Posted on 16. October 2017

Counting Sheeps

One of the strangest part of the Dynamics CRM WebApi is the pluralisation of the entity names.

In the old OData endpoint, the entity set name was <EntityLogicalName>Set – however in the OData 4.0 endpoing, the Logical Name is pluralised by using a simplistic set of rules which often results in the incorrect plural name being picked.

This introduced a conundrum – Performance vs. correctness. Do we query the metadata for the Entity Set name at runtime – or use a duplicate set of over simplified rules in our JavaScript?

The New Version 9 Client Side API

The good news is that with version 9, the Xrm Api now supports:


Xrm.Utility.getEntitySetName("contact")

This will return "contacts" and so we can safely use this without worrying if the plural name is correct or not or indeed if it changes in the future.

Hope this helps!

 

 

Posted on 15. September 2017

Folders are back!

It's a long time since I've used the old SharePoint list component and for the most part, I've not missed it. Server to Server integration is slick and just works.

That said, the one thing that I do miss is support for folders - but whilst testing the new 9.0 Enterprise Edition I've noticed that folder support has been added in this latest release!

I was so excited I just had to share a little video of what it looks like

Fodlers are back

Maybe in the release after this, we'll get support for content types and metadata properties!

 

Posted on 11. August 2017

Solution Packager and global optionset enum support in spkl Task Runner

I’ve published version 1.0.9 of spkl to NuGet - this adds the following new features:

  1. Global optionset enum generation for early bound classes.
  2. Solution Packager support

Global Optionset enum generation

This was a tricky one due to the CrmSvcUtil not making it easy to prevent multiple enums being output where a global optionset is used, but you can now add the following to your spkl.json early bound section to generate global optionset enums.

{
  "earlyboundtypes": [
    {
      ...
      "generateOptionsetEnums": true,
      ...
    }
  ]
}

In a future update, I’ll add the ability to filter out the enums to only those used.

Solution Packager Support

The solution packager allows you to manage your Dynamics metadata inside a Visual Studio project by extracting the solution into separate xml files. When you need to combine multiple updates from code comments, you can then use the packager to re-combine and import into Dynamics. To configure the solution packager task you can add the following to your spkl.json

 /*
  The solutions section defines a solution that can be extracted to individual xml files to make
  versioning of Dynamics metadata (entities, attributes etc) easier
  */
  "solutions": [
    {
      "profile": "default,debug",
      /*
      The unique name of the solution to extract, unpack, pack and import
      */
      "solution_uniquename": "spkltestsolution",
      /*
      The relative folder path to store the extracted solution metadata xml files
      */
      "packagepath": "package",
      /*
      Set to 'true' to increment the minor version number before importing from the xml files
      */
      "increment_on_import": false
    }
  ]

There are two .bat files provided that will call:

spkl unpack

This will extract the solution specifed in the spkl.json into the packagepath as multiple xml files

spkl import

This will re-pack the xml files and import into Dynamics - optionally increasing the version number of the solution to account for the new build.

Posted on 24. June 2017

Not all Business Process Flow entities are created equal

As you probably know by now, when you create Business Process Flows in 8.2+ you'll get a new custom entity that is used to store running instances (if not then read my post on the new Business Process Flow entities).

When your orgs are upgraded to 8.2 from a previous version then the business process flow entities will be created automatically for you during the upgrade. They are named according to the format:

new_BPF_<ProcessId>

Notice that the prefix is new_. This bothered me when I first saw it because if you create a Business Process Flow as part of a solution then the format will be:

<SolutionPrefix>_BPF_<ProcessId>

Here lies the problem. If you import a pre-8.2 solution into an 8.2 org, then the Business Process Flows will be prefixed with the solution prefix – but if the solution is in-place upgraded then they will be prefixed with new.

Why is this a problem?

Once you've upgraded the pre-8.2 org to 8.2 then the Business Process Flows will stay named as new_ and included in the solution. When you then import an update to the target org – the names will conflict with each other and you'll get the error:

"This process cannot be imported because it cannot be updated or does not have a unique name."

