Daryl Rasmussen's Not-so-random Thoughts about SharePoint Here in my world

Archive for the ‘SharePoint’ Category

Intro to Declarative Workflows

On March 24, 2016 I presented at the Calgary SharePoint and Office 365 Users Group on the subject of Declarative Workflows in SharePoint.  A copy of the presentation can be found on their site here.

Topics included what a workflow is, why you might want to consider setting some up in your SharePoint environment (from 2007 to 2016, whether on premise or in O365), and some tricks and tips that I have discovered over the course of the last 8 years of building declarative WF solutions for multiple clients.

The deck also includes some links to a few more “complex” tasks such as how to get a value from another list based on a value in this workflow (lookups), create a workflow with elevated permissions by using the SharePoint 2013 Workflow platform, and how to Start a SharePoint 2010 Workflow Within a SharePoint 2013 Workflow.

Tweaking the built-in Survey List

My client wanted to be able to create their own survey that respondants could fill out on-line, and the built-in survey list in SharePoint seemed a likely candidate for doing this (though we did briefly toy with InfoPath as an option as well).

There were a few things about that built-in survey that needed to be tweaked.  Here’s some links that proved useful:

Create List Instance without List Definition

This worked (mostly):


But:  in SP Here at my client’s office, I had to muck about with the Target location (step 6) for the Schema.xml file.   I ended up setting it to the name of the visual studio project, not the name of the list contained there-in.  Also in step 6, file I edited was SharePointProjectItem.spdata, not SharePointItem.data.

Finally, I had to rename the .stp to a .cab not a .zip before I could open the manifest.

In case the link above ever breaks (and also so I have the instructions handy for myself in future), here’s the content of it, replicated for posterity.  Credit is hereby given to the original author, Saurabh Khatri, for a great time saving idea.

Assumtions: I am assuming that we have already created SharePoint Project in Visual Studio 2010.

Preparing Solution Structure

1. In your visual studio instance, Right Click on your sharepoint project and click on Add > New Item.
2. From the Wizard, choose the SharePoint List Instance.
3. a) Give some name your List Instance(Display Name), I will give this ‘MyNewCustomList’
b) Choose a List Template, You can choose any List Template, and choose a List Instance, Let me choose Custom List to keep it simple.
c) Give List a URL, “Lists\MyNewCustomList”
d) Click ok to close the wizard.
4. After step 3, we will be having a SharePointItem  ‘MyNewCustomList’ of type List Instance with a element.xml file, instantiating it from TemplateType=100, that will create a custom list with a Title Column in it. But we wanted to add the fields to this custom schema.(In SharePoint 2010 we can create a List Instance without creating a ListTemplate by specifying CustomSchema property for ListInstance. http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/ms476062.aspx

<ListInstance Title=”MyNewCustomList” OnQuickLaunch=”TRUE” TemplateType=”100″ Url=”Lists/MyNewCustomList” Description=”My List Instance” CustomSchema=”MyNewCustomList\Schema.xml” />

5. Now Lets Add a Schema.xml File to your SharePointItem.
6. Also include this file into your SharePointItem.data file.
This is how we do it. Click on the your ‘MyNewCustomList’ in Solution Explorer in Visual Studio. Right click Open Folder in Windows Explorer. Open SharePointItem.Data in notepad

<ProjectItemFile Source=”Schema.xml” Target=”MyNewCustomList\” Type=”ElementFile” />

We are done with Solution Preparation steps.

We will now create a Custom List in SharePoint with ”MyNewCustomList”. Go to List Settings and Add the columns, as per the requirement. After doing with all changes whether it is a addition of List Column, Creating a View, addition of some content Type etc.

1. Save this list as Template. Go to Template Gallery, and Download your list template. This file will be a .stp file.\
2. Change the File Extenstion to .zip.
3. Open the zip file, it will contain a manifest.xml
4. Open Manifest.xml file in some nice editor like notepad++.
5. Carefully, Locate node “<List>” in this xml. Copy this entire section of <List>…</List> and now paste it in your schema.xml file we created in above steps.

Few Final Modifications and we are done in Schema.xml file.

