Commerce relation(ship), a story

There are two big types of relations in Episerver (Optimizely) B2C Commerce: relations between entries and nodes, and between nodes. As you will most likely have to touch one or another, or both, sooner or later, this post aims to give you some understanding on how they are structured/work.

Node-Entry relation

When you add a product (or variant, or package, or bundle) to a category, you are creating a NodeEntryRelation. And there are a two types of NodeEntryRelation

  • Primary NodeEntryRelation, which means the category is counted as true parent of the entry. Each entry can only have at most one primary NodeEntryRelation (Which means it can have no primary NodeEntryRelation at all).
  • Secondary NodeEntryRelation, which means the entry is linked to the category. You do that when it makes sense for the product to be in additional categories. for example, a GoPro can be in Camera (primary category), but can also be in Sport Gears (linked). An entry can have no, or multiple secondary NodeEntryRelation.

The concept of primary NodeEntryRelation was added to Commerce 11. Before that, it’s a bit more of a guess work – the “main” category is determined by the sort order – the relation with lowest sort order is considered “main relation”. That introduces some inconsistency, which prompted the rework on that.

What is the main different between those two things? For one thing, access rights. For Commerce, you can set access rights down to categories, but not entries. The entries will inherit access rights from their true parents (i.e. primary nodes). An entry without primary node-entry relation is considered the direct children of a catalog, and inherits its access right settings.

Another smaller difference is that if you delete a category, true children entries will be deleted. Linked entries will only be detached from that category.

NodeEntryRelation can be managed fully by IRelationRepository, using the NodeEntryRelation type, and you can use a few extension methods to make it easier – for example EntryContentBase.GetCategories().

How are your actions in Catalog UI reflected on a data level:

  • When you create a new entry (product/SKU/etc.) in a category, you create a primary node-entry relation for them
  • When you move (cut then paste) an entry to a new category, you are creating a new primary node-entry relation. If the entry already has a primary node-entry relation, the new one will take over.
  • When you link/detach an entry to/from a new category, you are creating/removing a non-primary node-entry relation

Node-Node Relation

Like Node-Entry relation, a node can be a true parent of a node, or just be a “linked” parent.

Unlike Node-Entry relation, Node-Node relation is quite different that it’s separated in two places.

  • Linked nodes are represented by NodeRelation(s) (it might be interesting to know that NodeRelation is the parent class of NodeEntryRelation. The interpretation is that a NodeRelation is – a relation of a node, which can be with another node, or an entry)
  • There is no primary NodeRelation, the true parent node is identified by a property of the category itself. When you have a NodeContent content, then the ParentLink property points to the true parent.

For that reason, a node will always have a true parent, either a catalog, or a node. You can’t use IRelationRepository (and therefore, ServiceAPI) to manage (delete or update) a true parent of a node , you would have to:

  • Set its ParentLink to something else
  • Use IContentRepository.Move to move it to a new parent.

Why the disparity, you might ask? Well, a lot of design decisions in Commerce comes from historical reasons, and after that, constrained resources (time/man power) and priority. While the disparity is probably not the best thing you want, it still works fairly well, and if you understand the quirk then it is all well.

Get exported Personalization catalog feeds

There are cases that you want to get your Personalization catalog feeds in zip format, maybe to make sure the customizations you have done are there (and are exactly what you want to), or you need to send them to developer support service for further assistance (like why your catalog feeds are not properly imported). Theoretically you can log in as an admin, and go to https://<yoursite>/episerverapi/downloadcatalogfeed to download the feed. But there are few problems with that.

First of all you might have more than one catalog, and the link above only allows you to download the latest one. Secondly it might fail to give you any catalog feed at all (With “There is no product feed available. Try run the scheduled job first.” error, even if you already ran the Export Catalog Feed job. There is currently no known fix for that). Is there a way to simply get the data?

