Wednesday 16 December 2009

ECM platform enhancements - Content Organizer, List Throttling, Enterprise Content Types etc.

This is part 2 of my write-up on my ‘ECM Enhancements in SharePoint 2010’ talk which I did recently. You can find previous parts here:

Part 1: Managed Metadata in SharePoint 2010 – a key ECM enhancement
Part 1.5: Managed Metadata in SharePoint 2010 - some notes on the "why"

Having spent some time on the taxonomy/metadata piece in the last articles, this post will delve into other ECM enhancements. ECM is quite a broad topic (Document Management/Collaboration/Records Management/Web Content Management), but it’s amazing just how much of the new stuff you can’t cover in such a talk – Sandboxed Solutions, BCS, Service Applications, API improvements etc. are all only tenuously linked to ECM, so didn’t get coverage.

Here’s what I think of as some key generic ‘ECM platform’ enhancements:

  • Scalability
  • Enterprise Content Types
  • User experience
  • Taxonomy/metadata (as covered in earlier posts)
    • Navigation by metadata
  • Content Organizer
  • Document Sets
  • Tagging

No doubt you might think of others as being a big deal too, but that’s a good list for starters. In this article we’ll look at some of these items in detail, but for others I’ll point you to other articles which have good coverage on those topics.

Scalability/list throttling

Although us architects/developers think that we know a lot about scaling SharePoint these days, consider that in the 2007 release a common cause of Out Of Memory exceptions in large farms was use of the Content Query Web Part on site home pages, left to default settings. Of course this usage is perfectly natural – CQWP is about rolling-up content after all, but what compounded the problem is that some site templates (e.g. publishing portal) added this to the home page for you, thus triggering the problem without explicit configuration. In large sites this would result in a significant query which put significant load on the servers, and the built-in caching didn’t fully mitigate it.

In SharePoint 2010, the query-throttling feature is designed to prevent this problem – this will cut off large queries once a threshold has been passed and the full results will not be returned, thus safeguarding stability. The limits are set at the web application level, and it’s possible to specify a window when the governor will not kick in (aka ‘happy hour’):


If the query originated from custom code, the query will not complete and an SPQueryThrottledException will be raised:


This of course, is a good thing - developers just need to ensure their 2010 code catches this exception type and presents a pretty message on the page, rather than show a Yellow Screen of Death. Interestingly, when a user encounters a similar scenario in a regular SharePoint list view, the experience is somewhat more sophisticated as some results are returned (up to the point where the threshold is crossed), and an equivalent ‘signal’ is passed to the user in the form of a message:


As an aside, I notice at this point I’ve been redirected to a URL which contains all the parameters needed to display the “permitted” subset of data: 

I haven’t yet worked out if it’s possible to use this “show partial results” facility in custom code – certainly it would be nice in some scenarios. It sounds feasible as in the list view request, the server has worked out what parameters constitute an acceptable query (ID >= 3752) and (it seems) has redirected the user to a new request which contains the filter parameters. I’d be interested to hear if anyone has noticed how this can be done with code – I haven’t dug too deep, but the most obvious place to communicate this info back (the SPQueryThrottledException) doesn’t have anything.

Enterprise Content Types

In 2007, maintaining content types and site columns across an enterprise deployment effectively became a technical problem – the business could not take care of this without help. Changes they made would only be local to a site collection and code/scripts were required to roll out updates more globally. With Enterprise Content Types in SharePoint 2010, this common pain point is eased – effectively the model is a hub and spoke-type arrangement where a ‘master site’ is nominated, and then a service application/set of timer jobs takes care of synchronizing the changes to other sites which are hooked up to the same Managed Metadata service app as the hub. I decided not to demo this in my talk in the end, partly because it doesn’t really make the world’s most scintillating demo. However, that’s not to downplay the significance of this feature – I think this goes a long way to making SharePoint more manageable in the enterprise. Others have covered this well, a couple of good write-ups are:

User experience

Put simply, the new wiki-style page editing experience will have a huge impact on collaboration sites. The ability for users to place rich text, images and even web parts exactly where they like on a page (as opposed to having to deal with web part zones and the Content Editor web part) will make a lot of end users happy:


Interestingly if you don’t want the new page editing experience in team sites, you’ll probably need to do some customization work. It is possible to create web part pages in the new team site template (and even store them in the ‘Site Pages’ library alongside wiki pages), but the user experience isn’t obvious and the menu options aren’t right there in front of the user – you have to pass by the ‘New Page’ menu item and head to ‘More Options’ > ‘Web Part Page’ and specify which library to store it in. So if you did want the ‘old-style’ page editing, you’d probably either use a custom site definition or at least add something to the Site Actions menu or ribbon if sticking to the 2010 team site template. In any case, the wiki page editing functionality is defined by the actual field control used rather than the field type – it seems there’s a fair amount of behind-the-scenes jiggery-pokery which goes on with hidden fields, update panels and a new EmbeddedFormField control (in team sites at least, publishing sites continue to use the RichHtmlField control), but the upshot is that anywhere the new Rich Text Editor is used will display the new editing experience.

I know for a fact that the site owners on the collaboration roll-out I’m currently working on would welcome this with open arms. Consequently this is a significant for advance for SharePoint as an ECM platform, and I can see it being a key driver for some organizations to upgrade to 2010 for their collab sites.

Finally, as alluded to just now, publishing sites also get the new RTE – which as an aside, means things like the wiki-syntax for linking pages can be used there too.