1. Remove the name attribute containing List GUID of your previous List.

<List Name=”SomeGUid” …> remove this Name attribute, we don’t need this in our schema

2.Replace the following  nodes <View>

<View BaseViewID=”1″ Type=”HTML” Level=”1″ ContentTypeID=”0x” WebPartZoneID=”Main” OrderedView=”TRUE” DisplayName=”All Links” DefaultView=”TRUE” MobileView=”TRUE” MobileDefaultView=”TRUE” SetupPath=”pages\viewpage.aspx” ImageUrl=”/_layouts/images/links.png” Url=”AllItems.aspx”>

Also replace the Forms Node with the below one.


<Form Type=”DisplayForm” Url=”DispForm.aspx” SetupPath=”pages\form.aspx” WebPartZoneID=”Main” />
<Form Type=”EditForm” Url=”EditForm.aspx” SetupPath=”pages\form.aspx” WebPartZoneID=”Main” />
<Form Type=”NewForm” Url=”NewForm.aspx” SetupPath=”pages\form.aspx” WebPartZoneID=”Main” />


Great we are done, Now we can include this ListInstance in a feature and create a package. Activating that feature will create a ListInstance.

The first client I used this technique at was on SharePoint 2010.  It worked as well for me in SharePoint 2013 at the next client as well.

Coding External Content Types

I was trying to follow the example given here:


However, it didn’t work for me. This link looked slightly more promising:


But I still was having trouble figuring out in SP Here whether the “External System” shown in Central Admin on the Manage BDC Services page was the LOB Name, or the LOB instance name, or the Model Name, and therefore, confused about what to put in the properties in our specific instance in order to get the Holiday list working from a client’s Dynamics (DAX) based database on the above examples.

To make matters worse, both of the above links, and the post here


say that the format for the EntityNamespace property is supposed to have “dot” notation.

Trial and error and a bit of dogged persistence, and I finally figured it out on my own. The final post above needs 1 correction to make it work (I replied to the author’s post on-line in 2012 when I encountered the issue, but as of Feb 2015, my comments are still not visible there). It took me a few hours to figure this out, but the fact that the documentation here does not mention any prefix or dot-notation should have been my first clue. Basically, you need to change

listDataSource.SetProperty(SPListDataSource.BDCProperties.EntityNamespace, “YourBdc.EntityNamespace”);


listDataSource.SetProperty(SPListDataSource.BDCProperties.EntityNamespace, “EntityNamespace”);

In other words do not prefix the EntityNamespace with “YourBdc.”, or you will get an error that says: Entity (external Content Type) cannot be found with Namespace= “YourBdc.EntityNamespace” , Name = “YourBdcEntity” The error is thrown on the call to list.Add.

Why the “Next” Button Doesn’t Work for Me in SharePoint 2010 Surveys

Recently I was helping a client put together a survey in SharePoint 2010, showing them all the various types of questions, and things you can do with them.  They were having a hard time visualizing it, so I ended up building their survey for them so they could see the overall effects in their desired question set.  About 65 questions in all, and to my dismay the “Next” button (which shows up at the top and bottom of the form if you have either a Page Separator field or if you implement branching logic in your questions) wasn’t working.

The first “page” of the survey would load, but when the “Next” button was clicked, that page would just re-load.  It would NOT move on to the next “page” (after the Page Separator or branch).  I searched everywhere on the internet for a possible reason.  Nada.  Nothing.  I can’t believe I’m the only person who ever encountered this.  And I certainly can’t show it to the client in this state.  WTF?

I thought maybe the client had re-ordered the questions in the branching logic, resulting in some kind of circular reference.  I painstakingly went through every question (hint – click the “Change the order of the questions” link from the Survey Settings page to see a summary of what is branching where).  No luck.  Everything seemed fine.

I then thought perhaps the use of special characters like quotes and apostrophes in the question title were mucking things up.  So I removed all of them (Changing questions like “Please enter any comments regarding the president’s address” to something like “Please enter any comments regarding the presidential address”).  No joy.  Still it would not leave page 1.

Then I thought maybe my survey list was corrupt.  Hey, lets face it.  Sometimes that happens with SharePoint.

So I rebuilt it (all 65 questions of it!) from scratch, stopping after every page separator question was added, and after every branch section was set up to test the new survey.  63 questions in, and everything is looking good.

The answer came when I added my 64th question (which was a plain text field for people to enter their phone number if they wanted to be contacted regarding their submission).  The fly in the ointment was that it was using the column validation capabilities of SharePoint to ensure the phone number was entered in a standard format.

