Oh my god. It's full of code!

Lets Build a Tree (From Salesforce.com Data Categories)

Salesforce Data categories. If you’ve had to code around then on the Salesforce.com platform, you are probably aware of the complexity, and how much of a pain they can be. If you havn’t worked with them much, you are fortunate 😛 They are essentially a way to provide categories for any sObject in Salesforce. They are most frequently used with knowledge articles. The Apex calls, describes and schema for them is unlike anything else in the Salesforce schema. Categories are their own objects and they can be nested to infinite complexity. In short, they are complicated and take a while to really get your head around them (I still don’t know if I really do). Thankfully I’ve done a bunch of hard work and discovery so that you don’t have to. For this particular project, we are going to build a nifty tree style selector that allows a user to select any data category for a given sObject type. You can then do whatever you want with that info. Yes I know there are some built in visualforce components for handling data categories, but they aren’t super flexible and this is just a good leaning experience. In the end, you’ll have an interactive tree that might look something like this.

treeDemoWord of Warning: I had to live modify some of code I posted below to remove sensitive information that existed in the source project. I haven’t used the EXACT code below, but very very close. So please let me know if something doesn’t quite work and I’ll try to fix up the code in the post here. The idea works, it’s solid, but there might be a rough syntax error or something.

Our application is going to consist of a visualforce page that displays the tree. A component that contains the reusable tree code, a static resource that contains the javascript libraries, css file and images for the tree structure. Of course we will also have an apex class that will handle some of the heavy lifting of getting category data, and returning it to our visualforce page. We’ll use javascript/apex remoting to communicate with that Apex class. First off, lets grab the static resource and get that uploaded into your org. You can snag it here


upload that, make it public, call it jsTree. Next we’ll need our Apex class. It looks like this.

global class CaseSlaController
    //constructors for component and visualforce page extension
    public CaseSlaController() {}
    public CaseSlaController(ApexPages.StandardController controller) {}

    //gets category data and returns in JSON format for visualforce pages. Beware that since we end up double JSON encoding the return 
    //(once from the JSON.serialize, and another time because that's how data is returned when moved over apex remoting) you have to fix
    //the data on the client side. We have to double encode it because the built in JSON encoder breaks down when trying to serialize
    //the Schema.DescribeDataCategoryGroupStructureResult object, but the explicit call works.
    global static string getCategoriesJson(string sObjectType)
        return JSON.serialize(CaseSlaController.getCategories(sObjectType));

    public static  list<Schema.DescribeDataCategoryGroupStructureResult> getCategories(string sObjectType)

        //the describing of categories requires pairs of sObject type, and category name. This holds a list of those pairs.
        list<Schema.DataCategoryGroupSObjectTypePair> pairs = new list<Schema.DataCategoryGroupSObjectTypePair>();

        //list of objects to describe, for this app we only take 1 sObject type at a time, as passed into this function.
        list<string> objects = new list<string>();

        //describe the categories for this object type (knowledgeArticleVersion)
        List<Schema.DescribeDataCategoryGroupResult> describeCategoryResult =  Schema.describeDataCategoryGroups(objects);

        //add the found categories to the list.
        for(Schema.DescribeDataCategoryGroupResult s : describeCategoryResult)
            Schema.DataCategoryGroupSObjectTypePair thisPair = new Schema.DataCategoryGroupSObjectTypePair();
            thisPair.sObject = sObjectType;
            thisPair.dataCategoryGroupName = s.getName();

        //describe the categories recursivly
        list<Schema.DescribeDataCategoryGroupStructureResult> results = Schema.describeDataCategoryGroupStructures(pairs,false);

        return results;
    private static DataCategory[] getAllCategories(DataCategory [] categories)
            return new DataCategory[]{};
            DataCategory [] categoriesClone = categories.clone();
            DataCategory category = categoriesClone[0];
            DataCategory[] allCategories = new DataCategory[]{category};
            return allCategories;

So there are three functions there and two constructors. The constructors are for later on when we use this thing in a component and a visualforce page, so don’t really worry about them. Next is the getCategoriesJson, that is the remote function we will call with our javascript to get the category data. It just invokes the getCategories function since that returns an object type that Salesforce can’t serialize with it’s automatic JSON serializer without blowing up (in my real app I had to use getCategories for another reason, hence why I didn’t just combine the two functions into one that always returns JSON). The last one is just a private function for spidering the data category description. Other than that, you can check out the comments to figure out a bit more about what it’s doing. In short it describes the categories for the given sObject type. It then creates dataCategoryGroupSobjectTypePairs from those categories and describes those and returns the huge complicated chunk.

Alright, so we got the back end setup, let’s actually make it do something. For that we need our component and visualforce page. First up, the component. Wrapping this picker in a component makes it easy to use on lots of different visualforce pages. It’s not required but it’s probably a better design practice.