Yes, there is. It’s not fancy, but it works. All your catalog feeds will be put in appdata\blobs\d4a76096689649908bce5881979b7c1a folder, so just go there and grab the latest ones. appdata is the path defined in your <episerver.framework>\<appData> section.

What if you are running on Azure? It is the same “folder”. Use Azure Storage Explorer to locate the blob. If you are running on DXP, get in touch with developer support service and they’d be happy to help.

I originally planned to write a small tool to easily download the catalog feeds, but it turned out the Episerver Blob APIs have no way to list content of a container, so a manual, simple way is better this time.

Name or Display name in Catalog UI: you can choose

Since the beginning of Catalog UI, it had always shown Name, in both Catalog Tree and the Catalog content list.

That, however, was changed to DisplayName since 13.14 due to a popular feature request here https://world.episerver.com/forum/developer-forum/Feature-requests/Thread-Container/2019/12/use-localized-catalog-in-commerce-catalog-ui/#214650

All is good and the change was positively received. However not every is happy with it – some want it the old way, i.e. `Name` to be displayed. From a framework perspective, it might be complex to let partners configure which field to display. But if you are willing to do some extra work, then it’s all easy.

Catalog content is transformed using CatalogContentModelTransform, this is where DisplayName is added to the data returned to the client. If you override that, you can set DisplayName to whatever you want, for example, Name.

Here is what the implementation would look like

using EPiServer.Cms.Shell.UI.Rest.Models.Transforms;
using EPiServer.Commerce;
using EPiServer.Commerce.Catalog;
using EPiServer.Commerce.Catalog.ContentTypes;
using EPiServer.Commerce.Catalog.Linking;
using EPiServer.Commerce.Shell.Rest;
using EPiServer.Framework.Localization;
using EPiServer.ServiceLocation;
using Mediachase.Commerce.Catalog;
using Mediachase.Commerce.Customers;
using Mediachase.Commerce.InventoryService;
using Mediachase.Commerce.Markets;
using Mediachase.Commerce.Pricing;

namespace EPiServer.Reference.Commerce.Site.Infrastructure
{
    [ServiceConfiguration(typeof(IModelTransform))]
    public class BlahBlahBlah : CatalogContentModelTransform
    {
        public BlahBlahBlah(ExpressionHelper expressionHelper, IPriceService priceService, IMarketService marketService, IInventoryService inventoryService, LocalizationService localizationService, ICatalogSystem catalogContext, IRelationRepository relationRepository, ThumbnailUrlResolver thumbnailUrlResolver, CustomerContext customerContext) : base(expressionHelper, priceService, marketService, inventoryService, localizationService, catalogContext, relationRepository, thumbnailUrlResolver, customerContext)
        {
        }

        public override TransformOrder Order
        {
            ///Yes, this is very important to make it work
            get { return base.Order + 1; }
        }

        protected override void TransformInstance(IModelTransformContext context)
        {
            var catalogContent = context.Source as CatalogContentBase;
            var properties = context.Target.Properties;

            if (catalogContent is NodeContent nodeContent)
            {
                properties["DisplayName"] = nodeContent.Name;
            }
            if (catalogContent is EntryContentBase entryContent)
            {
                properties["DisplayName"] = entryContent.Name;
            }
        }
    }
}

And here is how it looks




A few notes:

  • CatalogContentModelTransform, and other APIs in Commerce.Shell, are not considered public APIs, so they might change without notice. There is a risk for adding this, however, it’s quite low.
  • This (or the bug fix) does not affect breadcrumb, it has been, and still is, showing Name.

Export catalog, with linked assets

If you are already using a PIM system, you can stop reading!

If you have been using Commerce for a while, you probably have seen this screen – yes, in Commerce Manager

This allow you to export a catalog, but without a caveat: the exported catalog, most likely, does not contains any linked assets. The reason for that was the asset content types need to be present at the context of the site. In Commerce Manager, the general advice is to not deploy the content types there for simpler management.

