References – the powerful, yet little-known feature you should know about
They are one of the underestimated features: references – and I’m not talking about references for your resumé.
This blog article is about references in SAP Enable Now. I will explain what they are and how they can be used to efficiently organize different kinds of content structures. You will also find information about the behaviour of your structure when using references and about which objects can be references and how to make use of the not so obvious reference features in Producer.
What are references?
To explain references, I usually use a simple image – a mirror. The object in the mirror looks as though it were real, but it’s just an image. Same goes for references, to a point.
You have one object in the beginning, and when you create a reference, this object is displayed in two different places. You can add more references, meaning you see this object in more places in your structure.
The important points to understand are:
- References are not copies, i.e. there are just multiple objects that all point to the same content
- Whatever you change in one reference will be changed in all the other references
- There is no “original”, once you create a reference object it is no different to the original object used to create the reference.
Why would you use references?
The main reason to use references is if you have different use cases for your content library. Maybe you want to offer your users different kinds of structures but don’t want to copy and paste all the objects. There could be a library that is based on business processes and another based on applications and transactions, or even localized libraries with different languages and processes. If you want to know more about structuring your library, read this blog post.
A second reason to use references is to increase efficiency of content creation and maintenance. Instead of using a copy of the original content object and having to keep the copy up to date with every change, authors can change one reference and the change will cascade through all other references.
References are also great if you want to share templates into different author groups. You can create a reference of a group containing templates and put these references into each of the groups the authors are using for their own work. You could do this if you don’t want all authors to download the same template group.
How to use references
Imagine having one object and then creating a reference. In the case of a reference in SAP Enable Now, this means you create another place to view the same object. The object content itself is not copied, or moved, or changed. You are looking at the same content, but from a different place in the content structure.
So let’s say I have this structure:
Now I want to have a different structure but with the same favourite recording in it. So first I create a new group. Then I drag my project with the right mouse button into the new group, let go, and choose “Reference”.
This creates a reference in the group “My group with references”. Now it looks like this:
You’re probably wondering – how can I tell that these two projects are actually references of the same object and not just two projects that have the same name?
Well, first of all, their IDs will be the same. So if you look at the object properties on the right side and check, you will see that they have the same UID.
Because checking the ID for each project is not really efficient, I would like to show you where you can activate the reference counters.
These counters are really great helpers when you use references.
- Structure Reference Counter: Displays how often an object is used in the content structure. In our example, we had the original project, My favourite recording, and we created one reference so that’s why the counter now shows the value 2 beside both objects.
- Content Reference Counter: Displays how often a content object is linked to from other content objects. In this example, no other content objects are linking to My favourite recording so the value is blank, meaning zero.
Both results will be shown directly next to the objects:
In addition to this easily readable overview, the counters also activate a more detailed view on the right side in the properties section. This contains detailed information about where the references are located. Authors can also select one of the references and are led to the location of this object in the structure view.
There are other ways to display your references in a clear way – the Object Reference Tree and the Object Reference List. You can turn on this alternative structuring view in from the structure icon in your Producer icon bar.
The Object Reference Tree view will split your structure view in two and display the main structure on the left and the structure containing references on the right.
The second option, the Object Reference List, also splits the screen and displays a flat list of references on the right side.
With these two additional view options, authors can easily see a clear overview of their references.
Tips and Tricks
I have collected some useful hints for working with references.
- The one question I get asked most when I talk about references is: “What happens when I delete the original?” So, to be clear, there is no longer an original once you create the first reference; the original and reference are both identical. References are like interconnected clones, or mirror images of each other. Whichever one you delete, the others will remain unchanged as they are as long as you don’t delete the last one.
- Be careful when building nested structures with references, especially when you reference groups and put those into other references groups. Imagine a web of interconnecting threads connecting the references – once this gets tangled up it’s hard to untangle. I will never forget the hour I spent with a very nervous customer untangling an 8-level deep reference structure…
- You can export a reference list and get an overview of all the references used. You can generate the list in Tools > Workarea Structure > Export Reference List…
There are also some restrictions regarding references:
- Bear in mind that only one reference can be created for an object within the same group. Create object references only within different groups.
- It is not possible to create a reference for all content objects. Documents, such as PDF or Word documents, that were added to the content structure without the use of the media object type, are excluded.
All referenced, or what?
I hope that this blog sheds some light on the reference functionality in SAP Enable Now. This is one of the most useful structuring tools, which unfortunately is often overlooked.
References can help you to reuse existing partial structures without having to maintain them separately. They are a great efficiency driver – leading to more productivity.
Feel free to share in the comments how you are using references or post any questions around this topic.