Wow, it has been 11 months since my last blog post. Time flies, and a lot has been accomplished in that time. I really should have been blogging about various things along the way, but today I will try to provide a summary of news and progress for cloudscribe.

Open Source Improvements

Dynamic Authorization Policies is a new open source project from cloudscribe that started life as an add on product but was recently made open source on github. It allows you to manage ASP.NET Core authorization policy requirements from the UI. cloudscribe Core always provided management of user role membership and custom claims, but typically authorization policies are coded up in startup code which means that in order to change them you have to change the code, build, and redeploy your application. So you could create new roles from the cloudscribe core UI but you could not use the new role in a policy without going through build and deploy steps. Dynamic Authorization Policies lets you manage policies from the UI and therefore provides the final piece of the puzzle for managing access to your site content and features.

cloudscribe Core has some new improvements, including support for LDAP authentication, this work was sponsored by Exegesis Spatial Data Management. We also added an option to force only one web browser session per user, and an option to require 2 factor authentication.

PwaKit is a new open source project that facilitates building progressive web apps that work offline and support push notification. This work was sponsored by our friends at Exegesis Spatial Data Management.

A whole new way of doing localized content has been implemented in SimpleContent but needs documentation and a sample project. There is a github issue about it here and it was sponsored by Domain Integrators.

Commercial Products

In addition to our open source progress, we've also shipped several commercial add on features.

cloudscribe Forms and Surveys Solution provides a super user friendly drag and drop form designer, and provides a content template for SimpleContent that allows you to put a form/survey on content pages. This youtube video gives a tour of the product.

cloudscribe "TalkAbout" Comment System provides a self hosted GDPR friendly alternative to 3rd party comment systems such as Disqus. If you use a free service chances are that you and your web visitors are the product. Such services add numerous 3rd party tracking cookies and collect data about you and your users for their own purposes. All these extra tracking cookies complicate your ability to meet GDPR requirements. By using a self hosted comment system instead you can avoid all those 3rd party tracking cookies and more easily achieve GDPR compliance.

cloudscribe "TalkAbout" Forums provides a self hosted, GDPR friendly question and answer style forum to help you build a community. We just launched our Community Support Forum recently using this.

cloudscribe Membership Paywall provides the tools you need to monetize your premium content. You protect your premium content with roles, and users who purchase membership get automatically granted the needed roles to access your content and automatically removed from the roles if their membership expires. It provides automatic membership renewal using stripe for payment processing.

All of our add on products are free to try, and are included in our latest project template for Visual Studio, so you can easily create web apps with the nuget packages for these features all wired up for you. They do have some nag alerts that are shown every few web requests, by purchasing a license file you can remove the nag alerts.

cloudscribe project template for Visual Studio

As the end of 2017 draws near, it is good to look back at how the cloudscribe set of projects is doing. It has been a busy and productive year with continuous improvements across the cloudscribe projects and documentation along with growing adoption. We end the year with 530 stars for cloudscribe core on GitHub, over 328K downloads in aggregate across the 100 packages that make up the cloudscribe ecosystem. There are almost 1600 installs of our project template for Visual Studio and our analytics show about 29 projects are being created per day with cloudscribe libraries.

I would like to thank everyone in the community for providing feedback, bug reports, and for helping to spread the word to other developers. It has been a pretty good year especially considering that we don't have any marketing budget at all so people have found cloudscribe mainly from github, by word of mouth, from this website, and from a few occasional tweets and blog posts. With your help in spreading the word I think 2018 will be a even better! 

I am very happy to announce the availability of project templates that make it much easier to start new projects using cloudscribe components. Specifically, we have a new VSIX extension that provides a project template for Visual Studio 2017 and a NuGet package the provides a project template for the dotnet new command.

Previously, copying a project from the cloudscribe Starter Kits was the best way to get started with a new cloudscribe project, but now with the new project templates you can create projects with configurations that correspond to the different starter kit project configurations simply by using the available project template parameters. See the document "Introduction to cloudscribe" for more details.

Starting New Projects in Visual Studio

You can download the Visual Studio 2017 extension for free from the Visual Studio Marketplace, or from directly within Visual Studio, under Tools > Extensions and Updates > Online

If you download it from the marketplace you need to double click the .vsix file to install it. In both cases you have to restart Visual Studio for it to become available, then you will see a new cloudscribe project template under C# > Web in the new project dialog.

When you create a new cloudscribe project, another small dialog window will appear to let you choose which data storage platform and which cloudscribe features you want.

Starting New Projects with the .NET CLI (Command Line Interface)

The .NET CLI can be used on Windows, Linux, or macOS. You can install the cloudscribe project template NuGet package with this command:

dotnet new -i "cloudscribe.templates::*"

If you later wish to uninstall it, you can use this command:

dotnet new -u cloudscribe

Once you have the cloudscribe project template installed you should enter the following command to see the available parameters that you can pass to the template in order to choose which data storage platform to use and which features to install:

PS C:\_c\scratch> dotnet new cloudscribe --help
Usage: new [options]

  -h, --help          Displays help for this command.
  -l, --list          Lists templates containing the specified name. If no name is specified, lists all templates.
  -n, --name          The name for the output being created. If no name is specified, the name of the current directory is used.
  -o, --output        Location to place the generated output.
  -i, --install       Installs a source or a template pack.
  -u, --uninstall     Uninstalls a source or a template pack.
  --type              Filters templates based on available types. Predefined values are "project", "item" or "other".
  --force             Forces content to be generated even if it would change existing files.
  -lang, --language   Specifies the language of the template to create.

