Monday, May 20, 2024

Sitecore PowerShell Extensions Text-to-Speech Audio Synthesis Module

Another year, another exciting Sitecore Hackathon!  This round, I flew solo under the moniker "Sitecorepunk 2077" (a play on the critically acclaimed 2020 action role-playing video game "Cyberpunk 2077").


If you're curious how the event unfolded, I documented my progress on X (formerly Twitter) every couple of hours:













Needless to say, I was utterly exhausted and slept for 12 hours straight, following the 32 hours I had been awake.  While I didn't snag a win (congrats, team Cloud Surfers and team 451 Unavailable For Legal Reasons ), I enjoyed the experience, am proud of what I was able to output, and look forward to the next one.


Module Concept and Inspiration

The 2024 Sitecore Hackathon category I chose to work against was "Best Module for XM/XP or XM Cloud" - although the result could also fit the bill for "Best use of AI".  Inspired by the ever-increasing need for accessible content, I decided to develop a module that converts text content into spoken audio files, which are then stored remotely and saved as an MP3 links within the item's context - all from within Sitecore. Ultimately, once I landed on the idea, the goal was to provide an easy-to-use tool for generating audio versions of Sitecore content, thereby enhancing accessibility and improving user engagement for individuals with visual impairments or preferences for audio content.

Features

Here’s a breakdown of what makes the SPE Text-to-Speech Audio Synthesis Module stand out:

Lifelike Speech Synthesis from Microsoft Azure Cognitive AI Speech Services

One of the core features of this module is its ability to convert text content into lifelike speech. By transforming text into life-like speech, the module makes content more accessible to a broader audience, including those with visual impairments and individuals who prefer consuming content through audio.

The module utilizes Microsoft Azure Cognitive Services Speech Service to generate audio from selected text fields dynamically. This integration ensures high-quality, natural-sounding speech output. Whether it's a blog post, news article, or product description, every piece of content can be converted into audio, broadening its reach and enhancing user engagement.

Storage via Azure Blob Storage

To store the generated audio files, the module leverages Azure Blob Storage APIs. Once an audio file is generated and store locally in a temporary directory, it is then uploaded to a dedicated Azure Storage container. The API returns a URL to the audio file, which is then populated in the context page item’s Audio URL field. 


Interface and Custom Ribbon Button

A custom Ribbon Button on the Home tab streamlines the audio-generating process. This button triggers an interactive Sitecore PowerShell Extensions dialog where authors can configure various options, such as voice selection, field selection, and speech rate adjustment, and kick off the speech synthesis generation.


The customizable options ensure the audio output matches the intended tone and speech rate, providing a tailored listening experience.

Multi-Language Support

Recognizing the diverse needs of global users, the module supports multiple languages. For demonstration purposes and within the natural time constraints of the Hackathon, the following languages are supported in the initial implementation:

  • English (en)
  • Japanese (ja-JP)
  • German (de-DE)
  • Danish (da)

Each supported language selection has a series of Neural (lifelike, natural-sounding) voice options from Microsoft Azure Cognitive Services Speech Service (~449 neural voices to choose from). These hand-selected voices are configured to provide the best audio experience for each language. Of course, support can be expanded to include additional languages (there are 136 languages supported by Azure AI Speech Services).  


High-level Technical Breakdown

Initialization and Setup

The script sets up the necessary Azure services and local environment configurations.


User Interaction and Dialog Configuration

The script provides a dynamic interface through a custom Ribbon Button in the Sitecore Content Editor. This button, titled 'Generate Audio' or 'Regenerate Audio' based on the context item’s state, opens a dialog for configuring the audio output.  The fields and options available in the dialog are as follows:

- Field to Convert to Speech
  • Lists all Rich Text Editor (RTE) and multi-line text fields available on the item.
  • Special Case: If the 'Speech Content Override' field is populated, it appears as an additional option.

- Include Title?
  • A standalone radio button to include the item's title in the audio file.

- Voice
  • Dynamic option based on the item's language, the dialog offers preselected AI Neural voices.

- Speech Rate
  • Control the how fast the speech is spoken. 
    • Optional double value, defaulting to 1.0 if left empty.
    • Range: Between 0.5 (slow) and 2.0 (fast).

The dialog properties and user input handling are defined as follows:


Fetching and Sanitizing Text Content

The Invoke-AudioStreamFetch function handles the core functionality of fetching the text content from Sitecore, sanitizing it, and preparing it for conversion into speech.

The function checks if the title should be included and concatenates it with the main text content. It then sanitizes the text by removing HTML tags and special characters, ensuring clean input for the TTS service.


Sending Text to Azure AI for Speech Synthesis

As seen above, the sanitized text is then sent to the speech service endpoint for conversion into an audio file. The response, which contains the audio stream, is saved locally.


Uploading the Audio File to Azure Blob Storage

Once the audio file is generated, it is uploaded to Azure Blob Storage by calling the Upload-FileToAzureStorage function. This function handles the Azure Storage REST API authentication and the file upload process.


Updating Sitecore Item with Audio URL

After uploading the audio file to Azure, the script updates the Sitecore item with the URL of the audio file, ensuring that the content authors can easily access and manage the generated audio files.


Utilizing the Audio File on the Front-end

Once an item's Audio URL field has been populated, it can be used on the front-end within an HTML audio tag:




This is the simplest approach for playing the audio file, but further styling customizations are doable.


