Sympraxis Is Growing: A Huge Welcome to Julie Turner!

Sympraxis LogoWell, it’s official: Julie Turner (@jfj1997) will be joining me at Sympraxis in mid-May. This is very exciting news for me.

If you’ve been following me at all, you may know that I have my own little company called Sympraxis Consulting LLC. (One of the first things Julie is going to make me do is bring that Web site into the second decade of the twenty-first century!) I started it with my good friend Peter Sterpe back in 2008. Starting a business at the end of 2008 was – well – let’s call it bad timing. Pete and I had a slow go of it for a while, and he left to take a real job. I was solo for about 6 years until Pete rejoined me last year. A few months ago Pete got the opportunity to take a full time teaching role at Boston College, and I couldn’t be happier for him.

I’ve never had grand plans for Sympraxis. I wanted to go out on my own mainly to see if I could pull it off. I also was tired of “working for the man”; anyone who knows me understands that office politics and bureaucracy are not my thing – I just want to get stuff done. I was extremely lucky to have a little idea that became SPServices and that little library has opened many doors for me. It seems like it’s worked: eight years later I still love what I’m doing and I’m able to make money doing it.

Julie is someone I’ve heard about for years, mainly through my friends who worked together at Knowledge Management Associates (KMA). (As is so often the case in this busy world, KMA is no longer extent as a standalone entity, having been acquired by Sentri, and then by Polycom.) The info I heard about Julie was universally positive over the years. When people like Sadie Van Buren (@sadalit), Chris McNulty (@cmcnulty2000), and Mike Gilronan (@mikegil) say good things about someone, it means a lot.

There’s a strong synergy between what I love to do in the SharePoint space and what Julie loves to do. We both do a lot of client side development, we both are passionate about implementing solutions that work extremely well with an excellent user experience, we both believe in the promise of effective knowledge management driving organization performance improvement, and the list goes on and on. We don’t believe in technology just for the sake of technology; it has to solve specific business needs.

I’ve been extremely impressed by the work that Julie has done with Bob German (@bob1german) on their Widget Wrangler (WW), which is now a part of the Office Development Patterns and Practices repo (OfficeDev/PnPSamples / ww) on GitHub. The approach that Bob and Julie have taken in the WW is incredibly well-aligned with the approaches I’ve been advocating for development on SharePoint for years. Without deploying any server-side code, we can build extremely robust solutions on top of SharePoint, and the thinking Bob and Julie have done with the WW takes it even further than I’ve been able to go as a solo artist.

I expect to learn a *lot* from Julie – and I’m hoping she can learn some things from me. Julie brings server side development skills I’ve never even tried to master, and those skills complement the client side work extremely well. Need a new REST service? Julie can do that. Need an AngularJS app done fast? Julie can do that, too. In my mind, Julie is technically ambidextrous: she’s equally comfortable writing code on the server and the client. She has a reputation as being extremely fast and good. Julie is also funny, smart as a whip, and believes in a good work/life balance. Having Julie aboard will greatly expand Sympraxis’ capacity to do more of what I’ve been doing all along, and bring her highly complementary capabilities into the mix. Who could want more?

Running a small business like Sympraxis is definitely a family affair. We discussed Julie joining Sympraxis in my kitchen after she had met my wife Melanie and son Calder. I look forward to meeting Julie’s husband Ken and her awesome son Evan. Some people say that being an entrepreneur is all about sacrifice, but it doesn’t have to be. It’s going to be great to have Julie join the Sympraxis family.

Julie Turner with her husband Ken and son Evan

Looping Through Content in a SharePoint 2013 Site Workflow – Part 4 – Get Authorization Info

In this installment, we’ll focus on the Get Authorization info step. We need to do this step first so that we’re set up to write data later in the workflow.

Get Authorization Info

Remember that we were actually trying to create a workflow? If you’ve gotten this far, I’ll forgive you if you’ve already forgotten what the point of the exercise is! But planning is important.

If you got ahead of yourself by creating the workflow first (like I did), you’ll need to shut down SharePoint Designer and reopen it so that it will notice that you’ve enabled all of the stuff above.