Content Organizer

You may have already seen AC talk about this – in essence the Content Organizer allows you to add certain types of content (e.g. documents, pages, rich media files but NOT list items) to one bucket (known as the ‘Drop-Off Library’), and then let some rules define where it should actually end up within your site. A timer job handles the actual processing of the rules. Typically you’ll define rules based on metadata, so continuing to use my electrical goods example, here I’m creating a rule which moves documents with a ‘Screen type’ value of ‘Plasma’ to a library called ‘Television specifications’:


I’m also specifying that subfolders should be created within the document library, such that I’ll end up with a set of folders for each of the ‘Screen type’ values encountered when documents are uploaded. In general, the way rule definition works is you first specify the content type the rule applies to, then the UI allows you to select columns on that content type to use as metadata filters. The metadata bit is actually optional though – your rule could simply be based on content type, with no further sub-filter based on metadata values.

If you’re like me, you may have wondered how the Content Organizer copes with certain scenarios – so here are a few findings:

  • What happens if users don’t go to the ‘Drop-Off Library’ to add documents there? Surely the rules won’t run otherwise? To ensure all uploads do indeed use the routing rules, you can specify that users should be redirected to the Drop-Off Library when they upload – this is pretty seamless to the user, they just see a small message in the dialog indicating their file will be routed:

  • What happens if the user doesn’t have permissions to write to the library specified in the rule? The user will get an Access Denied, and the document gets cleared from the Drop-Off Library. I’d be interested to know if the ‘rule managers’ are notified in such a scenario (I didn’t have SMTP set up at the time of testing) – this is the group who can be configured to be notified when a document is uploaded which doesn’t match any rules, but I’m not yet sure if they get notified for other cases like this.
  • When specifying a rule to route items to another site’s Content Organizer, what happens if the rules there redirect back to this one? Somewhat tongue in cheek this one, but hey, it’s good to know what happens! The answer is the document stays in the Drop-Off Library, and as with any such routing failure, if configured the rule managers are notified after the specified wait period is over.
  • What does the user see if no rules are matched? As well as the notification to the rule managers, the user sees a message to inform them their document won’t be being routed anywhere just yet:


Steve Peschka has a great series of 3 in-depth articles on Content Organizer, and also you can quickly understand a lot about defining rules from the screenshots in AC’s article.

Document Sets

Briefly, Document Sets allow multiple items to be treated as one in terms of workflow, approval, versioning and so on. A classic use case might be a proposal which consists of several documents – however they are bundled up and given to a client all together, meaning they need to be treated almost as a ‘release’ in coding terms. There are some useful features in here, like the fact you can set default values on columns, which individual documents will inherit when added to the set. Also, each Document Set gets a “home page”, meaning content (including web parts) can be added to provide an entrance on to the information.

Liam has a good write-up here - “SharePoint 2010 User Experience – Document Sets


Tagging in SharePoint 2010 is a deep area so I can’t do it justice here, and it reaches into the “social” arena as well as the Managed Metadata framework I’ve previously discussed. Some highlights are the fact that the social bookmarking feature (“Tags and notes”) allows any item inside or outside SharePoint to have your tags and notes added, and that your recent tagging activity is summarized in your activity feed on your MySite (à la Facebook tagging).

Christian Glessner has a write-up here - Managing Metadata in SharePoint 2010


SharePoint 2010 contains a raft of ECM enhancements, and any one could be a killer feature for your organization. The “ECM platform” features discussed here are relevant whether you are using SharePoint for collaboration/document management, WCM, Records Management or all three. Many of the criticisms of the 2007 release have been addressed, and right now it looks like SharePoint 2010 will be an even bigger hit for ECM than it’s predecessor.

Tuesday 8 December 2009

Common compilation error for SharePoint 2010 VS projects

This post is a quick public service announcement for a beta 2 issue which I think a lot of SharePoint developers are about to hit. I can’t take any credit whatsoever for the fix, I’m simply playing the messenger here – purely because I notice that whilst the information is in the public domain now, search engine users will probably not find it. Since I’ve hit this a few times already (including when writing code for my Managed Metadata demo), I figure it’s worthy of more attention.

The extremely useful SharePoint 2010 Beta Release Known Issues post over on the SharePoint Developer Documentation Team Blog has the info in one of the ‘development issues’ points:

  • Some assemblies, such as Microsoft.SharePoint.Publishing, appear in some cases to have a dependency on an incorrect version of the System.Web.DataVisualization assembly. The incorrect reference causes build failures. If you see this problem, add a reference to the correct version of System.Web.DataVisualization on your system. If you installation is on the C drive, that assembly will be located here:

C:\Program Files (x86)\Microsoft  Chart Controls\Assemblies\System.Web.DataVisualization.dll

To expand on this, this is a known bug which causes a design-time only error, since the correct version will be loaded by .Net at runtime – so it will stop you compiling, but once you’ve got past that you’re good. When I hit the issue the fix above didn’t seem to work for me, but an alternative fix of adding this path into a specific registry key did – however, when I went back to test again adding the reference did solve my problem, so I’m assuming I did something wrong first time. Certainly this approach is far preferable to editing the registry on every dev VM you have, so I won’t publish those details.

At least the following assemblies seem to be affected:

  • Microsoft.Office.Server.Search
  • Microsoft.SharePoint.Taxonomy
  • Microsoft.SharePoint.Publishing

I tried using NDepend to generate a full list, but for some reason the trial version isn’t finding dependencies which I think exist. In any case, if you discover additional assemblies with this issue, please leave a comment.