Video Demo

Part of the Hackathon Entry includes a video demo. You can check it out below:


Final Thoughts

Participating in the Sitecore Hackathon has always been an exhilarating experience for me, given the time crunch and competitiveness of the community. That night, the development of the SPE Text-to-Speech Audio Synthesis Module pushed my organizational and technical boundaries, and I'm proud of what I could accomplish in such a short timeframe. More importantly, I hope the resulting module helps highlight the importance of accessibility in content management and end-user experiences. 

If you're interested in or inspired to build your own Text-to-Speech synthesis module, the full PowerShell script and documentation are available on Github.

Tuesday, April 9, 2024

Sitecore XM Cloud Developer Certification Practice Exams: A Free Study Companion

Certification is a crucial milestone for any developer pursuing excellence and proficiency in Sitecore XM Cloud.  One of my preferred ways to learn and study is via practice exams.  However, with existing spread of Sitecore XM Cloud practice exams available online cost being between $30 and $150, the financial burden of personally preparing can be as daunting as the exam itself. 

That's why I'm excited to introduce the Sitecore XM Cloud Developer Certification Practice Exams app, a completely free resource designed to democratize the preparation process for all Sitecore developers.



Elevating Your Exam Readiness Without the Cost

The XM Cloud Certification demands a deep understanding of numerous Sitecore aspects, from XM Cloud architecture and developer workflow to security and data modeling. This exhaustive list requires serious preparation. The Sitecore XM Cloud Developer Certification Practice Exams app offer a thorough, cost-free study tool that reflects the actual exam's breadth and depth.

Tailored for Comprehensive Preparation

  • Precise Exam Simulation: The practice exams simulate the actual test with 50 questions chosen randomly, testing not just your knowledge but also your ability to perform under exam conditions.

  • Competency-Centric Learning: Dive into crucial competencies on which the exam will test you. Each practice question is sourced from Sitecore's documentation and is an opportunity to fortify your understanding of core Sitecore XM Cloud competencies.

  • Real Exam Experience: Sharpen your time management skills with a 100-minute timer that mirrors the exam's duration.



Commitment to Community and Accessibility

Access to educational resources should be barrier-free in a landscape dotted with expensive prep materials.  The Sitecore XM Cloud Developer Certification Practice Exams app was born from a blend of personal needs and a commitment to the Sitecore community. This practice exam tool is my contribution towards leveling the playing field for all aspiring XM Cloud certified developers.

I'm excited to offer this resource to the community, ensuring that everyone has the chance to study effectively and become certified without the financial strain. Start your free practice runs today and please share this tool with anyone who might benefit.


Happy learning!

Wednesday, February 14, 2024

Sitecore ADM: Resolving Stalled Tasks and Restoring Task Processing

My team is currently in the process of purging millions of historical anonymous xDB contact records and associated data using the ADM module for a client whose xDB shard database sizes have been approaching max storage capacity for the Azure tier.  Because xDB is a crucial portion of the client site's operations, our options for reducing the DB size have been somewhat limiting due to complex custom external integrations with xDB. 

In our approach, we opted to use ADM to purge historical anonymous contacts in batches. We prepare ~300k contact records per shard for each batch, which are manually retrieved via SQL query. Once we've created the temporary table in the shard DB, we prepare the data by generating a comma-delimited list of contacts and then kick off the purge process via ADM. 

When ADM populates its Tasks table, each queued record is subsequently processed by ADM and removed from the Tasks table as it completes processing that record.  The ADM task execution is a generally slow process (1 contact processed every 2-3 seconds); we closely monitor the progress with a SQL query:



With this approach (in addition to SHRINK and REINDEX operations between batches), we have seen the necessary disk size reduction of both xDB shard DBs after running a cadence of several batches.  

However, we ran into a snag in a recent batch, which resulted in the entire ADM task processing halting entirely.  The issue appeared to directly correlate with general Azure Maintenance operations, which had occurred over the weekend while the batch was mid-process.  Azure Maintenance updates typically happen without any advanced notice or warning.  Usually, Azure Maintenance operations have minimal adverse effects, but this round seemed to have caused much of the infrastructure to spiral.  We observed that the ADM tasks were no longer processing when all was said and done.  

Attempts to re-start the job via ADM kept resulting in the same error:

"[ADM] Response from xConnect did not indicate success. Status code: BadRequest, Message: {\"Message\":\"The remove task can't be started while another one is running.\"}"

Upon initial analysis, we noted that the ADM tasks table was still populated with IDs that had yet to be processed when the operation was cut off. I began dissecting the ADM binary files for clues - specifically in search of the message "The remove task can't be started while another one is running".  

I learned that the StartContactsDataRemoving method queries an IsRunning method to determine if any other tasks are in progress. If there are, it throws a BadRequest
response and returns the "The remove task can't be started while another one is running.
message" message. 



Digging deeper led me to this ClearRemoveDataSettings method - called in the StopRunningTasksAndClearStorage method.  Deeper in, there are references to a PropertiesRepository class and an object name of "RemoveDataSettings" used to store task information:


This, in turn, finally led me to a PropertyValueQuery method in a PropertiesRepositoryQueries class, which contained a SQL command used as part of the process:




We reviewed the current state of the ADM Properties table within the ADM DB and found three entries, including RemoveDataSettings:


The RemoveDataSettings record's value appeared to be a JSON representation of ADM's last ADM removal task run.  However, the JSON representation was cut off after a few hundred characters.  With this state of the present value, ADM was convinced that the task was not completed.  

