November 12, 2019
Having been an implementer of Liferay since 2008, and official partner for over eight years, Worth has successfully launched numerous large scale Liferay projects. We understand how to maximise the platform’s multifaceted features to build a portal solution that best suits an organisation’s unique needs, and deliver a high quality turnkey service in the cloud. In this post, we're having a chat with Frontend Developer Chris Johnson, to get his thoughts on working with Liferay.
CHRIS, YOU’VE BEEN AT WORTH FOR SOME TIME, AND HAVE HAD YOUR HANDS IN SEVERAL OF THE LARGE LIFERAY PROJECTS WORTH HAS DEVELOPED. HOW WAS THAT?
Yes, I’ve seen the platform develop considerably. I’ve been with Worth for 7 years and have worked on the Peace Portal, Peace Portal Gallery, GPPAC, KHN, Innovate UK’s Catapult sites, Ecer, CIR (Ministry of Foreign Affairs) and TU Delft. The office has also developed other Liferay solutions including the University of East Anglia’s, and the University of London’s student portal and others.
I’ve had some opportunity to reflect on the process of developing with Liferay as I’ve worked up through the three versions, and you know, it’s surprising what you remember working on the platform for so long. But then of course there are changes and sometimes some clients have older versions for which you have to use older development techniques--it can get a little muddy.
IS THERE ANY PROJECT THAT STANDS OUT IN YOUR MIND AS BEING A GAME CHANGER FOR A PARTICULAR ORGANISATION?
Having worked on the Peace Portal, an older Worth project, I was well-versed with Liferay 6.1.1, when Innovate UK’s Catapult centres began looking at putting all their centers on one, Liferay platform.
The Catapults are physical centres, which provide research and development facilities to businesses within relevant fields of technology in the UK. They facilitate funding, and through that, access to the necessary technology and expertise for a concept to be scaled up and developed so that it will work on a commercial scale. We helped them get all Catapult centres (then 7) onto one, online platform, with a consistent web presence.
The individual Catapults wanted control over their own websites within a platform that easily integrated other online tools and complied with the UK Government Digital Standards. They also wanted something that would not only integrate with their other online assets, but also scale easily and support an organisation that was going to grow to over 1000 users.
WHAT WAS THE TRANSITION LIKE?
First of all, we were faced with the decision of whether to go with 6.1.1 or 6.2. Having just finished the Peace Portal on 6.1.1, it made sense to go with that, but 6.2 had Bootstrap which meant it was easier to build a more responsive website. We ultimately had a limited turn around time to meet Innovate UK's ambitions and had to quickly narrow down the differences, and support that decision, so we weighed the pros and cons and went with 6.2 because we needed a system that was responsive. With the Catapults’ old arrangement, another company did the server deployments, but the beauty of putting the Catapults on Liferay was that it facilitated the existence of portals within portals: one portal provided the infrastructure for all the sites, making it easy for users to cross-navigate multiple Catapult sites.
Also, we built in a one login option for all the Catapults, providing a seamless Catapult network user experience, and clustering the solution to provide scalability for future activity of a potentially very active national innovation network.
HOW HAS YOUR KNOWLEDGE BEEN MADE USEFUL IN SUBSEQUENT PROJECTS?
After Catapults, I worked on the TU Delft Employee Portal, which we built on Liferay 7. There was no transition from one version to another, we just started the project on Liferay 7. We faced some challenges, some of the same ones we faced in building the Catapults’ platform: building some features was not always extremely clear, but as developers, we always find a way.
Liferay 7 had single sign on. They had talked about single sign on in earlier versions, but kept pushing the release back. We were able to build that in while facilitating the development of other parts of the portal.
As developers, we spot bugs in new platforms and these become part of the code. As with every new venture, developers have to test it and try it out, find work arounds, and when you’ve been with Liferay as long as we have, we adjust as necessary and make it work in the best possible way.
HOW DO YOU APPROACH A LIFERAY PROJECT? DO YOU DO ANYTHING DIFFERENTLY DUE TO THE NATURE OF THE TECHNOLOGY?
Not really. Most importantly, we first try to understand and discover what the client needs and wants from Liferay, in order to maximise its possibilities. The technology offers so much that it really is the best solution when you need a portal system to do more than just content management or blogging.
WHAT ARE SOME OF THE PLATFORMS WEAKNESSES, FROM YOUR PERSPECTIVE?
Liferay’s a complicated platform, and in order for an organisation to get the most out of it, they really have to invest in learning to use it. As their developers, we are tasked with teaching them. It is out of the box, but there are a lot of customisations required, which of course can also be a good thing when you really want a system that’s tailored to your organisation’s unique needs.
From a front-end build perspective, there are ID tags on devs which indicate a particular element. In Liferay, ID tags are random numbers. Once you’re a veteran, you understand the lay of the land, but it can be a sharp learning curve, so I’d say that’s a challenging feature.
WHAT ARE SOME OF LIFERAY’S STRENGTHS?
If clients are already using Liferay and the task is a transition to a new version, that’s a good thing; it’s easy to onboard the client and we’re better able to maximize the build time.
Clients who have stayed on the platform and have invested time in learning to use it, have benefited immensely.
At the end of the day, it’s easy to get a Liferay environment set up, it’s accessible, easy to demonstrate a client something, and it’s relatively simple to set up a local version on your website, and then have clients work in it. I’ve just worked with the platform for a few years, and I’ve seen it develop. It’s come a long way, and it’s constantly being enhanced.