SPServices in the Office 365 Developer Podcast

Today Randy Drisgill (@drisgill) alerted me to the fact that Jeremy Thake (@jthake) and Steve Walker (@sharepointing) were talking about me in the Office 365 Developer Podcast: Episode 018 with Steve Walker on SharePoint UX developer guidance. While they do indeed say some very nice things about me (those payments to Redmond are working out), there’s actually a *lot* of great material covered in the podcast. If you just want to hear the part about SPServices, it starts around 28:00.

Podcast PlayerIt’s good to hear that Jeremy, Steve, and I think about some things the same way:

  • I’m awesome (just kidding)
  • Everyone loves SPServices, even Steve
  • “The SOAP services are deprecated, but unlikely to go away any time soon” (Jeremy)
  • “Deprecated doesn’t mean you can’t use it; it means [Microsoft] isn’t going to invest in the future and [they] will take it away at some point.” (Steve)
  • “Deprecated means that ‘no engineer is going to touch that’. It’s still running, it’s still in there, but we’re not going to be adding additional methods or functions.” (Jeremy)
  • Changes to the DOM can break SPServices and Microsoft *will* change the DOM on Office365 – expect it
  • Governance for script-based solutions is just as important as for anything else.
  • This stuff isn’t unique to SharePoint and Microsoft. We’d deal with a lot of these things with anyone else’s Web-based software, too.

As far as the deprecation of the SOAP Web Services goes, as far as I can tell, there hasn’t been *any* work done on them since SharePoint 2010 was released. That was way back on May 12, 2010, making it over 4 1/2 years since anyone has messed with them. Effectively, they have been deprecated for that long based on the definitions above. That latter part is one of the reasons the SOAP Web Services are so awesome: since no one messes with them, they are incredibly stable. Also, since they were developed a long time ago, they are pretty darn efficient. (We had to work harder to get more out of with less hardware capability back then.)

Just as with InfoPath, deprecated is not a death knell. With Infopath we *know* that there’s a long, long runway out to 2023 before support stops for it: “the InfoPath 2013 desktop client and InfoPath Forms Services for SharePoint Server 2013 will continue to be supported through 2023 as part of our Lifecycle support policy.” It will have a healthy life for quite a while after that, too, just like Windows XP still does. We don’t know what the runway looks like for the SOAP Web Services, though. That may mean we have more time, but it may mean we have less.

For quite a while now, I’ve advocated offering FaaS – or “Functions as a Service” – to the organization. By adding things like jQuery into the master page and letting citizen developers know about it, you immediately get some accountability and even can start some collaboration around that type of development. I wrote a whole chapter about these ideas last year in the book Black Magic Solutions for White Hat SharePoint. If you’re on premises now, but think you may be moving to Office365 in the future, the more you (an IT person) know about the citizen developer work that drives your business now, the better. The work that those citizen developers do is *so* important – they build what the organization truly needs and they are unsung heroes.

Some things I am not on the same page with Jeremy and Steve on:

“Don’t use our DOM as an API” – This would be fine if there were good ways to alter the DOM via a “real” API. Maybe that’s coming and maybe it isn’t. Until it does, we don’t really have much choice if we want to extend (or fix) things in places like the default list forms, which so many of the SPServices value-added functions provide.

The rules aren’t back and white. Much of the messaging from Microsoft centers around SharePoint Online and Office365, as if on premises installations don’t even exist. If you’re running things on premises, the same things won’t happen to you at such a rapid pace, the pace driven by the regular updates to Office365. You have control , so you can make different decisions. I know that the podcast is “Office365 Developer…” but many people think of messages from Redmond as applying to everything. It’s all nuances.

I’m probably more concerned about all the existing code out there that uses SPServices on top of the SOAP Web Services than the services themselves. I’ve been promising Scot Hiller (@scothillier) a series of articles on this for ITUnity for months, but I just can’t seem to get it done. Watch for some material from me about it, though. I want to help you move from SOAP to REST in an organized and productive way. You will have to do it sooner or later. Preparing for that eventuality will help to address the concerns that Steve and Jeremy expressed in the podcast.