The field was called “Optional – Phone” and had the following Column Validation formula:

=AND(LEN([Optional – Phone])=14,IF(ISERROR(FIND(“(“,[Optional – Phone],1)),FALSE,(FIND(“(“,[Optional – Phone])=1)),IF(ISERROR(FIND(“)”,[Optional – Phone],5)),FALSE,(FIND(“)”,[Optional – Phone],5)=5)),IF(ISERROR(FIND(” “,[Optional – Phone],6)),FALSE,(FIND(” “,[Optional – Phone],6)=6)),IF(ISERROR(FIND(“-“,[Optional – Phone],10)),FALSE,(FIND(“-“,[Optional – Phone],10)=10)),IF(ISERROR(1*CONCATENATE(MID([Optional – Phone],2,3),MID([Optional – Phone],7,3),MID([Optional – Phone],11,4))),FALSE,AND(1*CONCATENATE(MID([Optional – Phone],2,3),MID([Optional – Phone],7,3),MID([Optional – Phone],11,4))>1000000000,1*MID([Optional – Phone],2,3)<>911,1*MID([Optional – Phone],7,3)<>911,1*MID([Optional – Phone],7,3)<>555)))

It also had the following User Message:

Please enter the phone number in the format (###) ###-####

Do you see the problem?  I didn’t at first, but here’s what I now believe:

When the user is finished answering the questions on Page 1 and clicks next, the above validation rule fires, and fails.  The “Optional – Phone” field is on a different page that the user has not gotten to yet, so of course they haven’t filled the “Optional – Phone” field in yet.  And even though the field is not mandatory, the first part of the validation rule says that the length must be 14 characters.

The length at this point is still zero.  The User Message is probably being displayed under the “Optional – Phone” field, but since the field isn’t visible on the current page, the user gets no feedback and the “Next” button just reloads the current page.

Of course this is just a theory, because I can’t find anything in Microsoft’s documentation to say that this is what’s happening, however when I change the Column Validation formula to allow either zero or 14-character length strings, the problem goes away, so it seems a valid assumption.

For those who are interested, here’s the corrected formula:

=OR(LEN([Optional – Phone])=0, AND(LEN([Optional – Phone])=14,IF(ISERROR(FIND(“(“,[Optional – Phone],1)),FALSE,(FIND(“(“,[Optional – Phone])=1)),IF(ISERROR(FIND(“)”,[Optional – Phone],5)),FALSE,(FIND(“)”,[Optional – Phone],5)=5)),IF(ISERROR(FIND(” “,[Optional – Phone],6)),FALSE,(FIND(” “,[Optional – Phone],6)=6)),IF(ISERROR(FIND(“-“,[Optional – Phone],10)),FALSE,(FIND(“-“,[Optional – Phone],10)=10)),IF(ISERROR(1*CONCATENATE(MID([Optional – Phone],2,3),MID([Optional – Phone],7,3),MID([Optional – Phone],11,4))),FALSE,AND(1*CONCATENATE(MID([Optional – Phone],2,3),MID([Optional – Phone],7,3),MID([Optional – Phone],11,4))>1000000000,1*MID([Optional – Phone],2,3)<>911,1*MID([Optional – Phone],7,3)<>911,1*MID([Optional – Phone],7,3)<>555))))

After many days of cursing and frustration, the Survey is working again.

The moral of this story is  “Be careful with Column Validation in Survey Lists”.

That’s SP Here.  I would bet a case of doughnuts that the same is true in MOSS 2007, SP 2013, and O365.

Colour your Webpart in SP 2010 with the Theming Engine

Recently I was asked to take over a webpart under development from another programmer.  The goal was to provide a Q&A list that could be displayed on a page, “Accordian” style, so that when the end user clicks on a question, the answer appears below it, similar to how the jQuery UI “Accordian” widget behaves (see http://jqueryui.com/accordion/).

As the client consisted of multiple companies under a single corporate umbrella, and each company had its own SP site with a different look and feel, they wanted the Questions displayed in a colour that complemented the current site’s colour scheme.

Disclaimer: I am Canadian. We spell the word “colour” with a “U” in it. As I’m writing this blog mostly for my own future reference, anyone not familiar with this convention should substitute the word “color” whenever they see the word “colour” throughout this post.  I will use “color” only when it is a the key word (for example, in cascading stylesheets), but not in everyday language.  For those who care, “behaviour”, “harbour” and “neighbour” are also spelled with a “U” in Canada (and I believe the UK).

