I’ll take web sites for $200, Alex: Part IV

(continued from Part III)

Creating custom modules for DotNetNuke is an esoteric process that I don’t recommend unless you’re prepared to invest quite a bit of time and effort. I slogged through the process because I’m too stubborn to quit, but it’s hardly worth the investment in time for a one-off custom module. I don’t expect many of my readers to try it anyway, so I won’t bother describing the technical aspects in any detail.

My primary objective was to create a Docket History module that renders a court case’s docket history in an HTML table. Since DotNetNuke modules (generally) render data from a database, a large part of my work was defining the database structures and database interface code. The database work was an opportunity to learn more about SQL syntax, something I had never really delved into very deeply in the past. As the module began taking shape, I found myself having to refactor over and over again, often changing the database structure in the process. Changing the database structure meant recreating the data and rewriting the database interface code.

Once I had a working Docket History module, I decided to apply what I had learned to a second custom module for the Grapevine page of the web site. This module would simply display a date-ordered list of links to external web pages, including a column for the “Source” of the linked page — a bit less complicated than my first module. It should come as no surprise that the second one took about a tenth as much time as the first, mainly because I spent much less time refactoring. That doesn’t mean I got it right the first time. In fact, I eventually went back and made yet more changes to the first module to reflect the optimizations and design improvements I discovered while working on the second.

To recap, the web site today consists of DotNetNuke 4.4.0 “out-of-the-box” (I upgraded to 4.4.0 from the original 4.3.7 after 4.4.0 shipped in late December), a free skin from Nina’s Free Skins, the two custom modules I created, and a bug fix to correct a PDF file download issue as described in a DotNetNuke forum thread. Total time spent was around 200 hours over four weeks. Finally, a complete web site — or was it? In Part V, find out what the last missing ingredient was.

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