Content architecture: dealing with relations

In the AEM forums I recently came across a question about slow queries. After some back and forth I understood that the poster wanted to do thousands of such queries to render a page. When rendering a product page he wanted to references the assets associated to it.

For me the approach used by the poster was straight forward, based on the assumption that the assets can reside anywhere within the repository. But that’s rarely the case. The JCR repository is not a relational database, where all you have are queries. With JCR you can also iterate through the structure. It’s a question about your content architecture and how you map it to AEM.

That means, that for such requirements like described you can easily design your application in a way, that all assets to a product are stored below the product itself.

Or for each product page there is a matching folder in the DAM where all the assets reside. So instead of a JCR query you just do a lookup of a node at a fixed location (in the first example below the subnode “assets”) or you can compute the path for the assets (/content/dam/products/prodcut_A/assets). That single lookup will always be more performant than a query, plus it’s also easier for an author to spot and work with all assets belonging to a product.

Of course this is a very simplified case. Typically requirements are more complex, also asset reuse is often required. This approach does not work that easy anymore.
And there is no real recipe for it, but ways how to deal with it.

In case of creating such relations between content we often use tags. Content having the same tag are related, and can be added automatically in the list of related content or assets. Using tags as a level of indirection is ok and in the context of the forum post also quite performant (albeit the resolution itself is powered by a single query).

Another approach to come up with modelling the content structure is to look at the workflows the authoring users are supposed to use. Because they also need to understand the relationship between content, which normally leads to something intuitive. Looking at these details might also give you a hint how it can be modeled; maybe just having the referenced assets as paths as part of the product is already enough.

So, as already said in an earlier post, there are many ways to come up with a decent content architecture, but rarely recipies. In most cases it pays of to invest time into it and consider the effects it has on the authoring workflow, performance and other operational aspects.

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