Ok, so the webpart I was given to work on (remember, it was already half-written by someone else) constructs a set of HTML Div tags using a string builder in the “CreateChildControls” event, and then appends the resulting string to the webpart’s output stream, something like this:

StringBuilder sb = new StringBuilder();
Literal litContent = new Literal;
sb.Append(“<div class=’ms-rtestate-field’ style=’display: inline;’>”); 
sb.Append(“<div class=’faq-content accordion’>”);
sb.Append(“<div class=’faq-holder’>”);
// get list content and create data tags here via a call to loadAccordianList()
sb.Append( “</div>” );
litContent.Text = sb.ToString();

The loadAccordianList function retrieves data from a SharePoint list.  Each list item is converted to an html description list set of tags:  the Header (where the question will be posted) is in the “dt” tag, and the Content (containing the answer to the question), is in the “dd” tag.  Each pair is wrapped in the requisit “dl” tag.  The “dt” tag has a class of “acc-item” assigned at this point as well.

A similified version of the loadAccordianList() function follows.  ProvisioningList is a string property of the webpart indicating the name of the list in SharePoint to get the data from.  Of course, in the real procedure, error checking and handling exists for such things as list not found, list empty, and so on.  It has been omitted here to keep the code simple, and because what we are mostly interested in for this discussion is the html tags being generated, not the contents that is being placed within them and how.  The actual code for retrieving the field values for the header and content of each item has similarly been ommitted from the sample below and replaced with comments indicating what is being retrieved and when.

private string loadAccordionList()
  StringBuilder sb = new StringBuilder();
  SPWeb web = SPContext.Current.Web;
  SPList list = web.Lists.TryGetList(ProvisioningList);
  SPQuery qry = new SPQuery();
  qry.Query = @”<OrderBy><FieldRef Name=’SortOrder’ Ascending=’TRUE’/></OrderBy>”;
  SPListItemCollection nItems = list.GetItems(qry);
  foreach (SPListItem item in nItems)
      sb.Append(“<dt class=’acc-item’>”);
      // Append Header (question text) here
      sb.Append(“<dd class=’scriptHideOnLoad’>”);
      // Append Content (answer text) here
  return sb.ToString();

Notice the class that is being applied to each “dt” tag.  The project when I took it over also included a custom CSS file, being deployed to the SharePoint Layouts folder.  It had a lot of stuff in it, but the important piece was the following:

.faq-content dt.acc-item { color: #ff0000; }

So the header items in the list were being shown in red.  The task at hand was to change this so that the colour was dynamically selected based on the current site’s colour scheme.  Since each site that the wepart might be deployed in could have its own Master Page, and each Master Page could reference different CSS, I had no easy way of knowing what colours might be in effect through any kind of custom branding.

However, SharePoint 2010 provides a Theming Engine. And regardless of what additional styles may or may not be being applied by the site’s Master Page, the colours from site’s current “Theme” are always available {even when the current theme is the out of the box “Default (no theme)”}, and even if those colours are being over-ridden in the Master Page for certain page elements such as the ribbon, top nav bar, etc.

To see what Theme colours are currently in effect on your site, go to your site’s “Site Settings” page, and from there, click “Site Theme”. You should see somthing similar to this:


Notice that every site has an associated set of colours (named “Text/Background – Dark 1”, “Text/Background – Light 1”, “Text/Background – Dark 2”, and so on).

It is possible in SharePoint 2010 to reference these “named” colours in your CSS. The process of buiding your CSS is fairly well documented on the Microsoft SharePoint Designer Team Blog in their Working with the SharePoint Theming Engine post.

