The Road to Configurable Sticky Left Hand Navigation in SharePoint Portal Server 2003

So I remember from my beginning days of trying to understand how to make a good (good being a VERY relative word in my case) web site that the first things I always had to figure out was a consistent header and consistent left hand navigation.  Unfortunately, as we all know, SharePoint Portal does not allow you to add links to the left hand nav bar that follows you from area to area.  In this case though it was something my client wanted.  And of course he did not want just words with links.  Oh no he wanted pretty little icons next to a fancy font.  So what was I to do?  Well I sat down with Kevin Pine of SharePoint Solutions and started to work through the problem. 

Kevin started the project saying whatever our solution was it could not be “hard coded”.  He wanted to be sure that if the client asked to add a new link and icon for a site that we could quickly make this update.  And I don’t mean quick like having 5 people opening every area in the portal with FrontPage; I mean quick like updating 1 or 2 files and having the changes propagate throughout the portal.  He also did not want to have to manually configure this on every new area created.  Wow!

<Hit your commercial skip button on your Tivo and skip all of the banter of how we got to the solution.> The solution we came up with was as follows.  We were going to add a new web part zone to the existing left hand column of an Area, populate that zone with an XML web part, and point that web part at the appropriate config files.  We of course are going to add these changes to all of the portals area definitions so going forward as they create new areas they will always be presented with this consistent nav bar.  And as they wish to change the links or icons they can just modify one set of xml and xsl files since all of the xml web parts will point to one reference location.  What a cool solution! 

Now to conquer some of the technical challenges we will use techniques taught in Extreme Makeover Portal Edition by SharePoint Solutions.  This three part series will explore the solutions to our 3 major technical challenges.  The first challenge will be how to add an XML web part preconfigured to a site definition.  The second challenge will be adding a new web part zone to the left hand nav column of an area definition to hold our XML web part.  The first 2 challenges are solved as independent problems of achieving sticky navigation.  That way if you only need to implement one portion it is easy to see how that works.  The 3rd part will be written to apply those 2 ideas to our problem to a working portal environment and to help solve anything that will come up when manipulating SharePoint in so many places.

How do I add a preconfigured XML web part to a site definition?  Part 1 of 3 on the road to sticky left hand navigation in SharePoint Portal Server.

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