Introduction To SharePoint Framework Development

SharePoint Framework is a new development model for SharePoint which takes the SharePoint experience to the next level with the help of client-side APIs.

Introduction

For years, Microsoft kept on enabling different development models, like Farm based solutions, Sandboxed solutions, SharePoint Add-In to access the SharePoint objects with the help of different APIs. And also, we have another model in SharePoint by manually injecting a JavaScript file (which is created based on JSOM, REST API) to the SharePoint page to obtain the appropriate result.

In addition to the above mentioned development models, recently, Microsoft added another model called “SharePoint Framework model” to build great & better applications. This model is released as open source and is still in its initial stage even for developers.

“The SharePoint Framework is a Page and Part model that enables client-side development for building SharePoint experiences. It facilitates easy integration with the SharePoint data and provides support for open source tooling development.” - Microsoft

SharePoint Framework Highlights

Light Weight Components

For developing the applications based on the old development models, we should require a Microsoft Visual Studio as a source code editor for developing & packaging the applications. But for SharePoint Framework development, we require some of the light weight tools, like Node JS, Gulp, Typescript, Visual Studio, Yeoman Generator instead of having heavy weight software.

The below table provides a summary of Microsoft equivalent to the light-weight components.

Light Weight Component Microsoft Equivalent
Node.js IIS Express and /or build automation
Node.js .Net Framework
npm Nuget
Yeoman VS Project -> New -> Template
Gulp.js MS Build
Typescript C#

Node.JS

It is an open source and cross platform JavaScript based runtime environment, built on top of Chrome’s V8 JavaScript engine for developing JavaScript based applications.

SharePoint Framework uses this Node.js runtime environment to build & run the applications. We can call it as equivalent to .NET.

Ref: https://nodejs.org

NPMJS Packages

npmjs is the package manager for JavaScript, which contains the larger number of open source packages and these are assembled in the solution to build the application.

SharePoint Framework manages the dependencies required for the application by using npmjs packages. This is equivalent to the NuGet package in Microsoft world.

Ref: https://www.npmjs.com/

Gulp

Gulp is an open source toolkit used to automate the painful and time-consuming tasks in a development workflow. For ex., minification and copying of all JavaScript files.

SharePoint Framework model uses the Gulp toolkit to automate the tasks of building and running the solution.
Ref: http://gulpjs.com/

Typescript

Typescript is an open source editor developed by Microsoft. It is a typed superset of JavaScript language and compiles in to plain JavaScript. It also eases the C# developers to develop JavaScript based applications.

SharePoint Framework uses the Typescript language to build the applications and this will be compiled in to clean, simple JavaScript code to run on any browser.

Ref: https://www.typescriptlang.org/

Visual Studio Code

Visual Studio Code is lightweight source code editor tool which runs on any platform. It comes with built-in support for JavaScript, Typescript and Node.js and has rich ecosystem of extinctions for other languages and runtime.

SharePoint Framework uses the features of visual studio code to edit and manage the source code for building the application.

https://code.visualstudio.com

Yeoman Generator

Yeoman Generator is the web’s scaffolding tool for modern web apps. This will generate the complete solution structure for developing the application.

SharePoint Framework uses the “@microsoft/sharepoint” yeoman generator to create a solution structure for the application.

Ref: http://yeoman.io/

GitHub

GitHub is the web based Git repository hosting service. It offers all of the distributed revision controls and source code management functionality of Git.

SharePoint Framework is an open source and all of its code is hosted on GitHub for public. So, we can use the GitHub for contributing more to the framework. We can also enable versioning to our newly create application as well.

Ref: https://github.com/

JavaScript Frameworks

In the modern web world, there is  a number of JavaScript frameworks like React, Angular JS, Knockout JS, etc… available for building the web based application to enable rich user experience.

SharePoint Framework also enables us to use any type of JavaScript frameworks in the solution to enrich the user experience.

SharePoint JSOM or REST API

JSOM or REST API enable the client side development to access & manages the SharePoint sites. SharePoint Framework is totally a client side development model and it uses any of the JavaScript based SharePoint APIs to develop the application.

Develop across Platforms

Developing the SharePoint framework applications is possible across different OS platforms, by installing the light weight tools in any platform and that opens the way for developers to build applications on any platforms.

Automated Process

SharePoint framework uses the generator from Yeoman to create the skeleton for the SharePoint and that same generator installs all required dependency packages to the development folder and configures the automated tasks. Gulp handles the tasks and automated the compile, build, run and packaging the solution.

Why SharePoint Framework?

