Issue with Updating SharePoint Publishing Page Layouts and Ghosting


This post has come about due to some challenges when upgrading a publishing site page layout.

Before we delve into the issues I best explain how the Page Layouts are setup. The page layouts are all contained within a feature called “Company.Intranet.Publishing” which are deployed to the folder:


Each of the page layouts are deployed into the master page gallery (/_catalogs/masterpages) using a Module. The page layouts are deployed as uncustomised or ghosted files.

The fact these resources are deployed as ghosted files is very important as you will see in the next section.

Finally the feature is deployed using the SharePoint Solution framework as a single SharePoint WSP using WSP Builder.

What do you mean by Ghosted / UnCustomised files?

There has been quite a lot of information published about this and the following are good resources:-

My understanding is that a ghosted file is where the binary content is actually stored on the file system of the server and a pointer to that binary content is held in the content database. If a user modifies the content of a page layout in a site collection by a tool such as SharePoint Designer then a copy of that binary content is taken from the file system and merged along with the changes made by the user and stored in the content database.

Hence when you retrieve an uncustomised file its binary content is being pulled from the content database.

Why are Ghosted / Uncustomised files preferred?

Recently at the SharePoint Best Practices conference, Eric Shupps and Rob Foster did a great presentation on Fine Tuning and Optimising SharePoint Performance. One of the key points in improving performance is to ensure that files are ghosted/uncustomised for the following reasons:-

  • Ghosted files all point to a single file and hence they all point to the same binary content. This means only one file needs to be cached and the load on the database is significantly reduced.
  • Actually Unghosted files cannot be cached within a BlobCache. Unghosted files are therefore slower to load and render (10% slower on average) than a ghosted file.

Upgrading Page Layouts

The method used to upgrade page layouts is simply by redeploying the files through an updated wsp solution file. We have also been careful through training and guidance with users to ensure that page layouts are not edited through SharePoint Designer.

Therefore if a change to a page layout is required, then the page layout is updated within the feature directory using Visual Studio and the WSP solution file is rebuilt.

The solution is then ready to be updated using the command:-

stsadm –o upgradesolution –filename [solutionname.wsp] –name [solutionname.wsp] –allowgacdeployment –allowcaspolicies –immediate

The change to the page layout is then reflected within the SharePoint site.

Why are my changes are not seen?

More history, our last deployment required that we tidied up the page layout’s title and description.

One of the problems with using a Module to deploy files within a feature is that with SharePoint 2007 it is difficult to make changes to existing files deployed by a module without resorting to code. Any changes to the filenames or properties that are deployed by the Module are not reflected until the file is deleted from the site collection.

As there were not that many site collections, we took the decision not to write any code and we modified the page layout titles and descriptions through the SharePoint UI.

Unfortunately when we did our next release into our testing environment the changes to the page layout markup were not seen within the site.

After checking that the page layouts were being deployed correctly to the the WFE’s file system we started thinking of the reason. Finally I thought it must be due to unghosting of the files.

Normally you can use SharePoint Designer to revert page layouts to their site definition. So I fired up SharePoint Designer and browsed to the /_catalogs/masterpages document library but could see that the Page Layouts were not customised.

I started to search for tools to find out which files are customised. The legendary Gary LaPointe (@glapointe) came to the rescue.

If you don’t deploy Gary LaPointe STSADM tools on your Production/UAT environments then I plead with you that you start to do so as soon as possible. Time and time again I have been in a bind and Gary’s STSADM commands have got me out of trouble.

The commands that saved the day this time are:-

The commands give a lot of flexibility, though I will warn you that you need to be a bit careful as you could quickly reghost all the files within your site collection if you are not careful.

I performed the following command:-

stsadm –o gl-enumghostedfiles –url

This displayed a list of files that were unghosted. Funnily enough all the page layouts that we had modified and changed their Title and Description fields had become unghosted!

