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Monthly Archives: October 2007

SharePoint Designer — Custom activity to execute user-defined C# functions

 

UPDATE: This has been released to CodePlex here: http://www.codeplex.com/spdwfextensions

UPDATE: See here for latest release notes: http://paulgalvin.spaces.live.com/blog/cns!1CC1EDB3DAA9B8AA!381.entry

UPDATE: See here for my thoughts on commercializing this project: http://paulgalvin.spaces.live.com/blog/cns!1CC1EDB3DAA9B8AA!569.entry

This project provides a custom activity in SharePoint Designer.  Use this custom activity to invoke (dispatch) any C# function that you incorporated into the linked assembly.

As of late October, 2007, this is just an initial version of the project.  I plan to expand it with a number of additional functions, including substring, index, replace, invoking web services and anything that seems useful or interesting.  I also plan to post this to codeplex once I have my act together on that front.  This will also be deployable as a solution at some point.

If you have any comments, questions or suggestions, please leave them in comments or email me.

Disclaimer:

I make absolutely no claims as to the suitability of this for any purpose.  Use at your own risk.

Installation steps (to be followed for each WFE in the farm):

1. Download the .zip and extract.

2. Install the .dll into the GAC.  I usually open c:\windows\assembly using windows explorer and copy it there.

3. Modify web.config to add the assembly to the safe controls:

<System.Workflow.ComponentModel.WorkflowCompiler>
  <authorizedTypes>

<authorizedType Assembly="SpdGenericInterface, Version=1.0.0.0, Culture=neutral, PublicKeyToken=abe076fd8125f3c4" Namespace="Nivlag" TypeName="*" Authorized="True" />

4. Copy "SpdGenericInterface.actions" to C:\Program Files\Common Files\Microsoft Shared\web server extensions\12\TEMPLATE\1033\Workflow

Note that the above location is specific to english language installations.

5. Close SharePoint Designer (if it’s already open).

6. iisreset

7. Open SPD and create a new workflow.

If all goes well, you should be rewarded with a new category of action:

 

Notes:

See here (http://blogs.msdn.com/sharepointdesigner/archive/2007/03/15/adding-activities-to-spd.aspx) for a terrific overview of the process for creating, installing and configuring a solution like this.

The .zip is designed to extract directly to you c:\ drive.  If you do this, you can open the project and all the paths will be consistent.

To use this in visual studio, you probably need to install "Extensions for Windows WF".

The initial upload contains just one "dispatcher function", "ToLower()".  To add more functionality, add it to the Execute method as shown:

        protected override ActivityExecutionStatus
          Execute(ActivityExecutionContext executionContext)
        {

            string functionToDispatch;
            functionToDispatch = this.DispatchFunction.ToLower();

            switch (functionToDispatch)
            {
                case "tolower()":
                    {
                        this.OutResult1 = this.InParam1.ToLower();
                        break;
                    }

                default:
                    {
                        this.OutResult1 = "Unknown function: [" + this.DispatchFunction + "].";
                        break;
                    }
            }

            return ActivityExecutionStatus.Closed;
        } // ActivityExecutionStatus

    }

Then, re-build the project and copy the assembly to the GAC.  I expect an iisreset would be required.

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SPD Workflow custom action – get the tag right to avoid frustration

Part of the process for creating a custom action for SharePoint Designer involves create a ".actions" file.

I’ve found and tried to use a sample template which starts off as:

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="utf-8" ?>
  <
WorkflowInfo xmlns="http://schemas.microsoft.com/sharepoint/">
  <
Actions Sequential="then" Parallel="and">

However, that xmlns attribute prevents my environment from working.  My actions don’t show up in SPD. 

The solution is to strip out the xmlns attribute, do an iisreset and close/re-open SPD. 

Quick and Simple: Configure MOSS to search a specific document library

See UPDATE (I) below (11/24/07) on How to Configure Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007 to Index and Crawl Network Folders for Search

Objective: I want to execute a search restricted to a specific document library.  In this case, the document library contains training documents.

