I almost overlooked this gem of a course in the pack of 57 SharePoint Courses on Pluralsight.com. The title sounded similar to at least four other courses in the SharePoint Curriculum on Pluralsight.com. I’m glad I didn’t and chose instead to review it in depth.
It is hard in the midst of so many good courses to keep them all differentiated. At this time, Pluralsight lacks a personal history navigation interface: one where you can tell at a glance the courses taken and the current state of your progress in a given course (Hint! Hint! Pluralsight!). Yes, there is a “Your history and bookmarks” displayed under your login name - but it only bookmarks the last 10 courses you’ve visited - barely a month’s worth for some of us more avid users!
When I finally reviewed "Advanced SharePoint 2010 Branding for Web Designers", I realized this course was huge in SharePoint learning experience and breadth of technology. To do this offering justice, I needed to do more than just casually watch the technology stream by on my monitor. This called for something more proactive which included building the demos on my home SharePoint 2010 virtual machine along with the videos presented by Mr. Guru, Ted Pattison (@TedPattison)
As a SharePoint Developer of almost five years, I have found good coverage from the ground up of XML, XSLT and SharePoint Designer sorely lacking in SharePointdom. There are, of course, expert blogs on these topics but the complexity of the presentations frequently obscures any of insights for us mere mortals.
Ted Pattison has long been a giant in SharePoint (heck, before that he was huge in COM+ programming. I’m pretty sure this dates both of us! Groovy! huh?).
It took Ted Pattison's consummate skill to expound on XML, XSLT, and SharePoint Designer and provide a workable pathway through this dense forest of learning. On any of these topics, it would have been easy to leave the student stranded in the weeds. This didn’t happen. Ted provides a novel and workable approach that lays claim to the basic principles of each discipline.
Because of the uniqueness and novelty of Ted’s approach on the coverage of the XSLT and SharePoint Designer Integration, I have chosen to focus this review exclusively on these topics.
ALMOST BARE NAKED XML AND XSLT
What makes this coverage interesting is the utility of the examples used. Ted starts with basic XML and XSLT rendered just in the browser from an html wrapper. Then he progresses to one of the most complex tools in this author’s estimation, SharePoint 2010 Designer.
He entitles a section "World's Fastest Introduction to XSLT". I haven't previously had occasion to use "fastest" and "XSLT" in the same sentence - or even the same paragraph for that matter. His video and examples provide the student with material to work through this maze and emerge knowledgeable.
XML AND XSLT IN SHAREPOINT XML VIEWER WEB PART
Next, Ted hones in on using XSLT within SharePoint.
You gotta love this: Ted's emphasis is to not get mired in the XSLT Code. His motto is let SharePoint Designer do most of the work. Then, just modify what has to be changed.
How often as developers have we gotten knee-deep in XSLT, and then lost our precious thread of logic while waiting for SharePoint Designer to return from its extraterrestrial excursions?
Remember how SharePoint 2007 Designer reformatted code -sometimes to something unworkable? Or worse yet, remember how it would occasionally introduce extra tags, like form tags, and have the gall to complain about them and refuse to render the page until it’s extraneous tags were removed.
The next presentations covers the XML Viewer Web Part and the XSLT List View Web Part in depth. The use of the Content Query Web Part in formatting search results, are only mentioned to note their use and importance in SharePoint.
Note: One disconcerting thing to be aware of is there are NO Exercise Files for this segment available in download. The files used Are NOT the same files Ted used for the simple demos on XML and XSLT. This causes a little inconvenience in requiring the user to first create the files, lists and libraries needed to be able to follow along with the modifications Ted presents. (On the bright side, we learn by doing.)
XML VIEWER WEB PART IN SHAREPOINT
The next two demos utilize the XML Viewer Web Part. What the XML Viewer Web Part does is to essentially separate the XML file and the XSLT file. This allows the user to experiment with different XSLT files for display with a given XML file. Thus, they can change the transform as needed or desired by simply changing the name of the XSLT file. This Web Part, then, renders or displays the transformed html on the SharePoint Web Page.
Ted takes a different set of files (as previously noted) and drags them into SharePoint Designer. Then he hooks them up to the XML View Web Part. He uses these files in almost the same way he used the stand-alone XML and XSLT files. This works on the same concepts you have already explored but propels the learning squarely into the SharePoint Arena.
As Ted begins to work with the demo code, he shows the user how to modify the XSLT in SharePoint Designer to add additional markup. SharePoint Designer leverages Intellisense in conjunction with a superb XPATH Expression Editor to ease the pain of coding god-awful XSLT syntax. His emphasis is to let SharePoint do the “grunt” work. You, the victim, just modify the bare minimum to achieve the effect needed.
MORE EXTENSIVE SHAREPOINT 2010 DESIGNER AND COMPLEX XSLT
Ted's last two demos show the adeptness of SharePoint Designer at generating gnarly XSLT code for you.
[It’s worth noting that neither of these demos display correctly in the Ted’s browser after he finishes coding. For a developer, this is funny but not totally unexpected: The environment is complex and SharePoint Designer can be snarky—even with the new improved SharePoint 2010 Designer.]
The final part of this outstanding section shows SharePoint as even more capable XSLT generator (well, sometimes). Ted uses a SharePoint Picture Library of his Wingtip Toys for a List View XSLT Web Part. He notes that out-of-the-box SharePoint (OOTB) does not have a view that will natively render images in a Web Part. (That’s why there are expensive SharePoint Developers. Don’t ya just hate this!)
This would be daunting for mere mortals, but Super Ted pulls off his gloves and goes wading into raw code to display a view that works in the SharePoint Designer Split View (but unfortunately not in the browser).
While Ted did not have a solution to every issue in the section of XML, XSLT and SharePoint Designer, he provided me with inspiration. That what a good educator does and my hat is off to his mastery.