Import/Export are also missing features in Catalog UI compared to Commerce Manager. I wish I could have added it, but given my Dojo skill, it’s better to write something UI-less, and here you go: a controller to let you download a catalog with everything attached. Well, here is the entire code that you can drop into your project and build:

using EPiServer.Data;
using EPiServer.Framework.Blobs;
using EPiServer.Logging;
using System;
using System.Collections.Generic;
using System.Linq;
using System.Net;
using System.Net.Http;
using System.Net.Http.Headers;
using System.Web.Http;
using EPiServer.Commerce.Catalog.ContentTypes;
using Mediachase.Commerce.Catalog;
using Mediachase.Commerce.Catalog.ImportExport;
using System.IO;
using System.IO.Compression;
using System.Text;
using System.Xml;

namespace EPiServer.Personalization.Commerce.CatalogFeed.Internal
{
    /// <summary>
    /// Download a catalog.
    /// </summary>
    public class CatalogExportController : ApiController
    {
        private readonly CatalogImportExport _importExport;
        private readonly IBlobFactory _blobFactory;
        private readonly IContentLoader _contentLoader;
        private readonly ReferenceConverter _referenceConverter;
        internal const string DownloadRoute = "episerverapi/catalogs/";
        private static readonly Guid _blobContainerIdentifier = Guid.Parse("119AD01E-ECD1-4781-898B-6DEC356FC8D8");

        private static readonly ILogger _logger = LogManager.GetLogger(typeof(CatalogExportController));

        /// <summary>
        /// Initializes a new instance of the <see cref="CatalogExportController"/> class.
        /// </summary>
        /// <param name="importExport">Catalog import export</param>
        /// <param name="blobFactory">The blob factory.</param>
        /// <param name="contentLoader">The content loader.</param>
        /// <param name="referenceConverter"></param>
        public CatalogExportController(CatalogImportExport importExport,
            IBlobFactory blobFactory,
            IContentLoader contentLoader,
            ReferenceConverter referenceConverter)
        {
            _importExport = importExport;
            _blobFactory = blobFactory;
            _contentLoader = contentLoader;
            _referenceConverter = referenceConverter;

            _importExport.IsModelsAvailable = true;
        }

        /// <summary>
        /// Direct download catalog export for admins.
        /// </summary>
        /// <param name="catalogName">Name of catalog to be exported.</param>
        /// <returns>
        /// Catalog.zip if successful else HttpResponseMessage containing error.
        /// </returns>
        [HttpGet]
        [Authorize(Roles = "CommerceAdmins")]
        [Route(DownloadRoute)]
        public HttpResponseMessage Index(string catalogName)
        {
            var catalogs = _contentLoader.GetChildren<CatalogContent>(_referenceConverter.GetRootLink());
            var catalog = catalogs.First(x => x.Name.Equals(catalogName, StringComparison.OrdinalIgnoreCase));
            if (catalog != null)
            {
                return GetFile(catalog.Name);
            }

            return new HttpResponseMessage
            { Content = new StringContent($"There is no catalog with name {catalogName}.") };
        }

        private HttpResponseMessage GetFile(string catalogName)
        {
            var container = Blob.GetContainerIdentifier(_blobContainerIdentifier);
            var blob = _blobFactory.CreateBlob(container, ".zip");
            using (var stream = blob.OpenWrite())
            {
                using (var zipArchive = new ZipArchive(stream, ZipArchiveMode.Create, false))
                {
                    var entry = zipArchive.CreateEntry("catalog.xml");

                    using (var entryStream = entry.Open())
                    {
                        _importExport.Export(catalogName, entryStream, Path.GetTempPath());
                    }
                }
            }

            var response = new HttpResponseMessage
            {
                Content = new PushStreamContent(async (outputStream, content, context) =>
                {
                    var fileStream = blob.OpenRead();

                    await fileStream.CopyToAsync(outputStream)
                        .ContinueWith(task =>
                        {
                            fileStream.Close();
                            outputStream.Close();

                            if (task.IsFaulted)
                            {
                                _logger.Error($"Catalog download failed", task.Exception);
                                return;
                            }

                            _logger.Information($"Feed download completed.");

                        });
                }, new MediaTypeHeaderValue("application/zip"))
            };
            return response;
        }
    }
}

And now you can access to this path http://yoursite.com/episerverapi/catalogs?catalogName=fashion to download the catalog named “Fashion”.

