Here in early summer 2013, it’s a slightly strange time in SharePoint development land. The message is that sandbox solutions are “deprecated” in SharePoint 2013 (however you choose to interpret that) and that we should build apps where possible – however, apps currently cannot do many of the things that sandboxed solutions can. One key difference between apps and sandboxed solutions, of course, is that when you provision fields/content types/files etc. in your app they are created in the app web – not the “host web”. For many requirements, this “isolated space” idea works fine. However, when you really want your artifacts to exist in the day-to-day areas of SharePoint that users go to (i.e. the team/project/My sites that become known as host webs in the app world) then you need a different approach.
If you’re no longer comfortable using the sandbox, then what can we do? Well, one option to consider is that apps CAN sometimes “provision to the host web”. This article looks at this idea, but first here's a reminder of where we are in the overall series:
- SharePoint 2013 apps – architecture, capability and UX considerations
- Getting started – creating lists, content types, fields etc. within a SharePoint app (provisioning)
- Working with data in the app web, and why you should
- Access end-user data (in the host web) from a SharePoint 2013 app
- Rolling out SharePoint 2013 apps to the enterprise - tenant scope and PowerShell installs
- Azure is the new SharePoint ‘_layouts’ directory
- “Host web apps” – provisioning files (e.g. master pages) to the host web [this article]
- “Host web apps” – provisioning fields and content types
- Deploying SP2013 provider-hosted apps/Remote Event Receivers to Azure Websites (for Office 365 apps)
- Working with web parts within a SharePoint app
- The app requests (and is granted) “Full Control” permission of the host web
- Note this means it cannot be sold via the Office/SharePoint Store (see Validation checklist for apps for Office and SharePoint). But it can be deployed internally through the organization’s App Catalog..
- CSOM code is used for provisioning, rather than standard Feature XML
All of a sudden, apps can now be used as the vehicle for deploying “regular” SharePoint functionality – perhaps components that are used in typical collaboration solutions. The code/solution in this article is taken from my “Deep-dive on SharePoint-hosted apps” talk at the SharePoint Evolutions Conference, and this article is the first in a series of short posts on such “host web apps” (within my wider series on SP2013 apps). But first..
Should you do this? Deciding between host web apps/sandbox/farm..
I think this approach has a place – especially if you are paranoid about the life expectancy of sandboxed solutions, or someone is insisting that the app model is used. However, my feeling is that we are effectively exploiting a loophole here. I’m sure Microsoft did not particularly intend apps to be used in this way (as evidenced by difficult CSOM-based deployment model), but, possibly because of other concerns, they have robust mechanisms in place such that it isn’t proactively blocked. Me? Well, personally I feel that if the client requirements steer you towards working in the host web, then apps aren’t the right vehicle – if you’re cloud-focused, then I believe you should be using a design centred around the sandbox. Despite the "deprecated” tag I think Microsoft will have to extend the app model before they can really remove this option. In other words, I think we should understand that we are in a transition period and new development approaches will become available – but I won’t feel bad about using the best tool for the job right now.
I should add that this might not apply to product development – an area which I currently do not have to worry about. My friend Doug Ware is building an app based around the host web, and has dug far deeper into this than me. We’ve previously debated this topic in our blog posts – you can my version (which links to his posts) at SharePoint apps: working with the app web, and why you should. You’ll see that I’m effectively softening my position slightly in this post.
How to: provision a master page (or any file) to the host web
Then we need a wodge of CSOM code – specifically JSOM in my case. I’m using a SharePoint-hosted app, where the code executes on page load of the app default page. In the code we have to pull a few tricks – firstly we make a jQuery GET request to the .txt file in the app web, in order to obtain the contents. N.B. This was the reason we provisioned it with a .txt extension at first – for some file types (e.g. .master, .aspx) you might find that the file contents are not what you expect. This can happen because the page could not be executed/parsed properly by SharePoint, i.e. a runtime error occurred because you effectively browsed the master page/page layout/whatever directly. This undesired behavior goes away if you are simply requesting a .txt file.
Then we use JSOM to open a connection to the host web. We do this by passing a relative URL to the host web to the SP.ClientContext constructor, instead of asking for SP.ClientContext.get_current(), which would give us context in the app web where our page is running.
Our JSOM code then uploads to the host web (via a method which can be re-used to provision any file to any path in the host web), and just for good luck we go ahead and set the master on the host web. The code below has no external dependencies, and should work fine if you paste it into your app:
Running the app
Once our app is built and we add it to a site, the person adding has to accept the Full Control permission request:
And, since the model here is that our JSOM code executes when the page is loaded, our master page is indeed provisioned when the user navigates to the app. My sample code presents show some simple UI to confirm this:
Now when we go back to the host web, we see that our master page has indeed been provisioned to the Master Page Gallery:
..and because we set it to be the default master page, any branding changes in this master page (such as a red bar in my case) have been applied to the site:
So, if you really want to avoid sandboxed solutions or proactively want to use apps, then you can see that these CSOM techniques can be useful. In future posts, I'll follow up with further code for other common scenarios.
Download the code
You can download the full Visual Studio project with the code I used for these two articles (on host web apps) from here – download the code.