Finally, to help folks searching for this on the interweb here are some of the errors you’re probably searching on:

The primary reference "Microsoft.Office.Server.Search, Version=, Culture=neutral, PublicKeyToken=71e9bce111e9429c, processorArchitecture=MSIL" could not be resolved because it has an indirect dependency on the framework assembly "System.Web.DataVisualization, Version=, Culture=neutral, PublicKeyToken=31bf3856ad364e35" which could not be resolved in the currently targeted framework. ".NETFramework,Version=v3.5". To resolve this problem, either remove the reference "Microsoft.Office.Server.Search, Version=, Culture=neutral, PublicKeyToken=71e9bce111e9429c, processorArchitecture=MSIL" or retarget your application to a framework version which contains "System.Web.DataVisualization, Version=, Culture=neutral, PublicKeyToken=31bf3856ad364e35"

The primary reference "Microsoft.SharePoint.Taxonomy, Version=, Culture=neutral, PublicKeyToken=71e9bce111e9429c, processorArchitecture=MSIL" could not be resolved because it has an indirect dependency on the framework assembly "System.Web.DataVisualization, Version=, Culture=neutral, PublicKeyToken=31bf3856ad364e35" which could not be resolved in the currently targeted framework. ".NETFramework,Version=v3.5". To resolve this problem, either remove the reference "Microsoft.SharePoint.Taxonomy, Version=, Culture=neutral, PublicKeyToken=71e9bce111e9429c, processorArchitecture=MSIL" or retarget your application to a framework version which contains "System.Web.DataVisualization, Version=, Culture=neutral, PublicKeyToken=31bf3856ad364e35"

The primary reference "Microsoft.SharePoint.Publishing, Version=, Culture=neutral, PublicKeyToken=71e9bce111e9429c, processorArchitecture=MSIL" could not be resolved because it has an indirect dependency on the framework assembly "System.Web.DataVisualization, Version=, Culture=neutral, PublicKeyToken=31bf3856ad364e35" which could not be resolved in the currently targeted framework. ".NETFramework,Version=v3.5". To resolve this problem, either remove the reference "Microsoft.SharePoint.Publishing, Version=, Culture=neutral, PublicKeyToken=71e9bce111e9429c, processorArchitecture=MSIL" or retarget your application to a framework version which contains "System.Web.DataVisualization, Version=, Culture=neutral, PublicKeyToken=31bf3856ad364e35"

Again, thank the guys behind the SharePoint Developer Documentation Team Blog and the Product Group folks for this info, not me.

Sunday 6 December 2009

Managed Metadata in SharePoint 2010 - some notes on the "why"

Having looked at the “what” of SharePoint 2010 Managed Metadata framework in the previous article, before moving on to discuss other ECM enhancements in the next article I want to quickly look at the “why”. One of the reasons I want to do this is because I notice some SharePoint folks, developers in particular, seem to be somewhat “meh” about this 2010 feature in comparison to “sexier” topics.

Metadata is the gateway to so much more than just good search results these days though, and I think developers sometimes overlook this. For a slide in my talk, I came up with 4 categories of functionality and gave some examples of each - I encouraged the audience to keep these examples in the back of their mind as I demonstrated how to use and extend the Managed Metadata framework:


I’m sure there are lots of other examples too. Some are more relevant for collaboration sites e.g. navigating by metadata is huge for large lists/libraries, whereas others, such as the examples I badged as “Alternative navigation”, are becoming more common in publishing sites (e.g. public-facing). I also see more and more WCM sites where landing pages have content generated by complex rules – going beyond say, the Content Query Web Part and more towards generating entire pages with a high-end search engine such as FAST, Endeca or Autonomy. Behind all this is always well-defined metadata, and you need to give authors powerful tools to tag content properly for this to work well.

The “faceted” angle comes in two different flavours too – faceted search is where an actual search query is being performed (i.e. relevance is considered) but facets are used to further refine or filter the resultset, whereas faceted navigation is more analogous to a SQL query with multiple filters in a WHERE clause. Since we’re on the subject and there wasn’t space to cover it in the last article, let’s take a look at what SharePoint Server 2010 now provides in terms of faceted navigation, or in more appropriate SharePoint terminology, navigation by metadata.

Navigation by metadata in a SharePoint Server 2010 list (faceted navigation)

Although the idea of navigating by metadata has been around for a while, the SharePoint 2010 release is the first which has had something in the box for this – this is currently a SharePoint Server deal only though, so SharePoint Foundation users are out of luck (this is the situation in the beta packaging anyway).  There are two navigation concepts which can be used in lists and libraries - “navigation hierarchies” and “key filters”. Navigation hierarchies provide an expandable treeview which effectively allow the user to “drill down” the taxonomy and then select a node in order to filter items in the current view. Key filters offer no such expand/collapse functionality, but do support the same type-ahead or “browse in a picker” experience for a specific field that authors get when tagging items – additionally, more field types can be used as navigators in key filters compared to in a navigation hierarchy.

Both appear under the quick launch navigation:


..and can be used to filter the current view to find the items the user is interested in:


Effectively you’re getting a choice of user experience, although both can be provided only the same list if preferred. Notably, you can filter the list view by combining filters from both navigation types, it isn’t a “one or the other” situation.

When configuring in the list settings, for each you can specify which list fields you wish to use as navigators: 


I think this is a huge win for any SharePoint collaboration environment with reasonably-sized lists/libraries. Although both navigation types are off by default, I can’t think of many reasons why you wouldn’t want to enable this in many places. A cursory look through the SDK didn’t tell me how I might enable the functionality for all lists created from a given template (the list schema XML or SPList class don’t seem to have been extended to allow setting this), but I’m sure it’s possible – some relevant classes can be found the Microsoft.Office.DocumentManagement.MetadataNavigation namespace.


Although metadata isn’t the most glamorous topic for some folks, it’s the foundation for a huge range of functionality across collaboration and publishing sites, and everything in between. The end goal is never simply to have content tagged, but rather what you’re in a position to do once that’s the case. Consider how the managed metadata framework can help you implement end-user functionality in your site. One example which is now standard functionality in SharePoint Server 2o10 is navigation by metadata within a list or library – "navigation hierarchies” and “key filters” provide highly useful options for finding items in large lists, but a wide range of other possibilities exists too – you don’t need FAST to provide innovative ways to navigate a website.

