What Is a Portlet
Pages: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6

Portlets do provide some additional functionality.

  1. Persistent storage for preferences: Portlets provide a PortletPreferences object for storing user preferences. These preferences are stored in a persistent data store, so they will be available across server restarts. As a developer, you don't have to worry about the actual implementation of how it is stored.

  2. Request processing: Portlets provide much more refined request handling. A portlet may get a request when user takes some action on it (a state called action phase), or because the user took action on some other portlet and the page needs to be refreshed. A portal server provides different callback methods for handling both situations.

  3. Portlet modes: Portlets use a concept of mode to indicate what user is doing. When using a mail application, you may be using it for reading, composing, or checking mail messages--this is the expected functionality of a mail application. Portlets normally provide this in VIEW mode. But there are other activities, like specifying a refresh time or (re-)setting the username and password. These activities allow the user to configure the behavior of the application, so they come under EDIT mode. Help functionality of the mail application comes under HELP mode.

    If you think about it, you will find none of these represents new functionality. Instead, most of these are common business requirements. The only thing the portlet specification is doing is providing you one layer of abstraction, so that it will be useful for all stake holders end users, developers and administrators.

    As a developer, I put all my business logic related to VIEW mode in a method called doView(), and I put business logic related to the configuration of my application in a doEdit() method, with help-related logic in a doHelp() method.

    This makes it simple for an administrator to control access in the portlet application, because all he has to do is change access rights of the portlet to dictate what things a user is allowed to do. For example, a user of a mail application is supposed to specify his username and password in EDIT mode, so it makes sense for him to have access to EDIT mode.

    But consider the case where I am the administrator of an intranet site and my company bought a third-party portlet application that displays news updates. This application allows a user to specify the URL from where it can retrieve updates. I want to use this application for displaying internal company news to users. Another requirement is that I don't want users to use this application for tracking any other news source. So as the administrator, I can specify the URL of an internal news update site for all users, and take out their edit privileges by changing the deployment descriptor of this portlet application.

    Using portlets makes my website much more appealing to the end user because she will get a similar UI for all her portlet applications. If she wants to read help information about any of the applications, she can click the help button. She will also know that clicking on an edit button will take her to a configure screen for that application. Standardizing the user interface will make your portlet application more appealing.

  4. Window state: The window state determines how much space should be given to content generated by a portlet on a portal page. If you click on the maximize button, the portlet will take up the entire screen and it will become the only portlet that will be available to the user. In minimized state, the portlet will be displayed as only a title bar. As a developer, you should customize your content based on the space available to you.

  5. User information: Commonly, portlets provide content personalized to the user making the request. To do this effectively, they may require access to user attributes such as name, email, phone, etc. The Portlet API provides the concept of user attributes for this. A developer can access these attributes in a standard way, and it is the responsibility of the administrator to map these attributes to an actual user information repository (usually an LDAP server).

We will talk more about some of these features--request processing, user information, and portlet modes--in the second part of this series.

Pages: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6

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