Make it Pretty: Creating Custom Displays

When creating custom lists and data definitions, you can control not only how the input form appears to your users but also how the list itself displays. Eventually you may realize you need to create another sign-up sheet but you don’t need the same level of detail provided by the Volunteer Sign-Up data definition you created. Liferay empowers you to customize both the input and output of your lists to unlimited levels. Dynamic data lists provide two areas to customize: form templates and display templates. This covers the forms of lists (form templates), as well as the display of the list contents (display templates).

Form Templates

The default data entry form is the entire data model you created in a data definition, including required and optional fields. Listies who create new lists using a data definition will see every item in that definition on the input form. What if, however, you want a quick sign-up form to find out who’s coming to dinner tonight? Using a form template you can customize the form’s display any way you want. You can limit the fields displayed for entry or change the order of elements. To access and create new templates, go to the Dockbar and click AdminContent, click on Dynamic Data Lists, click on Manage Data Definitions, then click on the Actions button next to your data definition of choice and select Manage Templates. When you click on Add Form Template, you’re presented with the same kind of graphical, drag-and-drop interface used for creating the data definition. Move items around, delete unwanted fields from view and save when ready.

Note that data definitions can have multiple templates. You can choose the template you want to use for display in either a dynamic data list display or a dynamic data list form portlet (see below). You should create as many templates as you might need, and you can prototype them in the portlets to see how each feels.

Now your friends and enemies alike will be impressed with your skills. It may look to the untrained eye like you’ve single-handedly created three or four different data types for your lists but you know better. You used the power that form templates provide, using one data model that encompasses the maximum information you might need (like preferred activity, favorite color and ideal schedule). Then you quickly churned out four different form templates with a few mouse clicks. Now that you have such a vast amount of data collection options, how will you display them? However you want, as you’re about to find out.

Display Templates

For every data definition, you have an unlimited number of displays you can create. If you created a special “Thanksgiving Dinner Sign-Up” list using your “Volunteer Sign-Up” definition, you wouldn’t want to confuse fellow Listies by displaying data fields you never asked for. “Preferred task?” a friend might say, “I don’t remember seeing that on the sign-up form!” To avoid such embarrassing situations, you should create a custom display to match that list. Taking it even further, you could provide a fancy, JavaScript-driven image carousel preview of all the attendees of the party. This would complement your other displays and be another bragging right on Display templates give you the power to do all this and more.

Just like form templates, display templates are found in the Manage Templates section of a data definition. With display templates you can customize the display of a list in precisely the same way as you can customize web content. Display templates can be written in FreeMarker or Velocity, pulling data from the data definition in the same way that web content templates pull data from their structures. Also similar to web content templates, display templates can be embedded in other display templates. This allows for reusable code, JS library imports, or macros which will be imported by Velocity or FreeMarker templates in the system. Embedding display templates provides a more efficient process when you have a multitude of similar data definitions. Just import an embedded display template and work off of it for your new display template. We’ll look at a simple example, but for more information on using template scripts to pull data from a backing structure, see web content templates in chapter 3.

The first thing we need to do is create a new display template for our “Volunteer Sign-Up” data definition. As with many other features in Liferay, there are multiple ways to do this, depending on your context.

From the Dynamic Data List Display portlet:

  1. Navigate to the page with your DDL Display portlet and make sure your list is selected in the portlet’s configuration.

  2. Find the Add Display Template icon on the bottom-left corner of the portlet window and click it to create a new template. If you don’t see the icon, sign in as a user with permission to create templates.

From the Dockbar/Control Panel:

  1. Click on AdminContent.

  2. Navigate to Dynamic Data ListsManage Data Definitions.

  3. Find your data definition in the list, then click ActionsManage Templates.

  4. Now you can click on Add Display Template to create a new template.

Fill out the form with a name and a description. Next, choose a templating language. Just like web content templates, you can choose between FreeMarker or Velocity. There is no functional difference between the two. Once you choose the script language, you can upload a template file or use the display template editor to type in a script manually. Inside the editor, you have access to a palette featuring common variables related to your selected template language. Additionally, you can hover your pointer over a variable in the palette for a more detailed description. To place a variable into the display template code, position your cursor where you want it placed, and click the variable name in the palette. Another useful tool in the display template editor is the autocomplete feature. In a FreeMarker template, it can be invoked by typing ${ which opens a drop-down menu of common variables. Upon selecting one of the variables, the editor inserts the variable into your display template code.

