Wednesday 19 June 2019

Office 365 dev tips – working effectively with the Microsoft Graph and other APIs

I’ve been speaking at various conferences recently about key skills for extending Office 365 – things that an effective architect or developer needs to have in the toolbox these days. Clearly the ability to work with the Microsoft Graph needs to be high on this list, given that it is after all, “the API for Office 365”. It’s great to have one (mainly!) consistent way to work with Teams, SharePoint, mail, calendar, Planner, OneDrive files and many other functions too, but between the various authentication options and coding styles, there’s quite a bit to know.

One thing I find is that developers are perhaps not effective enough with the Graph yet – partly because some things have changed recently, and partly because some devs are only now coming to the Graph from use of say, the SharePoint REST/CSOM APIs and other service-specific APIs.

So my key messages here are:

  • The Postman collections provided by Microsoft can help answer your questions about the Graph and integrate calls into your code
  • The SDKs help more than you’d expect in your code – having types in TypeScript being one example
Why are these things important?

Tip 1 - Using Postman collections instead of Graph Explorer

Graph Explorer (GE) is great for developers to start seeing some calls that can be made to the Graph and what kind of data comes back. If you’re new to the Graph, check it out at However, for intermediate and advanced developers, I recommend using Postman over Graph Explorer. Here’s why:

Downsides of Graph Explorer
One drawback of GE is that even though you can sign-in with your account and therefore work with your own Office 365 tenant, this is still not the same thing that your code will be doing. An Azure AD app registration is always needed for code to call the Graph, and GE does NOT use your app registration – meaning different permissions are used. So, it’s common to run into issues when you move from Graph Explorer to your code, usually related to not having correct permission scopes allowed on the app registration. Using Postman allows you to use your app reg, so it’s exactly the same as your code.

Something that makes Postman very powerful with the Graph is that Microsoft have released Postman collections for all the current Graph methods – including those in beta. You can import these into Postman and you’ll then see an item for every method, broken into two folders for app-only calls and on-behalf-of-user calls:

This is great for discoverability! Now, every time I wonder if the Graph allows me to get something, instead of clicking through pages of documentation I just come here and start expanding folders:
I get to see all of the Graph workloads and what data can be retrieved very quickly indeed. The process of getting started with Postman and the Graph collections is a little bit involved - it's outlined on the Github repo where you can obtain Microsoft's Postman Graph collections, but I think it can be helpful to watch someone go through the process, so I made a video with some captions:

The process starts by obtaining the details of an AAD app registration which I'll use, so you should create one (with the appropriate permission scopes defined) if you don't have one already. Overall, the process is:
  • Import the collections
  • Configure various Postman variables
  • Obtain access tokens for app-only and "on behalf of user" calls, and store in other Postman variables
  • Enjoy your new quick access to the Graph! You can start executing the calls and seeing data coming back at this point

It's fairly straightforward to integrate the call into your code, and you won't have any security/permission issues because you've already tested the same thing your code will do.

UPDATE - actually, I realise now that Jeremy also has a video. See for that one.

So that's great - we can now see all the URL endpoints in the Graph, what data they expect and what data they return. But how do we ensure we're working effectively with the Graph once we're in code?

Tip 2 - ensure you're using TypeScript types

For many of us, the place that we'll be coding against the Graph will be SPFx or other TypeScript code - perhaps even an Azure Function based on node.js. The key thing to avoid here is use of “any” in TypeScript – we can do better than that, whether it’s another 3rd party API or the Graph itself. It’s common for APIs to return fairly complex JSON structures, and we can avoid lots of coding errors by ensuring we get type-checking through the use of types (interfaces or classes) representing the data. Additionally, having auto-complete against these data structures makes the coding process much faster and more accurate.