A few notes:

  • This requires Admin access, for obvious reasons. You will need to log in to your website first before accessing the path above
  • It can take some time for big catalogs, so be patient if that’s the case ;). Yes another approach is to have this as a scheduled job when you can export the catalog in background, but that make the selection of catalog to export much more complicated. If you have only one catalog, then go ahead!

Disabling Catalog Dto cache: maybe, don’t?

Recently (as recent as this morning) I was asked to look into a case when the Find indexing performance was subpar. Upon investigation – looking at a properly captured trace from dotTrace – it was clear that at least 30% percent of time was spending in loading the CatalogDto

This is something that should not happen, as the CatalogDto should have been cached. Also, a normal site should have very few catalogs, so the cache should be very effective. However, data does not lie – it has been hitting database a lot, and a quick check on the site settings revealed that the entire DTO cache has been indeed, disabled

 <Cache enabled="false" collectionTimeout="0:0:0" entryTimeout="0:0:0" nodeTimeout="0:0:0" schemaTimeout="0:0:0" /> 

By setting these timeout settings to 0, the cache is immediately invalidated, rendering them useless. The CatalogDto, therefore, is loaded everytime from database, causing the bottleneck.

The reason for setting those timeout to 0 was probably – I guess – to reduce the memory footprint of the site. However, Catalog DTOs are fairly small in size, and since Commerce 11, it has been smart enough to skip caching the DTOs if there is cache on a higher (content ) level, thanks to my colleague Magnus Rahl. So DTOs should not be of any concerns, if you are not actively using them (and in most of the case, you should not). By re-enabling the cache, the indexing time can be cut, at least 30%, according to the aforementioned trace.

As you might wonder, Catalog content provider still uses the DTOs internally, therefore it would load those for data.

Moral of the story:

  • The cache settings are there, but because you can, does not mean you should. I personally think cache settings should be as hidden as possible from accidental changes. Disabling cache, and in a lesser extend, changing default cache timeout, can have unforeseeable consequences. Only do so if you have strong reasons to do so. Or better, let us know why you need to do that, and we can figure out a compromise.

Hide certain tabs in Catalog UI

It has been a while since I write something in my blog – have been “fairly” busy making Commerce even faster for a while. But I should take a break from time to time and share things that will benefit community as a whole – and this is one of that break.

Today I come across this question on World https://world.episerver.com/forum/developer-forum/Episerver-Commerce/Thread-Container/2019/10/remove-item-from-tab-in-content-editor/ . Basically, how to hide a specific tab in the Catalog UI when you open All Properties view of a catalog content.

The original poster has found a solution from https://world.episerver.com/forum/legacy-forums/Episerver-7-CMS/Thread-Container/2013/10/Is-there-any-way-to-hide-the-settings-tab/ . While it works, I think it is not the easiest or simple way to do it. Is there a simpler way? Yes.

The Related Entries tab is generated for content with implements IAssociating interface. Bad news is EntryContentBase implements that interface, so each and every entry type you have, has that tab. But good news is we can override the implementation – by just override the property defined by IAssociating.

How?