Source 8.1 Org
Solution with myprefix_

Empty 8.2 Org

Export

Import

 

BPF entity created - myprefix_BPF_xxx

Upgraded to 8.2

BPF entity created - new_BPF_xxx

 

Export

Import

 

"This process cannot be imported because it cannot be updated or does not have a unique name."

new_BPF_xxx conflicts with myprefix_BPF_xxx

 

How to solve

Unfortunately, there isn't an easy way out of this situation. There are two choices:

  1. If you have data in the target org that you want to keep – you'll need to recreate the BPFs in the source org so that they have the myprefix_ - you can do this by following the steps here - https://support.microsoft.com/en-us/help/4020021/after-updating-to-dynamics-365-mismatched-business-process-flow-entity
  2. If you are not worried about data in the target org you can delete those BPFs and re-import the solution exported from the upgraded 8.2 source org.

The good news is that this will only happen to those of you who have source and target orgs upgraded at different times – if you upgrade your DEV/UAT/PROD at the same time you'll get BPFs entities all prefixed with new_

@ScottDurow

Posted on 15. May 2017

Continuous Integration using spkl Task Runner

This is the third video in a series showing you how to quickly setup VSTS Continuous Integration with spkl.

Watch in youtube

1. Learn more about the spkl task runner

2. Learn how to deploy plugins with the spkl task runnner

3. Learn how to deploy webresources with the spkl task runnner

Posted on 15. May 2017

Deploying Webresources using spkl Task Runner

This is the second video in a series showing you how get up and running with spkl with no fuss!

Watch in youtube

1. Learn more about the spkl task runner

2. Learn how to deploy plugins with the spkl task runnner

Posted on 12. May 2017

Deploying Plugins using spkl Task Runner

Following from my last blog post on the spkl Task Runner, this is the first video in a series showing you how get up and running with spkl with no fuss!

 

Posted on 3. May 2017

Simple, No fuss, Dynamics 365 Deployment Task Runner

Why?

I've used the Dynamics Developer Toolkit since it was first released by MCS for CRM4! I love the functionality it brings however the latest version is still in beta, it isn't supported on VS2017 and there isn't a date when it's likely to be either (yes, you can hack it to make it work but that's not the point J).

Rather than using an add-in Visual Studio project type, I've been attracted by the VS Code style simple project approach and so I decided to create a 'no-frills' alternative that uses a simple json config file (and that can be used in VS2017).

What?

  1. Deploy Plugins & Workflow Activities - Uses reflection to read plugin registration information directly from the assembly. This has the advantage that the plugin configuration is in the same file as the code. You can use the 'instrument' task to pull down the plugin configuration from Dynamics and add the metadata to your classes if you already have an existing project.
  2. Deploy Web Resources – deploy webresources from file locations defined in the spkl.json configuration. You can use the 'get-webresources' task to create the spkl.json if you already have webresources deployed.
  3. Generate Early Bound Types – Uses the spkl.json to define the entities to generate each time the task is run to make the process repeatable.
  4. Profile management – An optional profile can be supplied to select a different set of configuration from spkl.json. E.g. debug and release build profiles.

How?

Let's assume you have a project in the following structure:

Solution
    |-Webresources
    |    |-html
    |    |    |-HtmlPage.htm
    |    |-js
    |    |    |-Somefile.js
    |-Plugins
    |    |-MyPlugin.cs
    |-Workflows
    |    |-MyWorkflowActivity.cs

On both the Plugin and Workflows project, Run the following from the Nuget Console:

Import-Package spkl

This will add the spkl to the packages folder and the metadata CrmPluginConfigurationAttribute.cs that is used to mark up your classes so that spkl can deploy them. Some simple batch files are also included that you can use to get started.

