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Architecture

There are many ways to slice and deploy Alfresco, however most deployments follow a general pattern. Ultimately, Alfresco is used to implement ECM solutions, such as Document Management (DM), Web Content Management (WCM), and Digital Asset Management (DAM). Across those solutions may also be elements of collaboration and search.

The solutions are typically split between clients and server, where clients offer users a user interface to the solution and the server provides content management services and storage. Solutions commonly offer multiple clients against a shared server, where each client is tailored for the environment in which it is used.

The following figure shows various architectural components.

Clients

Alfresco offers two primary web-based clients, Alfresco Explorer and Alfresco Share.

  • Alfresco Explorer is deployed as part of the Alfresco content application server. It is a highly customizable power-user client that exposes all features of the Alfresco content application server and is implemented using Java Server Faces (JSF).
  • Alfresco Share can be deployed to its own tier separate from the Alfresco content application server and managed through the Alfresco WCM solution. Alfresco Share focuses on the collaboration aspects of content management and streamlining the user experience. Alfresco Share is implemented using Spring Surf and can be customized without JSF knowledge.

Clients also exist for portals (via JSR-168 portlets), mobile platforms, Microsoft Office, and the desktop. A client often overlooked is the folder drive of the operating system, where users share documents through a network drive. Using JLAN technology, Alfresco can look and act just like a folder drive. JLAN is the only Java server-side implementation of the CIFS protocol, letting users interact with Alfresco as they do any other normal file drive except the content is now stored and managed in the Alfresco content application server.

Server

The Alfresco content application server comprises a content repository and value-added services for building ECM solutions. Two standards define the content repository: CMIS (Content Management Interoperability Services) and JCR (Java Content Repository / JSR-170/286). These standards provide a specification for content definition and storage, content retrieval, versioning, and permissions. Complying with these standards provides a reliable, scalable, and efficient implementation.

The Alfresco content application server provides the following categories of services built upon the content repository:
  • Content services (transformation, tagging, metadata extraction)
  • Control services (workflow,records management, change sets)
  • Collaboration services (social graph, activities, wiki)

Clients communicate with the Alfresco content application server and its services through numerous supported protocols. HTTP and SOAP offer programmatic access while CIFS, FTP, WebDAV, IMAP, and Microsoft SharePoint protocols offer application access. The Alfresco installer provides an out-of-the-box prepackaged deployment where the Alfresco content application server (with embedded Alfresco Explorer) and Alfresco Share are deployed as distinct web applications inside Apache Tomcat.

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