Single-Page Applications (SPAs) in SharePoint Using SPServices – Part 1 – Introduction

4 minute read

Single-page applications (SPAs) are nothing new on the Web. However, like Responsive Web Design (RWD), SPAs are gaining favor as a way to enable real work with an improved user experience (UX).

From the Wikipedia definition of SPA:

A single-page application (SPA), also known as single-page interface (SPI), is a web application or web site that fits on a single web page with the goal of providing a more fluid user experience akin to a desktop application.

SPAs first started popping up regularly – at least based on my experience – in creative contexts on public Web sites. A post called 40 Inspiring Single Page Websites from Gisele Muller shows some great examples of the SPA approach. Most of the sites Gisele highlights are marketing sites: they are primarily publishing content in a one-to-many context. Also note that the date of her post is early 2010. These sites have been out there for a while and are becoming more prevalent.

SPA Sketch

SPA concept sketch image from viaboxx systems at http://viaboxxsystems.de/event-driven-gui

We see many more examples of SPAs all the time, whether we think about them this way or not. The most obvious and prevalent examples are the Facebook and Yammer News Feeds. In the News Feed examples, we tend to stay on that single page until we see something scroll by or some content change that makes us want to drill into the details, taking us away from the SPA intentionally based on an action – usually a mouse click – we take. Other full-scale applications that enable us to do real work, like Trello, are good examples of the SPA concept. We also see the SPA idea in apps on our phones, phablets, tablets, and even showing up in Windows 8 world. In other words, this is the wave of the future for apps.

Since the idea with SPAs is that one need not leave the single page to accomplish some high percentage of the tasks at hand, it’s a great concept to apply in a SharePoint context. With SharePoint, we are trying to fundamentally change the way people work, moving from a hierarchical to a more collaborative work style. While this work evolution has been progressing well over the last dozen or so years of SharePoint’s existence, SharePoint itself has changed a lot, as should the way we consider building our applications within it.

The days where a clunky postback-ridden application was acceptable is fading into the rear view mirror. The SharePoint Product Group has taken steps toward giving SharePoint itself an SPA “feel” with the introduction of the Minimal Download Strategy (MDS) in SharePoint 2013. See Wictor Wilén‘s (@wictor) excellent post SharePoint 2013 – Introduction to the Minimal Download Strategy (MDS) for details on how MDS works. MDS doesn’t give us a true SPA per se, but the goals for MDS get us a much more fluid, SPA feel for SharePoint.

But what if you are using older versions of SharePoint? Maybe 2007 or 2010? Or even 2003? (Yes, I still run into a few people using 2003 from time to time.) Well, there’s no need to despair, because the tooling to create SPAs is there for you to use anytime you want it. With AJAX available for use as the data transport mechanism, we can fetch content from the SharePoint server anytime we choose without a page refresh. In the past, I’ve taken various different approaches to this, like Refreshing a Page Section with a User-selected Interval Set with jQueryUI’s Slider or Refreshing a Web Part Without a Postback Using jQuery’s AJAX Function. You’ll also see a few SPA examples in my SPServices Stories series, like SPServices Stories #13: Durandal SP3: Developing SharePoint SPAs Made Easy from Rainer Wittman (@RainerAtSpirit).

My friend and SPServices co-conspirator, Paul Tavares (@paul_tavares), and I have been discussing several Lists Web Services operations of late that I’d never paid much attention to: GetListItemChanges and GetListItemChangesSinceToken. Together with the simpler GetListItems – the true workhorse of the SPServices toolkit – we have three variations on a theme: fetching content from a list. Using those three “get” operations, along with the UpdateListItems operation to write changes back to the list, we can build our own SPAs in SharePoint.

We could choose to use some of the fancy frameworks out there, but in this series, I’m going to keep it simple. I’m going to limit myself to jQuery and SPServices only to see what I can come up with. (I may sprinkle in a little fairy dust using jQueryUI for fun.) While frameworks like Knockout or AngularJS can be extremely helpful tools, I find that in many cases simplicity works better for me – it keeps me closer to the data and lets me control what goes on. I also think that I can keep the examples more straightforward by avoiding other plugins.

Let’s get to work…

Series NavigationSingle-Page Applications (SPAs) in SharePoint Using SPServices – Part 2 – GetListItems >>
Advertisements

24 Comments

  1. Wow. I had started to push this last spring/summer with my team, but I still don’t really have the skills to push concept to reality. I plan to read a lot more into SPServices to see what I might be able to finally do.

    Reply
  2. Hello Mark, I am new to SharePoint. I could not understand about Single-Page Applications, i tried to search online but no where an exact meaning is provided. It would be great if you could provide me with the answer and if possible mail me the link to my mail ID.

    Reply
  3. Hello Marc,

    Thanks for your contribution.
    Could you help me with the following:

    I am trying to do a for each for nodes that only include the Deleted items (Changes)
    But below does not work.
    $(xData.responseXML).SPFilterNode(“Id[@ChangeType=’Delete’]”).each(function() {

    Any advice?

    Kind regards,
    Mario

    Reply

Have a thought or opinion?