Following the approach used in the code (mimicking what should occur when an ADM removal task is completed), we ran the following command:

We also entirely cleared the remaining IDs and Tasks table and re-initialized the process.  With these steps, our ADM tasks were back to processing as expected.

I hope this one helps anyone in a similar situation!


Friday, September 8, 2023

Building Better Reports: 5 Sitecore PowerShell Extensions Functions for Your Toolbelt


When navigating the Sitecore ecosystem effectively, PowerShell extensions aren't just a helpful tool; they're practically a prerequisite. As someone who has spent a substantial amount of time in this space, I have distilled a set of functions that I've found myself using time and time again. 

Join me as I unpack a curated list of five functions that have become staples in my Sitecore toolkit.

Get-IsPublished

The "Get-IsPublished" function checks if a specific item, identified by its ID, is published on a "web" database. It takes an item as input and queries for it against the "web" database using its ID. If it finds the item in the database, it returns "TRUE," indicating that it is published. If it doesn't find the item (i.e., if the item is null), it returns "FALSE", indicating that it is not published.

This is particularly useful for displaying a column in your SPE report to denote if the item is published to the web database:


Get-ItemSitecoreCELink

The "Get-ItemSitecoreLink" function generates a URL to open a specific item in the Sitecore Content Editor. It takes a Sitecore item as input and uses various properties of that item (like its ID, version number, and language) to construct a URL. This URL, when accessed, will open the Sitecore Content Editor with that specific item loaded, allowing for easy navigation directly to the editing interface for that item. 

Please note that the base of the URL ("https://yourcmurl.com/") in this function is a placeholder that you'd replace with your actual Sitecore Content Management URL.

This is useful if the report is exported to Excel or CSV as it provides the direct link to reach the item without manually traversing the tree or searching for the item by GUID.


Get-LinkFieldUrl

The "Get-LinkFieldUrl" function retrieves the URL from a Sitecore item's link field. It takes a Sitecore item as its input and utilizes a regular expression to extract and return the URL stored in a "My Link Field" field. The regular expression is designed to find and capture the URL stored as a value in a link HTML element's URL attribute.  

If the "My Link Field" is not empty and matches the pattern specified by the regular expression, the URL is retrieved and returned. If the field is empty or doesn't match the pattern, the function returns nothing, essentially returning a null value.

This function couples well for reports if you need to extract the URL out of a Sitecore Link Field value to display in your report:

Assert-HasLayout

The "Assert-HasLayout" function checks if a given Sitecore item has a "final layout" defined. It accepts a Sitecore item as its input and uses the built-in "Get-Layout" function to retrieve the final layout details of the item.  If the item has a final layout (meaning the $layout variable is not null or empty), the function returns a "TRUE" string, indicating that a layout is present.

If no layout is found for the item (meaning the $layout variable is null or empty), it returns a "FALSE" string.

Usage example


Get-FormattedDate

The "Get-FormattedDate" function takes a raw date string as its input and attempts to turn it into a more user-friendly date format.

The raw date string is expected to follow a particular "yyyyMMddTHHmmssZ" pattern ("20230908T123456Z" representing September 8, 2023, 12:34:56 PM in Coordinated Universal Time, for example) - which is precisely how Sitecore typically stored DateTime fields in the database.

The function reads this string and converts it to a date format that is more commonly used, which includes the month, day, and year (like "09/08/2023"). If, for any reason, it can't convert the input into a date (maybe because the input doesn't follow the expected pattern), it will simply return an empty string. This way, even if it receives unexpected inputs, it won't crash and will still produce a result, even if that result is just an empty string.

By passing in the raw DateTime field value into the Get-FormattedDate function, the report will convert it to a readable string value when exporting the report to Excel, CSV, or JSON.




Whether you're a seasoned Sitecore developer or just starting out, these 5 functions can become essential tools in your developer toolkit, helping you navigate the complexities of Sitecore with greater ease and efficiency ✌.

Friday, June 23, 2023

Security Bulletin SC2023-003-587441: SPE OnDoubleClick Error

Sitecore has been busy patching security vulnerabilities left and right lately.  The latest as of this post is Security Bulletin SC2023-003-587441

We applied the hotfix to a lower environment but discovered during regression testing the update had broken a key feature of Sitecore PowerShell Extensions (SPE).

After running an SPE report, double-clicking on any result item does not open a new window to the selected item as expected.  Instead, the following error was being thrown in the logs:

ERROR Application error.
Exception: System.Web.HttpUnhandledException
Message: Exception of type 'System.Web.HttpUnhandledException' was thrown.
Source: System.Web
at System.Web.UI.Page.HandleError(Exception e)
at System.Web.UI.Page.ProcessRequestMain(Boolean includeStagesBeforeAsyncPoint, Boolean includeStagesAfterAsyncPoint)
at System.Web.UI.Page.ProcessRequest(Boolean includeStagesBeforeAsyncPoint, Boolean includeStagesAfterAsyncPoint)
at System.Web.UI.Page.ProcessRequest()
at System.Web.UI.Page.ProcessRequest(HttpContext context)
at System.Web.HttpApplication.CallHandlerExecutionStep.System.Web.HttpApplication.IExecutionStep.Execute()
at System.Web.HttpApplication.<>c__DisplayClass285_0.<ExecuteStepImpl>b__0()
at System.Web.HttpApplication.ExecuteStepImpl(IExecutionStep step)
at System.Web.HttpApplication.ExecuteStep(IExecutionStep step, Boolean& completedSynchronously)

