Using the Signature Pad jQuery Plugin with SharePoint & InfoPath

Have you ever needed to capture signatures in SharePoint forms? What about InfoPath forms? I’m betting many people have seen a need to do this but have balked at the cost or complexity of the available solutions.

A client of mine named Cody Sellers (@codyjsellers), who works for Mercom Corporation had just such a need. Mercom is a smallish company that didn’t want to spend tens of thousands of dollars on a “real” eSig solution. Cody did some research and found a great jQuery plugin and turned to me for help implementing it. In this case we’re working with SharePoint 2013 on premises, but this should work with any version of SharePoint with some modification.

2014-06-18_13-38-20

The Signature Pad plugin comes from a clearly smart guy named Thomas J Bradley. Based on the work I’ve done with it so far, it’s well written with good documentation. Even better: it just plain works.

Signature Pad: A jQuery plugin for assisting in the creation of an HTML5 canvas based signature pad. Records the drawn signature in JSON for later regeneration.

The plugin allows you to capture signatures based on typed or drawn input and can be saved as JSON or a PNG image.

In our case, we wanted to be able to add a signature block at the bottom of multiple InfoPath forms. To make this work well, we decided that we would add the script into the master page. Yes, that may seen foolhardy, but a large majority of the work that is going to be happening in this Site Collection is filling out these forms.

Because of this, we needed a clear convention to follow in every form so that we could locate all of the signature fields (some forms have more than one) and add the signature pad capability reliably.

One of the hardest things about working with InfoPath forms client-side is that there are almost no sensible hooks in the emitted DOM. Everything is a .NET-like element id, like

ctl00_ctl33_g_3782ce51_9259_4854_80a0_e6355e54b690_FormControl0_V1_I1_T6

Since those ids can change anytime you change the form, you really want to give yourself something more solid to hook into. (At least we know that InfoPath won’t change anymore and the basic form elements are constant!)

To ensure that we could easily add the signature pad to any existing signature fields, we wrapped each signature field in an InfoPath section with its ScreenTip set to “==Signature==”.

InfoPath section with its ScreenTip set to ==Signature==

InfoPath section with its ScreenTip set to ==Signature==

The logic works like this:

  • Check to see if there’s a div with its id ending in ‘XmlFormView’ – this is the container for an InfoPath form. If there isn’t one, do nothing.
  • Find sections in the form that have their ScreenTip set to “==Signature==”. Sections have a fieldset container, and the title is set to the ScreenTip value. In other words, any section with its ScreenTip set to “==Signature==” will be treated as a signature area by the code.
  • Find the input element inside that section. This is the field where we want to store the JSON representation of the signature.
  • If the input element has no value, render the signature pad for signing (new forms)
  • If the input element already has a value, show the signature it contains (edit and display forms)

We decided to store the JSON representation of the signature in a field in each InfoPath form. Since the JSON represents the vectors from an HTML5 canvas, it’s a nice, standard way to store it. Images would require some separate repository or further encoding to be stored in a text field. Since the plugin can both emit and reconstitute the JSON into a signature, it’s a good way to go.

We ended up with the code below for the simplest case. (It’ll get more complicated as we get into the business rules, but this post is about the technology to capture and display the signatures.) When we create a new item in the newifs.aspx form, the Signature column will be empty and thus we will show the signature pad. If there’s already a value in the field, then we’re on the edit or display form, and signing has already happened so we just display the signature we have.

I’ve added comments that hopefully make the code simple enough to follow. As with all code you read on the Web, this isn’t just a drop-it-in-and-it’ll-work thing – you’ll end up tailoring it for sure. (One would think I wouldn’t need these caveats, but…)