And thanks again for the kind words and support, guys.

SharePoint’s “Working on it…” In Any Language

It’s the message SharePoint gives us that we’ve learned to love or hate or be indifferent to. But it’s a message that we cannot escape if we use SharePoint even a little bit. Yes, I’m talking about “Working on it…”

Working on it EN-US

When I was in Stockholm this week speaking at the SharePoint and Exchange Forum (SEF), I noticed that the Swedish version of “Working on it…” was “Snart klart…”. According to my pal Christian Ståhl (@CStahl) at Humandata in Stockholm (the fine folks who put on SEF),

About ’Snart klart…’ this is strange translation, it’s more like ‘something will be finished soon‘ (maybe not always clear what) more than SharePoint actually doing something. Snart klart.. is more ok as an short answer to the kids that asks if the dinner will be served soon. Working on it.. is much better in a Swedish ear :)

That gave me a grin – I’m going to say “snart klart” when The Dude gets impatient with me about dinner from now on – and got me to thinking about what the message was in other languages. As with many idioms, the wording may be different and it may translate oddly as well. If you are using SharePoint with a language that I haven’t listed here yet, send me a screenshot of the message and a translation. I’ll post it here for everyone’s enjoyment and education.

Dutch

Working on it DUGoogle translate: “Processing…”

Submitted by Elio Struyf (@eliostruyf)

French

Working on it FR-frGoogle translate: “We soon finished…”

Submitted by Patrick Guimonet (@patricg)

German

Working on it DEGoogle translate: “Is in working… This should not take long.”

Submitted by Stefan Bauer (@StfBauer)

Swedish

Snart klart…

Google translate: “Almost there…”

Turkish

Working on it TUGoogle translate: “They are working on…”

Submitted by Gokan Ozcifci (@GokanOzcifci).

Caching SharePoint Data Locally with SPServices and HTML5’s Web Storage

The SharePoint SOAP Web Services are fast. In fact, I think they are as fast as the newer REST Web Services in many cases. The old, crufty SOAP Web Services even provide batching, something that the REST services don’t yet do. (Andrew Connell (@andrewconnell) has been beating the drum about this with Microsoft for months now, and we all hope they get this OData capability into SharePoint’s REST services sooner rather than later.)

Even though the SOAP services are fast, sometimes they just aren’t fast enough. In some of those cases, it may make sense to store some of your data in the browser’s Web storage so that it’s there on the client during a session or across sessions. Web storage is an HTML5 capability that is available in virtually all browsers these days, even Internet Explorer 8.

The best candidates for this type of storage (IMO) are list contents that are used as references and that don’t have a high number of changes. As an example, you might decide to store a list of countries in Web storage rather than loading them from the Countries list every time a page loads. Even though the read from the list is fast, it has to take *some* time. There’s the retrieval time, and then there is also any processing time on the client side. For instance, if you have dozens of fields per country and you need to load them into a complex JavaScript structure, that takes time, too. If those data chores are making your page loads seem laggy, then consider using local storage.

There are three main ways you can store data locally to improve performance. I’m not going to go into all of their intricacies, but I will give you some rules of thumb. There are a lot of nuances to this, so before you dive in, do some studying about how it all works.

Cookies

For small pieces of data, you should consider using cookies. Contrary to just about every article out there in the press, cookies are not bad. They can store up to 4k of data each for you, which you can read back when the user returns to the page. There’s a excellent little jQuery plugin I use to facilitate this called, aptly, jquery-cookie. You can download it (for free!) from GitHub here. Cookies persist across sessions.

Session Storage

Session storage is the flavor of Web storage that allows you to store data just for the duration of the session. Think of a session as a browser lifespan. Once you close the browser, the session storage is gone. Both session storage and local storage sizes are limited by the browser you are using. If you want to know if Web storage is available in your browser of choice, take a look at “Can I use“. The amount of storage each browser gives you is a moving target, but it’s per domain.

