Understanding Data Handlers

A common requirement for many data driven applications is to import and export data. This could be accomplished by accessing your database directly and running SQL queries to export/import data; however, this has several drawbacks:

  • Working with different database vendors might require customized SQL scripts.
  • Access to the database may be tightly controlled, restricting the ability to export/import on demand.
  • You’d have to come up with your own means of storing and parsing the data.

Liferay provides a more convenient and reliable way to export/import your data without accessing the database.

Liferay Archive (LAR) File

An easier way to export/import your application’s data is to use a Liferay ARchive (LAR) file. Liferay provides the LAR feature to address the need to export/import data in a database agnostic manner. So what exactly is a LAR file?

A LAR file is a compressed file (ZIP archive) Liferay DXP uses to export/import data. LAR files can be created for single portlets, pages, or sets of pages. Portlets that are LAR-capable provide an interface to let you control how their data is imported/exported. There are several Liferay DXP use cases that require the use of LAR files:

  • Backing up and restoring portlet-specific data without requiring a full database backup.
  • Cloning sites.
  • Specifying a template to be used for users’ public or private pages.
  • Using Local Live or Remote Live staging.

The data handler framework is available so developers don’t have to create/modify a LAR file manually. It is strongly recommended never to modify a LAR file. You should always use Liferay’s provided data handler APIs to construct it.

Knowing how a LAR file is constructed, however, is beneficial to understand the overall purpose of your application’s data handlers. Next, you’ll explore a LAR file’s anatomy.

LAR File Anatomy

What is a LAR file? You know the general concept for why it’s used, but you may want to know what lives inside to make your export/import processes work. With a fundamental understanding for how a LAR file is constructed, you can better understand what your data handlers generate behind the scenes.

Below is the structure of a simple LAR file. It illustrates the exportation of a single Bookmarks entry and the portlet’s configuration:

  • Bookmarks_Admin-201701091904.portlet.lar
    • group
      • 20143
        • com.liferay.bookmarks.model.BookmarksEntry
          • 35005.xml
        • portlet
          • com_liferay_bookmarks_web_portlet_BookmarksAdminPortlet
            • 20137
              • portlet.xml
            • 20143
              • portlet-data.xml
    • manifest.xml

You can tell from the LAR’s generated name what information is contained in the LAR: the Bookmarks Admin app’s data. The manifest.xml file sits at the root of the LAR file. It provides essential information about the export process. The manifest.xml for the sample Bookmarks LAR is pretty bare since it’s not exporting much content, but this file can become large when exporting pages of content. There are four main parts (tags) to a manifest.xml file.

  • header: contains information about the LAR file, current process, and site you’re exporting (if necessary). For example, it can include locales, build information, export date, company ID, group ID, layouts, themes, etc.
  • missing-references: lists entities that must be validated during import. For example, suppose you’re exporting a web content article that references an image (e.g., an embedded image residing in the document library). If the image was not selected for export, the image must already exist in the site where the article is imported. Therefore, the image would be flagged as a missing reference in the LAR file. If the missing reference does not exist in the site when the LAR is imported, the import process fails. If your import fails, the Import UI shows you the missing references that weren’t validated.
  • portlets: defines the portlets (i.e., portlet data) exported in the LAR. Each portlet definition has basic information on the exported portlet and points to the generated portlet.xml for more specialized portlet information.
  • manifest-summary: contains information on what has been exported. The Staging and Export frameworks export or publish some entities even though they weren’t marked for it, because the process respects data integrity. This section holds information for all the entities that have been processed. The entities defining a non-zero addition-count attribute are displayed in the Export/Import UI.

The manifest.xml file also defines layout information if you’ve exported pages in your LAR. For example, your manifest could have LayoutSet, Layout, and LayoutFriendlyURL tags specifying staged models and their various references in an exported page.