$(document).ready(function() {
    // Find the guts of the InfoPath form in the page
    var infoPathContainer = $("div[id$='XmlFormView']");
    // if there's no InfoPath form, then we have nothing to do here (escape early)
    if (infoPathContainer.length !== 0) {
        setupSignatures(infoPathContainer);
    }
});
// There's an InfoPath form in the page, so look for signature fields and set them up
function setupSignatures(infoPathContainer) {
    // The Signature "signature" in the form. This makes it easy to select the proper form elements
    var signatureSignature = "==Signature==";
    // The signature field should be inside a section with its tooltip=signatureSignature
    var signatureContainer = infoPathContainer.find("fieldset[title='" + signatureSignature + "']");
    // The Signature field is the lone input element in the section
    var signatureBox = signatureContainer.find("input");
    // We may have multiple signature fields in the form
    signatureBox.each(function() {
        var thisSignatureBox = $(this);
        // We need a reference to the fieldset which represents the section several times
        var thisSignatureFieldset = thisSignatureBox.closest("fieldset");
        // Clean up the display by hiding the field we're using to store the JSON
        thisSignatureBox.hide();
        // The signature data is the value of the signatureBox
        var signatureData = thisSignatureBox.val();
        // If there's no signature yet...
        if (signatureData === "") {
            // Add the appropriate markup to the page
            thisSignatureBox.before(buildSignatureBox());
            // Bind to the click event for the 'Ready to Sign' button
            thisSignatureFieldset.find(".signature-ready").click(function() {
                $(this).toggle();
                $(this).next("div").toggle();
            });
            // Activate the signature pad in drawOnly mode
            var signatureArea = thisSignatureFieldset.find(".signature-box").signaturePad({
                drawOnly: true,
                lineTop: 125,
                output: thisSignatureBox,
                onBeforeValidate: function(context, settings) {
                    thisSignatureBox.focus(); // Needed to fire the change events bound to the field
                    thisSignatureBox.blur(); // Needed to fire the change events bound to the field
                    thisSignatureBox.hide(); // In case it becomes visible again
                }
            });
            // When the user clicks the button below the signature pad, validate
            thisSignatureFieldset.find(".signature-done").click(function() {
                thisSignatureFieldset.find("p.error").remove();
                signatureArea.validateForm();
            });
            // If we already have signature data, just show the existing signature
        } else {
            // Add the appropriate markup to the page
            thisSignatureBox.before(buildSignatureDisplay());
            // Activate the signature pad in displayOnly mode
            thisSignatureFieldset.find(".sigPad").signaturePad({
                displayOnly: true
            }).regenerate(signatureData);
        }
    });
}
// Function to emit the markup for the signature pad in signing mode
function buildSignatureBox() {
    var signatureBox = "<div class='signature-box'>" +
        "<input class='signature-ready' type='button' value='Ready to sign'/>" +
        "<div style='display:none;'>" +
        "<ul class='sigNav'>" +
        "<li class='drawIt'><a href='#draw-it'>Sign Here</a></li>" +
        "<li class='clearButton'><a href='#clear'>Clear</a></li>" +
        "</ul>" +
        "<div class='sig sigWrapper'>" +
        "<canvas class='pad' width='700' height='150'></canvas>" +
        "<input type='hidden' name='output' class='output'>" +
        "</div>" +
        "<input class='signature-done' type='button' value='Capture signature'/>" +
        "</div>" +
        "</div>";
    return signatureBox;
}
// Function to emit the markup for the signature pad in display mode
function buildSignatureDisplay() {
    var signatureDisplay = "<div class='sigPad signed'>" +
        "<div class='sigWrapper'>" +
        "<canvas width='700' height='150' class='pad'></canvas>" +
        "</div>" +
        "</div>";
    return signatureDisplay;
}

Here are some screenshots from our proof of concept:

The form when it loads

The form when it loads

Ready to sign

Ready to sign

Signed

Signed

Signature displayed on the display form

Signature displayed on the display form

Snippet of the data that is stored for a signature

Snippet of the data that is stored for a signature

My New Surface 3 Pro Travellin’ Machine

Surface 3 ProI picked up a Surface 3 Pro over the weekend. If you want to read a *very* thorough review of the Surface 3, take a look at Corey Roth’s (@coreyroth) excellent write-up Complete Surface Pro 3 Review – 3 days later.

I went with the I5 256Gb model (just as Corey did), as it has 8Gb of RAM and will be able to run pretty much anything I need.

