Thursday, April 25, 2019

Publishing target in Sitecore SXA

Publishing target

Sitecore has the notion of publish targets that you can use to publish to different databases. This can be several live databases if you need that, or in many cases this is used for a "preview" database in order to have your editors publish to this preview database and verify the results before actually publishing to the live environment. 
Creating a publishing target has been documented already, so I will be very brief on this. Sitecore describes on their documentation how you can use this in combination with workflows. You need to add an actual extra database (tip: copy your web database) to work with and configure this one. Note that a few things changed in Sitecore 9 - as noted here on SSE.  A good start is the blog post of Peter Proch├ízka on how to add a publish target.

Preview

For the scope of this article, I am focusing on using a publish target as a preview target. So the idea is that editors can publish to this target and see what they have created before publishing to the live site. This has some benefits over using the preview mode in Sitecore as that might not behave exactly as it will on the live environment. 
Assume our new target is called "preview" and we have created the database and all configs as mentioned in the above posts.

Indexes

One thing I am missing in a lot of posts on the subject is an extra index. Your code might rely on indexes (it should) but if you don't have an index to match that preview you will get strange results. So, create an extra index called sitecore_preview_index. You can copy the configuration from your web_index as it should act the same. Just don't forget to change the database in the crawler. 

SXA

The last step in configuring a preview target is normally to point a site to the preview database. That will be our test site. Normally I just use the ContentManagement site for this. In standard Sitecore this can be easily done in the configuration but in SXA I had to use a different approach.

First of all though: don't forget SXA also has it's own index..  so create a sitecore_sxa_preview_index as well (copy the config from your sxa_web_index, not from the other preview index as the sxa indexes have some different types).

Using SXA sites

In SXA you have a site definition in Sitecore itself (/sitecore/content/.../Settings/Site Grouping). This means you cannot have different values for ContentManagement and ContentDelivery in the same item (in config files that was easy). But there are solutions...  let's start by creating a second site item next to the one you already have (duplicate it to save time). 

The new site item should have all the same properties as the original one, except:
  • set the database to "preview"  (if your preview database is in the config, it should be in the list) 
  • add the preview index in the index config 

Routing the sites

Now we need to make sure that the CM is using the new site and the CD keeps using the original one. First thing to do is set the hostnames. The new site should not pick the CD urls and the original one doesn't need the CM url anymore. In some cases, this can be sufficient - it depends on the urls you have. In some cases however you might have wildcards and such that make this a first good step but not enough to make the CM go to the preview site.

SXA Environment parameter

There is one more parameter we can use - the "environment". By default this will be set to "*" on your site item. Meaning the site definition is valid for all environments. We can use this to distinguish between CM and CD environments! The value for the environment is not the same one as used in the Sitecore 9 configuration (the "role") - it is a value from a setting that we can patch on CM:
<settings>
  <setting name="XA.Foundation.Multisite.Environment" value="PREVIEW" role:require="ContentManagement" />
</settings>

So lets alter the values on our site items:
On the new preview site item we set the value to PREVIEW (same name as used in the setting). I noticed that I still had issues when the original one was left on *, so I changed that to LIVE - which is the default value of the environment parameter.

And yeah.. it works.
Not sure if this is the only way or the best way to do this, so if anyone has alternative ways to have publish targets combined with SXA please let me know ;)

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