Nested Exception

Exception: Sitecore.Exceptions.AccessDeniedException
Message: Calling Spe.Client.Applications.PowerShellResultViewerList.OnDoubleClick method through reflection is not allowed.
Source: Sitecore.Kernel
at Sitecore.Reflection.MethodFilter.Filter[T](MethodInfo method)
at Sitecore.Shell.Framework.Commands.CommandManager.GetMethodCommand(String command)
at Sitecore.Web.UI.Sheer.ClientPage.Dispatch(String command)
at Sitecore.Web.UI.Sheer.ClientPage.RaiseEvent()
at Sitecore.Web.UI.Sheer.ClientPage.OnPreRender(EventArgs e)
at System.Web.UI.Control.PreRenderRecursiveInternal()
at System.Web.UI.Page.ProcessRequestMain(Boolean includeStagesBeforeAsyncPoint, Boolean includeStagesAfterAsyncPoint)

The main message here:
"Calling Spe.Client.Applications.PowerShellResultViewerList.OnDoubleClick method through reflection is not allowed."

One of the more profound differences noted when comparing the original files against the hotfix files is the `Sitecore.Reflection.Filtering.config`; where we see several entries removed and many new entries related to SPE (Spe.Client.Applications.PowerShellResultViewerList.OnDoubleClick included) have been added


Upon further investigation, it was discovered that in the `OnDoubleClick` definition, an extra trailing space was present:

Removing the space restored the broken double-click functionality on the instance. 

If you find yourself in a similar situation, check this file first and determine if you have any trailing or unexpected spaces within the `methodName,` and remove them before redeploying the file. 

Hope this helps! ✌

Thursday, April 20, 2023

Sitecore Support Security Bulletin SC2023-002-576660: Hotfix vs Patch


Sitecore recently released a Support Security Bulletin SC2023-002-576660 that addresses a vulnerability in the platform. You can find the details of this bulletin in their knowledge base article KB1002979. Some of my team already had questions regarding the recommended approaches for addressing this vulnerability, specifically the differences between applying a hotfix and a patch. In this post, I'll clarify these approaches and discuss how to apply the hotfix to various Sitecore roles.

Two Approaches: Hotfix vs. Patch

The bulletin outlines two approaches to resolve the vulnerability:

  1. Applying as a hotfix
  2. Applying as a patch

The main difference between these two options is that the patch only fixes the known attack vector (a specific method or pathway that cybercriminals have been observed using to exploit vulnerabilities in software or systems). At the same time, the hotfix addresses the vulnerability more comprehensively - covering scenarios beyond the known attack vector. Due to this critical difference, Sitecore strongly recommends applying hotfixes rather than installing the patch. 

Applying the Hotfix to Different Sitecore Roles

The hotfix comes packaged as a `.update` package and can be easily installed using the Sitecore Update Installation Wizard. This process is straightforward for a Content Management (CM) role. However, applying the hotfix to other functions requires additional steps.

For non-CM roles, installing the hotfix on the CM instance is generally recommended, then syncing the changes made with some other cases using your typical development practices. The idea is to ensure the updated files and configurations installed on the CM instance are copied to Content Delivery (CD) or other Sitecore roles to maintain a consistent codebase and configuration.

To manually extract the contents of the .update package, you can use a tool like 7zip without renaming the file. Right-click the file and choose one of the "Extract" options. You can then extract the package.zip to obtain the files from addedfiles, addedfolders, addeditems, and changedfiles folders. 

Alternatively, to 7zip, you can rename the .update file to .update.zip and extract it using Window's built-in zip manager. Once you've extracted the files, you can plan to drop them into the rest of your non-CM XP roles.

It's worth mentioning that your particular solution may already have a previous cumulative hotfix applied. You may need to check your solution to see if any of the extracted files (such as the Sitecore.Kernel.dll) are already referenced to a static hotfix location and make the necessary updates to the solution to reference.

Compare the DLLs and configs against your solution and merge updates wherever necessary.   Skipping this step risks overwriting the installation during a subsequent deployment.

What's in the latest Hotfix?

Looking at 10.0.0 installation, there are 42 file differences between the current solution and the hotfix files:

  • \sitecore modules\Web\ExperienceForms\scripts\form.conditions.js

  • \sitecore\shell\client\Applications\FormsBuilder\Layouts\Renderings\FormDesignBoard\FormDesignBoard.js
  • \sitecore\shell\client\Applications\FormsBuilder\Layouts\Renderings\Composites\SubmitActionsManager\SubmitActionsManager.js
  • \sitecore\shell\Applications\Page Modes\ChromeTypes\FieldChromeType.js
  • \sitecore\shell\Applications\Page Modes\InlineEditingUtil.js
  • \sitecore\shell\Applications\Content Manager\Content Editor.Search.js
  • \sitecore\shell\Applications\Buckets\scripts\ItemBucket.js

