Thursday, June 21, 2012

SharePoint: How to build SharePoint application wrong. SharePoint Karma

Whenever I refer to SharePoint development strategies, I always end up with SharePoint deployment strategies.

I am aware that in SharePoint world there are people who prefer to do customization via SPD and without a traditional development cycle.

This post for others... who wants to preserve a development cycle and who wants to have a fully automated and predictable deployment:
- via wsp files (or sandbox solution)
- and specific actions (like a feature activation) which is shipped as  PowerShell\stsadm commands. (Best Practices: Sharepoint Application Development Life Cycle)

How do you choose between content customization and code-based approach?
If you need to deploy anything on the server, that's a sign that's your approach is code-based customization.

Here is a quick SharePoint karma guide for code-driven development for SharePoint. Each wrong action will lead to a specific strong deployment reaction.
All described actions I saw done by developers. I hope this quick guide helps you to avoid pain of SharePoint deployment.

Action: Create a site locally manually. And then develop some other features.
Reaction: Deployment will be hard to other environments. You will need to re-create a site manually and hope that you haven't skip any steps.
Recommended action: create a custom site definition(onet file).It was a recommended approach since 2007. But I heard it's not what will be recommended in SharePoint 15. In SharePoint 2010 you have 2 options:
 - a web template that is shipped via sandbox solution and placed in the content db;
 - a site definition that is shipped via wsp file and deployed on the server.
Custom web templates (the preferred approach) and custom site definitions (which in some scenarios you must do)

Action: Create stp to deploy first version of the site. You know that in the future you need to change the site structure.
Reaction: Once you have created a site from a template, there is no way you can change structure via stp
Recommended action: Use site definition and feature stapling approach for further releases. In SP2010 you can make the changes for some features that is shipped via site definition using Feature Upgrade

Action: Build a wsp, place in it only eventreceivers for specific list with expectation that the list will have appropriate structure (someone should change the structure of list and then register the eventreceiver)
Reaction: As you can guess by action, you will not have stable behavior on the environment,since half of the deployment should be performed manually. I can only hope that you keep your deployment documentation up to date.
Recommended action: If you need to develop an eventreciever for the list that should have specific fields or content type, you should describe the list in the list template feature. Package the list template, list template instance and eventreciever register features as a bundle in wsp file.

Action: Every time is time for deployment - create a new site as a blank site - and create all object manually, copy files from original site to the destination and than replace hard-coded id in the file - manually
Reaction: It's messy and prone to errors.  There is no way to make such site automatic deployable
Recommended action: consider best practices of SharePoint development, use packages to deploy and feature upgrade for further releases. In case you need make some data structure changes - use SharePoint object model, write the code and package as a ReleaseFeature ( Feature stapling). This approach will allow you to keep track of all your structure changes on the existing site, plus you still can use the site definition to create a new site, and after the creation the feature stapling will do change work as it did for the existing one.

Action:Write a code to send an email\interact with end-users without environment variables
Reaction: If you miss configuration settings for your interactive logic, you miss control over it. You may end up with end-user notification sent while you are testing the application.
Recommended action: Choose approach that suits your needs best:
- property bag on the specific object (site, list, item ,etc ) (One of the way how to handle the property bag - SharePoint Property Bag Settings 2010)
- hidden list with environment variables.

Action: Manually copy to the environment all custom master pages and customized OTB SPD web parts
Reaction: It's messy and prone to errors.  There is no way to make such site automatic deployable
Recommended action: Package master pages in a feature to deliver to the server.
Regarding OTB SPD web part -there is no easy way, since the web part holds the id of the specific object from where the data is pulled. So this object will not be valid on other environment ( but in case you have developed on the copy of the prod content db, you are fine)
We have decided to develop a custom feature receiver to deploy such web parts - File provisioning: a hard-coded list id replacement

Action: Deploy report files with data source - a list asmx with hard coded List ID
Reaction: If you developed the data source (a list) that doesn't have the same id as in prod, you will have to manually change the data source after deployment.
Recommended action: To make it transportable - you can think of msi installer with parameters to swap hard coded value to a new one.

Action: Create a site groups manually and have the logic that gets these groups by IDs
Reaction: It’s prone to errors. If someone delete the group and then create a new one with the same name. You hardcoded value in the logic will break.
Recommended approach: Try the approach:
- create custom code feature which creates the groups. In the logic verifies if the custom groups exist and the permissions for them are right. If the groups don't exist, re-created them in the code.

Action: Create your own field as a counter that looks at id and has some increment value in the config file. Every time user deletes the records, you have to change the increment value in the config file.
Reaction: What???
Recommendation: I saw such application that works several years in the Prod with regular request from developer to change the increment. Last time I have checked the increment was gravitating to number 42)).
So never do such thing. This is approach is plain wrong. If you need,for some reasons, to keep ids for list items in strict order and you don't want to skip a number even though the user deletes the item and your next SharePoint id will not be subsequent to previous one, consider:
- to create a calculated field;
- to implement event receiver on the updated\created to keep the counter up to date.

And overall bad actions:

Action: Developer's objection: “It’s working on my local machine, so it is supposed to work everywhere”
Reaction: Depends on how you thought about implementation plan (if any), you may end up with the code that will work nowhere except your local machine.
Recommendation: Before you start coding for SharePoint, think through how you see your changes will be deployed.

Action: Administrator's easy fix: “If on the feature on the Prod gives you a headache - uninstall  the feature”
Reaction: Some sites will may lose the functionality that they needed from uninstalled feature.
Recommendation: Analyze what uses this feature 

Action: Project manager accusation\question: "This is sign of careless and sloppy work. How can we fix it?"  
Reaction: A team will not collaborate to fix the issue since they are considered careless and lazy
Recommendation: Respect the work of others, be aware the world is not perfect, we are here to make it work at some extend. Ask you question in the polite way to get a faster and constructive answer.

Good deeds to you and light consequences.