cloudscribe web project template (C#)
Author: Joe Audette
  -T|--Title                  The name of the project which determines the assembly product name.
                              string - Optional
                              Default: Project Title

  -S|--SimpleContent          Include cloudscribe SimpleContent blog and content engine.
                              bool - Optional
                              Default: true

  -C|--ContactForm            Include cloudscribe SimpleContactForm.
                              bool - Optional
                              Default: false

  -K|--KvpCustomRegistration  Include cloudscribe key/value pair custom registration.
                              bool - Optional
                              Default: false

  -I|--IdentityServer         Include IdentityServer4 (fork) integration.
                              bool - Optional
                              Default: false

  -L|--Logging                Include cloudscribe logging and log viewer UI.
                              bool - Optional
                              Default: true

  -D|--DataStorage            The data storage platform you wish to use.
                                  NoDb     - A no-database file system storage
                                  MSSQL    - Microsoft SqlServer storage using Entity Framework Core
                                  pgsql    - PostgreSql storage using Entity Framework Core
                                  MySql    - MySql storage using Entity Framework Core
                              Default: MSSQL

  -H|--HttpsPort              Port number to use to configure SSL in launchSettings.json.
                              integer - Optional

  -Ke|--KestrelPort           Port number to use to configure Kestrel in launchSettings.json.
                              integer - Optional

  -II|--IISExpressPort        Port number to use to configure IIS Express in launchSettings.json.
                              integer - Optional

PS C:\_c\scratch>

As you can see this is much easier than cloning the starter kits repo and copying an existing project. You have full control over the project name and even more configurable options than what the starter kits provide.

I hope you will give the new project templates a try and provide feedback. It would be great if you could provide a review or rating of the Visual Studio extension on the marketplace site.

One thing cool that I have noticed is that the marketplace shows the number of installs, not the number of downloads, so the number goes down if people uninstall it. That gives us a real honest metric for how the extension is doing in terms of popularity over time.  The NuGet package for dotnet new shows download statistics. Note that the Visual Studio extension has the template embedded inside the vsix file so it doesn't affect the downloads from nuget, only installations from the CLI affect the nuget download numbers.

UPDATE 2017-09-26

Feedback on the project templates has been great and I have continued to improve it. Yesterday I released a new version (1.8) with even more configurable options for SimpleContent and also added an option to set the multi-tenant mode to either use folders, host names or just use a single tenant.

cloudscribe project template options

In this post we will look at how using cloudscribe components helped deliver a high quality web project within a modest budget and allowed most effort to be focused on the primary project specific features we needed to develop.

I had the good fortune to collaborate as a sub contractor with Exegesis Spatial Data Management on this delightful project, for their client, Royal Commission on the Ancient and Historical Monuments of Wales (RCAHMW).

Main Project Goals

The main goal of the project was to provide an accessible and responsive web interface onto a new database of historic place names in Wales, including Google-like searching and interactive maps. At the time of this writing the main features are complete but the dataset of around 400,000 place-names is still being improved and added to, working towards a public launch on May 8, 2017. As a project for the Welsh Government, another high priority was that all public facing features and content in the site should be available in both English and Welsh languages. Actually, while it is conceptually one site there are 2 domains that correspond to the English version, and the Welsh version, with a language switcher at the top of each site designed to link to the corresponding page in the other site. This was implemented as a single web application with 2 tenant sites using the multi-tenancy feature of cloudscribe Core. This was ideal since both sites have the exact same features and use the same codebase, while each tenant is configured with the corresponding language and localization.

Secondary Project Goals

As with most website projects, there are some standard features that most projects need such as a few marketing and informative pages, a contact form, a blog, social sharing, etc. Most of these needs were met with free open source cloudscribe components, for social sharing we used AddThis, and for comments we used Disqus. I should note that as the primary developer of the cloudscribe components, I was able to use the lessons learned and feedback from the team on the Place Names of Wales project to make these components even better.

Historic Place Names of Wales - English language site

Historic Place Names of Wales - Welsh language site

Specific cloudscribe Components used in this project

That is a lot of ready to use functionality that you would not want to have to build from scratch for every project, and you don't have to.

The project team at Exegesis found that working with the cloudscribe components was straightforward and logical and helped them learn the new ASP.NET Core technology along the way, while the site administrators at RCAHMW found the creation and editing of content simple and intuitive. 

We started the project using one of the cloudscribe StarterKits, which are basically reference applications that provide examples of how to wire up the cloudscribe components in various configurations.  Then we developed custom code for the primary features and language switching, and the visual design to meet the needs of the client.

The language switching was an interesting challenge since there are 2 separate sites even though they are running from the same installation. Our first implementation automated it for blog posts by using the date and sequence of the post to match the corresponding post in the other site, so as long as posts were added on the same date and sequence in both sites, we could find the corresponding post in the other site to link to. We had some mapping for the pages from configuration which was ok given that the project only envisioned a small number of pages. Then after further consideration and thinking that the language switching might be a common challenge also in future projects, we pondered how to make it better and I pondered how to better support it in cloudscribe SimpleContent. As a result of that process, I added a new "correlation key" field for pages and blog posts. The idea is that though pages and posts in each site will have different titles and urls corresponding to the given language, a correlation key could be used to relate the content from each site and the corresponding page or post could be looked up using the correlation key. The new solution does require that the correlation key is populated in order to be able to find the content in the other site, but is a more reliable way to tie the content together.

In summary, by using the cloudscribe components we were able to focus most of the effort towards the primary custom features required by the client. The end result is a high quality web application running on a modern technology stack, delivered on a modest budget. The client is happy and the team enjoyed the project.