Now that we have the heavy cabling in place, we need to build the workflow so that it has the permissions it needs. For this, we need to make the REST calls into other sites/subsites in an App Step. (It’s App Step in SharePoint Designer, and since SharePoint Designer is at a dead end, it may always be, never becoming an Add-In Step.)

App Step

What we will be doing is wrapping any REST calls that reach into other Webs (sites) in an App Step. Once you’ve done this, you’ll get this prompt when you publish the workflow. I’d call this the “Are you really, really, really sure?” prompt. You’ll see this every time you publish the workflow from now on – pretty much (it seems sort of sporadic).

App Step Warning

REST Considerations

There’s a real chicken and egg issue with using REST calls in SharePoint Designer workflows. If you haven’t made REST calls before – outside SPD workflows – the REST calls themselves will be like black magic to you. Even if you have done REST calls before, the way it works in SPD workflows is pretty clunky. So what should you learn about?

Well, you can follow a cookbook approach like in this series of posts as well as the references I provide, or you can go whole hog and learn how it really works. It’s really up to you. If you think you’ll want to make REST calls in other contexts, learning how to do it in the context of an SPD workflow is probably a bad way to go about it. If you learn about it in this context, it may make less sense outside SPD workflows. Your call.

Set Up the App Step

When you first create your Site Workflow, you’ll have a Stage named Stage 1. As with most Microsoft tools, SharePoint Designer gives your Stage an arbitrary name; give it one that makes sense to you based on what it actually does. Mine is called Get Auth.

Set up workflow skeleton

As shown on the ribbon above, add an App Step to your workflow.

Set Up for Authorization in the Workflow

When you make only GET REST calls in a workflow (basically translating to read-only), you won’t need this step, but I set it up because I know I will be doing POSTs (making changes to items) down the road. The only goal of this step is to get the form digest value we’ll need to make those updates later.

The actual REST call looks something like this, which is pretty simple:

$.ajax({
    url: _spPageContextInfo.siteServerRelativeUrl +
        "/_api/contextinfo",
    method: "POST",
    contentType: "application/json;odata=verbose",
    headers: {
        "Accept": "application/json;odata=verbose"
    }
});

It’s a POST because it has to be, even though we’re simply requesting data. It’s a little simpler when we’re issuing the request like we are above. I can paste this code into a browser console (assuming jQuery is already loaded) and I get back a result that looks something like this:

{
    "d": {
        "GetContextWebInformation": {
            "__metadata": { "type": "SP.ContextWebInformation" },
            "FormDigestTimeoutSeconds": 1800,
            "FormDigestValue": "0x4FCED17AFEC66558CE8F780C0B30C0C289A2D58AF426746750288C3705FDFE822D2E0DA7E386E0E9A6E9F66FFC1DE45A7013EECC946AF56A8F75756EDE319C62,12 Apr 2016 17:19:33 -0000",
            "LibraryVersion": "16.0.5131.1207",
            "SiteFullUrl": "https://hostname.sharepoint.com",
            "SupportedSchemaVersions": {
                "__metadata": { "type": "Collection(Edm.String)" },
                "results": ["14.0.0.0", "15.0.0.0"]
            },
            "WebFullUrl": "https://hostname.sharepoint.com"
        }
    }
}

The only thing we really care about for this workflow is the value for FormDigestValue. That’s sort of like the magic key that we can use when we want to make updates in the workflow later.

To do this in the workflow, it takes a bit more setup. I’m hoping that seeing what the REST call looks like above will help make this part of the setup make a little more sense.

Get Auth App Step

Build the Dictionary

Every REST call you make in your workflow will need a dictionary (think of it as a JSON object) which contains some information about what form the request takes and how you’d like the information back.

To build a dictionary, we use the Build Dictionary action. A dictionary in a SharePoint Designer workflow is just a set of name/value pairs wrapped up in a package, sort of like the headers values in the REST call above.

In this case, you should add three name/value pairs to your dictionary:

Accept: application/json;odata=verbose
Content-Type: application/json;odata=verbose
Content-length: 255 

Create Dictionary
Give your dictionary a name; here I’ve named mine requestHeaders.