Since I can install just about anything that I use on my “real” laptop, I think it will be an excellent travel machine. My go-to apps are things like SharePoint Designer 2007-2010-2013, Office, Sublime Text, and a number of applications (not apps) that help me with the little chores in design and such. I’m cautiously optimistic about this machine. I also have a Surface 2 RT, and I just couldn’t get it’s form factor into the rotation between my monster laptop and my iPhone. I’m really going to try to do it with my Surface 3. I use exactly zero “modern” apps on my Surface 2 RT, and I can’t see that changing, except maybe to watch movies with Netflix in hotel rooms.

I connected the Surface 3 to my home office display rig (all via a single USB connection) and everything fired up great after a few minutes of installing drivers and screen flickers.

So I’m thinking of travelling *only* with my Surface 3. My work laptop is a hefty 10.5lb ASUS. I love it, but it’s a bit excessive. My next travel fun is to Australia and New Zealand for the highly popular Australia SharePoint Conference (#AUSPC) and New Zealand SharePoint Conference (#NZSPC) conferences. I hope if you’re reading from Down Under that I’ll see you there!

I think that presenting and demoing will work great from the Surface, as all the slides and demos are cloud-based at this point. Can anyone think of any reason I’d have difficulties?

I’ve picked up two accessories from Amazon that I think are required for successful travelling with the Surface 3:

so I should be good for USB, Ethernet, and projector connections. Can anyone think of anything I’m missing?

SharePoint List Settings Issue: “Internet Explorer is required to use this feature.”

This one belongs firmly in the “things that make you go hmm…” department.

Let’s say you are a good do-be like me and you use all of the Microsoft products that you can get your hands on. You’ve got email and SharePoint running on Office 365, you use all the Office applications and tools, you’re up to date on your version of Internet Explorer… You get the picture.

Well, sometimes all that good behavior doesn’t pay. Today I wanted to edit an InfoPath form attached to a list in SharePoint 2013 on premises. (You won’t run into this problem on Office365, at least it doesn’t happen in my tenant. Office365 seems to know IE11.) I went to the List Settings and clicked on the Form Settings link. I’m using Internet Explorer 11, so I’m as up to date as I can be without getting into beta territory.

Lo and behold:

Internet Explorer is required to use this feature.

Internet Explorer is required to use this feature.

Yup. I’m using Internet Explorer and the message says “Internet Explorer is required to use this feature.” The issue is that the on premises install that I’m working with doesn’t understand Internet Explorer 11. It *should* see it as Internet Explorer, though, and give me a better message. I’m not exactly sure what patch level we’re on, but I think it’s pretty close to current.

Fortunately, there is an easy fix for this. Simply hit F12 to bring up the Developer Tools and scroll all the way down to the bottom of the left side icon list.The one you want to click on looks like this:

Emulation

That will give you access to the Emulation settings. Change the User agent string setting to Internet Explorer 10.

2014-06-18_10-21-10

Fixing the issue by changing the User agent string

The page will reload and now SharePoint will understand that you are the good do-be that you are, speaking IE10ish instead of IE11ish. After you do your work, it’s a good idea to switch back to default so that you are speaking IE11ish again.

The Emulation settings give you a bunch of other nice tools (want to act like an XBox360?), so if you have interest in testing things in different browsers types, etc., be sure to check out the rest of the settings as well.

Uploading Attachments to SharePoint Lists Using SPServices

Easy!For years people have been asking me how they could upload files using SPServices. I’ve dodged the questions every time because I simply didn’t know how.

On a current client project,  I’m building a slick Single Page Application (SPA) to manage tasks in SharePoint 2010. It’s basically a veneer over the clunky out-of-the-box task list experience. Rather than hopping from page to page, the team using the application can accomplish everything they need to do on a single page.

Every project has specific needs, and for this one I’m using KnockoutJS. But the code snippets I give below are generic enough that you should be able to use them in any context with a little thinking.

It’s been going well, but I had been putting off implementing adding attachments because…well, as I said, I didn’t know how.

One of the benefits of the shift from all server side development to a much more significant focus on client side techniques is that some of the bright minds in the SharePoint development community have turned their eyes toward solving these things, too. Usually it’s on SharePoint 2013 or SharePoint Online at Office 365. However, at least now when I search for “SharePoint JavaScript xxx”, there are likely to be some great hits I can learn from.

In this case, there were two excellent posts, one from James Glading and one from Scot Hillier. (See the Resources section below for links.)

