Designing with content types

How to solve problems with content types

Before we dive into Dexterity, it is worth thinking about the way we design solutions with content types in Plone. If you are familiar with Archetypes based development, Grok or Zope 3, then much of this will probably be familiar.

Plone uses the ZODB, an object database, instead of a relational database as its default content store. The ZODB is well suited to heterogeneous, loosely structured content such as web pages.

Types in Plone are either containers or items (this distinction is sometimes called folderish vs. non-folderish). A one-to-many type relationship is typically modelled as a container (the "one") containing many items (the "many"), although it is also possible to use references across the content hierarchy.

Each type has a schema – a set of fields with related properties such as a title, default value, constraints, and so on. The schema is used to generate forms and describe instances of the type. In addition to schema-driven forms, a type typically comes with one or more views, and is subject to security (e.g. add permissions, or per-field read/write permissions) and workflow.

When we attempt to solve a particular content management problem with Plone, we will often design new content types. For the purposes of this tutorial, we'll build a simple set of types to help conference organisers. We want to manage a program consisting of multiple sessions. Each session should be listed against a track, have a time slot, a title, a description and a presenter. We also want to manage bios for presenters.

There are many ways to approach this, but here is one possible design:

  • A content type Presenter is used to represent presenter bios. Fields include name, description and professional experience.
  • A content type Program represents a given conference program. Besides some basic metadata, it will list the available tracks. This type is folderish.
  • A content type Session represents a session. Sessions can only be added inside Programs. A Session will contain some information about the session, and allow the user to choose the track and associate a presenter.

Each type will also have custom views, and we will show how to configure catalog indexers, security and workflow for the types.