Sitecore Helix – Converting existing Sitecore solution into Helix standards

Helix is a set of overall design principles and conventions for Sitecore development. With the evolution of Sitecore itself and large enterprise solutions growing as per company’s business, there is a requirement to define a standard which simplifies the Sitecore development as well maintenance.

Helix is most buzzed word you will hear nowadays. Most of the Sitecore solutions provider has adopted this standard principle while delivering new and all upcoming Sitecore Web Applications. It is little hard to move from the traditional development (vary by person to person) to Helix standards. But once you are familiar with the terms/Standards, Believe me – You will likely love it. There is a well written documentation on  Helix, Habitat – An example solution based on Helix standards which you can refer as example of Helix, And there are many courses/presentation going on Helix.

We talked about how Helix is changing the whole way we develop the Sitecore web application. What about websites already build on Sitecore before we even heard about Helix? I recently got a chance to work on an existing website build on sitecore to make required changes so that solution become more maintainable and as per new standards for future development. I considered one of the thing to reach our goal is to convert it to Helix standards. Based on my experience doing this, We will be talking about

  • Should we convert existing websites to Helix standards?
    • No, What are the reasons for not doing?
    • Yes, How we can do that?

Should we convert existing websites to Helix Standards?

No, Unless you are willing to convert whole application into Helix standards. which generally does not seems to be possible. You will ask why?, Let’s see what are the reasons of not converting existing websites to Helix standards

What are the reasons for not doing?

Although, Helix gives many benefits, I found below points which were stopping me to perform this conversion into Helix standards:

  • Limited Business Context:
    In a large organization, where an application gets growing over several years of span time, It is very difficult to find out the person who has the complete business context. It is very difficult to understand the business context from application from mid way, we might not know the actual reasons for some of the implementations. The biggest risk of the limited business context is, while conversion we may break the functionalities unknowingly. For ex: Miss some of the code while conversion, Miss some of the references, Miss some of the hard coded IDs & Paths, Miss some Datasource related changes in Sitecore Items due to new Structure/Items, We cleanup some of the unwanted things which is there for future development etc.
  • Limited Time:
    As website is already developed and serving business need, we might not get the time as much as we develop a new website. Converting existing web application to Helix standards requires huge amount of time as much as new development from scratch we can say. So, with the limited time duration, we might end up doing mix of traditional and Helix standards. Which is not a good solution from the eye of a good solution architect.
  • Limited Knowledge of Helix:
    quote-integrity-without-knowledge-is-weak-and-useless-and-knowledge-without-integrity-is-dangerous-and-samuel-johnson-95971While working along with different set of people in different teams (In house team, Consultant team etc.), It is very difficult to set the rules and expectations. Although, there are set of rules and recommendations mentioned in Helix standards, One may act differently. For ex: One developer created Foundation for few set of feature, few will create Feature for same, others may argue that it should be in Project and rest just doesn’t follow Helix standards and place everything except Feature/Foundation/Project. This will again end up in duplicate, inconsistent, difficult to understand code/structure.
  • Not adding business value:
    Spending so much time, money, and efforts and at the end not getting direct business value might not impress to many business people. And i think it is right too at some point of time. Q: What business value it will add? Ans: More development in standard way, Less efforts and time  going forward, and maintainability. Q: What business value it will add right now? Ans: can’t think off.

These are the several factors to keep in mind before jumping in converting everything into Helix standards. But if knowing all these points, we really wanted to convert the existing Sitecore website eventually into Helix standards, we can do in below way.

How we can do that?

Considering fact that we can not start developing existing websites in Helix standards along side existing website. It will than become a development from scratch which is going to take many months, and with this separate development to convert existing website to Helix standard, there will also be some modification and new feature in existing website. Merging these new feature along way with new development is not going to be an easy job.

The approach we can take:

  • Create a blank structure as per Helix standards. It is now also available as Visual Studio template
  • Add one empty project application which can act as a heart. No need to jump to Feature and Foundation at this stage.
  • Create a Foundation project named Legacy. Why Foundation and not Feature/Project layer for this purpose?

    Ans: The reason why I’ve put it into Foundation layer is because we can also start implementing new features etc. but we need to make sure that the “old” project still works. So basically we have the Vanila Sitecore instance at the bottom, on top there is the old project and on top of that we can implement new stuff and/or move stuff out of the old project Also one point why it’s not in the Project layer is because, of the references. If you convert part of it into Feature Layer, you cannot have a reference to the Project Layer. But you can have one to the Foundation Layer. Thanks to @nadinelendzian for discussion on this.

  • Put everything from old solution under this Legacy Foundation project.
  • Make sure at this point everything is working fine as it was.
  • Eventually start separating out functionality into different Feature/Foundation/Project layer.

Please find below images as an example:

Before Helix

Sitecore Content Tree


Visual Studio Solution

After Helix

Sitecore Content Tree


Visual Studio Solution

These are some of the example of how an existing solution can be converted to Helix standards gradually.

Again it is my personal view, If you have some other thoughts on converting existing Sitecore websites to Helix standards, I would love to hear that.

I love Helix 🙂


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