Simple as this

        /// <inheritdoc />
        [IgnoreMetaDataPlusSynchronization]
        [Display(AutoGenerateField = false)]
        public override Associations Associations { get; set; }

We are overriding the Associations property, and the change the Display attribute to have AutoGenerateField = false. Just try to build it and see

No Related Views! But is it the end of the story. Not yet, Related Views can still be accessed by the menu

A complete solution is to also disable that view. How? By using the same technique here https://world.episerver.com/blogs/Quan-Mai/Dates/2019/8/enable-sticky-mode-for-catalog-content/ i.e. using `UIDescriptor`. You can disable certain views by adding this to your constructor

AddDisabledView(CommerceViewConfiguration.RelatedEntriesEditViewName);

A few notes:

  • This only affects the type you add the property, so for example you can hide the tab for Products, but still show it for Variants.
  • Related Entries is not the only tab you can hide. By applying the same technique you can have a lot of control over what you can hide, and what you show. I will leave that to you for exploration!

IContentLoader.Get(contentLink) is considered harmful for catalog content.

A while ago I wrote about how you should be aware of IContentLoader.GetChildren<T>(contentLink) here. However, that is only half of story.

IContentLoader.Get<T>(contentLink) is also considered harmful. Not in terms of it causes damage to your site (we would never, ever let that happen), nor it is slow (not unless you abuse it), but because it can behave very unexpectedly.

As you might already know, catalog content fully supports language versions, which means a catalog might have multiple languages enabled, and each and every catalog item in that catalog (node/category, and entry) will be available in those languages. However, those languages are not equal, (only) one is master language. What’s the difference then?

One of very important characteristics of that is how it affects the properties. Properties with [CultureSpecific] attribute decorated will be different in each language, and therefore, can be edited in each language. Properties without [CultureSpecific] attribute decorated will be the same in all languages, and can only be edited in master language. In Catalog UI, if you switch to non master languages, those properties will be grayed out, indicating they can’t be edited.

Now, why IContentLoader.Get<T>(contentLink) is considered harmful? Because you don’t supply a CultureInfo to let it know which version you want, it relies on the current preferred language to load the content. And if you have a catalog which has master language that is different from the current preferred language, you are loading a non-master language version. And then if you try to edit a non [CultureSpecific] property, then save it, the changes will not be saved, without error or warning.

It then will be very confusing because it sometimes works (someone changes the current preferred language that matches the catalog master language, and sometimes it doesn’t.

Which can cost you hours, if not days, to figure out what is wrong with your code.

Same thing applies to IContentLoader.TryGet<T>(contentLink)

Solution? Always use the overload that takes a CultureInfo or a LoaderOptions parameter, even if you just want to read the content. That creates a “good” habit and you can quickly spot code that might be problematic.

Use this to load master language version, if you wish to update some non CultureSpecific property.

 new LoaderOptions() { LanguageLoaderOption.MasterLanguage() }

Later versions of Commerce will log a warning if you are trying to save a non master language version with one or more changed non [CultureSpecific]properties.

Speed up catalog routing if you have multiple children under catalog

A normal catalog structure is like this: you have a few high level categories under the catalog, then each high level category has a few lower level categories under it, then each lower level category has their children, so on and so forth until you reach the leaves – catalog entries.

However it is not uncommon that you have multiple children (categories and entries) directly under catalog. Even though that is not something you should do, it happens. 

But that is not without drawbacks. You might notice it is slow to route to a product. It might not be visible to naked eyes, but if you use some decent profilers (which I personally recommend dotTrace), it can be fairly obvious that your site is not routing optimally.

Why?

To route to a specific catalog content, for example http://commerceref/en/fashion/mens/mens-shirts/p-39101253/, the default router have to figure out which content is mapped to an url segment. So with default registration where the catalog root is the default routing root, we will start with the catalog which maps to the first part of route (fashion ). How do it figure out which content to route for the next part (mens ) ? 

Until recently, what it does it to call GetChildren on the catalog ContentReference . Now you can see the problem. Even with a cached result, that is still too much – GetChildren with a big number of children is definitely expensive.

We noticed this behavior, thanks to Erik Norberg. An improvement have been made in Commerce 12.10 to make sure even with a number of children directly under Catalog, the router should perform adequately efficient.