  • \bin\Sitecore.Services.Infrastructure.Sitecore.dll
  • \bin\Sitecore.Services.Infrastructure.dll
  • \bin\Sitecore.Services.Core.dll
  • \bin\Sitecore.Services.Client.dll
  • \bin\Sitecore.Mvc.ExperienceEditor.dll
  • \bin\Sitecore.Mvc.dll
  • \bin\Sitecore.Mvc.DeviceSimulator.dll
  • \bin\Sitecore.Kernel.dll
  • \bin\Sitecore.ExperienceForms.SubmitActions.dll
  • \bin\Sitecore.ExperienceForms.Mvc.dll
  • \bin\Sitecore.ExperienceForms.dll
  • \bin\Sitecore.ExperienceForms.Data.SqlServer.dll
  • \bin\Sitecore.ExperienceForms.Client.dll
  • \bin\Sitecore.ExperienceForms.Analytics.dll
  • \bin\Sitecore.ExperienceExplorer.Web.dll
  • \bin\Sitecore.ExperienceExplorer.dll
  • \bin\Sitecore.ExperienceExplorer.Core.dll
  • \bin\Sitecore.ExperienceExplorer.Analytics.dll
  • \bin\Sitecore.ExperienceEditor.Speak.Ribbon.dll
  • \bin\Sitecore.ExperienceEditor.Speak.dll
  • \bin\Sitecore.ExperienceEditor.dll
  • \bin\Sitecore.ContentSearch.SolrProvider.dll
  • \bin\Sitecore.ContentSearch.SolrNetExtension.dll
  • \bin\Sitecore.ContentSearch.Linq.Solr.dll
  • \bin\Sitecore.ContentSearch.Linq.dll
  • \bin\Sitecore.ContentSearch.dll
  • \bin\Sitecore.ContentSearch.Data.dll
  • \bin\Sitecore.ContentSearch.ContentExtraction.dll
  • \bin\Sitecore.ContentSearch.Client.dll
  • \bin\Sitecore.Content.Services.dll
  • \bin\Sitecore.Client.dll
  • \bin\Sitecore.Buckets.dll
  • \bin\Sitecore.Buckets.Client.dll

  • \App_Config\Sitecore\Services.Client\Sitecore.Services.Client.config
  • \App_Config\Sitecore.config

Conclusion

When addressing the vulnerability outlined in Sitecore Support Security Bulletin SC2023-002-576660 - or others where .update files are provided as part of the solution, applying the hotfix rather than the patch is strongly recommended. The hotfix should be installed on the CM instance and synced with other cases using your regular development practices. This ensures a consistent codebase and configuration across all Sitecore roles.

Hopefully, this helps clarify the recommended approaches for addressing this and future vulnerabilities in Sitecore.

Tuesday, February 28, 2023

Sitecore xDB Contact Lookup Utility

My client's lead flow includes capturing form data into a custom database. Each record contains an xDB Contact ID to correlate the data with the data captured in xDB directly.  We had a scenario where we had hundreds of records in the custom database where the xDB contact ID was missing, likely due to a networking issue between the CD and xConnect.

I needed a way to match users captured in the custom database against the data in xDB to obtain an existing xDB contact ID.  Luckily, Sitecore's documentation provides some sample code to help get me started: xConnect Client API (C#) (sitecore.com)

Thus was born, the...

🧰 xDB Contact Lookup Utility


The utility is your standard .aspx file that can be dropped into the/sitecore/admin folder or at the root of CM instance. It combines a series of xConnect API calls to search for contact information in the xDB.  Applicable parameters include email address, first name, last name, or xDB contact ID.

It can be used in two ways:

First, through the UI (as shown above), you have the ability to populate text boxes to obtain parameters and view the result list on the page.

Secondly as a simple rest endpoint, with the ability to pass parameters into the URL and return a JSON response containing a matching xDB contact ID.

For example: 
/xDB-Contact-Lookup.aspx?email=test@test.com&firstName=test&lastName=test




πŸ‘¨‍πŸ’» Code Breakdown

Page_Load

The Page_Load event checks if a query parameter named "email," "lastName," or "firstName" are present in the URL. 

If at least the "email" parameter is present, the method calls the SearchForContactIdByEmail .If the lastName and firstName parameters accompany the email parameter, the SearchForContactIdByName method is also used to search for a contact. The search results are returned as a JSON response which contains an xDB contact ID of the first match or "NoMatch" if no match was found. The JSON string is written to the HTTP response, ending the response. If the "email" query parameter does not exist, the method does nothing and loads the UI.

btnLookup_Click

This button click handler retrieves user input from four text boxes for known contact ID, email, last name, and first name. If the user input is for a known contact ID, it calls the SearchForContactById method to retrieve the contact's information and displays it in an HTML table. 

If there is no matching contact, it displays a message saying that no contact was found. 

If the user input is for email, last name, and/or first name, it calls SearchForContactIdByEmail and/or SearchForContactIdByName methods to retrieve contact information and displays it in an HTML table. 

If there are no matching contacts, it displays a message saying that no contact was found.

There are three methods implemented for using the xConnect API:

SearchForContactById

This method searches for a Contact object in xDB using a known contact ID. The method SearchForContactById takes a string parameter knownContactId and returns a Contact object. The method first converts the knownContactId string to a Guid, creates an instance of Sitecore.XConnect.Client.XConnectClient, and uses the Get method of the client object to retrieve a Contact object using a Sitecore.XConnect.ContactReference object created from the Guid

It also uses a Sitecore.XConnect.ContactExpandOptions object to specify which facets of the Contact object to retrieve. 

