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Customizing User Profiles with Portal

Customizing User Profiles with Portal

This article focuses on the User Management framework of WebLogic Portal. Specifically I will discuss a small portion of Portal's User Profile Management features by detailing how to customize Portal's User Manager functions and extend the User Management framework to build a robust Unified User Profile.

Quite possibly one of the most widely used features of WebLogic Portal is the Personalization service. Personalization gives a portal application the ability to provide a personal touch by selecting specialized content and ads or by defining rules and user segments or even running complex business campaigns. These personalization choices are based on a set of user properties that can be defined in multiple places.

Properties represent pieces of useful user information: personal data, demographic data, or something of equal importance that can be logically grouped together into something called a property set and referenced directly from a portal application either through the Enterprise JavaBeans that map them or with JSP Custom Tag Library functions. Actually these properties and property sets can come from many sources: HTTP Requests, HTTP Session objects, predefined user preferences, or persistent attributes from a user profile. All of these are configured separately in the Electronic Business Control Center (EBCC) (see Figure 1).

Each property set created in the User Profile, Request, Session, or Events tabs can be accessed by your portal applications. Although the creation of property sets and their properties is done in a consistent fashion, this last one, User Profile, is the one we'll focus on here. By default, properties are stored in the Portal schema, the default-persistent framework that Portal uses to store all WebLogic Portal-persistent attributes for personalization and other services (see Figure 2).

Although a complete discussion of the Personalization framework is beyond the scope of this article, I'll discuss just enough of it to provide a context for managing user profiles.

The Moving Pieces
The Personalization service calls many different subservices in its zeal to provide the appropriate content; one of the main services called is the User Management service. The User Management service consists of UserManager and GroupManager Session EJBs that act as the liaison between User Profile Management and User Security Management (see Table 1). Although user management is performed with both User and Group Management, the primary focus here will be on User Management. The Group Manager mainly allows for the inheritance of properties by defining Successor Keys; Successor Keys can be used by Profile Managers to build a more complex user profile.

The User Manager provides methods for creating users, creating groups, assigning users to groups, and deleting users. These methods directly interact with WebLogic Server's security realm. The User Manager also references the Profile Manager and Profile Wrapper classes that are used for creating and working with profiles and keeping profiles synchronized with users. A ProfileManager is a Session EJB that provides direct access to a user's profile. Both a user and group profile may be used to specify attributes for the individual user or to define a succession of attributes via the group. The ProfileManager accesses profiles via an EntityPropertyManager EJB that is defined in the ProfileManager's deployment descriptor. The ProfileWrapper is a lightweight object used to provide direct access to various profiles through interaction with a single or multiple Profile Managers; you can think of this as a façade that clients can use to access the ProfileManager. The ProfileWrapper determines which ProfileManager to use based on the user or group identity it was initialized with. Initialization can also be done with both a group and a user identity that will allow for inheritance of properties through succession. ProfileWrappers are created with the ProfileFactory Singleton object; all three of these classes are located in the com.p13n.usermgt. profile factory and can be customized.

As I mentioned earlier, by default WebLogic Portal supports user profiles locally by storing properties in the portal schema; in addition, it provides the mechanisms to locate profile information from external sources such as legacy applications, other RDMBS', LDAP servers, or even flat files. All these properties are combined into a Unified User Profile (UUP; see Figure 3) that can be used directly from your portal applications. All types of profiles are, in fact, the user property sets that we will be using with Personalization.

The UUP allows you to build more complex profiles by leveraging existing user data already stored in an enterprise system. The benefits of this, of course, come from using existing user information without having to migrate that data into the portal schema; for example, you might have a UUP that contains order-specific properties from an order fulfillment database combined with personal customer data retrieved from an LDAP-provided customer profile the user created when registering with your site. A UUP provides many benefits; three of the most obvious are:

  • Reuse of user information
  • More complex user properties
  • Transparent access to user profiles for portlet and content developers

    UUPs are composed of multiple profile types managed by a ProfileWrapper working with the ProfileManager and standard or customized EntityPropertyManager objects. The EntityPropertyManager is located in the com.bea.p13n.property package and is simply a remote interface to a Session EJB. EntityPropertyManagers provide the persistence mapping between users and their properties and are directly accessed by the PropertyManager EJB to build the UUP. Portal ships with EnterprisePropertyManagers that map persistent attributes of the Portal schema but supports extensibility by allowing Portal developers to create their own property mappings. To build a complex UUP we take advantage of this extensibility and write our own Session EJBs to handle the mapping of properties to our other data sources.