Next time: other ECM enhancements such as Enterprise Content Types, Content Organizer, Scalability etc.

Friday 4 December 2009

Managed Metadata in SharePoint 2010 – a key ECM enhancement

Last week I did a talk on ‘Enterprise Content Management enhancements in SharePoint 2010’ at the UK SharePoint User Group. Since the talk was 70% demos simply posting the slide deck doesn’t really convey the discussion, so over the next 2 posts I’ll cover the same ground in written form. So this ‘ECM enhancements mini-series’ consists of:

Part 1: Managed Metadata in SharePoint 2010 – a key ECM enhancement (this post)
UPDATE: Part 1.5: Managed Metadata in SharePoint 2010 - some notes on the "why"
Part 2: ECM platform enhancements - Enterprise Content Types, Content Organizer, Scalability etc.

I want to focus on Managed Metadata first as it will be such a key ECM building block in SharePoint 2010.


In SharePoint 2007, metadata was a huge blind spot – many organizations have a fundamental requirement to only allow certain ‘approved’ terms from a central list to be used as metadata. Broadly, the options were:

  • Use a choice or lookup field (scoped to web, or possibly deployed as Feature which can give broader reach but more maintenance problems)
  • Build a custom field type
  • Buy a vendor’s solution (which will involve a custom field type somewhere)
  • Attempt to simply guide authors to use the correct terms in a plain old textbox

Frequently, metadata terms are in a hierarchy which counts some of those options out. Otherwise the first and last options were lame/unsuitable across large deployments, and I can practically guarantee that any vendor or custom solution out there wouldn’t be as rich as a proper baked-into-SharePoint implementation. And this is what we’ve now got in SharePoint 2010 with the “Managed Metadata” capability – I wouldn’t say it covers all of the bases, but it can be extended easily. In my talk I joked that I couldn’t bear to do a talk without any code, and so showed how a notable hole in the metadata framework in can be plugged in 10 minutes flat by using the Microsoft.SharePoint.Taxonomy namespace. More on this later.

A key thing to note is that the new Managed Metadata field now exists by default on many core content types such as ‘Document’ – so it’s right there without having to explicitly add it to your content.

SharePoint 2010 - Creating the central taxonomy

An organisation’s taxonomy is defined in the Term Store Management Tool – this is part of the Managed Metadata service application, and can be accessed either from Central Administration or from within Site Settings. Permissions are defined within the Term Store itself. For my demo I “borrowed” the taxonomy from a popular UK electrical retailer, and added the terms manually (but note you can also import from CSV). The following image shows the different types of node used to structure and manage a SharePoint 2010 taxonomy, and also the options available to manage a particular term:


Adding site columns - making terms available for use 

In order for authors to be able to use the terms on a document library, a column needs to be created (most likely on the appropriate content types) of type ‘Managed Metadata’. There are 2 key steps here:

  1. Mapping the column to the area of the taxonomy which contains the terms we wish to use for this field:


    Some notes on this:
    • The node selected is used as the top-level node – if it has children, these values can also be used in this field.
    • Site collections can optionally define their own terms sets at the column level (i.e. leverage the authoring experience you’re about to see, but not just for organization-wide terms sets) rather than use the central one. This is labelled as ‘Customize your term set’ in the image above, and allows terms to be added when this radio button is selected.
  2. Specifying whether ‘Fill-in’ choices are allowed (shown on lower part of above image):
    • First thing to note is that ‘fill-in’ choices are only possible when the ‘Submission Policy’ of the linked parent term set is set to ‘Open’. This provides centralized master control to override the local setting on the column.
    • When the “Allow ‘Fill-in’ choices” option on the column is set to ‘Yes’, we specify that authors can add terms into the taxonomy as they are tagging items - in taxonomic terms, this model is known as a folksonomy, meaning it is controlled by end users/community rather than centrally defined. Although the setting is quite innocuous, but this is hugely different in Information Architecture terms – typically it is often beneficial when content authors are trusted and capable and there is a desire to grow the taxonomy ‘organically’, perhaps because a mature one doesn’t exist yet.
    • I can imagine some document libraries may use both types (traditional taxonomy and folksonomy). One column is understood to be more controlled, the other free and easy. With some custom dev work on the search side, it would probably be possible (definitely if you have FAST) to weight the more controlled field higher than the folksonomy field in search queries – thus providing the best combination of tagging and “searchability”.

The end user experience – web browser

Now that we have a managed metadata site column, when a user is tagging a document in an appropriate library they can either get a ‘type-ahead’ experience where suggestions will be derived from the allowed terms:


..or they can click the icon to the right and use a picker to select (e.g. if they don’t know the first letters to type):


The document is now tagged with an approved term from the taxonomy. Note that if the field allows fill-in choices (i.e. it’s a folksonomy field), this dialog has an extra ‘Add new item’ link for this purpose:


The end user experience – Office 2010 client

Alternatively, content authors can tag metadata fields natively from within Office 2010 applications if they prefer. This can be done within the Document Information Panel, but also in the new Office Backstage view which I’m liking more and more. They get exactly the same rich experience – both type-ahead and the picker can be used just as in the browser:


And it’s things like this which other implementations (e.g. vendor/custom) just typically do not provide.

So that’s the basics, onto some other aspects I discussed or demo’d.