If the Get method throws an XdbExecutionException, the method catches the exception and returns null.

SearchForContactIdByName

This method searches for a list of Contact objects by their LastName and FirstName facets of PersonalInformation

SearchForContactIdByName takes two string parameters, lastName and firstName, and returns a list of Contact objects. 

Inside the Sitecore.XConnect.Client.XConnectClient using block, the method creates an IAsyncQueryable object named queryableLastName that represents a xConnect API query to xDB. The query retrieves all contacts where the LastName and FirstName facets of PersonalInformation match the values of the lastName and firstName parameters. 

The query then sorts the results in descending order of LastModified. The WithExpandOptions method is used to specify which facets of the Contact object to retrieve. The method then retrieves the query results using a batch enumerator, which is added to a List<Contact> object named idsList. 

If the query throws an XdbExecutionException, the method catches the exception and returns null.

SearchForContactIdByEmail

This method searches for a list of Contact objects by their EmailAddress and optionally their LastName and FirstName facets of PersonalInformation

SearchForContactIdByEmail takes three string parameters, email, lastName, and firstName, and returns a list of Contact objects. 

Inside the using block, the method creates an IAsyncQueryable object named queryable that represents a xConnect API query to the xDB. The query retrieves all contacts where the PreferredEmail facet of EmailAddressList matches the email parameter value. 

The query then sorts the results in descending order of LastModified. The WithExpandOptions method is used to specify which facets of the Contact object to retrieve. The method then retrieves the query results using a batch enumerator, which is added to a List<Contact> object named idsList

If the firstName and lastName parameters are not empty, the method checks if the FirstName facet of PersonalInformation and LastName facet of PersonalInformation match the values of the firstName and lastName parameters respectively for each Contact object retrieved. 

If both match, the Contact object is added to idsList. If the firstName and lastName parameters are empty, all Contact objects retrieved are added to the idsList

If the query throws an XdbExecutionException, the method catches the exception and returns null.

Final Result

The full code can be copied here. Add the content to a .aspx file and place it where you need it.


As always, feel free to modify or build on top of this to satisfy your own requirements.

πŸš€


Tuesday, December 13, 2022

Sitecore Analytics Database Manager (ADM) Contact Outliers - No Contact IDs Displaying

I recently installed the Analytics Database Manager (ADM) v10.0.2 module on a Sitecore 10.0.0 site. After completing the setup, I noticed that the xDB Contact Outliers report failed to render the Contact ID column in the table.


When I checked the browser's console, I saw that the data was indeed present in the dataset. The challenge was that the front-end code was closed-source and compiled in Angular, making it difficult to modify.

Since the Analytics Database Manager is distributed "as is" and not supported in the scope of the Sitecore Support Program, I had to try to resolve this myself. 

I searched for the `.NumberOfInteractions` property in the compiled ADM code since it was a unique enough property related to the data set that should point me in the right direction.

Luckily, I found a hit at `\sitecore\shell\client\Applications\ADM\main.577d3292f13f80d19c29.bundle.js`.

Next to it, I found what appeared to be the definition for the Contact ID column. However, the property `.id` did not match the data object's `Id` as seen in the console (note the capitalization). 



The table populated as expected by capitalizing the `i' in `Id`.



I hope this helps anyone who may encounter the same issue.



UPDATE
Sitecore released new versions of the module that address this issue on February 01, 2023:
https://support.sitecore.com/kb?id=kb_article_view&sysparm_article=KB0232559




Tuesday, December 6, 2022

Friday, November 4, 2022

DALL-E OpenAI Image Generator for Sitecore

On January 5, 2021, OpenAI revealed DALL-E, an artificial intelligence program that creates images from textual descriptions, on January 5, 2021. It uses a 12-billion parameter training version of the GPT-3 transformer model to interpret the natural language inputs and generate corresponding images. 

Since the initial private beta release, access to DALL-E was limited to those on a waitlist. However, about a month back, on September 28, 2022, DALL-E 2 opened to the public, and the waitlist requirement was lifted. Over the past month, millions of users have explored DALL-E's capabilities using https://labs.openai.com/.

Yesterday, on November 3, 2022, OpenAI announced the DALL-E API, which developers could start immediately consuming. 🀩


DALL·E joins GPT-3, Embeddings, and Codex in our API platform, adding a new building block that developers can use to create novel experiences and applications. All API customers can use the DALL·E API today.
As soon as I heard the news, I couldn't help but immediately explore the API myself. I was already familiar with OpenAI's API playground for text-based AI  prompts and had an existing API key ready. 

My first instinct to consume the DALL-E API was to use plain old Windows PowerShell πŸ€“

"A photorealistic close-up of a variety of river rocks"

"A super cute puppy"

So dope 😎 - and wildly simple!

DALL-E OpenAI Image Generator for Sitecore

AI-generated images were featured prominently in Paige O'Neill's keynote at the 2022 Sitecore Symposium in Chicago. 

There's real value in this technology. A reality where designers, marketers, and developers who need a patterned backdrop can unleash their creativity to quickly and easily generate an image without needing to license stock images is nearly here. Even in its current state, the ease and simplicity of the DALL-E API make this the perfect candidate for consuming in a CMS.

With the fresh release of the DALL-E API, I couldn't think of a better time to give it a whirl and integrate it into Sitecore. 