Using the Graph in TypeScript

When using the Graph in SPFx, the first thing to note is that your project will not have the Graph types added automatically (e.g. when the Yeoman generator creates the files) – you have to install a separate npm package. To do this, run one of the following:
  • npm install @microsoft/microsoft-graph-types --save-dev
  • npm install @microsoft/microsoft-graph-types-beta --save-dev
Yes, Microsoft kindly provide types even if you’re working the beta Graph endpoints. For most production scenarios, you’ll be using the first option (and staying to release endpoints) though. Once you have the types installed, you can import them to your SPFx classes with:

import * as MicrosoftGraph from '@microsoft/microsoft-graph-types';

It’s a good idea to only import specific entities that you’re actually using rather than *, but that needs some digging (to find the module name). You’ll be rewarded with a smaller bundle size however. Either way, once you’ve got the types imported you can start using them in your code – this changes things from having no zero support at all: having full auto-complete as you type:
Hooray! Things are now much easier.

Wherever possible, don't settle for coding without this kind of support! But what if you're working with an API that isn't the Graph?

Using 3rd party APIs in TypeScript

The first thing to do in this case is establish if the vendor supplies TypeScript types (usually in the form of a npm package or similar). If so, just install that and you should get the support. If not, I like to use Postman to obtain the JSON returned and then use a Visual Studio Code extension such as QuickType to auto-generate types for me, based on that JSON. So you’d make the call to the API in Postman, and then copy the returned JSON to your clipboard.

In the example below, I'm using the Here Maps API. I set up the call in Postman by pasting in the URL endpoint to use, and setting up any authentication. I hit the send button, and then copy the returned JSON (in the lower pane) to my clipboard):
In Visual Studio code, I create a file to hold the interface types from the API, and then find the QuickType "paste JSON as code" option in my command palette:
I supply the name of the top-level type:
..and then QuickType generates the type structure which maps to the JSON. I might want to rename some of the types, but essentially I get interfaces for everything in the structure:

So that's great - this saves me a lot of cross-referencing and typing, and I can now use these interfaces in my calling code and get type-checking and auto-complete.


Whether it's the Graph or a 3rd party API, you should always code against defined TypeScript interfaces where possible. For the Graph, you should use Microsoft's supplied types by installing their 'microsoft-graph-types' npm package. For a 3rd party API, if no types are supplied then you can generate your own easily with help from something like QuickType.

Whatever you're doing, Postman is a hugely useful tool. In terms of the Graph, it's use gets you around the problem of Graph Explorer not executing with the same permissions as your code, and so is as valuable there as it is with 3rd party APIs.

Happy coding!

Wednesday 12 June 2019

Quick tip - filter SharePoint items by date in Flow

A quick post on working with dates in Microsoft Flow, because I know I'll need this again and I didn't immediately find something on this when I looked.

When using Flow actions such as "SharePoint Get Items", it's frequently the case that you want to filter items by a date/time field. Often you want to grab items older (or newer) than a certain timestamp - perhaps to delete/archive/take other action on them.

The easiest way is to use the getPastTime function, ensuring you format it in the right way. A clause such as the following can be used in the "Filter Query" property of "Get items":

formatDateTime(getPastTime(1, 'Month'), 'yyyy-MM-dd')

Note that this format is designed to work with a date/time field in SharePoint which is configured for "date only" format:

For dates which include the time, you'll probably need to use formatDateTime with an alternative format (sorry, I didn't test that).

Notes on using getPastTime and similar functions

The signature of the "getPastTime" method is:

getPastTime(<interval>, <timeunit>, <format>?)

The list of possible values for "timeUnit" include:

"Second", "Minute", "Hour", "Day", "Week", "Month", "Year"

As you might expect, there's also a corresponding function called getFutureTime(). To use one of them in the "Get items" action, provide a filter query in OData format which uses the internal name of your date field - something like:

MyDateFieldInternalName lt formatDateTime(getPastTime(1, 'Month'), 'yyyy-MM-dd')

That would filter items to only those older than one month for example. In the Flow designer, this should look like this:

Hope that's useful. May all your Flows execute on time and without error!