management as well.
I hope that this article has illustrated how business users can benefit from this powerful IBM WebSphere Portal feature.
————————————————————————————————————————————About the Author: David Wilkerson’s professional career spans multiple disciplines with a consistent emphasis on discovery and implementation of solutions geared towards achieving objectives of strategic importance. In 1993 David established his consulting practice providing automation of business processes. In 1996 he joined Jacob Solutions, Inc., predecessor to Davalen, LLC where he served as Principal Application Architect and Solutions Engineer. His project management and implementation skills have been put to work in sectors such as manufacturing, health care, banking, and insurance. The tools he employs include Microsoft DCOM (now known as .NET) and J2EE. His practice is to prefer technologies that leverage international standards. For this reason much of his development and implementation has been based, since 2001, on Java-related technologies. David’s professional accreditations including certifications as a Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer and an IBM Advanced Developer. A popular orator, David has been asked to speak across the United States on a variety of topics, including many java related topics, document management and web content management. His academic background includes a BA in History from The Citadel, an MDiv from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, and post-graduate studies in data communications at Boston University.
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