Steps:

1. Record the URL of the document library.

2. Create a scope:

Go to central administration.

Access the SSP.

Go to "Search Settings".

Scroll down to the scope section and select "View Scopes".

Create a new scope.  Give it a name and useful description.

3. Define scope crawl rules:

Add a rule that defines the document library for this scope.

Select "web address" for "Scope Rule Type".

Enter the name of your folder (see #1 above).

Accept the default value of "Include".

Wait for the scope to update (or start it manually).

4. Enable the scope in a site collection.

Go to site collection where you want to use this scope.

Add your new scope to the appropriate display group or groups.

5. Search!

At this point, you’re done.  Assuming the scope is properly defined, it will be available in the scopes drop downs for simple and advanced searches and when you search using that scope, you’ll just get results you expect.

Notes:

I wrote this blog entry because my searches for simple scope setup turned up dry using phrases like:

  • configure scopes in MOSS
  • configure search scope moss
  • scopes in sharepoint 2007
  • scopes in sharepoint
  • search a document library moss
  • scopes primer moss

You can create a search scope on a folder, not just the entire document library. 

A scope can be shared across multiple site collections (hence, a "shared service").

You can create the scope at the site collection level itself.  However, I prefer to go to central admin because I can start the crawl from there.  You cannot start the crawl from the site collection.

UPDATE (I) as of 11/24/07:

Kai Shang put together a great post entitled How to Configure Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007 to Index and Crawl Network Folders for Search @ http://kaishenghoo.spaces.live.com/blog/cns!8A7458DB12CA5AC9!206.entry

 

No soup for you! Is Cisco the Soup Nazi of NLB products?

Today, I tried to access a document library via windows explorer.  This doc lib is living inside a system that consists of two WFE’s load balanced by some kind of Cisco NLB solution.  (If/when the network wizards tell me what it is, I’ll update this post).

Windows explorer couldn’t connect.  I did some research and eventually, the network wizards said that WebDAV is disabled by / not supported by / beneath the dignity of the NLB.

So, assuming the network wizards aren’t just telling me the network wizard equivalent of "take a long walk off a short bridge", I have to wonder — does NLB, by nature, disable WebDAV?  Do we lose our windows file explorer interface to SharePoint?  Is Cisco the Soup Nazi?

Managing MOSS / WSS Environments — keeping up with Microsoft’s knowledge base

Microsoft creates knowledge base articles day in and day out and some of those are darned important to know about if you live in the SharePoint world.

I keep up to speed with them via a service provide by the good folks at www.kbalertz.com.  KBAlertz enables you to sign up for your favorite MS technology and they send you digest versions of Microsoft KB articles via email.

Web Application Policy, Security Sites and Security Trimming — Know your configuration

(UPDATED 11/29 to explain how to access web application policy settings via the UI)

I had one of those "why is MOSS doing this to me????" moments today.  In the end, it’s all my fault.

We have an enterprise MOSS project going on and we want to secure "place holder" sites so that no user may access it or see it.  That’s easy:

  1. Go to the site.
  2. Break the security inheritance.
  3. Remove every user/group from site permissions.

The above should leave just the site collection administrator with permission to see the site.

If anyone else logs in, they should no longer see the site and it should be security-trimmed from all the usual places.

But … it was not.  At the same time, I suddenly realize that my "Joe User" standard user test account with no priv’s other than restricted read access has a "Site Actions" choice everywhere he goes.  I double check one thing and double check something else.  I pick up the phone to call a colleague, but put it down and check something else.  I go for a walk and try everything all over again.  I call a colleague and leave a message.  And then, finally, I find that at Ethan’s blog, his opening graph makes it quite simple:

MOSS 2007 has a new feature called Web Application Policies. These are security permissions that is tied to a Web Application. These security settings override any security setting that is set at the Site Collection or Site (Web) level for that user.