Local Storage

Local storage takes Web storage one step further. The data stored in local storage persists across browser sessions. In fact, it usually won’t go away until you explicitly delete it. (Consider this fact when you are gobbling up local storage in your development process.)

So What?

The trick with using these storage mechanisms is managing the data you’ve put in local storage as a cache. That data can go past its expiration date, either because some changes were made to the underlying data source or the cache itself has become corrupted. The latter is more difficult to deal with, so here I’ll focus on the former.

JavaScript – like most other programming languages – lends itself to building wrapper functions that add additional layers of abstraction on top of underlying functionality. Too many levels of abstraction can make things confusing, but with careful thought and smart code writing, you can build abstractions that serve you well.

In a recent client project, I found that as list data volumes were increasing, the pages in my SPServices- and KnockoutJS-driven application were loading more and more slowly. I’m building on top of SharePoint 2007 in this case, so even if I wanted to use REST, I couldn’t, nor do I believe that it would automatically make anything faster. If we had better servers running things, that might make a huge difference, but we have no control over that in the environment.

What I wanted was a reusable wrapper around SPGetListItemsJson (which itself is a wrapper around the SOAP List Web Service’s GetListItemChangesSinceToken and SPService’s SPXmlToJson) that would let me check local storage for a cached data source (list data), read either the entire data source or just the deltas from the SharePoint list, load the data into my application, and then update the cache appropriately.

The getDataSource function below is what I’ve come up with so far. There’s some setup to use it, so let me explain the parameters it takes:

  • ns – This is the namespace into which you want to load the data. In my applications these days, following the lead from the patterns Andrew and Scot Hillier (@scothillier) have published, I usually have a namespace defined that looks something like ProjectName.SubProjectName.DataSources. The “namespace” is simply a complex JavaScript object that contains most of my data and functions.
  • dataSourceName – The name that I want to give the specific data source within ns. In my example above with the Countries list I would use “Countries”.
  • params – This is the big magilla of the parameters. It contains all of the values that will make my call to SPGetListItemsJson work.
  • cacheItemName – This is the name of the item I want to store in Web storage. In the Countries example, I would use “ProjectName.SubProjectName.DataSources.Countries”.
  • storageType – Either “localStorage” or “sessionStorage”. If I expect the data to change regularly, I’d probably use sessionStorage (this gives me a clean data load for each session). If the data is highly static, I’d likely use localStorage.

And here’s the code:

/* Example:
getDataSource(ProjectName.SubProjectName.DataSources, "Countries", params: {
  webURL: "/",
  listName: "Countries",
  CAMLViewFields: "<ViewFields>" +
      "<FieldRef Name='ID'/>" +
      "<FieldRef Name='Title'/>" +
      "<FieldRef Name='Population'/>" +
      "<FieldRef Name='CapitalCity'/>" +
      "<FieldRef Name='Continent'/>" +
    "</ViewFields>",
  CAMLQuery: "<Query>" +
      "<OrderBy><FieldRef Name='ID'/></OrderBy>" +
    "</Query>",
  CAMLRowLimit: 0,
  changeToken: oldToken,
  mapping: {
      ows_ID:{"mappedName":"ID","objectType":"Counter"},
      ows_Title:{"mappedName":"Title","objectType":"Text"},
      ows_Population:{"mappedName":"Population","objectType":"Integer"},
      ows_CapitalCity:{"mappedName":"CapitalCity","objectType":"Text"},
      ows_Continent:{"mappedName":"Continent","objectType":"Lookup"},
    }
  }, "ProjectName.SubProjectName.DataSources.Countries"
)
*/

function getDataSource(ns, dataSourceName, params, cacheItemName, storageType) {

  var dataReady = $.Deferred();

  // Get the data from the cache if it's there
  ns[dataSourceName] = JSON.parse(window[storageType].getItem(cacheItemName)) || new DataSource();
  var oldToken = ns[dataSourceName].changeToken;
  params.changeToken = oldToken;

  // Read whatever we need from the dataSource
  var p = $().SPServices.SPGetListItemsJson(params);