πŸ₯ Introducing...the ✨ DALL-E OpenAI Image Generator for Sitecore ✨ :




The Details

Naturally, Sitecore PowerShell Extensions was the way to go. The 'Context Menu' and 'Insert Item' integration points allow users to open the prompt while targetting any 'Media Folder' - either by right-clicking, expanding Insert, and selecting 'DALL-E OpenAI Image Generator' or selecting 'DALL-E OpenAI Image Generator' from the Folder tab of the active Media Folder.
Both integration points are configured out-of-the-box to only show on items where the Template is a 'Media Folder.'
Once the prompt is toggled, the user can configure their call to the DALL-E API using the following inputs:
  1. A prompt for the DALL-E to interpret.
  2. Image sizing options - restricted to these three sizes at this time: '256x256', '512x512', 'and 1024x1024' (see https://beta.openai.com/docs/api-reference/images/create#images/create-size)
  3. The number of images to generate (DALL-E API allows an integer from 0 to 10. The module limits generation to up to 5)
  4. The base name for new Media Items created in the Media Library after images are generated from DALL-E.



The module also comes bundled with a Settings item located in the following location:
  • /sitecore/system/Modules/PowerShell/Script Library/DALL-E OpenAI Image Generator/OpenAI API Settings
  • {F102AE0D-6A5B-499B-9500-505D0E6F686F}
This item allows users to change or override some default settings - the most important being the 'OpenAI API Key' field, where users must populate their unique API key. after installing the module, You can generate an OpenAI API Key by logging in and navigating to the API Keys settings for your account: https://beta.openai.com/account/api-keys
The Setting item's Template is located in the following location:
  • /sitecore/templates/Modules/DALL-E OpenAI Image Generator
  • {169EE16E-5D44-4CC1-B475-A2DFC8B08A0B}

The Code

The complete source code is available on GitHub, along with the Sitecore package (see https://github.com/strezag/DALL-E-OpenAI-Image-Generator-for-Sitecore/releases) and installation instructions: 
https://github.com/strezag/DALL-E-OpenAI-Image-Generator-for-Sitecore

The module is totally open to any community contributions or general suggestions. Beyond that, feel free to fork a version of your own a build on top of it.

Final Thoughts

I'm really excited about this space and where I believe it's headed. As this technology continues to grow, we should expect an expansion of the DALL-E API (and others) that will almost certainly redefine how we work with digital visual assets.

Enjoy! πŸ€–

Monday, September 26, 2022

Copy Sitecore User Roles from One User to Another User using Sitecore PowerShell

I recently had received a request to add several new Content Author accounts to the CMS and apply the exact user roles from a specific user to the new users.  I ended up scripting this with Sitecore PowerShell Extensions using hardcoded variables (usernames and roles), but because I expect similar requests in the future, I wanted a quick way to copy roles from one user account to another to use in the future.  Since I couldn't find a script readily available to do this, I developed my own. 

The script utilizes the 'user' editor type (which doesn't happen to be listed on https://doc.sitecorepowershell.com/interfaces/interactive-dialogs - yet still works) within an interactive 'Show-ModalDialog.' It allows you to select a "source user" and a "target user" from the list of all available user accounts.  After choosing both, the script iterates through each source user's roles and applies the target user to each user role. 

The script loads the modal and requires the user to select a Source User and Target User.

Clicking the ellipses button opens a separate dialog that lists all users. 



After selections are made, click OK to initiate the copying of roles. 

The script can be run in Sitecore PowerShell ISE or configured as a module that can be run from the Start Menu.

Happy scripting! 🦸‍♂️

Monday, August 1, 2022

Sitecore Symposium 2022 in Chicago - Tips from an Illinois Native

I'm so excited for Sitecore Symposium 2022 to be hosted in Chicago, the city I grew up and work in! I can't wait to connect with the Sitecore community (in-person πŸ˜€), and share some of the city's many offerings with those visiting from out of town. Breaking from my typical technical-centric posts, I wanted this one to contain some of my own tips and recommendations to help prepare and enhance your trip to Chicago this autumn.

Credit: Chait Goli

πŸš– Getting Around

Which airport you land in may shape your experience and the cost of transportation to make it into the city. Chicago has two major international airports:

  • O'Hare International Airport
  • Midway International Airport

O'Hare, the larger (and arguably the 'nicer' airport) of the two (~20.5 miles from McCormick Place), is between 26 - 45 minutes (and up to 90 minutes during peak rush hour) to and from Loop, depending on the time of day.  



Midway is closer to the Loop (~10 miles from McCormick Place), coming in at about a 14 - 28 minute drive to/from McCormick Place. 



While you could reach your hotel and McCormick Place through a series of trains and busses, I highly recommend taking an Uber/Lyft or taxi for convenience and speed. Taxis and rideshares are also the way to go if you decide to venture away from the McCormick Place grounds.

🏒 McCormick Place

Located in the "South Loop", McCormick Place is the largest convention center in North America. 

It's absolutely massive and regularly used for annual conventions like the Chicago Auto Show, International Manufacturing Technology Show, Chicago Comic & Entertainment Expo (C2E2), and International Home & Housewares Show. 