If you already have plugins deployed, you can run the following command line in the context of the Plugins folder:

spkl instrument

This will prompt you for a Dynamics Connection, and then search for any deployed plugins and their matching .cs file. If the MyPlugin.cs plugin is already deployed it might end up with the following Attribute metadata:

[CrmPluginRegistration("Create","account",
    StageEnum.PreValidation,ExecutionModeEnum.Synchronous,
    "name,address1_line1", "Create Step",1,IsolationModeEnum.Sandbox,
    Description ="Description",
    UnSecureConfiguration = "Some config")]

A spkl.json file will be created in the project directly similar to:

{
  "plugins": [
    {
      "solution": "Test",
      "assemblypath": "bin\\Debug"
    }
  ]
}

If you now build your plugins, you can then run the following to deploy

spkl plugins

You can run instrument for the workflow project using the same technique which will result in code similar to the following being added to your workflow activity classes:

[CrmPluginRegistration(
        "WorkflowActivity", "FriendlyName","Description",
        "Group Name",IsolationModeEnum.Sandbox)]

…and then run the following to deploy:

spkl workflow			

To get any currently deployed webresources matched to your project files you can run the following from the Webresource project folder:

spkl get-webresources /s:new			

    Where new is the solution prefix you've used

This will create a spkl.json similar to the following:

{
  "webresources": [
    {
      "root": "",
      "files": [
        {
          "uniquename": "new_/js/somefile.js",
          "file": "js\\somefile.js",
          "description": ""
        },
        {
          "uniquename": "new_/html/HtmlPage.htm",
          "file": "html\\HtmlPage.htm",
          "description": ""
        }
      ]
    }
  ]
}

You can then deploy using:

spkl webresources

Profiles

For Debug/Release builds you can define multiple profiles that can be triggered using the /p:<profilename> parameter.

{
  "plugins": [
    {
      "profile": "default,debug",
      "assemblypath": "bin\\Debug"
    },
    {
      "profile": "release",
      "solution": "Test",
      "assemblypath": " bin\\Release"
    }
  ]
 
}

The default profile will be used if no /p: parameter is supplied. You can specify a profile using:

spkl plugins /p:release			

Referencing a specific assembly rather than searching the folder

If you have multiple plugins in a single deployment folder and you just want to deploy one, you can explicitly provide the path rather than using the folder search. E.g.

{
  "plugins": [
    {
      "assemblypath": "bin\\Debug\MyPlugin.dll"

Adding to a solution

If you'd like to automatically add the items deployed to a solution after deployment you can use:

{
  "webresources": [
    {
      "root": "",
      "solution": "Test",

Combining spkl.json

Perhaps you want to have a single spkl.json rather than multiple ones per project. You can simply add them all together:

{
  "webresources": […],
  "plugins": […]
}

Multiple project deployments

Since the spkl.json configuration files are searched from the current folder, you can deploy multiple plugins/webresources using a single spkl call from a root folder.

I'll be updating the github documentation page as things move forwards.

Posted on 15. March 2017

Limitations of Calculated Fields and the Data Export Service

You probably already know that I'm a big fan of the Data Export Service. The single fact of having a 'near real time' replica of your data in a SQL Azure Database to query in any way you want is simply amazing.

Today I came across an interesting limitation with Calculated Fields. Although Calculated Fields are created in the Dynamics database as SQL Server Computed Columns, they are output in the Replica Database fields as standard fields.

This has a rather inconvenient side-effect when you have calculated fields that are linked to either date/time or a related record. Since the Azure Replica sync is event based, when a related record is updated there is no corresponding event on the referencing record that contains the calculated field therefore it does not get updated. Likewise, if a calculated field changes depending on the date/time then there is no event that triggers the azure replica to be updated. This means that although calculated fields maybe correct at the time the record was created, subsequent updates can make the field become stale and inaccurate.

Lesson learned - you cannot guarantee the accuracy of calculated fields in the Azure Replica if they contain:

  1. The Now() function
  2. A related record field (e.g. accountid.name)

Interestingly, calculated fields that use data on the same record do get updated, so the event integration must do a compare of any calculated fields to see if they have changed.

@ScottDurow

Posted on 14. March 2017

There is something rather different about Dynamics 365 Business Process Flows!

The new business process flow designer in Dynamics 365 is lovely! However, I'm not going to talk about that since it's rightly had lots of love by others already.