The first step is to enable HTML5 capabilities in IE10. This requires two small changes to the master page. This seems simple, but it can have effects that you don’t expect. In other words, don’t consider this just a “no brainer”. You need to plan for the change across your Site Collection and any impacts it may have.

The first change is to switch from using “XHTML 1.0″ to “HTML” as the DOCTYPE. This is what “turns on” HTML5.

<!DOCTYPE html>

Then, in this project we set the content meta tag to IE=10 because we want to aim for IE10.

<meta http-equiv="X-UA-Compatible" content="IE=10"/>

If your browser base is different, you can, of course, set this differently. In this project, we will require all users of the application to be running IE10 or greater. Firefox and Chrome have supported the bits of HTML5 we need for so long, that there’s little concern about people who choose to use those browsers.

Once we have those two small changes in the master page (we are using a copy of v4.master with no other customizations at the moment), we “have HTML5″. It’s most obvious because some of the branding flourishes I’ve put in like rounded corners show up in IE10 now, rather than just square boxes.

Once we have HTML5 enabled, we can start to use the File API, a.k.a. the FileReader. This is such a simple little thing, that it’s hard to believe it gives us the capability it does.

<input type="file" id="attachment-file-name"/>

That’s it. That simple HTML gives us a file picker on the page. Depending on your browser, it will look something like this:

File Picker

When you make a file selection with this very familiar widget, you can query the element using jQuery.

var file = $("#attachment-file-name").files[0];

Note that we’re after a single file, so we grab the first object in the file list array. We get an object that looks something like this screen shot from Firebug:

File object from the File Picker

Once we have the file object, we can look at what the Lists SOAP Web Service needs to get in order to upload the file. Again, it’s pretty simple. Here is the list of inputs and output from the MSDN documentation page for the Lists.AddAttachment Method.

Parameters

listName
A string that contains either the title or the GUID for the list.
listItemID
A string that contains the ID of the item to which attachments are added. This value does not correspond to the index of the item within the collection of list items.
fileName
A string that contains the name of the file to add as an attachment.
attachment
A byte array that contains the file to attach by using base-64 encoding.

Return Value

A string that contains the URL for the attachment, which can subsequently be used to reference the attachment.

The first three inputs are straightforward. We pass in the name of the SharePoint list, the ID of the list item, and the name of the file we want to attach. It’s that last input parameter called “attachment” that’s a bit tricky.

When we upload a file via an HTTP POST operation – which is what all of the SOAP Web Services use – we have to pass text. But the files we want to upload are as likely as not to be binary files. That’s where the Base64 format comes in. Believe me, you don’t need to know exactly what the format actually is, but you should probably understand that it enables us to send binary files as text bytes. Those bytes are then decoded on the server end so that the file can be stored in all of its original, pristine glory.

Here’s the code I ended up with, skinnied down as much as possible to make it a little clearer to follow. I draw heavily from Scot and James’ posts for this, but nuanced for SPServices. I’ve also stripped out all of the error handling, etc.

  • First, the getFileBuffer function reads the contents of the file into the FileReader buffer. readAsArrayBuffer is an asynchronous method, so we use a jQuery Deferred (promise) to inform the calling function that the processing is done.
  • The contents of the buffer are then converted from an ArrayBuffer – which is what the FileReader gives us – into a Base64EncodedByteArray. This works by passing the buffer through a Uint8Array along the way.
  • Finally, we use the toBase64String method to convert the SP.Base64EncodedByteArray to a Base64String.

Yeah, that’s a lot to swallow, but again, you don’t really need to understand how it works. You just need to know that it does work.

Finally, we call Lists.AddAttachment using SPServices to do the actual upload.

