Approach to Developing a Redbourne Application

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Approach to Developing a Redbourne Application

Developing a Redbourne Application

Review the application and allow the client to testFully exercise the site, testing full operationDesign and implement the dynamic behaviour of the siteDesign the site layout and overall look and feelAgree the clients expectations and requirements.Make the web application live on the Internet.The Process

Redbourne recommend a simple structured process for developing web applications and deploying them using the Redbourne system. This process has much in common with rapid application development techniques and methodologies and can be considered a superset of static web application development and deployment.

The process is summarised in the diagram above. 'Click' on the individual elements for details of the process steps.

Although the process delineates a number of distinct steps - recognise that the steps in fact overlap and are iterative. At each stage you will learn more about the problem you are trying to solve and will be able to refine the previous stages.

The important points of the process as a whole are:

  • Agree the business requirements up front in a statement of requirements, paying particular attention to the clients expectations from the application.
  • It's a good idea to stage the implementation if this is possible, breaking the application into a number of deliverable stages. This will allow you to build confidence with the client and to get their site live as soon as possible.
  • The process is iterative. You work on a static 'look and feel', Review this with the client, make revisions. When you do the dynamic design you may realise the look and feel needs to be modified.
  • Make use of the Redbourne test site facility to test and review the operational site before making it live.
  • Get the client to accept the application before making it live.
  • Once the site is live, you can continue with the next phase using the test site, without fear of damaging the live site.

Statement of Requirements

A Statement of Requirements (SOR) should form the basis for agreeing to undertake a project for the Redbourne system. The client and the integration partner should work together to agree this as part of negotiating the design contract. The following list highlights some of the things that should be considered upfront in any successful application development. Note that this is not an exhaustive list!

  • The business requirements for the application. Why does the client want a web application - what is the perceived business benefit. If this is unclear there is a good chance that the application will be perceived as deficient by the client.
  • Required performance, availability and anticipated traffic load/visitor load as appropriate.
  • Data Maintenance. The application may be fed from external data - for example an existing client database. How is that data going to be transferred and who has responsibility for the transfer. Has the Client understood the internal business processes that may need to change.
  • Security Requirements. What are the clients expectations? Is a secure site appropriate, or an insecure site with authenticated access, or an open site?
  • Understanding of both the 'public' interface to the application and any (hidden from public view), management interface requirements.
  • Expected/required timescales.
  • Delivery phases. Ideally it is a good idea if a web application development can be delivered in phases. Both the client and the partner can benefit from a phased approach: The client by having an active web application faster; The partner by proving the application, and their reputation with their client.

Only once the requirements are clearly defined should serious work begin on the application design.

Static Design

In the static design phase concentrates on the basic model for the application, the result being a set of functional specifications for the site that should be reviewed by the client. In practice this phase is very close to that which would be produced for a static website.

This design aims to answer the following questions:

  1. The overall look and feel for the site.
  2. The top level 'site-map', how are end-users going to navigate around the site?
  3. The security model for the site. Which elements of the site are going to be protected, and how?

This phase should result in the following items being completed:

Look and Feel

Agreed look and feel for the site. Generally a common look and feel across all the pages in the site leads to a stronger site and can enhance and reinforce a companies image.

  • Does the client have an existing corporate look and feel? Can that be integrated into the web design?
  • What company images are to be used?
  • What is the overall navigation mechanism for the site?
  • Will any pages need to be made printer-friendly?

Administration and User Interface

All but a trivial site will require different facilities for different users. The clearest example of this would be the public pages seen by users and a set of 'private' pages used by clients to update things like catalogue data. More sophisticated sites still may have more classes of user. Bear in mind the requirements of, and facilities required by, each class of user. (If you look at the sample applications you will see many of them documented in two parts, the administration part often has two classes of user. The "user administrator" is allowed to manage users, the "site adminitrator" is allowed to managed, for eample, site catalogue contents.)

It can be easy to forget about the management requirements for a site by concentrating overly on the external look and feel of a site, but in cases the management interface can be the most difficult to produce. From an integration partners point of view - if the management interface is deficient the client is going to rely on the partner to make up for those deficiencies. This will use up valuable resources at the integration partner.

Ideally the integration partner should aim to make the site as manageable by the client as possible - ideally with no intervention for from the Partner. Consider the Redbourne site as an example of this. The Site Management Application allows our clients - the integration partners - to manage their area of the site with minimal intervention from us.