Based on that, the first order of business is to modify the project’s existing CSS file, as follows:

.faq-content dt.acc-item { /* [ReplaceColor(themeColor:”Dark2″)] */color: #ff0000; }

I chose the “Dark2” colour from the choices listed in the above mentioned post, but could have chosen whichever of the “named” colours available I wanted to use.  As a side note, the information in the above mentioned post on re-coloring images worked as well and was employed in this webpart, but to keep this post straight forward, I’ll omit precisely how that was done.  Suffice it to say the code in the Webpart CreateChildControls that added an image to the webpart for a button to close (collapse) a section once it had been expanded, and the CSS had a line later on that looked like this to recolour that image dynamically using the Theming engine:

.faq-content .btn-close { /* [RecolorImage(themeColor:”Dark2-Medium”,method:”Tinting”)] */ background: url(/_layouts/Images/BaseAccordionWebPart/faq-arrow.gif); }

The next order of business is to move the CSS file.  The original developer was deploying this file to the SharePoint layouts folder, and while this is a perfectly acceptable approach under normal circumstances, it will not work if you want the theming enging to do the substitution and achieve a dynamicly assigned colour.  It needs to be in the “Style Library” in a “Themable” folder as described in the Microsoft post mentioned earlier.  They talk about how to put the file there using SharePoint Designer, or via the web front end.  How to do that in Visual Studio is covered well in this post in the SharePoint Tools blog.

In my case, the resulting Elements.xml file looks like this:

<?xml version=1.0encoding=utf-8?>
<Elements xmlns=http://schemas.microsoft.com/sharepoint/>
  <Module Name=StylesUrl=Style Library>
  <File Path=Styles\expandable_collapsible.css”  Url=Themable/expandable_collapsible.cssType=GhostableInLibrary />

Third, as noted in the Working with the SharePoint Theming Engine post, the CSS must be properly registered.  The post mentions how to do this through SharePoint Designer, but again, not how to do it in Visual Studio.  For me, the project I took over was already registering its CSS correctly, so when I moved the file from the SharePoint “Layouts” folder to the “Style Library\Themable” folder, I just needed to update the location.  For future reference, the following call to register the CSS was invoked from the webpart’s “OnInit” event (don’t forget to do this after you invoke “base.OnInit(e)”).

CssRegistration cssRegistration = new Microsoft.SharePoint.WebControls.CssRegistration();
cssRegistration.Name = “/Style Library/Themable/expandable_collapsible.css”;
cssRegistration.After =“corev4.css”;

Lastly, its time to test your webpart.  If you are like me, you will hit “F5” in visual studio to build and deploy your code to the development server, and like me, scratch your head why the text in the header is still red.  The trick here is to know that the SharePoint Theming engine only does the substituion of the selected theme colour in the CSS when the current theme is applied.  Of course, when you deploy your webpart, the theme is already applied, and so nothing happens.

To get the colours to show up, you have to re-apply the current theme.  From the front end where your webpart is deployed, go to “Site Settings” and then “Site Theme”.

On that page, click (any) one of the “Select a color…” links. Cancel the dialog that appears (so you aren’t actually changing anything) and then click Apply. The current theme will be (re-)applied, including calculating the dynamic colour for the CSS in the Style Library/Themable folder that was installed as part of the .wsp.

Also, when you are finished developing your webpart, and you are ready to deploy it to your production environment via the .wsp file, you will need to re-apply the current theme in your production environment!  You only have to do this once (when the feature containing the webpart is activated).  I do this manually…a way to do it programmatically in the feature_activated event should in theory be possible, but the client in question wasn’t interested in that and I didn’t implement it.

The Meaning of (SP) Life…

Hi, my name is Daryl Rasmussen, and I am a SharePoint Developer.

Daryl Rasmussen

Hi! This is me.

I love working with Sharepoint, and I love being a programmer, so I guess it was inevitable that I became a SharePoint Developer.  Its what I do, and now, why I’m here on WordPress.

I would like to use this forum to consolidate some of the things I’ve learned along my journey from a pure .net ASPX webforms developer to (hopefully becoming) a SharePoint guru.  I started working with SharePoint 2003 in early 2004, but only on a project or two.  I switched to SharePoint 2007 in 2007, but continued to also work in pure .NET and SQL Server on an off for the next few years.  By 2010 I had moved into management, but continued to dabble in SharePoint, including writing some pretty cool webparts in SharePoint 2010 for my then current employer.

In 2011 I decided I wanted to go back to coding full time, and decided that SharePoint was the way of the future.  I made the transition and have worked exclusively in SharePoint 2010 and 2013 ever since.

Thanks for checking out my blog.  Mostly the posts are more for my own benefit (remembering what I did and why), but if you choose to read them I hope you find value. I know I’ve sometimes gleaned insight from reading other people’s blogs, so maybe you can find value in what I write.

If you want to know more about my employment history, please see my profile at http://www.linkedin.com/in/drasmu.




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