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Introduction to the Product Catalog


Internet-savvy consumers today have high expectations about their online shopping experience. They love the convenience of finding just about any product item for sale on the Web. They expect that an e-commerce Web site's pages will load quickly in their browser, and do not care if there happen to be a thousand other concurrent users accessing the site's servers. They want to be able to pay for the items securely with their credit card, and have the items delivered directly to their home or business.

In the Web application development industry, we are all familiar with the model for an e-commerce Web site. One goal is to attract consumers who might have purchased items in a retail store, and instead get them to buy the items online, on your Web site. The companies that want to exploit the Web more effectively include:

Both types of companies are attempting to succeed in a highly competitive environment. Some already have the trained programming staff with the expertise in the J2EE APIs to create from scratch the Enterprise JavaBeans (EJBs) and JavaServer Pages (JSPs) that will support the Web site's computing model. Many firms, however, need to get a jump on their competition as they work to go live with their e-commerce Web site as soon as possible. They cannot afford to wait six months or a year to develop the standardized database resources, EJB programming expertise, and JSP templates that together will provide the commonly expected Web site functions shown in Figure 1-1.

Figure 1-1 Simple View of E-Commerce Web Site Functions


Of course, writing the code to create, build, deploy, and maintain all the processing shown in Figure 1-1 would require a lot of time and effort. In addition to the front-end presentation layer that you see in the previous diagram, high-volume Web sites also require an underlying software infrastructure that makes it possible to support peak usage of their commerce site by eager consumers.

So how can a company get a jump on the competition and implement a scalable e-commerce Web site? The answer is: by using the pre-built features that come with BEA WebLogic Commerce Server!


What Does the Product Catalog Provide?

The WebLogic Commerce Server Product Catalog provides the following features:


Catalog Hierarchy

Categories in the Product Catalog exist in a hierarchy, as illustrated in Figure 1-4.

The example shown in the figure deviates from the sample data that is seen when you run the WebLogic Commerce Server templates. However, the following example illustrates a point about how items can reside in more than one category.

Figure 1-4 Sample Product Catalog Hierarchy


Note that any given category needs to be aware of the following:

Also note that an individual item can reside in more than one category. For example, a hardcopy book about the works of paleoanthropologist Dr. Richard Leaky in Kenya might reside in a Books --> Bibliographies category and also in a subcategory of Books --> Science --> Paleoanthropology.

If you delete the instance of an item in one category, it continues to reside in any other categories in which it might exist. Also, if you delete all the categories that an item belongs to, the item is moved to a separate, "uncategorized items" category in the catalog. Sometimes these uncategorized items are referred to as "orphaned items."

Unlike items, categories cannot reside outside of their hierarchical path. In other words, a category that resides in one path of the hierarchy cannot also reside in another path of the hierarchy.


Product Catalog Development Roles

Given the goal of building a Web-based product catalog, what are the roles of the people on the development team? The product catalog development would most likely be done by a team of people in your organization who collaborate to deliver an e-commerce Web solution. While the roles that are summarized in the following list describe the types of tasks involved in building the site, it is recognized that people often have job assignments that span multiple roles.


How the Product Catalog Features and Other Commerce Features Are Linked

The WebLogic Commerce Server Product Catalog is only a portion of the features provided in this release. Related features, of course, are implemented by the order processing and user registration packages. When a user of your Web site decides to click the Add to Cart button (or equivalent) on one of the catalog pages, by default the user is directed to the shopping cart portion of the order processing package.

Once the user clicks Add to Cart, a series of JavaServer Pages under the control of background processing are employed to step the user through the process of entering the information required to complete the order.

You can modify the actual sequence of pages, or Webflow, by editing a configuration file called A default Webflow file is provided by the WebLogic Commerce Server. The advantage here is that the flow of the Web site (that is, what page to go to next) is not hardwired into each page, but is managed by an external flow manager. Rather than having to edit HTML and JSP files to change the page sequence, the administrator simply modifies Also, you do not have to restart the WebLogic Server instance in which your WebLogic Commerce Server applications is running, allowing for dynamic site management.

Underlying all this processing for both catalog management and order management is another important feature called the WebLogic Commerce Server Pipeline. The Pipeline is a mechanism for binding together a sequence of services into a single named service. While the JavaServer Pages and tags manage the presentation layer of the catalog and order fulfillment site, the Pipeline manages the processing of the business data. A Pipeline configuration file,, contains properties that describe the execution of a series of business methods.

By modifying the file, it is easy to change a business process (such as checking an order status) by adding or removing steps in the Pipeline configuration, without any programming.

Figure 1-5 shows the link between the Product Catalog processing and the order processing package. The diagram illustrates conceptually the Webflow (arrows) and the Pipeline that is processing the business data. For instance, it is the Pipeline that passes the data about the item(s) the consumer has selected for purchase to the Order Fulfillment services that will process the order.

Figure 1-5 Link Between Catalog and Order Fulfillment


For details about configuring the site's Webflow and Pipelines, see
Managing Presentation and Business Logic: Using Webflow and Pipeline. For details about the order processing, see Managing Purchases and Processing Orders. For details about user registration, see Registering Customers and Managing Customer Services.


Next Step

We suggest you read The Product Catalog Database Schema, which explains the structure of the Product Catalog's tables in the WebLogic Commerce Server database. Understanding the Product Catalog schema is essential to moving your existing data into the database, or adding new data to the catalog.


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