For me the biggest change in Dynamics 365 is the fact that running Business Process Flows (BPFs) are now stored as entity records. Instance details are no longer held as fields on the associated record. I first visited this topic back in the CRM2013 days with the introductions of Business Process Flows where I described how to programmatically change the process.

Previously when a BPF was started, all of the state about the position was held on the record it was run on was stored in fields on the record itself:

  • Process Id: The ID of the BPF running
  • Stage Id: The ID of the BPF step that was active
  • Traversed Path: A comma separated string listing the GUIDs of current path of steps taken through the BPF. This is to support BPFs with branching logic.

With the new Dynamics 365 BPFs, each process activated is automatically has an entity created that looks just like any other custom entity. The information about the processes running and any record is now stored as instances of this entity with a N:1 relationship to the parent record and any subsequent related entities. This BPF entity has similar attributes that were stored on the parent entity, but with the following additions:

  • Active Stage Id: The ID of the BPF step that is active – replaces the Stage Id attribute.
  • Activate Stage Started On: The Date Time that the current step was started on – this allows calculation of the amount of time it has been active for
  • State & Status: Each BPF Instance has its own state that allows finishing and abandoning before other BPF are run.

     

In addition to making migration of data with running BPFs a little easier - this approach has the following advantages:

  1. You can control access to BPFs using standard entity role privileges
  2. You can have multiple BPFs running on the same record
  3. You can see how long the current stage has been active for
  4. You can Abandon/Finish a BPF

BPF Privileges

Prior to Dynamics365, you would have controlled which roles could access your BPF using the Business Process Flow Role Check list.     In Dynamics 365 when you click the 'Enable Security Roles' button your BPF you are presented with a list of Roles that you can open up and define access in the 'Business Process Flow' tab:

Multiple BPFs on the same record

Switching BPFs no longer overwrites the previous active step – meaning that you can 'switch' back to a previously started BPF and it will carry on from the same place. This means that BPFs can run in parallel on the same record.

  • If a user does not have access to the running BPF they will see the next running BPF in the list (that they have access to).
  • If the user has no access to any BPF that is active – then no BPF is shown at all.
  • If user has read only access to the BPF that is running, then they can see it, but not change the active step.
  • When a new record is created, the first BPF that the user has create privileges on is automatically started.

When you use the Switch Process dialog, you can now see if the Business Process Flow is already running, who started it and when it was run.

NOTE: Because the roles reference the BPF entities – you must also include the system generated BPF entities in any solution you intend to export and import into another system.

Active Step timer

Now that we have the ability to store addition data on the running BPF instance, we have the time that the current step was started on. This also means that when switching between processes, we can see the time spent in each step in parallel running BPFs.

Abandon/Finish

Since each BPF has its own state fields, a business process can be marked as Finished – or Abandoned at which point it becomes greyed out and read only.

When you 'Abandon' or 'Finish' a BPF it is moved into the 'Archived' section of the 'Switch Process' dialog.

NOTE: You might think that this means that you could then run the BPF a second time, but in-fact it can only have a single instance per BPF – and you must 'Reactivate' it to use it again.

  • Reactivating an Abandoned BPF will start at the previously active step
  • Reactivating a Finished BPF will start it from the beginning again.

Example

Imagine your business has a sales process that requires an approval by a Sales Manager. At a specific step in that sales process you could run a workflow to start a parallel BPF that only the Sales Managers have access to. When they view the record, making the Approval BPF higher in the ordered list of BPFS will mean that they will see the Approval BPF instead of the main Sales Process. They can then advance the steps to 'Approved' and mark as Finished. This could then in turn start another Workflow that updates a field on the Opportunity. Using this technique in combination with Field Level Security gives a rather neat solution for custom approval processes.

When I first saw this change I admit I was rather nervous because it was such a big system change. I've now done a number of upgrades to Dynamics 365 and the issues I found have all been resolved.
I'm really starting to like the new possibilities that Parallel BPFs brings to Dynamics 365.

@ScottDurow