Set up the Web Service (REST) Call

Next, we use the Call HTTP web service action to set up the actual call to the SharePoint server.

The web service URL should be the path to the site where you want to make the call, followed by /_api/contextinfo. (We’re asking the server to send us some information about the current context; the form digest is a part of that context.)

The HTTP method has to be HTTP POST, as I mentioned above.

Call HTTP web service

This action is the one that actually makes the call to the server.

Parse the Results

Next we need to process the data we get back from the server. We’ve seen above what it looks like, and we have to use the tools available in Sharepoint Designer to parse it out.

The data that comes back from the call is also considered a dictionary, so we use the Get an Item from a Dictionary action.

Get dictionary value

We need to specify three things: the value we’d like to retrieve in XPath notation, the dictionary we’d like to retrieve it from, and where we’d like to store the result.

First, set the “item by name or path” to d/GetContextWebInformation/FormDigestValue. If you look at the data above, you’ll see that this is the path to the value we want.

String builder

Next, set the dictionary name to the name you used in the first step; mine is requestHeaders.

Finally, choose a variable to receive the value. I’m using digestValue. We’ll be able to use this value later in the workflow because we’ve saved it into a variable.

Log the Results

The last above is where I do a little logging to make sure that this step worked. Using the Log to History List action, I emit the responseCode from the request and the value of digestValue variable. The responseCode ought to be “OK” if all went well, and I should see the long string value for the digestValue.

Log results

Set Up the Transition

At the bottom of the stage we’ve been building, there’s a transition option, which is basically “What next?”. Set it to End of Workflow for now.

Publish and Test

This is a good point to save your workflow and test it. No, it doesn’t do anything of real value yet, but building it up step-by-step is the right way to go. If you see good results in the Workflow History Log, then you can feel comfortable moving on to the next step in the workflow.

You should see something like this:

Logging data

In the next installment in the series, I’ll show you how to set up the next step: Get Webs.

 

 

Using the Signature Pad jQuery Plugin with SharePoint & InfoPath – Redux

I’m using Thomas Bradley’s Signature Pad plugin for a project, which I’ve used successfully before. The twist this time is that I want to save the signature as an image rather than just as JSON.

There’s a method called getSignatureImage()  that works just fine to grab the signature as a base64 string, like so (this is the result for an empty canvas):

data:image/png;base64,iVBORw0KGgoAAAANSUhEUgAAArwAAACWCAYAAAA8Els6AAAIjElEQ…QIECBg8LoBAgQIECBAgACBtIDBm65XOAIECBAgQIAAgQtmc1xdE+aNPAAAAABJRU5ErkJggg==

(Note the “…”; it’s a much longer string.)

Snazzy signatureI was having a problem saving the signature to a library successfully. Uploading the file was easy, but the image file was always ending up corrupted. It didn’t matter if I uploaded to a Document library or Picture Library; no joy.

I knew I was missing something obvious. I tried removing the leading “data:image/png;base64,”. I tried different values for Content-Type, etc. It had to be something about the way I was creating the file.

In the end, I got some great advice from a colleague. The base64 content has to be *decoded* so that we can save it. This is what worked:

// Get the base64-encoded image from the plugin
var img = signatureArea.getSignatureImage();
var outfile = fakefilename(); // I'm creating a unique filename to use for saving in my testing

$.ajax({
    url: _spPageContextInfo.webAbsoluteUrl +
        "/_api/web/getfolderbyserverrelativeurl('/path/to/my/picture/library/')/files/add(overwrite=true, url='" + outfile + "')",
    type: "POST",
    data: convertDataURIToBinary(img),
    processData: false,
    headers: {
        "accept": "application/json;odata=verbose",
        "X-RequestDigest": $("#__REQUESTDIGEST").val()
    },
    success: function() {
        $("#sig-file").attr("src", outfile); // Show the image file in the form
    }
});

// Useful function "borrowed" from http://sharepoint.stackexchange.com/questions/60417/cant-upload-a-non-text-file-to-sharepoint-app-via-rest-api
// Decodes the base64 text data back into the binary data representation of the image file
var convertDataURIToBinary = function(dataURI) {
    var base64Marker = ";base64,";
    var base64Index = dataURI.indexOf(base64Marker) + base64Marker.length;
    var base64 = dataURI.substring(base64Index);
    var raw = window.atob(base64);
    var rawLength = raw.length;
    var array = new window.Uint8Array(new window.ArrayBuffer(rawLength));

    for (i = 0; i < rawLength; i++) {
        array[i] = raw.charCodeAt(i);
    }
    return array;
};

Are We on the Cusp of a Citizen Developer Revolution?