Managed Metadata framework features

  • Synonyms – a term can have any number of synonyms. So if you want your authors to say, tag items with ‘SharePoint Foundation’ instead of ‘WSS’, you’d define the latter as a synonym of the former. In my television specifications demo, I added some phoney terms ‘Plasma Super’ and ‘Plasma Ultra’ to my preferred term of ‘Plasma’, and showed that in the user experience the synonyms show up (indented) in the type-ahead, but cannot actually be selected – the preferred term of ‘Plasma’ will always end up in the textbox:


    In case you’re curious as to equivalent picker experience, this shows synonyms in a ‘tooltip’ kind of way when you hover over the term.

  • Multi-lingual – for deployments in more than one language, the metadata framework fully supports the SharePoint 2010 MUI (Multi-lingual User Interface), meaning that if the translations have been defined, users can tag items in the language tied to the locale of the current web. The underlying association is the same as the value actually stored in the SharePoint field is partly made up of the ID.
  • Taxonomy management – as shown in the term store screenshot way above, terms can be copied, reused (so a term can exist in multiple locations in the taxonomy tree without being a duplicate i.e. in a ‘polyhierarchy’ fashion – a common requirement for some clients), deprecated (so no new assignments of the term can occur), merged and moved etc. In short, the types of operation you’d expect to need at various times.
    • I’d add a note that these are possible against terms in the taxonomy – the parent node types of term set and group (in ascending order) logically don’t have the same options, so if you make the beginner’s mistake of creating a term set when you really wanted a term with a hierarchy of child terms underneath, you have some retyping to do as you can’t restructure by demoting a term set to a term.  The key is simply understanding the different node types and ideally having more brain cells than I do.
  • Descriptions – minor point, but big deal. Add a description to a term to provide a message to users (in a tooltip) about when and how to use a term. This can be used to disambiguate terms  or otherwise guide the user e.g. “This tag should only be used for Sony, not Sony Bravia models”.
  • Delegation/security – permissions to manage the taxonomy are defined at the group level (top-level node), so if you wish to have different departments managing different areas of the tree, you can do this if you create separate groups.  Related to this, each term set can be allocated a different owner and set of stakeholders – this isn’t security partitioning, but does provide a place to specify who is responsible and who should be informed of changes at this level (in a RACI kind of way).
  • User feedback – if the term set has a contact e-mail address defined, a ‘Send feedback’ mailto link appears in the term picker, thus providing a low-tech but potentially effective way of users suggesting terms or providing feedback on existing terms.
  • Social – a user’s tagging activity will be shown in their activity feed

No doubt I’ve missed some – add a comment if any spring to mind please!

Extending the metadata framework – adding approval

So there are some great features in the framework, but one thing that seems to be ‘missing’ is the idea of being able to approve terms before they make it into the central taxonomy. So perhaps we want to allow regular users to add terms into the taxonomy quite easily, but only if they are approved by a certain user/group - this would give a nice balance between a centrally-controlled taxonomy and a true folksonomy. I put the word ‘missing’ in quotes just now because quite frankly, it’s pretty trivial to build such a thing based on a SharePoint list and that’s just what I did in my talk. I’m sure more thought would need to go into it for production, but probably not much more.

All we really need is to set up a list somewhere, add some columns, and add an event receiver. Adding an item to my list looked like this – I need to specify the term to add and also the parent term to add it under (using a managed keywords column mapped to the base of my taxonomy, meaning terms can be added anywhere):


Then I just need some event receiver code to detect when an item is approved, and then add it to the term store:

   1: public class TaxonomyItemReceiver : SPItemEventReceiver
   2: {
   3:    public override void ItemUpdated(SPItemEventProperties properties)
   4:    {
   5:        if (properties.ListItem["Approval Status"].ToString() == "0")
   6:        {
   7:            string newTerm = properties.ListItem.Title;
   8:            TaxonomyFieldValue parentTerm = properties.ListItem["Parent term"] as TaxonomyFieldValue;
  10:            TaxonomySession session = new TaxonomySession(properties.Web.Site);
  11:            TermStore mainTermStore = session.TermStores[0];
  12:            Term foundTerm = session.GetTerm(new Guid(parentTerm.TermGuid));
  13:            Term addedTerm = foundTerm.CreateTerm(newTerm, session.TermStores[0].DefaultLanguage);
  14:            mainTermStore.CommitAll();
  15:        }
  17:        base.ItemUpdated(properties);
  18:    }
  19: }

My code simply finds the term specified in the ‘Parent term’ column, then adds the new term using Term.CreateTerm() in Microsoft.SharePoint.Taxonomy. Note the use of the TaxonomyFieldValue wrapper class – this is just like the SPFieldLookupValue class you may have used for lookup fields, as terms are stored in the same format with both an ID and label so this class wraps and provides properties.

Once this code has run, the term has been added to the store and is available for use throughout the organization – perhaps the best of both worlds. Amusingly, when we got to the “soooo, did it work?” bit in my talk the demo gods mocked me and the type-ahead on the term picker waited a full 10 seconds before the term came in, leading to a big “ooof……[pause]…..woohoo!” from the audience which capped off a hugely fun talk (for me at least).

Next time: other ECM enhancements such as Enterprise Content Types, Content Organizer, Scalability etc.

Thursday 12 November 2009

Speaking on SP 2010 at UK user group – ECM Enhancements

I’m excited to be giving the London/SE England SharePoint user group’s first SharePoint 2010 presentation in a couple of weeks, woohoo! It’s great to be able to talk/demo publicly on SP 2010 at last. The topic is a fairly general one - ‘Enterprise Content Management Enhancements in SharePoint 2010’, so I’m hoping there’s something in there for devs, admins, PMs, end-users alike. Here’s the abstract:

Session 2 - ECM Enhancements in SharePoint 2010 - Chris O'Brien

Enterprise Content Management is SharePoint’s bedrock. The 2010 release adds significant new capabilities in all ECM pillars (Document Management, Web Content Management and Records Management), and Microsoft have addressed some of the top ECM pain points reported by clients in SharePoint 2007. This session looks at the improvements in user experience, scalability and taxonomy, with demos showing how to leverage new features such as Enterprise Content Types, the Managed Metadata field and Content Organizer to better manage your documents and/or pages. Specific enhancements in WCM and RM will also be discussed. This session is a great way to kick-start your awareness of SharePoint 2010, and questions on other aspects of the new version are welcome in the Q & A wrap-up at the end (or the pub!)