We want to write a FreeMarker template to give us a summary of who is helping on the tasks in our move. To do that, we need to access the records for the list and pull out the name and task for each volunteer. Within the template, we have access to a number of helper variables to find out what records we have access to:





Inside a template, these variables give us the ID for the record set (that contains all of the volunteers in our list), as well as the name, description and data definition. We can easily retrieve all the records through a service call to DDLRecordLocalService. To gain access to this service, we need to use a helper utility called serviceLocator that retrieves an instance of the service for us. Once we have the service, we can retrieve the list of records (our list of volunteers). Accessing the service with the serviceLocator can be done with the following line of code:

<#assign DDLRecordLocalService =

To use the serviceLocator variable, you must enable it. For security reasons, Liferay Portal restricts the serviceLocator, along with the objectUtil, staticUtil, and utilLocator variables, in the file. Here are the default property values:



To use the serviceLocator variable in FreeMarker templates, for example, you must remove it from the freemarker.engine.restricted.variables property value list, save to a custom Portal properties file (e.g., Liferay_Home/portal-ext.propeties), and restart the server. You can view the full list of Velocity settings here and FreeMarker settings here.

Now that all that is taken care of, we store a handle to our service in DDLRecordLocalService so we can use the service to retrieve our list of volunteers:

<#assign records = DDLRecordLocalService.getRecords(reserved_record_set_id)>

Now that we have our records, we can iterate through the list and display the data from each record that we want to show. To access a field from a record entry (such as the volunteer’s name), we call the getFieldValue method and pass in the field’s name. Each dynamic data list record has a number of other similar methods (see the com.liferay.portlet.dynamicdatalists.model.DDLRecord interface at but you’ll probably use getFieldValue most often. This method returns the content of the field.


Now all we have to do is set the results in some appealing way. In this example, we’ve made it very simple by using an unordered list for the results (<ul>). Here is the complete source for the template:

<h1>Task Summary</h1>

Here are the tasks that people have signed up for on "${reserved_record_set_name}".

<#assign DDLRecordLocalService = serviceLocator.findService("com.liferay.portlet.dynamicdatalists.service.DDLRecordLocalService")>

<#assign records = DDLRecordLocalService.getRecords(reserved_record_set_id)>

<#if records?has_content>
        <#list records as cur_record>
                <li><em>${cur_record.getFieldValue("name")}</em> will help with ${cur_record.getFieldValue("task")}</li>

Once you’ve typed the template’s source into the editor window, click Save to save the display template. With the display template selected, your list display can now be a summary of tasks as shown below.

Figure 11.7: This display template provides a list of users whove volunteered along with the tasks for which they volunteered.

Figure 11.7: This display template provides a list of users who've volunteered along with the tasks for which they volunteered.

All the knowledge you have accrued through building out your award-winning content can be brought to bear in display templates. With the full power of FreeMarker or Velocity templates at your fingertips, you have easy access to all the data in the list, as well as the full complement of helper methods and the Alloy UI JavaScript library to make easy work of dynamic displays.

If you’re not a Listie and you happen to be deploying custom lists in an environment that requires approval from other users, then it’s not enough to just create the list and display a form. What you need is a real integration with workflow. Workflow integrates smoothly with Dynamic Data Lists.

Using Workflow

Liferay integrates the powerful features of workflow and the data capabilities of dynamic data lists in Kaleo Forms. Workflow is not enabled in the dynamic data list portlets by default, so you can focus on the core task of building custom forms backed by a data list. After this is done, you can deploy custom workflows to the form and its data. Though Kaleo Forms is only available in Liferay EE, you can still apply a workflow to a list when creating it in Liferay CE.

If you don’t have a workflow engine installed, you need install the Kaleo Web plugin. This plugin is included in the Kaleo Workflow CE and Kaleo Workflow EE apps which are available from Liferay Marketplace. To manually deploy the Kaleo workflow plugin, just copy the plugin .war file to the deploy folder of you application server. Once workflow is installed, you have a new option when creating a list:

Figure 11.8: Once the workflow plugin has been installed, you can choose a workflow when creating a new dynamic data list.

Figure 11.8: Once the workflow plugin has been installed, you can choose a workflow when creating a new dynamic data list.

Choose the workflow you’d like to use. This requires that every record must pass through the workflow process. Now if you need to preview or edit entries as they’re coming in, it’s easy to integrate it into your daily workflow.

Creating a Kaleo Form

EE Only Feature

Kaleo Forms EE is an app that provides you with greater control over the list creation and entry process. The Kaleo Forms EE app is available from Liferay Marketplace. It includes both the Kaleo Designer portlet and the Kaleo Forms portlet. The Kaleo Designer portlet provides an easy-to-use UI that helps streamline the creation of workflow definitions. The Kaleo Forms portlet lets you create web forms and basic applications. The Kaleo Forms EE app bundles these applications together, you can create workflows that govern the processing of web forms and applications.

For lists to appeal to companies all over the world (and make your new site not just a resounding success but attract profitable businesses), business users must be able to control the workflow of list entry and review those entries when made. There should also be a cool dashboard you make all of your changes. Using Kaleo Forms, users can create lists that follow a workflow, called a process, or create new entries in a process. Creating a new process is easy, straightforward, and effective.