    Building the UUP is pretty straightforward. Although I introduced a complex relationship between all the classes above, in most cases we don't need to worry about customizing the UserManager or ProfileManager EJBs, which will keep things fairly simple. In fact the only thing we really need to do is to create our own Session EJB that implements the com.bea.p13n.property.EntityPropertyManager interface and register it with the UserProfileManager EJB. When creating your custom EntityPropertyManager it's a good idea to extend the existing EntityPropertyManager and not replace it. You will want to leave the default EntityPropertyManager of the UserProfileManager in place and add your own EntityPropertyManagers to supplement it. One benefit of this is that you won't have to implement every method defined in the interface, you'll simply need to worry about implementing the basic methods to retrieve the properties from your data source. In our EntityPropertyManager EJB we must create the Home Interface, Remote Interface, and implementation class. Remember that in this case the EntityPropertyManager is the Remote Interface for our EJB. There's nothing remarkable about the Home Interface and our implementation class can either extend javax.ejb.SessionBean or a convenience class: com.bea.p13n.property.internal.EntityPropertyManagerImpl. If you aren't replacing the default EntityPropertyManager you won't have to implement the following methods:

  • getDynamicProperties()
  • getEntityNames()
  • getHomeName()
  • getPropertyLocator()
  • getUniqueId()

    In your implementation class these methods will simply throw java.lang.UnsupportedOperationException. Regardless of whether or not you are extending or customizing the default EntityPropertyManager you will have to support the following methods:

  • getProperty()
  • getProperties()
  • setProperty()
  • removeProperty()
  • removeProperties()

    This is where you define how the new EntityPropertyManager will connect to your data source and access user properties. Obviously this is pretty vague because it may be simple or complex depending on the type of data source you are accessing, but this is also where power and flexibility are introduced in the customization of User Profile management. One thing that should be mentioned here is that a call to any of these methods via JSP Tag Libraries or direct method invocation will result in a trip to the data source. Repetition of this is usually not a good thing so you'll want to take advantage of the property caching provided by the EntityPropertyCache. If your custom EntityPropertyManager supports the creation and removal of users then you will also need to provide implementation of the createUniqueId() and removeEntity() methods. Much as its name implies createUniqueId() is responsible for adding a user in the data source based on a unique value for that user, removeEntity() is responsible for not only removing the user but also all the user properties that have been added during his lifetime.

    That's all there is to it. You're now ready to package your custom EntityPropertyManager EJB, deploy it, and register it with the UserProfileManager.

    Deploy and Register
    The User Manager framework is defined in the UserManager EJB located in usermgmt.jar. It is here that we can redefine not only the user and group managers but also the profile managers and their associated EntityPropertyManagers. After our EJB has been packaged we will need to make a slight modification to the deployment descriptor of the UserManager to map a property set to our new EntityPropertyManager. In the ejb-jar.xml deployment descriptor of the UserManager EJB we will add an environment entry setting to map our custom property set and an EJB reference to point to the EntityPropertyManager that handles our property set (see Listings 1 and 2).

    Once the entries have been added to the ejb-jar.xml file the final step is to map them to physical EJB locations in the JNDI tree. The only thing we'll do here is find the existing entry for the UserProfileManager under <weblogic-enterprise-bean> and add a new reference description (see Listing 3).

    Note that here ${APPNAME} is a substitution variable that points to the node portalApp under the InitialContext of our JNDI Tree. WebLogic Server will automatically perform the variable substitution. Once you have made the appropriate changes to the deployment descriptors you're ready to go. One last word on configuration: if your custom EntityPropertyManager supports adding and removing users then you will also need to add creator and remover environment entries as well (see Listing 4).

    These are arbitrary since they will be mapped appropriately when a profile is added or removed.

    Finishing Touches
    The only thing remaining to do is to create a user profile in the EBCC that maps to the User Profile that you just created and registered with the UserManager EJB (see Figure 4).

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