  // Process the response
  p.done(function() {
    var updates = this.data;
    var deletedIds = this.deletedIds;
    var changeToken = this.changeToken;

    // Handle updates/new items
    if (oldToken !== "" && updates.length > 0) {
      for (var i = 0; i < updates.length; i++) {
        var thisIndex = ns[dataSourceName].data.binaryIndexOf(updates[i], "ID");
        // If the item is in the cache, replace it with the new data
        if (thisIndex > -1) {
          ns[dataSourceName].data[thisIndex] = updates[i];
          // Otherwise, add the new item to the cache
        } else {
          ns[dataSourceName].data.splice(-thisIndex, 0, updates[i]);
        }
      }
    } else if (oldToken === "") {
      ns[dataSourceName] = this;
    }
    // Handle deletes
    for (var i = 0; i < deletedIds.length; i++) {
      var thisIndex = ns[dataSourceName].data.binaryIndexOf({
        ID: deletedIds[i]
      }, "ID");
      ns[dataSourceName].data.splice(thisIndex, 1);
    }
    // Save the updated data back to the cache
    if (oldToken === "" || updates.length > 0 || deletedIds.length > 0) {
      // Save the new changeToken
      ns[dataSourceName].changeToken = changeToken;
      window[storageType].setItem(cacheItemName, JSON.stringify(ns[dataSourceName]));
    }
    dataReady.resolve();
  });
  return dataReady.promise();
}

Some of the nice things about this function:

  • It’s generic. I can call it for any list-based data source in SharePoint. (I started out building it for one data source and then generalized it.)
  • I call call it during a page life cycle to refresh the application data anytime I want or on a schedule, perhaps with setInterval.
  • I can set a lot of parameters to cover a lot of different use cases.
  • Each time I call it, it updates the cache (if it needs to) so that the next time I call it I get a “fresh” copy of the data.
  • It only loads the data that it needs to, by using the GetListItemChangesSinceToken capabilities.

And some downsides:

  • Since I know what data I’m working with in my application and that it will fit into the Web storage easily, I’m not worrying about failed saves.
  • If the cache does become corrupt (not something I expect, but there’s always Murphy), I’m not handling it at all.

If you decide to try this out, you’ll need a few auxiliary functions as well:

/* DataSource constructor */
function DataSource() {
  this.changeToken = "";
  this.mapping = {};
  this.data = [];
  this.deletedIds = [];
}

/** Adapted from http://oli.me.uk/2013/06/08/searching-javascript-arrays-with-a-binary-search/
 *
 * Performs a binary search on the host array.
 * @param {*} searchObj The object to search for within the array.
 * @param {*} searchElement The element in the object to compare. The objects in the array must be sorted by this element.
 * @return {Number} The index of the element. If the item is not found, the function returns a negative index where it should be inserted (if desired).
 */
Array.prototype.binaryIndexOf = function(searchObj, searchElement) {

  var minIndex = 0;
  var maxIndex = this.length - 1;
  var currentIndex;
  var currentElement;

  var searchValue = searchObj[searchElement];

  while (minIndex <= maxIndex) {
    currentIndex = (minIndex + maxIndex) / 2 | 0;
    currentElement = this[currentIndex];

    if (currentElement[searchElement] < searchValue) {
      minIndex = currentIndex + 1;
    } else if (currentElement[searchElement] > searchValue) {
      maxIndex = currentIndex - 1;
    } else {
      return currentIndex;
    }
  }

  return ~maxIndex;
}

KnockoutJS – Creating a Comma-Delimited List of Values

KnockoutJS LogoI’ve been building a lot of great stuff with KnockoutJS lately. It seems that it can enable many – if not all – of the development requirements I have these days, whether I’m building a single-page application (SPA) or just adding a snippet of content to an existing page. I can even build KnockoutJS-enabled “Web Parts” by dropping  a Content Editor Web Part [CEWP] into a page. It doesn’t matter what version of SharePoint it is.