A quick visit to web application policies shows that "NT Authority\authenticated users" had been granted Full Read.  I removed them from the list and everything finally started working as expected.  I believe they were added in the first place by someone with the mistaken impression that that is best method to grant read access to everyone in the enterprise.  It does, but, to strain a quote, "It does not mean what you think it means."

Access web application policies this way:

  1. Go to Central Administration
  2. Select Application Management
  3. Select "Policy for Web Application"
  4. On that screen, make sure you pick the correct web application.  For me, it defaults to the web application of central admin which may not be the one you want.

When I had this problem, I searched for the following phrases and got surprisingly little in terms of direct help on this issue:

Site actions visible for all users

Site actions visible to all users

site actions are not security trimmed

secure a MOSS site

introduction to moss security

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Quick and Simple: Use Fixed Keyword Query in Search Core Results

Quick and Simple Instructions:

Edit a page and add a Search Core Results web part.

Edit that web part and expand "Fixed Keyword Query".

Add the fixed keyword query (e.g. ContentType:"Training invoice" TrainingInvoiceNumber:1111)

Expand Results Query Options and change "Cross-Web Part query ID" to a value other than "User Query" (e.g. "Query 2").

Notes:

Using core search results in this manner allowed me to create a page that shows information from another site collection.  The client has two major site collections: Departments and Products.

The product site collection contains, naturally enough, product information.  Each product in the site collection aggregates data from multiple sources.

One of the departments, codes and testing, is on such source.  When users access product XYZ, they should see codes and testing data directly on the XYZ main page.  Since codes and testing is hosted in another site collection, it’s a little awkward.  We decided to use the core search results web part since search spans site collections.  Codes and Testing manages product data via a custom list that is constrained by a specific content type.  Aa keyword query that uses first the content type and then the product number narrow down the search to a single row in the custom list.

The keyword query above is an AND.  It returns documents of content type "Training Invoice" and where the invoice number equals "1111".

A nice benefit from this approach: We can edit the XSL from the core search results web part and generate any format that we want. 

See here (http://devcow.com/blogs/jdattis/archive/2007/04/17/SharePoint_2007_How_to_Rollup_Content_from_multiple_Site_Collections.aspx) for another blogger’s discussion on this topic.

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Tell me about your blog!

If you maintain a blog that is at least minimally connected to SharePoint, please let me know in comments.  I would love to add you to my blog list.

If you maintain a blog that is not connected to SharePoint but want me to add it anyway, let me know.  I’ll may create a separate blog list.

Please give:

  • Your blog URL (obviously)
  • A short description of your blog.

I want to keep the link to "active" blogs, which I’m roughly defining as one post per week and minimum three months old.  If you don’t meet that "requirement" add your name to comments anyway.  It’s *my* list so I can break my own rule if I want to.

Thanks!

Employee Training Schedule and Materials Template — Decrement bug in the template

The client noticed a bug today with the above mentioned template. 

Course managers create courses.  When creating a course, the manager specifies maximum number of available seats.

The template provides for self-service enrollment.  I enroll and a workflow attached to the registration list decrements the "available seats" associated with that course.

Individuals may also unregister from a course.  The bug lies here.  Unregistering from a course does not increment the available seats counter.  As a result, available seats is not accurate.  This bug is compounded by the fact that when available seats decrements to zero, no more self-service registration is allowed.

Fortunately, Microsoft provides the workflow for this process.  Even better, it’s a straight-forward workflow created via SharePoint Designer.

Follow these high level steps to fix it:

  1. Fire up SDP.
  2. Access the site based off the training template.
  3. Access "Attendee unregistration" workflow.
  4. Insert these steps (I made them the first two steps):
    1. Calculate Courses:Filled Seats minus 1 (Output to Variable:calc)
    2. (then) Update item in Courses

Click Finish and you’re done.

