If you’re an existing Kentico customer, you know that a new version is typically released each fall. This year, it’s version 12, and Kentico has been heads down on a significant update to its core architecture.
This upgrade may be a hard sell for Kentico because most of their business-oriented customers don’t know what MVC is and probably don’t care. For developers who work on and build Kentico sites, however, this is a much needed step forward. For Kentico, this is one of those large technical debt payoffs that every software company must make from time to time in order to stay current with a constantly shifting technology landscape. It may not be sexy, but it’s important and we’re thrilled that it’s happening.
Not to worry, Kentico 12 also includes improvements to the editing experience that will be welcomed even by the marketers among us. Since this upgrade may be confusing to non-developers, I thought I’d provide some background and context for existing and prospective Kentico customers.
What is MVC?
MVC stands for Model-View-Controller, a popular software development architecture that helps developers organize their projects into modular chunks, making their code easier to write, understand and change.
As you may know, Kentico is built on Microsoft’s ASP.NET platform. Microsoft’s initial web development framework for ASP.NET was called Web Forms and was released way back in 2002. At the time, Web Forms was considered revolutionary. Sixteen years later, it feels dated and very much “in the way”. As web development evolved, MVC has become the preferred architecture among web developers, and Microsoft released ASP.NET MVC in 2009 in order to keep its vital developer community happy. Eight major releases later, ASP.NET MVC has long been the architecture of choice for web developers on the Microsoft stack.
MVC and Kentico
Unfortunately, switching a complex application like Kentico from Web Forms to MVC is a huge endeavor, verging on a rewrite. Kentico released partial support for MVC-based development back in version 9, with many of its core features unsupported in MVC implementations. Most importantly lacking has been the visual editing experience of Kentico’s portal engine. Current MVC implementations of Kentico are limited to “content only” page types, meaning the editing interface is limited to the Form tab. As a result, developing Kentico sites in MVC is a tough sell for agencies whose customers have been sold on a visual page editing experience.
With version 12, Kentico is beginning a multi-release process that will eventually phase out the Web Forms-based portal engine content editor. The ubiquitous “web part” will be replaced with MVC widgets. As web content pages have grown longer and more modular, it no longer makes sense to think of static templates with predefined fields. Rather, a template may contain an assortment of content components (widgets) that an editor may organize on the page as they see fit. While Kentico has supported widget-based templates since version 5, editing the content in widgets requires opening a dialog and filling in a form. Kentico 12’s MVC widgets will support inline editing, finally providing a truly modular, flexible and visual editing experience for content editors.
What does this mean for existing customers?
Migrating a Web Forms portal engine site to MVC is a big task, verging on a rewrite. Simply upgrading your site to version 12 will not change it from Web Forms to MVC. If your Web Forms site represents a significant investment that you’ll be enhancing for years to come, you should consider biting the bullet and moving it to MVC. If, on the other hand, your current site’s end of life is less than 3 years, there’s probably no reason to invest in an MVC rebuild.
Luckily, there’s no hurry to make a decision. You certainly do not need to use MVC in order to upgrade to Kentico 12, and it will likely be another 3-5 years before Web Forms is no longer supported by Kentico.
If you’re planning a major redesign or new site build on Kentico, you’ll definitely want to discuss the pros and cons of MVC with your developer. Each case is different, but my general recommendation is to start new projects using MVC and use the form-based editing experience until version 12 is out and your site can be updated to take full advantage of the new visual editing experience. That shift will be a lot easier than rebuilding a Web Forms site in MVC.
Hopefully this context is helpful and demystifies this somewhat technical upgrade. We are excited that Kentico is making this shift and look forward to supporting our clients in whatever decisions they make regarding the upgrade.