Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Review: Building the SharePoint User Experience

Lately I've been reading Building the SharePoint User Experience by fellow Norwegian Bjørn Furuknap, and it is an easy read even if it covers "under the hood" aspects of SharePoint UX such as list definitions, site definitions, content types, custom fields, features, stapling, onet.xml, and the beast itself: CAML. Don't be fooled by the term UX, this book is not about doing SharePoint design using Photoshop or design as in interaction design (master pages, navigation, CSS, etc). In fact, the book covers content types at great length without ever mentioning search and findability at all. This is indeed a hardcore book for SharePoint developers.

I absolutely recommend reading this book. Part 1 and 2 covers the basics of the SharePoint building blocks and a thorough walk-through of these artifacts. The nice thing in part 2 is that the text is based on actually using the stuff, as opposed to the documentation at MSDN which is rather poor when it comes to real life aspects.

What I liked the most is part 3, which is a series of exercises that builds a complete feature based site definition. Doing these exercises will help you really learn the quirks of the covered SharePoint aspects; things that seems easy when reading about it, but that has a lot of gotchas in practice. Don't just read the book, do the exercises! Get the companion eBook (PDF format) to avoid all the mindless typing.

Chapter 15 contains a rather lame way of configuring the site's navigation aspects using code. Your information architect and not least, your interaction designer, will cringe at the tought of such a central aspect being buried inside code instead of designer friendly XML.

Side note on feature based site definitions: have a look on the SharePoint Site Configurator at CodePlex made by the MCS IW-team in Norway.

There are some quirks in the exercises which can cause you some grief. The errata page for the book is rather thin, so here is an errata list from my walkthrough:
  • Exercise 11-2, step 3: Note the TypeName here, it will bite you in exercise 11-7.
  • Exercise 11-7, step 3: Here the @Type value of the site column is not the same as the TypeName in the custom field. This wil cause the general "the given key was not present in the dictionary" CreateSPField error when activating the feature. Use SPM2007 to diagonse the problem by clicking on the site's Fields node, this will tell you that “Field type ‘TimesFieldType’ is not installed properly” as there is no such custom field.
  • Chapter 11, page 253: The feature Categories list will not be created until chapter 13, so manually create a Categories custom list for use in chapter 12.
  • Exercise 11-9, step 1: The lookup column @List attribute must be removed before running the code in step 2, otherwise you will get the "Cannot change the lookup list of the lookup field" error activating the feature.
  • Exercise 11-9, step 2: Out of the blue, a reference to TimesSiteColumns.cs and some FeatureActivated code that does not exist yet. To make this code snippet work for this site scoped feature, you need code from exercise 13-5 to set the "web" C# local member.
  • Exercise 11-9, step 2: If you removed both @List and @ShowField in step 1, the you must add this code to set the show field: categoriesField.LookupField = "Title";
  • Exercise 12-5, step 8: The 20002 download is empty.
  • Exercise 12-6, step 4: You will only get the content type's defined NewForm because you manually added the list content types using the UI, this will not work in e.g. exercise 13-6. More on this later.
  • Exercise13-1, step 1: Make this feature web scoped, not site scoped - or you will get an error in exercise 15-2.
  • Exercise13-5, step 1: The file name should be TimesContentType.cs.
  • Exercise13-5, step 2: The name of the content type shoud be "News Article" (with a space).
  • Exercise13-5: The <MetaData> <ContentTypeRef> elements must be in the list template Schema.xml file to add the content types as list content types. In addition, the <List> element's EnableContentTypes attribute should be included and true. Note that this is not sufficient to get a fully working list instance. More on this later.
  • Exercise 13-6, step 3: The 20003 download is empty.
  • Exercise13-6, step 5: The NewForm of the "News article" child list content types will not show the custom columns added in exercise 13-5 by forcing updated inheritance. Only the standard "Item" fields are shown. More on this later.
  • Exercise 14-2, step 2: There cannot be multiple <asp:Content> controls in an .ASPX page that target the same @ContentPlaceHolderID, here "PlaceHolderMain"
  • Exercise 15-2, step 1: Using the ExecuteUrl element does not work when creating a site-collection from Central Admin.
  • Exercise 15-2, step 2: Refers to a mystery FeatureAdded method and a TimesSetup.cs file, and the code refers to a missing "web" C# local member. Put this code after the code in step 4.
  • Exercise 15-3, step 2: Using "/" as the URL will cause the "Cannot open /: no such file or folder" error. This applies to the rest of the navigation exercises.
  • Exercise 15-5, step 1: Remember to add the <WebFeatures> <Feature> from the above text to the onet.xml file first.
In addition, it seems that parts of chapter 14 is missing; the title says "creating custom editing ... pages", but there is no such lessons there.

Now to the "More on this later" references: In exercise 13-3 you learned that list content types do not correctly relate to child site content types when defined in CAML. In exercise 13-5, this was corrected using code. However, the same problem applies to provisioning list columns, they do not correctly inherit the site columns if not repeated in the list's CAML definition; see the note in How to add a content type to a list.

This typically results in missing fields in new form, edit form, etc. See the comments on the MSDN How to create a custom list definition article for links to several blog posts, but don't blindly follow their advice of adding the fields explicitly to the list Schema.xml.

There is a much simpler solution to the NewForm/EditForm/ViewForm problem by using FeatureActivated code for the list. And that is the topic of my next post.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for posting all this eratas. They were great help for me to work through the tutorials.

Anonymous said...

I bought the book and i'm going through it making the exercices but i can´t seem to make the exercise in chapter 3, the one you make a costum feature and install it with a bat file. I´ve already corrected the %FEATUREDIR% bug but the feature wont appear on sharepoint. Any thoughts on what may be happening?

Happy new year, and thank for the time.


Kjell-Sverre Jerijærvi said...

I didn't do any exercises until the "building an empire" part of the book, so I don't know. Sorry.

Anonymous said...

To Pedro
for the chapter 3

and everything will work fine

It will look like this :
xcopy Feature /E /Y %FEATURES%