Now that you’ve learned about the LAR’s manifest.xml and how it’s used to store high-level data about your export process, you can dive deeper into the LAR file’s group folder. The group folder has two main parts:

  • Entities
  • Portlets

If you look at the anatomy of the sample Bookmarks LAR, you’ll notice that group/[groupId] folder holds a folder named after the entity you’re exporting (e.g., com.liferay.bookmarks.model.BookmarksEntry) and a portlet folder holding a folder named after the portlet from which you’re exporting (e.g., com_liferay_bookmarks_web_portlet_BookmarksAdminPortlet). For each entity/portlet you export, there are subsequent folders holding data about them. Entities and portlets can also be stored in a company folder. Although the majority of entities belong to a group, some exist outside of a group scope (e.g., users).

If you open the /group/20143/com.liferay.bookmarks.model.BookmarksEntry/35005.xml file, you’ll find serialized data about the entity, which is similar to what is stored in the database.

The portlet folder holds all the portlets you exported. Each portlet has its own folder that holds various XML files with data describing the exported content. There are three main XML files that can be generated for a single portlet:

  • portlet.xml: provides essential information about the portlet, similar to a manifest file. For example, this can include the portlet ID, high-level entity information stored in the portlet (e.g., web content articles in a web content portlet), permissioning, etc.
  • portlet-data.xml: describes specific entity data stored in the portlet. For example, for the web content portlet, articles stored in the portlet are defined in staged-model tags and are linked to their serialized entity XML files.
  • portlet-preferences.xml: defines the settings of the portlet. For example, this can include portlet preferences like the portlet owner, default user, article IDs, etc.

Note that when you import a LAR, it only includes the portlet data. You have to deploy the portlet to be able to use it.

You now know how exported entities, portlets, and pages are defined in a LAR file. For a summarized outline of what you’ve learned about LAR file construction, see the diagram below.

Figure 1: Entities, Portlets, and Pages are defined in a LAR in different places.

Figure 1: Entities, Portlets, and Pages are defined in a LAR in different places.

Excellent! You now have a fundamental understanding for how a LAR file is generated and how it’s structured.

Next, you’ll learn about data handler fundamentals and the prerequisites required to implement them.

Data Handler Fundamentals

To leverage the Export/Import framework’s ability to export/import a LAR file, you can implement Data Handlers in your application. There are two types of data handlers: Portlet Data Handlers and Staged Model Data Handlers.

A Portlet Data Handler imports/exports portlet specific data to a LAR file. These classes only have the role of querying and coordinating between staged model data handlers. For example, the Bookmarks application’s portlet data handler tracks system events dealing with Bookmarks entities. It also configures the Export/Import UI options for the Bookmarks application.

To track each entity of an application for staging, you should create staged models by implementing the StagedModel interface. Staged models are the parent interface of an entity in the Staging framework. For more information on staged models, see the Understanding Staged Models tutorial.

A Staged Model Data Handler supplies information about a staged model (entity) to the Export/Import framework, defining a display name for the UI, deleting an entity, etc. It’s also responsible for exporting referenced content. For example, if a Bookmarks entry resides in a Bookmarks folder, the BookmarksEntry staged model data handler invokes the export of the BookmarksFolder.

Figure 2: The Data Handler framework uses portlet data handlers and staged model data handlers to track and export/import portlet and staged model information, respectively.

Figure 2: The Data Handler framework uses portlet data handlers and staged model data handlers to track and export/import portlet and staged model information, respectively.

You’re not required to implement a staged model data handler for every entity in your application, but they’re necessary for any entity you want to export/import or have the staging framework track.

Before implementing data handlers, make sure your application is ready for the Export/Import and Staging frameworks by running Service Builder in your application. Using Service Builder to create staged models is not required, but is recommended since it generates many requirements for you. To ensure Service Builder recognizes your entity as a staged model, you must set the uuid attribute to true in your service.xml file and have the following columns declared:

  • companyId
  • groupId
  • userId
  • userName
  • createDate
  • modifiedDate

You can learn how to create a service.xml file for your application by visiting the Defining an Object-Relational Map with Service Builder tutorial.

To learn how to develop data handlers for your app, visit the Developing Portlet Data Handlers and Developing Staged Model Data Handlers tutorials.

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