If there’s time I’ll also show a simple example of extending the new metadata capability with code – it’s a good excuse to show the new SharePoint/Visual Studio 2010 integration and deployment process if nothing else!

Also, if this session isn’t enough there’s another thought-provoking session if you’re interested in accessibility:

Session 1 - Developing an Accessible SharePoint System - Martin Hatch

  • What is accessibility?
  • Presenting “SAS”: our unique SharePoint Accessibility Solution presenting the functionality that is delivered by the platform.
  • Challenges and major hurdles
  • Technical approach
    • AAA XHTML rendering
    • Accessible Content Management
    • Web Part Editing
    • List views, toolbars and menus
    • Back-end administration
  • Roadmap
  • Questions

There are currently already 88 people registered, and we have room for many more. The event is being held on Wednesday 25th November at Microsoft’s Victoria office in London:

Arrive 18:00 – 18:30 as the first session will start at 1830 sharp.

Microsoft London (Cardinal Place)
100 Victoria Street
London SW1E 5JL
Tel: 0844 800 2400

To register, simply leave your name at this thread over on the SUGUK website - 

P.S. For user group newbies, all our events are always free.

Tuesday 27 October 2009

SP2010 – developer skills preparation

So either you went to the SharePoint Conference last week, or you didn’t go but have seen the blog articles/tweets about various pieces of new functionality in SharePoint 2010. But ya can’t get your hands on the bits until late November when the public beta is released – so what’s a poor developer supposed to do? Well, lots it turns out. Most SharePoint developers are going to need to learn some new skills if you want to hit the ground running on your first SharePoint 2010 project – this post highlights some “generic” (by which I mean non-SharePoint!) topics and techniques which will be useful. This list is primarily a list I made for myself so your priorities might be different, but it’s really what I’d want my first SP2010 project team-mates (whoever they may be!) to be looking at now.

Note that technically, all of these skills and techniques listed here are optional – if you prefer to do things the 2007 way, generally all those approaches will still work. However, if you’re interested in taking advantage of new platform features (and you should be), this list is for you.


Call me a code monkey, but possibly *the* most exciting developer feature for me in SharePoint 2010 is LINQ. If you haven’t used LINQ before with other data sources (e.g. SQL, XML, objects), it basically provides a consistent, strongly-typed way of dealing with entities in your data. In SharePoint’s case, this means webs, lists and list items, so we have the option of moving away from code like this:

   1: using (SPSite site = new SPSite("")
   2: {
   3:     using (SPWeb financeWeb = site.OpenWeb("/finance"))
   4:     {
   5:         SPList announcementsList = financeWeb.Lists["Announcements"];
   6:         foreach (SPListItem announcementItem in announcementsList.Items)
   7:         {
   8:             DateTime expires = DateTime.MinValue;
   9:             if (DateTime.TryParse(announcement["Expires"].ToString(), out expires))
  10:             {
  11:                 // we finally got the value..
  12:             }
  13:         }
  14:     }
  15: }

To something like this:

   1: using (FinanceWebDataContext financeWeb = new FinanceWebDataContext(""))
   2: {
   3:     EntityList<Announcement> announcements = financeWeb.Announcements;
   4:     foreach (Announcement announcement in announcements)
   5:     {
   6:         DateTime expires = announcement.Expires;
   7:     }
   8: }

In effect, LINQ provides your data access abstraction for free. In addition, other data access scenarios such as inserting/updating list items and querying lists (think SPSiteDataQuery or SPQuery) will also be simplified. If you don’t already, my advice would be to start to understand fundamental aspects of how LINQ works (e.g. deferred execution) now.

Recommended reading:


Another innovation in SharePoint 2010 is the client object model, which allows us to work with SharePoint data on the client (e.g. in JavaScript or Silverlight) in much the same way as we’re used to in .Net code on the server. In the case of JavaScript, jQuery will be useful here (though certainly not mandatory) because of the script which will frequently surround your use of the client OM. Put simply, whatever kind of objects you’re using in JavaScript, if you’re interacting with page elements jQuery is likely to reduce and simplify the code required.

Recommended reading (a book I read in this case, though I’m sure great online guides exist too):


I’d probably been avoided learning PowerShell to date, partly because there always seemed to be another way to do things which wasn’t too bad. However, it’s clear PowerShell will play a greater role in SharePoint than previously courtesy of the many cmdlets included in the product – certainly admins who are script-inclined are likely to be very happy. The draw here is the sheer power – PowerShell is known for being able call into the .Net framework (and your own custom code), but is also capable of dealing with the filesystem, registry etc. This means that PowerShell can be used for a variety of SharePoint related tasks – scripted installations, configuration scripts, site provisioning/updates and more.

Recommended reading:


Whilst it wouldn’t necessarily have been difficult for skilled developers to build a custom web part to render Silverlight movies, it’s an indication of Microsoft’s desire to make it easy to build rich sites that Silverlight web parts are included in the SharePoint 2010 box. Having had to integrate Flash movies from other teams with XML data sources in the past, having this kind of technology on the “Microsoft developer” side of the fence is pretty appealing. If you have the skills you’ll be able to build web parts with killer user interfaces, and assuming Silverlight is available to your audience the whole SharePoint world will be able to use them.