The KnockoutJS documentation is generally very good, but sometimes I find the examples lacking a bit. It’s always tempting to make examples show off too much, which often leads to showing off too little. (I have this same problem with my SPServices documentation and examples.)

A common use case is wanting to display a set of values in a comma-delimited list. Let’s take this example. Say I have an observable array of Ticker objects, like so:

self.Tickers = ko.observableArray([
  {lookupId: 1, lookupValue:"SPLS"},
  {lookupId: 2, lookupValue:"APPL"},
  {lookupId: 3, lookupValue:"GOOG"}
]);

Because I’m pulling data from SharePoint, I want to hang onto the lookupId value along with the text value, which is what I want to display. Because of this a simple Tickers.join(“, “) doesn’t cut it.

I’d like to display the list of tickers like this:

SPLS, APPL, GOOG

Pretty simple, right? But after a little Binglage, I couldn’t find a concise example, thus this post.

If you check the KnockoutJS documentation for foreach, you’ll see that there is a variable available called $index. The $index variable gives you the zero-based index of the current array item.

So if I use foreach on Tickers:

<div data-bind="template: { name: 'Ticker', foreach: Tickers }"></div>

I can use the $index to determine if I should emit a comma. We don’t want to see a comma after the last value, so it requires this small bit of finesse.

<script type="text/html" id="Ticker"><span data-bind="visible: $index() > 0">, </span><span data-bind="text: lookupValue"></span></script>

It’s a little bit bass-ackward, but if the $index value is greater than zero – which it is for all values except the first one, where the index is zero – then we *prepend* a comma to the value.

Yes, I’m using a separate template to emit the tickers. That’s mainly because in my case I’m doing a little bit more than what I’m showing here. However, by creating a separate template, I have a reusable piece of markup. that I can use in many places.

I hope someone out there finds this useful!

References

Detecting the Current User’s Regional Settings with jQuery

I noticed a nice little trick going by in my Twitter feeds today.
2014-08-20_19-09-43I’ve always wanted to know how to do this. Displaying the right formats for dates and times as well as the right offset from UTC is a real challenge from the client side. There’s a fantastic library called Moment.js that I use on just about every project these days, but it only does the full job if you know the user’s locale and timezone.

The post on StackExchange gave a little snippet of script which came from an old MSDN Forums post from 2009. Kudos to Peter Holpar for the original idea.

The script basically screen-scrapes the values from the Language and Region settings page. I don’t mean that disparagingly at all; screen-scraping is how the SPGetCurrentUser function in my SPServices works. If it gets the job done and is reliable, the old art of screen-scraping – or should we call it plumbing the DOM with AJAX? – is just great.

Note that you’ll need to have jQuery loaded to use its AJAX function.

Here’s the script as-is from the StackExchange post. It was originally intended for SharePoint 2010.

var url = ctx.HttpRoot+"/_layouts/regionalsetng.aspx?Type=User";
$.get(url,function(data){
    $(data).find("select[name='ctl00$PlaceHolderMain$ctl00$ctl00$DdlwebLCID']").find(":selected").each(function(){
        var lcid  = $(this).attr("value");
        var cultureInfo  = $(this).text();
    });
});

I just tested it out in SharePoint Online on Office365 and this is the version that works for me. Note that I simplified the jQuery selectors to look just for the important ending text in the name attribute. I’ve also re-scoped the variables so that they are available outside the $.get call. If you want to use this snippet, you’ll probably need to adapt it for your environment. The alert at the end is jut there to show you that it works.

var url = _spPageContextInfo.webAbsoluteUrl+"/_layouts/regionalsetng.aspx?Type=User";
var lcid, cultureInfo, timeZone;

$.get(url,function(data){
  $(data).find("select[name$='LCID'] option:selected").each(function(){
      lcid  = $(this).attr("value");
      cultureInfo  = $(this).text();
  });
  $(data).find("select[name$='TimeZone'] option:selected").each(function(){
    timeZone  = $(this).text();
  });

  alert(lcid + "::" + cultureInfo + "::" + timeZone);
});