I ran across an article on ZDNet today entitled The advent of the citizen developer. In the article,  posits that we may finally be at the cusp of a citizen development revolution.

Yes!

I’ve been arguing for years – in one way or another (See, for example, The Middle Tier Manifesto: An Alternative Approach to Development with Microsoft SharePoint) – that the citizen developers in any organization are the lynch pins to IT success. This gray area, where the work isn’t just configuration and isn’t “real” development has been critical to the success of SharePoint in many organizations for years. What we call it is less important than what it is: the lifeblood of technology use and success in the modern organization.

Unfortunately, the response from most IT departments is that these very capable citizen developers will simply screw everything up and – oh, no! – require support the IT department can’t provide. This attitude is truly at IT’s peril. Instead of being seen as having a customer service attitude, they become known as the “NO! people”. “NO!” should almost never be the answer; this simply sends end users off to use external tools, which are usually far better that what IT provides to the organization. Thus, the very security that IT claims to be protecting falls apart. The end users are happy, but only in violation of corporate governance, whether it is explicit or not.

When I speak at conferences I often talk about IT offering Functions as a Service (FaaS) to the organization. (For example, see slide 12 in my recent presentation at SharePoint konference 2016 in Munich Alternative Approaches to Solution Development in SharePoint and Office 365.) By providing a set of reliable building blocks, whether vetted external JavaScript libraries or internally developed functionality that citizen developers can incorporate in their solutions, IT simply must get on board with this work. Offering consultative services in support of citizen developers must be cheaper and more productive than not doing so in the long run, though I can’t point to a study to prove it.

Even Microsoft is starting to understand how important these citizen developers are. At the recent SPTechCon in Austin, Seth Patton, the Global Senior Director for SharePoint and OneDrive product marketing even had a slide in his keynote acknowledging that citizen developers *exist*, which is a HUGE step forward. If Microsoft is thinking about empowering citizen developers, shouldn’t you be?

Continued developer empowerment

‘Continued developer empowerment’ from Seth Patton’s SPTechCon Austin 2016 keynote

Here’s hoping that now and into the 2020s become the decade(s) of citizen developers, even though they have been around as long as there has been computing. If it weren’t for the dabblers and hobbyists inside organizations, we wouldn’t have evolved to the places we’re in now. These people are the ones who push the envelope in directions that makes sense to the business, not just to some power grabbers in IT.

Finding the Elusive ‘Set Up Groups for this Site’ Page

When you create a new subsite In SharePoint 2013 or SharePoint Online (Office 365), you have the option to use the same permissions as the parent site or use unique permissions.

Use unique permissions

Use unique permissions

If you use unique permissions, you’re taken to a page where you can set up the special groups for the subsite.

Set Up Groups for this Site

Set Up Groups for this Site

Generally, this is a “set it and forget it” page; once you’ve done what you need to do here, you rarely need to go back to the page.

However, sometimes you may decide that you’ve been too granular or not granular enough when you set the groups up. In that case, you may want to go back to the page and change the settings.

Unfortunately, the page is hard to find unless you know exactly where it is. Unless I’m missing it, there’s no navigation option to get back there in the UI. The fact that I can’t find it says that it’s at least too obscure.

If you need to get back to the page, navigate to your subsite and append this to the end of the URL:

_layouts/15/permsetup.aspx

So, for example, if your URL is

https://host.sharepoint.com/test99/_layouts/15/start.aspx#/SitePages/Home.aspx

it would become

https://host.sharepoint.com/test99/_layouts/15/permsetup.aspx

This is another one of those posts I’m doing so I can find the answer on my own blog the next time. I hope it helps you, too!