Recommended reading:

FAST search

You’ve probably heard that SharePoint Server 2010 has native integration with FAST search technology. If you’ve seen the capabilities of FAST and/or had conversations with clients about going beyond a ‘standard’ implementation of search, you’ll know how exciting this is. On my last project I worked with some guys from FAST on a proof-of-concept with extremely custom integration between SharePoint/FAST, so it’s great to see the barrier to entry being lowered here. For many, seeing the art of the possible in this space is a real eye-opener – often you don’t realise what you’ve been missing until you see it. On this one, my main recommendation at this stage is solely to introduce yourself to the concepts used by FAST such as the document processing and query pipelines, dictionaries, entity extraction and so on.

Recommended reading:


This one makes my list for two reasons – partly because many of SharePoint’s own web services are now WCF services, but also because if you ever want to build a service application in SharePoint 2010, you’ll need to do WCF work. In general terms, it’s good advice that all new .Net web services should be built using WCF (.svc) rather than as .asmx web services anyway.

Recommended reading:


The technologies underpinning SharePoint are changing with the advent of SP2010. Now is a great time to prepare for this by spending some time with them outside of a SharePoint context, so that when you do encounter them when used together you're ahead of the game.

Wednesday 7 October 2009

My favorite SharePoint 2007 development techniques (with an eye on SP2010)

As we home in on the release of SharePoint 2010, I wanted to write down a couple of thoughts for posterity on SharePoint 2007 development, mainly for my benefit. One of the reasons for doing this is because I’ve been working with the SP2010/VS2010 Tech Previews recently, and whilst I’ve not done a full “compare and contrast” exercise, I can certainly see that in the future I will want to reference back to how I liked to handle something in the SharePoint 2007 world, and more importantly, why. My experience is that transitioning to a new platform brings on a certain amnesia, where for some reason it’s difficult to remember just how the equivalent thing worked in the last version (CMS2002 anyone?) – undoubtedly we need to avoid restricting our thinking with irrelevant practices and constraints, but sometimes the old way is definitely useful as a reference point.

This isn’t a comprehensive list - many of my points below came out of a “developer sunset review” of my last project (special thanks to ex team-mate Jaap Vossers for some of the ideas/discussions we had around this stuff). Some techniques are in there because we used them and they worked great, others because we didn’t and I thought we suffered from not having them. A couple of others are just “things I’ve still not implemented but think would be the best option” – some of which could still be appropriate under SP2010. Many are what I believe to be the established “baseline approach” by many teams implementing SharePoint 2007 – it’s perhaps stretching it to say “best practice” for some, so I won’t. Even so, I’m *sure* so folks will have different views/techniques, these are the ones I wanted to capture – by all means leave a comment or point me to something else if you have better thoughts:

Visual Studio solution/project structure

  • Every VS project which deploys to the 12 folder contains a 12 folder structure 
  • Use the “class library” project template to start with a clean base – edit the .csproj file to add back menu options for ‘Add user control’ 
  • WSPBuilder as WSP-generation tool of choice
  • One main ‘consolidation’ project which is used to generate a single .wsp (where appropriate) – usually this is my [Company].[Client].Project.Web project
  • Use post-build command on each project to XCOPY 12 hive files into the consolidation project, so that avoid having one .wsp for each VS project – fewer .wsps are preferred to reduce versioning/dependency issues
  • User controls – for publishing sites, consider implementing HTML markup in user controls, not page layouts (as discussed in my Top 5 WCM tips post and by Waldek in Leveraging ASP.NET User Controls in SharePoint development)
  • User controls (if not using the above technique) - to get design surface, consider using a separate web project for initial development of user controls, then either using post-build events to copy the .ascx to your main project or using the ‘Add as link’ technique. (As far as I remember this is the only way to have a functioning design surface for user controls?)
    • Remember that many .ascx artifacts cannot exist in a subfolder of CONTROLTEMPLATES (e.g. custom field controls), they must be at the root for SharePoint to load them
  • Use Visual Studio post-build events to re-GAC assemblies and copy 12 folder - so that default action on compile is the “quick deploy” option. This happens so often in dev that I’d rather have any other option require an explicit action on my part, we since rarely want to compile but NOT load new assemblies
  • Consider creating custom VS build types e.g. “DebugNoDeploy”, “ReleaseNoDeploy”
    • Additionally, create a build type to re-provision your site in dev (if this step happens frequently in development of your implementation)
  • Leverage custom VS tool options where appropriate (e.g. “Tools > MyScript.bat”)
  • Re-bin is much faster than re-GAC (for code which can be tested outside of the GAC) – custom tool script or custom build type. This is useful for the highly-iterative part of development.

SharePoint coding tidbits

A selection of random thoughts I want to hold on to, as I think they’ll likely be relevant in the 2010 world:

  • The impact of app pool resets in dev should always be minimized by disabling the Certificate Revocation List check – I notice significant gains when doing this
  • Think carefully before storing data in SPWeb property bags – data stored here is not accessible to a query!
  • Use constants for SharePoint names, in particular field names
    • This is critical for consistency across project teams, and for providing name changes via Visual Studio refactoring
    • On balance, better to have separate DisplayName & InternalName constants
  • Storing configuration values - my Config Store solution has worked well for this
  • Logging – My preferred logging framework is the excellent log4net
    • If you have a requirement to log to a SharePoint list, creation of a custom log4net appender is the way to go. I haven’t done this yet, and bizarrely it seems no-one else has (publicly). Would be fairly trivial to do though
    • Fellow MVP Dave Mann pointed out to me that log4net causes problems when used in SharePoint workflows, as the logger class cannot be serialized when the workflow sleeps. It might be possible to mitigate this by not storing the logger as a private variable, but instantiating every time used (likely log4net returns same object, but performance unlikely to be critical in a workflow anyway)
  • Managing web.config modifications in dev (when you just don’t have time to SPWebConfigModification yet):
    • I don’t have a good story here – the best I’ve come up with is to have a ‘reference’ web.config stored in source control which can be used to sync changes between devs. As a sidenote, perhaps this issue can be avoided if the first coding week on the project lays down the plumbing code for SPWebConfigModification Feature Receivers as a “mandatory setup task”, so that it’s minimal friction when a new web.config change is required – otherwise I think it’s common to skip this and go into “technical debt” until such a time when the team can catch up on such things. And we all know what can happen there..