Site Map

What is the layout for the site? Which pages will exist and how are they related to one another in a formal menu structure. The designer must consider the need for easy and rapid access the information required by the user. If the information is not easy to locate the user will get frustrated and may seek and alternative - which could be a competitor!

What, if any, are going the be the external links from the site.

The overall site map should be produced and reviewed by the client. There is currently no standard way of describing a web site and so Redbourne have produced a graphical documentation nomenclature that may be used.

Example Site Map - taken from one of our example applications

Prototype Page

Static web pages utilising the proposed look and feel of the site. Use this in conjunction with your client to test usability, look and feel etc. Make a few links active on the navigation menu so that the Client can get a feel for site navigation.

Dynamic or Active Design

The basic application look and feel has now been determined, as have the pages that need to be produced. Now it is necessary top translate the design and the demonstration pages into a real web application. The following things should be considered when developing the application:

Common Look and Feel

The static design agreed a basic look and feel for the site, and probably agreed a single style to be applied to most, if not all pages within the site. When considering the site implementation investigate whether some or all of this look and feel can be encapsulated in a single file - to be included at the top of each page in the application. This has the following advantages:

  • The look and feel can be forced onto all pages - no opportunities for it to evolve so some of the later pages look subtly different from the earlier ones. If the look and feel evolves then the changes apply to all pages - no need to revisit all pages at the end.
  • Corporate images change. Companies change there logos, their names. If that information can be encapsulated in one place then the a new look can be rolled out over an entire site very quickly.
  • If menus and other top level elements are defined in one place testing is much easier - test the look and feel on a single page and be pretty sure it'll work everywhere!

The Redbourne system incorporates some very powerful mechanisms (using include files and XML processing) that make it very easy to produce a "wrapping" for main page content. The page that you are currently looking at is designed as an HTML document with no left hand or top border, just a plain page the only addition being a single <rb:include src="/defaultstyle.inc" /> tag at the top. The borders and menus were generated by the Redbourne system based on the content of the defaultstyle.inc file when you requested the page. See the sample applications section where the source code is available and its operation is is explained in detail.

Feature Mapping/Design

Decide how the features required by the application are going to be mapped to the services offered by the Redbourne system. Obviously you will have some idea of this in-order to agree the specification of the application. This is now the addition of detail - and may require you to revisit the static as well.

Data Storage/Session Data

Most web applications need to store some context sensitive information. Part of the dynamic design is to decide where and how that information will be stored. Some of the options are:

wherewhy
Client Side CookieLimited data - can be deleted.
Redbourne SessionSpace not a problem - data lost at end of session
Contact TemplateIf people have to register with your application then you can store information - such as preferences - against that users record in the Contact Template. This option provides the most reliable solution.

For a discussion of these options see the 'Tracking User Sessions' technical note.

Application Testing

At some point during the development of the web application it will be necessary to test it on the Redbourne system. Redbourne provides a completely separate 'test' virtual web server for each registered client. The basic process is to load the application into the test site, run tests against it until both the integration partner and the client are satisfied and then to 'make the site live'.

Redbourne supplies a Site Management Application that co-ordinates the management of most data centre activities in a logical and secure manner. This application provides integration partners with the ability to upload applications to a 'test area'.

In practice the design and test phases are closely linked. It is usually best to get a part of the site running at a time and have an iterative approach to the implementation. You need to design the site as a whole - but then implement small parts at a time.

Client Acceptance Testing

As well as the the designer being happy - the client has to be happy. The best way to achieve this is to involve them in reviewing the application at each stage. Finally - before the site can go live - the client should agree that it meets his requirements. If there have been frequent demonstrations and reviews then this should be a formality! The client can access the test site on a special Redbourne test URL.

When the client is happy with the site - it is ready to be released.

Activating the Application

The final action is to promote the application from the test environment to the production or live environment. Once again using the Site Management Application, that has a 'Make Live' facility.

Once the site is live the integration partner can go back to phase 2 of a staged project, or enhance/fix the existing site using the test site. No changes to the test side, or the data maintained by the test site, has any effect on the live site.

To make the testing even more representative of the final site the Site Management Application also has a facility to make a copy of the "live" data available in the test site.

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