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Enough theory! Here's how my first real foray into building something with XPages is going

By Andrew Pollack on 06/24/2008 at 01:24 PM EDT

After all the time at the workshop doing walk throughs, all the demos, and all the talking -- I decided to try building something useful with XPages today. Even with all the background information, I'm finding my knowledge to be a little too theoretical and when it comes to practical code I'm really having to work for it.

The idea is simple enough -- but revolutionary from a pure old-school Notes perspective. I have two forms. One has company data, the other has record data. The records have a many to one relationship with the company data. It's like an invoice, or maybe a directory. You want to store the company information which is the same for all people in one place, and use another place for the data on each record. What you don't want, is a lot of navigating from place to place, editing on one form, then redrawing and doing a bunch of look-ups.

In building the thing, its tricky to keep track of the scope and bindings for each object. I've found that John Mackey's posting has been a great walk through refresher. In particular the slide deck he provides. Since I'm changing things as I go, I still stumbled in places but once I'd started using John's example as somewhat of a road map the stumbling became much more manageable.

I've got a working prototype now. It's taken me several hours to really understand what was going on, but that's a first timer (newbie) learning curve. Its a steep one, but its manageable. Re-doing this would now take only an hour, and after I've done a few it will be the work of minutes.

In the prototype, you can select the company or select "New Company". The company data is editable, and a save button tied just for that allows you to update it in place. The individual records display in a panel below, and can also be selected and edited.

The big learning curve here, as in anything else, is going to be developing your design patterns. For example, some early "Ah-ha" moments and patterns that I see emerging are as follows:

"Panels" will allow you to bind elements together that work with common data very well. For example, if I've got two data elements on my XPage, I can use script on a button to save each separately, or save them both. If the button is on a panel, and the panel is bound to a data source, a simple action "Save Document" will save the elements for the document which is bound to the panel. There's no confusion because the panel itself is tied to a document and the button is on the panel. If I don't tie things together on panels -- because I want to mix them up for display or whatever -- I can still call a save, but I need to know the name of the data element I've bound and call it's save function.

Generally speaking, you're going to want to create "Custom Controls" - think of these as Sub-Xpages, but without any implied limitations - for each of your form and view elements. Make them work as units, then drop them on the main pages. This will make debugging and reuse much easier.

No screen shots today, since the data is confidential.

I'm sure there'll be much more as I go.


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