So whether you start to look at SharePoint 2010 immediately or your day job remains focused on 2007 for another year, I hope this list has been useful. Speaking personally, I know that in the interests of Kaizen (continual improvement), it will be illuminating to look back and see what’s still relevant and what isn’t. Looking forward, like many other MVPs this blog will now focus more on SP2010 going forward – I’ll most likely revisit some of this in view of my experiences with the VS2o1o Tools for SharePoint in the next couple of weeks (after the NDA is lifted). Stay tuned!

Wednesday 30 September 2009

Personal announcements from me

I know not all of my blog readers follow me on Twitter (though if you are a SharePoint Twitteree, I’m @ChrisO_Brien), so I just wanted to post something here to say that last week I became a proud Dad, to twin boys! They came early by emergency caesarean – personally I knew Suzanne shouldn’t have had that last piece of chocolate cake. They initially had low blood sugar levels (not related to the cake, I should add!) so we had to stay in hospital a day or so longer than normal whilst things stabilized, but in general everyone is healthy and happy. It’s funny to wonder if SharePoint will exist and how it will be when they’re older – I’m just not sure I want to bring them into a world with CAML quite frankly.

Can’t remember what was to the left of this photo, but it was clearly very interesting ;-)


They’re pretty tiny. Going out is very amusing so far, on our local high street (Main St for U.S. folks!) we seem to get stopped every few hundred meters. Whilst sat in a cafe yesterday, I overheard someone say “Oh my God look at the size of that baby, he’s holding it in one hand!”.


So, we’re very proud of our tiny Yodas – thanks for all the messages on Twitter, it was great to read through them.

SharePoint Conference 2009

Away from personal stuff, we’re closing in on SPC 09 in Las Vegas. Here you can listen to Microsoft’s own and the best in the field, and gain an unparalleled insight ahead of your first SharePoint 2010 implementation. The odds (!) are currently good that I’ll be there – this  actually involves an elaborate plan to fly Suzanne’s Mum over from the U.S. to London to “cover me” for the week, so if everything falls into place I’ll see you there! I’m really excited to be able to start talking more publicly about all the new platform features – hope you are too.

Ill be at SPC

Remember – you can follow me at @ChrisO_Brien for SharePoint-dev goodness if you’re on Twitter..

Friday 4 September 2009

Minor updates to Content Deployment Wizard and Config Store

I’m a firm believer that if you build community tools which become important to folks, you’ve got to do your best to maintain them – providing source code is great, but it’s far better if you take on the maintenance/enhancements workload! So this is a brief post for users of my SharePoint Content Deployment Wizard and Config Store utilities. Both of these have recently been updated on Codeplex, and depending on circumstances you may want to ensure the latest versions are what you have in your toolbox. I’ll explain the changes I noted in the readme.txt of the respective updates here:

Content Deployment Wizard (2.6 beta)

Release notes:

This release is primarily to fix a regression bug in the 2.5 release (the first item in the list below) and provides:

  • Fix to issue where lists cannot be exported with 'All descendents' option because menu item is missing
  • Separate installers for x86 and x64 to ensure the STSADMCOMMANDS.COB.SPDEPLOYMENTWIZARD.XML file gets properly installed to 12\config directory
Also note the main new features of the 2.5 beta (included in this release):
  • Support for incremental deployments, so only content which has changed since the last export gets deployed (select 'ExportChanges' from the dropdown to use this feature)
  • Support for "no compression" deployments via the 'Disable compression' checkbox - this is useful for large sites where memory use is an issue during Content Deployment
  • Support for allowing the root web of a site collection to be deployed on it's own - extra options in context menus now allow selection of 'site' or 'root web'. Previously it was not possible to deploy only a root web.

Should you update?

A definite yes if you downloaded the 2.5 beta release, due to the bug in that version.  If you have an earlier version e.g. 1.1 or 2.0, then most likely it’s still a good idea to upgrade to the 2.6 beta as it’s fairly well tested and has some functionality you might need some day. The beta label will likely come off in a few weeks, as I know this matters to some folks.

Download the Content Deployment Wizard 2.6 beta

Config Store (

Release notes:

Changes in this release:

  • Changed internal field names back to not contain spaces - caused problem under some circumstances (an issue reported by Waldek when using one of his tools with the Config Store)
  • Changed ApplyWebConfigModifications Feature property back to True, since seems most installations use single site collection mode
  • Tidied schema.xml based on recommendations made in

Should you update?

In this case, if you’re already using the Config Store in your site(s) it’s recommended to only consider upgrading to this version if you know you have the same problem reported by Waldek - because the field names changed, an upgrade will require some work on your part (e.g. a utility to migrate from the old schema). However, for greenfield installations, this version should definitely be used.

Download the Config Store

N.B. These Config Store changes will be ported to the Language Store framework (sister project) over the next few days.

A note on SharePoint 2010

At this stage I’m expecting my SharePoint utilities to continue to be useful in the 2010 world – I’ll be updating them for 2010 soon, and they should be around for some time to come!