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Sitecore Helix: Development Guidelines for Your Custom Web Solutions

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Every web solution should be built around a framework of best practices to allow smooth upgrades and new functionality implementation. For Sitecore projects, Helix is that set of best practices.

Helix is a collection of development principles and conventions for Sitecore that was created in September 2016. However, it’s not an indoctrination from Sitecore itself. Rather, it’s a crowdsourced and smoothly collated set of best practices solicited from developers who implement Sitecore solutions for clients.

The byproduct of these guidelines is twofold: improved ability to maintain and upgrade the site and a more structured, yet still flexible, development experience.

How Helix methodology improves clients’ websites

Helix encourages customization of web solutions from the onset of development. Rather than dragging large amounts of generic base code from project to project, developers can start with guidelines to custom-build unique solutions more efficiently from the get-go.

With Helix methodology, independent components of your Sitecore solution will be self-contained, allowing features to function independently rather than relying on each other from the top down.

Helix includes three layers of development guidelines:

  • Foundation: This layer includes the framework that doesn’t change often, such as stable modules, indexing, theming, extensions, and UI hooks such as JQuery or Bootstrap.
  • Feature: This layer includes the concrete features of the solution as understood by the client and solution editors. Features may include News, Navigation, Articles, and other editable items. Items can be added to and removed from this layer without affecting other features.
  • Project: This is a small layer with few modules. This is the aesthetic layer in which all features are stitched together into a cohesive solution that fits the client’s requirements.
    This methodology reduces bulk, providing everything clients and developers need and providing flexible opportunities to alter the solution over time.

How Helix improves maintenance and upgrades

Prior to Helix, there were fewer consensus guidelines for Sitecore developers to follow. Sometimes developers would resort to building one generic platform and attempt to customize it from the top down for every client’s needs. This is an ineffective and antiquated approach that spawns dysfunctional relationships between unrelated pieces of sites. Small high-level changes easily could cause a ripple effect of broken site components.

But Helix prevents this by separating features’ functionality and focusing on custom builds rather than latent customization. Also, Helix doesn’t dictate which techniques or coding styles developers must use, so developers have more leeway to build in terms of what works and what’s current in technology.

Getting a totally customized but well-documented blueprint by following Helix best practices sets your organization up for quicker ramp-up on future web projects with your existing partner, as well as a more fluid handoff if you select a new partner. This is possible because all of the source code is available within a solution and is organized according to industry standard guidelines.

Sitecore as an organization also benefits from Helix guidelines implementation. As more developers begin to build with these principles in mind, Sitecore solutions over time will become easier to build, maintain, and upgrade.

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