/* From Scot Hillier's post:
http://www.shillier.com/archive/2013/03/26/uploading-files-in-sharepoint-2013-using-csom-and-rest.aspx */
var getFileBuffer = function(file) {

  var deferred = $.Deferred();
  var reader = new FileReader();

  reader.onload = function(e) {
    deferred.resolve(e.target.result);
  }

  reader.onerror = function(e) {
    deferred.reject(e.target.error);
  }

  reader.readAsArrayBuffer(file);

  return deferred.promise();
};

getFileBuffer(file).then(function(buffer) {
  var bytes = new Uint8Array(buffer);
  var content = new SP.Base64EncodedByteArray(); //base64 encoding
  for (var b = 0; b < bytes.length; b++) {
    content.append(bytes[b]);
  }

  $().SPServices({
    operation: "AddAttachment",
    listName: "Tasks",
    listItemID: taskID,
    fileName: file.name,
    attachment: content.toBase64String()
  });

});

Very cool! And as I tweeted yesterday, far easier than I ever would have expected. Yes, it took me a good chunk of a day to figure out, but it definitely works, and pretty fast, too.

If you use this example as a base, you could fairly easily build out some other file uploading functions. Combined with the other attachment-oriented methods in the Lists Web Services, you can also build the other bits of the attachment experience:

  • GetAttachmentCollection – Returns a list of the lit item’s attachments, providing the full path to each that you can use in a list of links.
  • DeleteAttachment – Once you’ve uploaded an attachment and realized it was the wrong one, this method will allow you to delete it.

Moral of the story: Fear not what you do not know. Figure it out.

Resources

What’s the Story for HTML5 with SharePoint 2010? by Joe Li

Uploading Files Using the REST API and Client Side Techniques by James Glading

Uploading Files in SharePoint 2013 using CSOM and REST by Scot Hillier

Lists.AddAttachment Method

This article was also posted at ITUnity on Jun 02, 2014. Visit the post there to read additional comments.

Update 2014-05-28 11:55 GMT-5

Hugh Wood (@HughAJWood) took one look at my code above and gave me some optimizations. Hugh could optimize just about anything; he is *very* good at it. I *think* I can even see the difference with larger files.

getFileBuffer(file).then(function(buffer) {
  var binary = "";
  var bytes = new Uint8Array(buffer);
  var i = bytes.byteLength;
  while (i--) {
    binary = String.fromCharCode(bytes[i]) + binary;
  }
  $().SPServices({
    operation: "AddAttachment",
    listName: "Tasks",
    listItemID: taskID,
    fileName: file.name,
    attachment: btoa(binary)
  });
});

Feminism in Tech – Be a Part of the Solution

My friend (and client) Dan Antion (@dantion) tweeted a link to an excellent article this morning entitled An Open Letter on Feminism In Tech. The subtitle is “We are tired of pretending this stuff doesn’t happen.” I’m right there with this.

My role models about feminism were my mother Christina Bellamy and my paternal Grandfather Denton (of all people!).
Mom and Me18800
Their type of feminism wasn’t the radical feminism of the early 70s with all of it’s harsh demands and in-your-face rhetoric. It was exactly the type of feminism described in this excellent article by a group of women technologists.

Feminism is not a dirty word. Feminism is the radical notion that women are people, and that we want to be treated as equals.

As more eloquently said in the article, we can’t allow the sorts of bad behavior that occur in tech, or anywhere else. In the article, the writers point out that these tenets should apply to *any* group within tech that isn’t the mainstream, white male group that has dominated the industry historically.

But it goes much further than that.

At our son Calder’s school they have a zero tolerance rule about bullying. It causes some uncomfortable moments, but the effect is virtually zero bullying, creating a nurturing, healthy learning environment. Here’s a Wordle that shows many of the words that describe what this leads to. Take out the obviously unaligned ones, and I’d say that this is how we should make tech feel to women, or anyone else.

Runkle Olweus

Each of us should be a part of the solution. In SharePointlandia (aka the SharePoint Community), we have far less of the bad behavior than what I’ve seen in other technologies. So on some levels, we’re lucky. Working with SharePoint to some degree means a sort of self-selection for people who see collaboration and group work as a useful, productive thing. The characteristics of who is a part of those activities becomes less important. But we aren’t perfect either.  There is always room for improvement and collective enlightenment. (Yeah, that sounds a little sappy, but even when you get really good at something, you can strive to be great.)

To borrow a phrase, “If you see something, say something”. Let’s make sure that SharePointlandia is a land of openness and opportunity for all of us, no matter who or what we are.

Addendum: I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Women in SharePoint, which “is dedicated to helping women working as SharePoint professionals reach their career objectives through a variety of community, training and mentoring programs.”