Sunday, 14 October 2007

Deployment using STSADM export or content migration API

Having focused on deployment using Features for several articles, back in May I wrote an article titled SharePoint deployment options : Features or Content Deployment?, which explored some of the decisions around deployment strategies for SharePoint projects. There are a variety of methods which can be used to move SharePoint artifacts and content from one place to another, and I think it's fair to say there's still a certain amount of confusion around deployment for many SharePoint developers. I certainly wouldn't claim to have all the answers, but after delivering another project last week, it seems like a good time to go over some of the experiences and reflect on the different approaches.

Needless to say, as far as deployment strategies go in general, the best idea is to have one! I see many newsgroup posts from people approaching the end of the development phase asking how they should move their work to the live servers. The problem I find with leaving deployment until the end of the project, is that none of the approaches are completely straightforward (particularly depending on what your solution consists of), and so if your project is to be delivered on time, it's important to know what steps you might need to go through.

As a sidenote, let's clarify some potentially confusing terminology here:

  • Content Deployment - the "paths and jobs" functionality which can be used to move content, surfaced by screens in Central Admin
  • Content Migration API - the underlying API (sometimes referred to as PRIME) which actually is used for both STSADM export and Content Deployment (in slightly different ways), in addition to the 'Manage Content and Structure' tool and in migrations from CMS2002

This time round I had decided to use the content migration API to deploy our solution, and it worked well for our circumstances. This is a contrast to developing with Features which I've done in the past, and the main reasons for choosing this approach were: 

  • no need for iterative deployment - although our overall project is phased, for this component we were able to develop the solution and then deploy everything from our development environment. (This approach will not work for subsequent deployments since content our client has generated on the live site would be overwritten on each deployment - more on this in an upcoming post.)
  • ability to retain object GUIDs - this simplified deployment significantly for our project, since if our lists were allocated new GUIDs on deployment (as happens with STSADM export/import), our components which referenced these lists (ListViewWebPart, InfoPath forms etc.) would not hook up properly on the deployment target. This would add a lot of "fix-up" steps to the deployment process if we were to use STSADM export.
  • no direct HTTP access from source Central Admin to target Central Admin - this is a prerequisite to use the Content Deployment functionality (paths and jobs) in Central Admin, but what we needed was a file we could copy to the live server. The content migration API provides this ability and also gives a compression option for large amounts of data.
  • automatic inclusion of database dependencies - as with STSADM export, (but not with Features), SharePoint will analyze and collect all dependencies such as fields, content types, master pages etc. for us.

The API is fairly simple to use and you may have seen Stefan's series of excellent articles on the subject - these serve as a good companion to the MSDN documentation.

It's important to remember that any non-database assets (e.g. user controls, assemblies etc.) need to be deployed manually to the target environment - these will not be included by use of something like STSADM export or the content migration API. In our case, since the live environment was a single server (and versioning would be handled by our main source control system), these were deployed by XCOPY since deployment using Solution packages did not offer any compelling advantages here. 

Whilst we're talking about filesystem files, it's useful to be aware that if you see 404 errors on the target after performing (e.g.) an STSADM import, chances are you've forgotten to deploy something like a user control. The 404 is actually coming from the referenced file rather than the actual page, so don't assume something has gone wrong with the import - a check on 'View all site content' and the import log will probably confirm all the site pages are present!

Hopefully this has given some food for thought on an approach you may not have considered. I guess my main message here is that whilst STSADM export is extremely simple, it may not provide the complete answer to all your deployment challenges due to changing GUIDs. In upcoming posts I'll provide a more direct comparison of deployment strategies (extending my 'Features or content deployment' post), and also share my mini-app which provides a front-end onto the content migration API.

[P.S. Sincere apologies to people who left comments whilst I was on holiday which are still not published - I'll publish these and respond over the next few days.


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