Starting a New Process

Defining processes that must be followed in data collection and entry is a fundamental part of business. Historically, this hasn’t been fun or easy but Kaleo forms makes it as easy as possible. A process is just another way to describe a workflow that’s imposed on a list. When you place a Kaleo Forms portlet on a page, you are presented with a dashboard with two tabs: Summary and Processes. The summary view shows an inbox view which shows tasks that are assigned to you and tasks that are assigned to your roles. The summary view also lets you view your pending requests and your completed requests. If any process definitions have been defined, you can submit records to a list from the summary view. The processes view allows you to add process definitions and manage ones that have already been created.

To build a list in Kaleo Forms with a workflow:

  1. Add the Kaleo Forms portlet to a page.

  2. Within the Kaleo Forms portlet, click on the Processes tab.

  3. Click on Add Process and a form appears.

  4. Enter a name and, optionally, a description. Entering a description helps your users understand the purpose of this process.

  5. Select the appropriate list, workflow and forms you want to use in this process.

  6. Click Save to save your process.

Figure 11.9: When using the Kaleo Forms portlet to create a new workflow process, you need to complete this form.

Figure 11.9: When using the Kaleo Forms portlet to create a new workflow process, you need to complete this form.

While the form looks complicated, it’s easy to complete. There are a few pieces that make up a process and when you click on one, you can browse a list and select the appropriate piece to insert.

Selecting an Entry Definition

The first part of a new Kaleo process is also the simplest one: the entry definition. This is just another way to refer to a data definition. All of the available data definitions can be chosen, including our awesome “Volunteer Sign-Up List.” Just as with normal data lists, you can always create a new entry definition from the list view by clicking Add.

Selecting an Initial Form

One of the advantages of using Kaleo forms to present your list as a process is that it grants you complete control over the form template. You can always use a default template, which displays all the fields from your entry definition. You can also, however, create multiple form templates for use in different stages of the process. When you create a form template, you can specify what mode to put it in:

Create: Create mode gives a display for creating the initial entry. The first stage of any workflow requires you to create a new entry, so the initial form template must be a create mode form. All fields marked required must be included on create mode forms.

Edit: Edit mode is used for any stage of the workflow process. For instance, you might want to separate information that need not be saved from information that must. Other stages in the workflow could be a great place to store additional, non-required, information. Required fields can be absent from an edit mode form.

Once you have chosen an initial display template (it must be a create mode template, not an edit template), all that’s left to do is configure the workflow for your process.

Selecting a Workflow

You can now select a workflow to apply to your new list-defined process. Any of the available workflows can be chosen. You can also create new ones from the selection screen. Simply choose Add Workflow and a Workflow Designer screen appears allowing you to define a new workflow by dragging elements in a flow chart.

Figure 11.10: Youll see this form when editing or creating a new workflow with Kaleo Designer

Figure 11.10: You'll see this form when editing or creating a new workflow with Kaleo Designer

We’ll keep ours simple; just choose Single Approver Definition. This gives us a starting point (entry creation) and a review task, which we can use to add additional information in a secondary form.

Assigning Workflow Task Forms

Many workflows offer the option of having multiple editorial and review stages. During these stages, you might want to offer different forms that allow the user to add more information to the entry. Kaleo forms offers you the opportunity to fine-tune the stages of workflow to use different forms.

From the view to assign forms to tasks:

  1. Choose the workflow task by clicking on it. This selects the task in the chart.

  2. In the details pane on the left-hand side there is a property called Forms. Double click to edit the value.

  3. Start typing the name of a form template and it appears.

  4. Click Save to save the form assignment.

Figure 11.11: When creating or editing a Kaleo process, click Assign under Workflow Task Forms. Then click on a task, such as review, from the graphical view. Look for the Forms property in the Settings tab; you can use this property to assign a form template to a task.

Figure 11.11: When creating or editing a Kaleo process, click *Assign* under Workflow Task Forms. Then click on a task, such as review, from the graphical view. Look for the *Forms* property in the Settings tab; you can use this property to assign a form template to a task.

You can assign forms to as many tasks as you need until you’re satisfied with the workflow. After this stage, save the process and it’s ready to be used in Kaleo Forms.

Using a Kaleo Form

EE Only Feature

Once you have a new Kaleo Form process, you can add new entries through the Summary tab in Kaleo Forms. Once the form is filled out and submitted, it enters the workflow you selected for the process.

Figure 11.12: When adding a new entry to a process, youre presented with the processs configured form template for the initial display.

Figure 11.12: When adding a new entry to a process, you're presented with the process's configured form template for the initial display.

After you have created an entry, (depending on the configured workflow) the next task in the workflow may have an additional form to complete. If so, there will be an option to enter it:

  1. Next to the entry in progress, click the Actions button.

  2. Click Complete form.

After the new entry has worked its way through the entire workflow, it is added to the data set collected. The owner of that data set (who created the Kaleo process) can view and edit the entries collected.

To view an entry submitted to a list via workflow, click on My Completed Requests from the Kaleo Forms portlets Summary tab, then click on the name of the entry youd like to view.

If you are a Listie, or a developer, you’re now prepared to show your lists to the world. That is, in fact, the reason you created in the first place, right?

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