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uPortal Tech Keeps Up with the Times

A few years ago, I sat in on a presentation where a portal vendor pitched their product as a modern replacement over a stagnant uPortal. Unfortunately, the vendor had not kept up on the uPortal project. uPortal had undergone a major release with lots of UI and front-end enhancements since they looked at it. The institution stayed with uPortal.

What about today? How has uPortal kept up with the times? I am fortunate to be even more involved with this project at Unicon, but not everyone has time to watch pull requests and read the mailing lists. Just for you, I will highlight some of the buzzword compliant updates currently happening in uPortal.

This is an oldie but a goodie. It forms the basis of using the other technologies described here. uPortal has *several versioned endpoints* that deliver layouts, portlet preferences, user permissions, and other details to allow new front-ends to be developed and rich integrations with backing services. To retain backward compatibility, endpoints are versioned. This is critical to support the reality of environments where some parts are quickly involving while others are stagnate. uPortal lives in the real world.

Bootstrap (Responsive UI)
Bootstrap is currently one of the most popular front-end design frameworks. It is mobile-first and fully responsive (buzzwords!). Guess what project is fully embracing Bootstrap? You guessed it, uPortal. Several administration tools and user-facing portlets have been redone to use Bootstrap. It is a key technology that makes uPortal responsive.

Google Material Design
Another recent interest of the community is how to bring Material Design to uPortal. Google has developed Material Design language as a cohesive set of design styles and principles. The focal motif is card or paper on a desk. The design pays special attention to visual depth of elements and the idea of element motion. "Like shuffling a stack of papers…" is something you might find when reading about Material Design. The excitement stems from the lack of well-adopted design approaches in software, especially in open source projects. This technology could be one of the most impactful for end users of uPortal!

At a Gartner Portals and Content conference, they were claiming that AngularJS, while not perfect, would be the standard JavaScript framework for the next few years. While there are several contenders in the JS framework space, there is no denying that AngularJS is at or near the top. While its dynamic web app style is a challenge in a portal page, several developers have created techniques to use AngularJS in their portlets.

And then there is the AngularJS-Portal project at UW Madison. They have created an entire AngularJS front-end, leveraging uPortal RESTful APIs, that replaces their initial portal experience. It is only when a user clicks on a tile that they make their way to the richer portal content.

ReactJS is yet another JavaScript framework that has a huge following. Much lighter than AngularJS, ReactJS focuses on the "view" aspect. This works well with uPortal. While its use in the community is just starting, several developers are excited to work with this framework.

It is a testament to the flexibility of uPortal that both these technologies can independently sit in the same webpage.

Soffits. Heard of them? Likely not as they are uPortal-specific. But the driver for their development is important to note. The latest Java Portlet spec, JSR-286, was released in 2008. It was written in a different time of the web. So much has changed in the last 10 years that very little of the spec is leveraged in modern portlets. Drew Wills, Lead Software Architect at Unicon, realized the need for pulling together techniques and support for a new approach to content after talking to a few teams that had concerns about developing modern integrations for uPortal. Drew named this content approach Soffits. It generated a lot of excitement and support was quickly developed. Soffits leverage JSON and Restful APIs to support language-agnostic integrations.

Yes, uPortal stays modern thanks to the nature of open source and the great people in the uPortal community. Unicon is very excited to be a part of the community!

Learn about Unicon's services and commercial support for uPortal.

Benito Gonzalez

Benito Gonzalez

Senior Software Developer
Benito Gonzalez is a Software Architect at Unicon, Inc., a leading provider of education technology consulting and digital services. Benito joined Unicon in 2015 and has over 25 years of professional IT experience. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Computer Science. Benito has been active in web development since 1999. Benito spent six years prior to joining Unicon as the Enterprise Web Applications Manager at University of California, Merced, where he managed several campus-wide services, such as CAS, uPortal and Sakai CLE.