So what's the big deal about variations? Building on ASP.NET 2.0 Master/Layout pages and reusable content, the variation system simply creates multiple sites-similar versions of a primary or source site. Each variation (or target site) contains the same content as the primary site, only it is presented in different formats using different layout and master pages. The format change might be simpler pages for mobile devices; different chrome for intranet, extranet, and Internet users; or multiple languages for International corporations. If it is basically the same content but with a different presentation, it's called a variation. However, technically, to the variation system, even the source site is a variation. In the management interfaces variation sites are called Labels which is the term used in the remainder of this chapter.
Microsoft Content Management Server had the capability of linking different "channels" (sites in SharePoint Server 2007) so that when a page was created in the source and approved, a corresponding page was created in the target with the same content but using a different template. The SharePoint Server 2007 Variation feature extends and enhances that concept. With Content Management Server channels, the user had to go to the appropriate site. With SharePoint Server 2007 variation hierarchies, all users can go to the same root site and be redirected to the appropriate site with no user interaction. They are also presented with the option to pick a specific variation site via a field control available within the variation hierarchy.
Because, with Windows SharePoint Services 3.0 and SharePoint Server 2007, you no longer need to install different language versions of the product to support sites in different languages, language is frequently considered the focus of Variation hierarchies. Languages are, in fact, the default redirection logic. You can now support multiple languages within the same site collection.
The Variation hierarchy must be contained within a site collection and is limited to publishing content. However, it is not limited to just creating language labels of the same content. It could be based on any information about the browser, device, or user available in the page request.
All four pages used to configure the Variation feature are found in the Site Collection Administration column of the Site Settings page of the Site Collection. To access the Site Settings page, navigate to the root site in the site collection. Under Site Actions, select Site Settings, and then select Modify All Site Settings.
Following are the four configuration and management pages for the Variation feature:
Variations: Configure The Variation System
Variation Labels: Create And Manage The Variation Hierarchy
Variation Logs: View Actions Of The Variation System, Both Successes And Failures
Translatable Columns: Identify Content Requiring Translation
These pages will be shown and discussed throughout the following sections on planning, configuring, and managing the Variation feature.
The Variation feature works only on publishing sites, not collaborative sites. The site collection can have both publishing and collaboration features activated, but only publishing content will be pushed from source to target sites or labels. For instance, publishing subsites are created on target sites, complete with all features and resources defined in the site template for the target site language. This can include lists, document libraries, reusable content libraries, and even subsites. However, new lists, document libraries, and so on created on the source will not be copied to the target sites because they are not publishing content.
Variations must be planned-not added later to copy existing sites. Here are some important facts to keep in mind when planning variations:
The site collection can have other content that is not part of the variation hierarchy. Variations are not replications; only content is copied, not master pages or page lay-out templates.
This is a one-way push only function. Changes made in the target do not get reflected back to the source. Target sites might contain content originating at the target.
The target workflow is respected, and the target site administrator does not have to accept the changes. Variations are not a relay race. There is only one source label, and the target of one source cannot be the source for another target. Neither the source nor target variation labels can point to existing sites.
You do not have to create variations of everything that is published on the source site.
The variation hierarchy publishing rules can include all available content, but the target label rules can limit what the target site accepts.
You can create unique content, sites, workspaces, lists, and so on in the target sites. The variation system does not overwrite content on the target site with the same name as the source content if the target content was originally created on the target site.
The planning for variations is critical and the implementation is somewhat tedious. However, once variations are configured and working, actually using variations seems relatively simple. This summary provides a quick overview of the steps of the variation system pushing content from an English source site to a French target.
New content created on source site (English) Either the English site content authors create new content (pages) or site administrators create new publishing subsites.
Workflow process completes for new content The approval process for the new content is completed. Keep in mind that if there is no workflow, publishing happens instantly.
One-way replication to destination site (French) The content is sent to the French site. By default, the variation system job checks every 20 seconds for new published pages and copies them to the target sites. Rules configured when creating the Variation Home specify whether reusable content is sent as a link or as a copy.
Chrome and layout are in French, content still English Because the Master and Layout pages of the French site are in French, you do not overwrite those and the chrome and field controls show up in French. Great, but the text of the reusable content is still in English and the picture has the New York City skyline in the background.
Content translated as part of "human" workflow Editors and translators must now get involved. A decision needs to be made as to whether it is appropriate to replace the picture, and the text needs translating. The translating can be accomplished in-house or sent out to specialists.
Upon approval, content appears in French on site After the content is translated and the page meets everyone's approval, it appears in French on the French site according to the publishing rules of the French site.