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Is it the end of the component presentation?

Posted by Dominic Cronin at Nov 17, 2019 03:20 PM |
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Among the most interesting talks at the recent Tridion Developer Summit, was one by Raimond Kempees and Anton Minko, in which they looked into their crystal ball to give some hints about the direction content delivery is going in. In brief, the news is that Tridion R&D are now following through on the consequences of recent changes in the way web content management is done. The market is demanding headless Web CMS systems, and although Tridion's current offering is fully able to punch its weight as a headless system, the focus looks as though it's going even further in that direction. Buzzwords aside, the reality is that templating is moving further and further away from the content manager, and will probably end up being done largely in the browser.

This blog post is not about the death of the server-based web application: that might be a little premature, but it's really clear that we won't be doing our templating on the content manager. Apart from legacy work, this is already the case for most practical purposes. If you are using a framework like DXA, you will most likely not wish to modify the templating that comes with the framework. The framework templating doesn't render output, but presents the data from your components and pages in a generic format such as JSON. Assuming that all the relevant data is made available, you shouldn't ever need to intervene at this stage in the proceedings. Any modifications or customisations you may wish to make will probably be done in C#, and not in a templating language. (Tridion's architecture is very flexible, and I'm talking here about where mainstream use of the product is going. There are still organisations whose current work looks very different to this, and they have their own very good reasons for that.)

So the templating has already moved out to DXA, and there's an advanced content service which offers JSON data which you specify in GraphQL queries. Architectural decisions in your project are still likely to be about what should happen on the server and what in the browser, but you won't be doing much on the content manager beyond, erm... managing content.

Among the interesting new directions sketched out in the talk were the following:

  1. A "native" data format for publishing. Effectively - instead of templates generating JSON, Tridion itself will do this, so you won't need templates any more.
  2. A fast publishing pipeline to ensure that the content gets from the content manager to the content service in a highly efficient manner.


All well and good, but somewhere in there, almost as a throwaway line, they touched on the end of the component presentation? Well it's kind of a logical conclusion in some ways, but when they mentioned this, I had a kind of "whoa" moment. So don't throw the baby out with the bath water, guys!

Seriously - for sure, if we don't have component templates any more, we can't really have component presentations, can we? Well yes, of course, we can, and both DD4T and DXA have followed the route of using good-old-fashioned page composition in Tridion, with the editors selecting component templates to indicate how they'd like to see the component rendered. In practice, all the component templates are identical, but the choice serves to trigger a specific "view" in the web application. The editorial experience remains the same as ever, and everyone knows what they are doing.

So in practice, instead of a page being a list of component presentations, it's become a list of components, with some sort of metadata indicating the choice of view for each component. That metadata doesn't need to be a component template, and you can see why they'd want to tidy this up. If you're writing a framework, you use the mechanisms available to you, but Tridion R&D can make fundamental changes when it's the right thing to do.

So they could get rid of component presentations. My initial reaction was to think they'd still have to do something pretty similar to "page composition as we know it", but that got me thinking. We now have page regions, which effectively turns a page from one list into a number of smaller lists. With this in place, it comes down to the fundamental reasons that we have traditionally used different component presentations. It's very common to have page template/view logic that does something like: get all the link-list components and put them in the right-hand side bar, or get the main component and use it to render the detail view in the main content area, or get all the content components and put them in the main content area. These very common use patterns are easily coped with by using regions, but maybe there are other cases where it would still be handy to specify your choice of view for a given component.

Actually, a lot of our work in page templates over the years has been about working around the inflexibility of a page being simply a list of component presentations. We've written logic that switched on which schema it was, or maybe a dozen other things, to achieve the results we needed to. Still, that simple familiar model has a lot to be said for it, and I suspect there are cases where regions on their own probably aren't enough.

I've really appreciated the way product managers at Tridion have reached out to the community in recent times to validate their ideas and share inspiration. I have every confidence that the future of pages in a world without component presentations will be the subject of similar consultations. The Tridion of two or three versions hence might look a lot different, but it will probably also have a lot of familiar things. It's all rather exciting.

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