From their website:
With over 2.6 million square feet of exhibit space, McCormick Place is the largest and most flexible use convention center in North America. Located on Chicago’s lakefront, just minutes from downtown and facing one of the most iconic skylines in the world, the McCormick Place campus provides world-class facilities that can accommodate just about any event.
You can take a virtual tour ahead of Symposium to help familiarize yourself here: McCormick Place 360° Virtual Tour | Choose Chicago

πŸ‚ Chicago October Weather

Sitecore Symposium 2022 will run in Chicago during mid/late October. While Symposium itself will take place in a temperature-controlled McCormick Place where comfort will be a lesser concern, if and when you venture out into the city you don't want to get caught off-guard by the weather. It could be cloudy and chilly, sunny and warm, windy (particularly closer to the lake), possibly rainy, or a slim chance of snow flurries - all in the same week!

I'm personally hoping for unseasonably high temperatures, but freezing temperatures are not uncommon by mid/late October, so don't forget to pack appropriately! πŸ˜‡

Here's what you can expect in terms of weather on average during the third week of October: 
  • Sunrise: ~7 AM πŸŒ…
  • Sunset: ~6 PM πŸŒ†
  • High Temp: 62° F (17° C) 🌞
  • Low Temp: 45° F (7° C) 🌚
  • Average Temp: 53° F (12° C) πŸ‘
  • Daily wind average: 12.4 mph (19.9 km/h) πŸ’¨ 

πŸŒ† Essential Chicago Loop Spots to Visit 

Chicago is a vibrant city with much to offer, and (contrary to the above paragraph) October is a great time to visit.  Cooler temparetures and shorter days mean you can explore without getting too hot or exhausted. At the same time, it's still usually warm enough to enjoy outdoor activities and see the sights if you want to explore beyond McCormick Place. Here are my top picks for first-time visitors.

Travel times are approximate from McCormick Place *

Millennium Park 

Credit: Bhargava Marripati

Millennium Park is located on Michigan Avenue between Washington Street and Columbus Drive. 



This park is home to some of Chicago's most iconic art installations, including Cloud Gate (a.k.a. the "Bean") and Crown Fountain, an interactive work of art and video sculpture. 


  • πŸ’΅ Price: Free 
  • πŸš• Uber/Lyft/Taxi: ~ 8 to 10 min ($10 - $25)
  • 🚢‍♀️ Walk: 45 min 

Buckingham Fountain

Credit: Petr Kratochvil
Buckingham Fountain (or The Clarence Buckingham Memorial Fountain as it is formally known) is located in the center of Grant Park between Queen's Landing and Ida B. Wells Drive, just an 8-10 minute walk southeast of Millenium Park.



Built in 1927, Buckingham Fountain is one of the largest fountains in the world and remains one of the most popular spots in Chicago for tourists and locals alike due to its stunning beauty and incredible views of Lake Michigan and the city skyline.

The fountain is typically operated from early May through mid-October, depending on the weather, so there is a chance that the water may not be flowing. That's OK! The views of the city and lake from the fountain grounds are spectacular and worth the visit. 

  • πŸ’΅ Price: Free 
  • πŸš• Uber/Lyft/Taxi: ~8 to 10 min ($10 - $25)
  • 🚢‍♀️ Walk: 45 min 

The Skydeck at Willis Tower 


Credit: Jared VanderMeer
Credit: Amit Thakral

Once holding the title of the largest building in the world, the Willis Tower (formally Sears Tower - which natives still often refer to it as) is one of the most iconic sights in Chicago. It's located on the western edge of Chicago's Loop.




The SkyDeck / The Ledge , after a quick 90-second elevator ride (that's 16 feet per second!), presents a breath-taking 360-degree view of The Windy City from 1,353 feet up in the air.

Given that this is one of Chicago's most popular tourist attractions, it's highly recommended that you purchase tickets in advance. They offer a couple of pricing options that range from $35 (Skydeck General Admission) to $64 (Skydeck Expedited Entry).

  • πŸ’΅ Price: $35 - $65 
  • πŸš• Uber/Lyft/Taxi: ~8 to 10 min  ($11 - $25)
  • 🚢‍♀️ Walk: 1 hour

Navy Pier 

Credit: Pixabay

A bit farther from McCormick (but well worth the 20-minute rideshare or taxi ride), Navy Pier is one of Chicago's top attractions, for good reasons. From its many restaurants and bars (including the iconic Giordanos and their deep-dish pizza) to the Centennial Wheel in Pier Park that offers a year-round bird's eye view of Lake Michigan and the skyline, Navy Pier has a little something for everyone.



  • πŸ’΅ Price: Free
  • πŸš• Uber/Lyft/Taxi: 15 to 20 min ($15 - $30)
  • 🚢‍♀️ Walk: 🚷

Guided Tours 

If you plan to spend a few extra days here before or after Symposium and have some proper downtime to explore the city, consider a guided tour to soak in the sights. You can opt for walking, biking, Segway, double-decker bus, or boat tours. Whether you're into ghosts (it is 'Spooky Season,' after all), food, art, architecture, or sports, there's sure to be a tour for you. You can find more information about tour options here: 

Walking Tours

Segway Tours

Bus Tours

Boat


Final Thoughts

There is certainly no shortage of famous sights and hidden gems to explore throughout Chicago, so plan ahead to ensure you don't miss out on all this beautiful city has to offer. From the great (freeeee!) public spaces to the many incredible museums, restaurants, art installations, and historical sites, you're bound to find something that fits your taste, budget, and schedule. 

For more advice while in town, feel free to reach out. 

See you there!