If you can’t upgrade to 12.10 or later (you should!), then you might have a workaround that improve the performance. By adding your own implementation of HierarchicalCatalogPartialRouter, you can override how you would get the children content – by using a more lightweight method (GetBySegment)

    public class CustomHierarchicalCatalogPartialRouter : HierarchicalCatalogPartialRouter
    {
        private readonly IContentLoader _contentLoader;

        public CustomHierarchicalCatalogPartialRouter(Func<ContentReference> routeStartingPoint, CatalogContentBase commerceRoot, bool enableOutgoingSeoUri) : base(routeStartingPoint, commerceRoot, enableOutgoingSeoUri)
        {
        }

        public CustomHierarchicalCatalogPartialRouter(Func<ContentReference> routeStartingPoint, CatalogContentBase commerceRoot, bool supportSeoUri, IContentLoader contentLoader, IRoutingSegmentLoader routingSegmentLoader, IContentVersionRepository contentVersionRepository, IUrlSegmentRouter urlSegmentRouter, IContentLanguageSettingsHandler contentLanguageSettingsHandler, ServiceAccessor<HttpContextBase> httpContextAccessor) : base(routeStartingPoint, commerceRoot, supportSeoUri, contentLoader, routingSegmentLoader, contentVersionRepository, urlSegmentRouter, contentLanguageSettingsHandler, httpContextAccessor)
        {
            _contentLoader = contentLoader;
        }

        protected override CatalogContentBase FindNextContentInSegmentPair(CatalogContentBase catalogContent, SegmentPair segmentPair, SegmentContext segmentContext, CultureInfo cultureInfo)
        {
            return _contentLoader.GetBySegment(catalogContent.ContentLink, segmentPair.Next, cultureInfo) as CatalogContentBase;
        }
    }

And then instead of using CatalogRouteHelper.MapDefaultHierarchialRouter , you register your router directly

 var referenceConverter = ServiceLocator.Current.GetInstance<ReferenceConverter>();
            var contentLoader = ServiceLocator.Current.GetInstance<IContentLoader>();
            var commerceRootContent = contentLoader.Get<CatalogContentBase>(referenceConverter.GetRootLink());
            routes.RegisterPartialRouter(new HierarchicalCatalogPartialRouter(startingPoint, commerceRootContent, enableOutgoingSeoUri));

(ServiceLocator is just to make it easier to understand the code. You should do this in an IInitializationModule, so use context.Locate.Advanced instead.

This is applicable from 9.2.0 and newer versions. 

Moral of the story:

  • Catalog structure can play a big role when it comes to performance.
  • You should do profiling whenever you can
  • We do that too, and we make sure to include improvements in later versions, so keeping your website up to date is a good way to tune performance.

Refactoring Commerce catalog code, a story

It is not a secret that I am a fan of refactoring. Clean. shorter, simpler code is always better. It’s always a pleasure to delete some code while keeping all functionalities: less code means less possible bugs, and less places to change when you have to change.

However, while refactoring can bring a lot of enjoying to the one who actually does it, it’s very hard to share the experience: most of the cases it’s very specific and the problem itself is not that interesting to the outside world. This story is an exception because it might be helpful/useful for other Commerce developer.

Continue reading “Refactoring Commerce catalog code, a story”

Commerce batching performance – part 2: Loading prices and inventories

UPDATE: When looked into it, I realize that I have a lazy loading collection of entry codes, so each test had to spent time to resolve the entry code(s) from the content links. That actually costs quite a lot of time, and therefore causing the performance tests to return incorrect results. That was corrected and the results are now updated.

In previous post we talked about how loading orders in batch can actually improve your website performance, and we came to a conclusion that 1000-3000 orders per batch probably yields the best performance result.

But orders are not the only thing you would need to load on your website. A more common scenario is to load prices and inventories for product. So If you are displaying a product listing page, it’s quite common to load prices and inventories for all products in that page. How should it be loaded?

Continue reading “Commerce batching performance – part 2: Loading prices and inventories”