Sentry v2 represents a significant change of direction for Nimblehost’s original Sentry stack which was designed to let Rapidweaver users display or hide content before, after or between specific dates – and included the ability to change these settings by logging in via a web browser. Version 2 (hereafter just plain Sentry 2) keeps those features but also adds basic content management for text and images, allowing users to make changes via a web browser.
Sentry 2‘s attraction is that it’s extremely easy to set up. You get four stacks:
- Sentry which must be added to one page on your website and acts as a admin stack; it’s here that you define the email address and password that a user needs in order to sign in and make changes
- The Sentry Edit stack, which is where you’ll place your content
- The Sentry Login stack, which positions a Font Awesome icon at various locations on the screen; users click this icon to log in and make changes
- The Sentry Display stack, which lets you show or hide content by date
Here’s how it works. Drop the main Sentry stack onto a page (you only need to do this once, on a single page) then add an Edit stack. Drop a text stack inside this (Sentry 2 works best with basic text stacks) and then add a Login stack to finish; by default this last stack will appear exactly where it’s placed on the page. After that you just have to publish, and then – making sure to visit whichever page the main Sentry stack is on once to initialise everything – you’re ready to edit content. Just click the Font Awesome icon, type in your user name and password and you’ll see the Sentry editor appear against a background overlay to make it stand out.
The editor itself is useful but basic and allows you to set paragraph, quote and header styles, bold, italic or strikethrough, alignment, ordered and unordered lists and set links; you can also upload photos or point to ones stored elsewhere online. There’s no way to add or remove items from the toolbar, but at least it doesn’t allow users to change the colour of text (hurrah – Ed)…Once you’ve made your edits you can click the Save button and then either preview your changes – if you have more to do – or log out of the CMS. You can place multiple Sentry Edit stacks on a page and they’ll all be accessible once you’ve logged in; and if the Edit stacks are too close together so they overlap in edit mode and hide the Save buttons for some dialogues there’s an option to add padding to the top of each editor window.
As the video on the Nimblehost site demonstrates, it’s possible to use Sentry Edit with more complex stacks – like a toggle stack – but this is because clicking the first editable area – the toggle heading – opens the second editable area – the toggle content – so you’re able to edit both elements. Elsewhere we couldn’t make it work with other stacks that behave a little differently, including our favourite tab stack from Doobox, Elixir’s excellent Orbit slider stack or Weaverthings fancy PlusThing; there seemed to be no way to ‘get at’ the additional content areas in order to edit them.
The Sentry 2 login can be placed at any of the four corners of your website or exactly where you place it on the page – with a bit of tinkering you can also trigger the login dialogue box from any link, or using any element to which you can assign the custom class “sentryLoginTrigger”. You can also configure up to 10 individual user names and passwords, but since every user can access every editable area, you’ll need to tread carefully when explaining which bits they’re supposed to be editing and which bits they’re supposed to leave alone; assuming such organisational safeguards in place, it’s a good feature though. All your editable content is stored in an SQLlite database file on the server – which can be moved across to the real website when you come to publish (assuming all that changes in the project file is the URL where the site is being published).
We’re convinced that Sentry 2 will develop into a very useful – and attractive – basic content management system but currently there are a few wrinkles. On some themes, the background highlight covers the entire content container unnecessarily and obtrusively, if the stack you want to edit is too narrow, the edit toolbar wraps onto two decks and obscures the content; editable areas too close together obscure some of the save options (even with padding added) and editing links that are already present don’t work properly – you can replace a link completely but not edit it to correct sloppy typing, for example.
Once these are ironed out – and some of the additional features in the pipeline are implemented – Sentry 2 will be an excellent, easy to use CMS for those users who need to change text and individual photos without any complicated setting up.