Screen shots:


SharePoint Designer:

Finished workflow:

Calculate drill-down:

Update item in Courses:

Give good news frequently; give bad news early

I’ve been a consultant for a lot of years now and as any experienced consultant knows, good communication is one of the key pillars to the successful delivery of a project. It’s so obvious, it’s really almost boring to talk about.  This isn’t a post about generic communication.  Instead, I’m writing about the darker side of communication — communicating bad news.

It goes without saying that giving good news to the client is done all the time, as often as possible.  Who doesn’t want to give good news?  Who doesn’t like to hear good news? 

On the flip side, bad news is no fun at all.  I have always struggled with this.  In the earlier days of my career, I would know something was awry with a project and instead of telling the client, I would work longer hours to try and solve the problem.  I would enjoin my team to work harder.  It’s a natural enough impulse to think that a super-human effort can save the day.  Some times this works, some times it does not.  Even when it "works" it’s often a mixed bag.  Is the quality of the deliverable really up to spec when key parts have been developed over several 60 to 80 hour weeks? 

What is the best way to handle bad news?  The answer is: tell it early.  Don’t wait until one week before the project budget will be consumed.  If you know six weeks out that there simply isn’t enough time to deliver some bit of promised functionality, tell the client right then and there.  The client may get upset (probably will), there may be incriminations and accusations and hurt feelings.  But, when emotions cool off, there’s still six weeks left on the project.  Six weeks is a good chunk of time.  There’s time to adjust plans, change schedules, get the ball rolling on budget extensions (good luck!) and just generally come to grips with the "facts on the ground" and devise a new plan that still results in a successful project. 

Case in point: I’m working on a project characterized by:

  • T&E budget with a capped "Not to exceed" dollar amount.
  • A "best efforts will be made" promise to deliver X, Y and Z by project’s end.
  • Lack of promised key resources on the client side.  These resources were not withheld on purpose, nor for any "bad" reason, but they were withheld.
  • A dawning realization as the project passed the half-way point that we were not going to be able to deliver "Z" (mainly because the promised resources were not actually available).
  • Regular status reports and "CYA" documentation that backed us (the consulting team) up. 
  • Tightly knit implementation team with members drawn from the consulting organization (my company) and the client.
  • Distant management team, in both a metaphorical and physical sense.  The management team was focused on another large enterprise project and due to space constraints, the implementation team was housed in a separate building on campus, down a hill and relatively far way from "civilization".

With roughly six weeks left on the project budget, we (the implementation team) knew that we were trouble.  The contract said that we needed to deliver "Z".  Even though the project is time & materials and even though we only promised "best efforts" to deliver Z and even though we had great justification for missing the delivery … the bottom line is that it wasn’t looking good — we were not going to deliver Z in a shape a quality that would make anyone proud.

Recognizing this, we went to management and told them that the project budget would be consumed by a certain date and that we were in trouble with Z.

A mini firestorm erupted over the next few days.

Day 1: Management team calls in its staff for a special meeting (we, the consultants are not invited).  Contracts are printed and handed out to everyone and a line-by-line review ensues.  Management puts the staff members on the defensive.  I don’t think the phrase "Stockholm Syndrome" is *actually* used, but you get the picture.  We’re a tight-knit group, after all, and the staff has been working with us consultants day in and out for several months now.

Day 2: Management calls another staff meeting.  They feel a little better.  They want options and ideas for moving forward.  They realize there’s still six weeks remaining in the current project budget, which is still a decent bit of time.  One of the action items: schedule a meeting with full implementation team (including consultants).

Day 5: Full team meets, constructive meeting ensues and a new achievable plan put into place.  Even better, we’ve already begun discussing phase two and the client invites us to prepare proposals for that phase immediately.

If we had waited until just three weeks remained, or even worse, one or two weeks, it would have been much different.  Instead of a constructive meeting to re-align the project, we would have been pulling out status reports, parsing the contract and reviewing old emails to justify this or that decision.  We would have "won" but is it really "winning" in this case? 

So, if you have to give bad news, give it early.  Bad news given late isn’t just bad, it’s horrible.