Leveraging Search Web Parts and Display Templates

One of my main focuses the past 4-5 years has been leveraging the Search Infrastructure to help deliver dynamic content to portals and Intranets.  In previous versions of SharePoint I leaned heavily on the underlying APIs to deliver custom solutions.  This was both because the underlying APIs allowed more precise querying and because it gave me full control on what was rendered to the user.

With SharePoint 2013 the Search related web parts went through a pretty major renovation, especially for on-premises customers that have Enterprise CALs.  A series of web parts were created, with a full featured query builder that allows you to create and test your queries through a web interface.  Where the results were previously rendered in XSLT, the new method utilizes regular html and javascript to create the output markup which is then injected into the page.  The overall rendering of the pages is much more dynamic, with support to display each item differently based on the type of content it is.  The potential is limitless. 

I intend for this post to be a bit of a primer on the high level topics.  I’ll be coming out with some specific task-driven follow up posts over the next few weeks that expand on these concepts and get into some examples of things that can be done through these new features. 

Dynamic Content using Search Web Parts

For those that haven’t caught my session Dynamic Content using SharePoint Search here is a brief overview.

The web parts themselves are broken into the following categories:

  • Content Rollup (Enterprise Feature)
  • Search-Driven Content (Enterprise Feature)
  • Search

 

Within the Content Rollup category resides the Content Search web part.  This is a great replacement for the Content Query Web Part (CQWP) available in past versions of SharePoint.  Unlike the CQWP, this utilizes the search service so it can pull matching results from anywhere in your farm, which means you are not limited to the current site collection. 

The web part also supports new, previously unavailable display options including the ability to show the item as a slideshow. 

The Search-Driven Content category contains a series of web parts that are all based on the Content Search web part, with a pre-set query to help you get started.  This includes results that display specific types of content like the Videos, Web Pages, Wiki Pages, Pictures, Pages, and then also results that rely on the analytics features to deliver results pertaining to Popular Items, Recently Changed Items, and Recommended Items.  The pre-configured queries are a great start, and using the query builder form you can dial in the specific results you are looking to display. 

Search Display Templates

All of the search web parts, including the standard Search Results web part that is available in all versions of SharePoint Server as well as the SharePoint Online service within Office 365, then offer the ability to change how your results are rendered using the Search Display Templates.  This is where the real power of the new changes come into play since we can now change how items are rendered by editing the html and javascript in the display templates. 

The display templates are stored in the Master Page Gallery for each site collection.  You can find them by browsing to Site Settings, and clicking the Master pages and page layouts link under the Web Designer Galleries group.  From within the gallery, browse into the display templates directory, and then into the Search directory for search specific display templates. 

A good reference for the included display templates is available here on the TechNet/MSDN website:  http://technet.microsoft.com/en-us/library/jj944947(v=office.15).aspx

Here is a good overview of how to work with the display templates:  http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/office/jj945138(v=office.15).aspx

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