Once we had a list of the unghosted page layouts we could reghost each of them in turn using the command:-

stsadm –o gl-reghostfile –url –Scope File

This command would reghost each of the files, there were occasions where the page layout reghosting would fail, using the –force option for the gl-reghostfile would ensure that the page was ghosted.

Now looking at the site the page layouts had been updated and reflected the changes that had been deployed by the update solution.

Hope that helps!

Building WSP Solution out of Multiple Visual Studio Projects


Recently I have been building a reasonable sized SharePoint solution which is using multiple Visual Studio projects. Using the excellent WSPBuilder by Carlos Keutmann, the SharePoint content can be packaged up build individual solution files.
WSP Builder
Ok so as with these things there have been a few hacks to ensure that WSPBuilder does the right thing when building the package. Before I start I should explain how to use WSPBuilder, basically what you do is define the structure of the SharePoint 12 Hive in your project. So you create one folder called 12 and then create sub folders which mimics the SharePoint 12 Hive structure.
So under the 12 folder you would add the appropriate sub folders for your solution :-
To add assemblies to your solution you create a GAC folder and an 80 folder at the same level as the 12 Folder.
To add an assembly into the GAC put the assembly in the GAC folder. To add an assembly into the web application bin folder put the assembly in the 80 folder.
The Problem
So far so good but when you have multiple projects building multiple assemblies, it is difficult to organise the files so that WSP Builder can build the solution correctly.
This is made worse when you have a project that builds an assembly which is then used by another of the projects.
To explain this if we have two projects, Project A and Project B. Project A builds assembly ProjectA.dll and Project B builds ProjectB.dll, Project B uses Project A.
When Project B is built it relies on the Project A dll and the assembly is copied into Project B’s build directory.
Now if you wanted to package up the solution using WSP Builder, you can run WSP Builder as part of the post build event by running “c:\program files\wspbuilder\wspbuilder.exe”. However if the assemblies, ProjectA.dll and ProjectB.dll need to be in the GAC then we need to build the project and then copy the dlls into the GAC folder.
Thus when the WSP Builder runs it will pickup that the assemlbies need to go into the GAC and build the wsp solution correctly.
These post build events become more and more complex as the number of projects is included in the solution, more complexity equals more room for errors.
A Solution
In order to make things less complex I use the post build events for the projects to copy all the appropriate content from the project directory and build a directory structure under the solution dir.
This can be done as follows:-
echo Running WSP Builderecho Copying GAC Dlls to $(ProjectDir)GACcopy /y "$(TargetDir)*.dll" "$(ProjectDir)GAC\"

echo Copying 12 Directory to Solution Buildxcopy /S /E /I /H /Y "$(ProjectDir)12" "$(SolutionDir)Build\12\"

echo Copying GAC Directory to Solution Buildxcopy /S /E /I /H /Y "$(ProjectDir)GAC" "$(SolutionDir)Build\GAC\"

echo Running WSP Builder against FCT System Solutioncd "$(SolutionDir)Build\%programfiles%\WSPTools\WSPBuilderExtensions\wspbuilder" -WSPName [solutionfilename.wsp]-SolutionId [SolutionIDGUID]

echo Copying packages to Deployment\Packagecopy /y "$(SolutionDir)Build\*.wsp" "$(SolutionDir)Deployment\Package\" copy /y "$(ProjectDir)Package\*.*" "$(SolutionDir)Deployment\Package\":exit
Some enhancements
One of the annoying things when you are coding is that there is a cycle of fix, build, deploy, debug. If you are building the WSP file each time then the cycle between build->deploy->debug can be quite slow. To speed things up I use different build configurations. For example the Debug build does not call the wsp builder command but uses gacutil to add the assembly to the GAC or copies the assembly to the web application bin directory. The application pool is then recycled.
echo Copying content into $(SolutionDir)
copy /y /e /s/i “$(ProjectDir)\12” “$(SolutionDir)\Build\12”
For example:-
This is achieved in the following manner:-
I hope that you find this useful, I would love to hear about other ways that people achieve this and also if anyone has any enhancements to this solution.