<apex:component Controller="CaseSlaController">
    <!---- Two parameters can be passed into this component ---->
    <apex:attribute name="sObjectType" type="string" description="the sObject type to get data category tree for" />
    <apex:attribute name="callback" type="string" description="Name of javascript function to call when tree drawing is complete" />

    <!--- include the required libraries --->
    <link rel="stylesheet" href="{!URLFOR($Resource.jsTree, 'css/jquery.treeview.css')}" />
    <apex:includeScript value="{!URLFOR($Resource.jsTree, 'js/jquery.min.js')}" />
    <apex:includeScript value="{!URLFOR($Resource.jsTree, 'js/jquery.treeview.js')}" />

        //put jQuery in no conflict mode

        //object to hold all our functions and variables, keep things organized and dont pollute the heap
        var categorySelect = new Object();

        //invokes the getCategoriesJson function on the apex controller. Returns to the callback function with the
        //fetched data
        categorySelect.getCategoryData = function(sObjectType,callback)
                function(result, event){
                {escape: true}

        //as soon as the dom has loaded lets get to work
        j$(document).ready(function() {

            //first off, find all the data category data for the given sObject type.       
                //the json data we get back is all screwed up. Since it got JSON encoded twice quotes become the html
                //&quote; and such. So we fix the JSON and reparse it. I know its kind of hacky but I dont know of a better way

                var fixedJson = JSON.parse(categorySelect.htmlDecode(result));         

                //lets create the series of nested lists required for our tree plugin from the json data.
                var html = categorySelect.buildTreeHtml(fixedJson);                          

                //write the content into the dom

                //apply the treeview plugin
                    persist: "location",
                    collapsed: true,
                    unique: true

                //if the string that was passed in for callback is actually representative of a function, then call it
                //and pass it the categoryTree html.
                if(typeof({!callback}) == "function")

        //function that is meant to be called recursivly to build tree structure html
        categorySelect.buildTreeHtml = function(category)
            var html = '';     

            //iterate over the category data  
                //create list item for this item.
                html+='<li><a href="#" category="'+value.name+'" class="dataCategoryLink" title="Attach '+value.label+' SLA to Case">'+value.label+'</a>';

                //check to see if this item has any topCategories to iterate over. If so, pass them into this function again after creatining a container               
                if(value.hasOwnProperty('topCategories') && value.topCategories.length > 0)
                    html += '<ul>';
                    html += categorySelect.buildTreeHtml(value.topCategories);                    
                    html +='</ul>';                 
                //check to see if this item has any childCategories to iterate over. If so, pass them into this function again after creatining a container                           
                else if(value.hasOwnProperty('childCategories')  && value.childCategories.length > 0)
                    html += categorySelect.buildTreeHtml(value.childCategories);
                html += '</li>';
            return html;                

        //fixes the double encoded JSON by replacing html entities with their actual symbol equivilents
        //ex: &quote; becomes "
        categorySelect.htmlDecode = function(value) 
            if (value) 
                return j$('<div />').html(value).text();
                return '';
    <div id="categoryTreeContainer">
        <ul id="categoryTree">


Now then finally we need a visualforce page to invoke our component and rig up our tree items to actually do something when you click them. We wanted to keep the component simple, just make the interactive tree cause different pages might want it to do different things. That is where that included callback function comes in handy. The visualforce page can invoke the component and specify a callback function to call once the component has finished its work so we know we can start manipulating the tree. Our page might look like this.

<apex:page sidebar="false" standardController="Case" showHeader="false" extensions="CaseSlaController">
    <c:categorySelect callback="knowledgePicker.bindTreeClicks" sObjectType="KnowledgeArticleVersion"/>

        var knowledgePicker = new Object();

        knowledgePicker.bindTreeClicks = function(tree)
                alert('clicked ' + j$(this).attr('category'));

We invoke the component passing it a callback function name and the type of sObject we want to make the category tree of. We then create a function with the same name as the callback. Inside that function we simple attach an onclick event handler to the tree category links that sends us an alert of which one the user clicked. Of course we could then do anything we wanted, make another remoting call, update an object, whatever.

Anyway, I hope this was helpful. I know I was a bit frustrated as the lack of sample code for dealing with categories so hopefully this helps some other developers out there who might be trying to do the same kind of thing. Till next time!


8 responses

  1. Anonymous

    Hello Kenji/Dan,

    Thank you so much for putting this out! It’s magnificent! Appreciate your kind sharing 🙂


    January 29, 2014 at 5:44 am

  2. Anonymous

    Can we make the tree with two object? child with parent

    May 18, 2014 at 3:59 pm

  3. Ajay

    Superb !!! Awesome !!! Can we redirect user to that specific articles ? Like user clicked on tree structure and he clicked particular category then on click of that category can we open that article ? Is it possible ?

    October 20, 2014 at 8:59 am

  4. good post dear through this post any one can easily learn

    May 8, 2015 at 9:33 am

  5. Madan


    June 24, 2015 at 5:11 am

  6. Anila Khwaja

    I am not able to add this class in an unmanaged package. salesforce says
    Salesforce.com does not currently allow export of components referencing to Data Categories.

    July 14, 2015 at 5:30 pm

    • Rajesh

      How did you resolve this issue. could you please help .

      March 14, 2017 at 4:22 am

  7. sneharshblogHarshal

    Can we create ‘n’ number of child’s in this tree example.

    February 17, 2017 at 11:14 am

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