For developing the client based SharePoint applications, we have used two kind of approaches,

  • SharePoint Add-Ins
  • Injecting JavaScript to Content Editor or Script Editor web part

In these two types of approaches, we have to manually upload the packages to test or debug the application after completing or updating the code.

To debug the SharePoint Add-in, after changing source code every time, we have to re-deploy and re-install the add-in to the SharePoint site. The add-in part created from add-in solution is always residing within iframe by rendering the contents in the site. And, it is time consuming and also requires a Visual Studio tool to do that.

To debug the SharePoint client side code by injecting scripts in content editor web part or script editor web part requires some manual process to do testing our code and settings. And this also is a time consuming model to develop and debug the script.

SharePoint Framework model introduces the workbench to test the SharePoint applications locally and without connecting to SharePoint site. We can also use the workbench in SharePoint library to the application in SharePoint site.

SharePoint Framework has below benefits over the limitations from previous models,

  1. Instant application debugging using Workbench without SharePoint site.
  2. Instant SharePoint site debugging using workbench (which is uploaded in SharePoint site)
  3. Automated process for deploying the updates
  4. Opens a way to use different JavaScript frameworks

Development Prerequisites

Before Starting the development, we would require the below things to be ready,

  • Office 365 Developer tenant
    Ref: https://profile.microsoft.com/RegSysProfileCenter/wizardnp.aspx?wizid=14b845d0-938c-45af-b061-f798fbb4d170&lcid=1033

  • Turn on scripting capabilities to enable the below options available in SharePoint site,

    • This enables the Content Editor and Script Editor web part
    • Uploading of Workbench.aspx to SharePoint Document library without error
      Ref: https://support.office.com/en-us/article/Turn-scripting-capabilities-on-or-off-1f2c515f-5d7e-448a-9fd7-835da935584f?ui=en-US&rs=en-US&ad=US

  • SharePoint Site Collection should be a developer site in developer tenant.

  • Create Single Line of Text field with the name as “ClientSideApplicationId” in Document library.

  • Download the workbench.aspx file from https://github.com/SharePoint/sp-dev-docs/blob/master/workbench.aspx and Upload the Workbench.aspx to the Documents library.

  • Make sure all mandatory light weight components are installed.

    • Node Js 
    • Npmjs
      Installed along with Node.js

    • Yeoman and Gulp
      npm install -g yo gulp

      Yeoman and Gulp

    • SharePoint Framework Yeoman generator
      npm install -g @microsoft/generator-sharepoint

      commansd

      Ref: https://github.com/SharePoint/sp-dev-docs/wiki/Setup-your-machine

Create SharePoint Framework project

  • Open any command line tool (Powershell, Cmder, etc.)

  • Create folder for the application source or open that folder
    md helloworld-webpart
    cd helloworld-webpart


  • Create new project by using yeoman generator
    Yo @microsoft/sharepoint

  • Fill up the required details asked by the generator,

    Generator Requests Description
    What is your solution name? Solution name for the framework project
    Where do you want to place the files? Select anyone of the below options to select where you want to store the files.
    • Use the current folder
    • Create sub folder
    What is your webpart name? Enter name for the webpart
    What is your webpart description? Enter description for the webpart
    What framework would you like to use? Select any of the below javascript options to use in the application,
    • No javaScript web framework
    • React
    • Knockout

    Yeoman and Gulp

  • Generating the package takes some time and you may get some warnings and errors during the structure creation. Ignore those for now, because the generator is in initial stage (You can also raise the issue in GitHub page of the generator)

  • The below information ensures, the solution is created successfully and ready for development.

    information

  • To run the application, enter “gulp serve” command. This will enable the local server with required js files with the workbench.html in the location http://localhost:4321/temp/workbench.html.

    application

  • In the same time, we can also access the application in SharePoint site. Navigate to workbench.aspx, where we have uploaded the workbench file.

  • The error message will pop up and asks us to ensure the unsafe scripts to be loaded on SharePoint site. Because required js files loaded from localhost location. Click ok on message popup and select “Show All Content” button.

    Show All Content

  • The selection of Show All Content enables us to add a web part to the page,

    add a web part

  • Click + button and select the “HelloWorld” to add the web part to the page. The below screenshot appears in both Local Workbench and SharePoint Workbench page,

    HelloWorld

  • By using any source editor, once we change and saves the source file. The gulp task running behind automatically updates the required js file and the updated changes appears immediately in local workbench page. The same change appears in SharePoint workbench page after refreshing the page.

    Ref: https://github.com/SharePoint/sp-dev-docs/wiki/HelloWorld-WebPart

Conclusion

We can enable modern UI experiences to the SharePoint site by creating web parts and pages with the help SharePoint Framework development model. It leverages all modern web technologies to provide better UI experience to the users.

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