Making a better User Experience with PowerApps Component Framework from sketch – Part 4 – The Final Showdown

Published / by AK / Leave a Comment

You can read previous post Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.

Seeing is believing

It took me 2.5 days to learn and figure out the design and new technologies I need to build the component.

Less than half a day, the mock version of the component was completed. The component was loaded on the form, the dialog was shown with the mock file list, the Flow was triggered to attach a hard-coded SharePoint file to an email as an attachment.

Now, I can prove the team that the PCF control works. I can show it to users how the component can change their life drastically.

When users saw the new UX, it just blew away them. They just forgot the inconvenience with the out-of-the-box user experience. We shot down Top 1 issue from their bounty list.

Keep yourself connected

Though the mock version was smooth, there were a few issues (as expected) I faced. When I tried to use WebAPI in PCF, it always return null. I checked my old PCF which used to be work. It was not working anymore. I looked at other PCF examples from the community. All looked same as mine. Mine was not working. I had no clue.

So, I reached out Natraj (God Mode of PCF). He kindly showed me the direction. It turned out PCF team had introduced <feature-usage> tag in manifest. I had to include WebAPI feature in manifest file to use WebAPI. It was a life saver.

A blocker? Reach out to the community.

You don’t have to be alone solving the issue.

Coming to the end

Just over 1 day of building and trouble shooting, I had a fully working version of the component. In fact, the total build time was less than the initial design and exploration.

If you ask me “Would you spend more time thinking and playing than actual building?”, my answer is “Always”.

I encourage my colleagues to spend more time exploring than completing tasks. Completing the task is the last thing I worry. To me, understanding fundamentals and visualising the process are more important than just completing the task. Once you fully understand it, the rest is a piece of cake. You don’t need to look back. You can keep moving forward.

Limitations or future enhancements

There are many limitations and a few things I couldn’t include in this first version.

  1. Support sub-folder in SharePoint – The component does NOT currently support the navigation of sub-folder in SharePoint. I had the working FetchXml query and will add it in next version.
  2. Support attaching documents from Notes – I want to allow users attaching from Notes of an associated record, similar to SharePoint documents.
  3. Support local file attachment – This will make the component one-stop shop for attachments. You can attach files from SharePoint, Notes and local files.
  4. A managed solution package (with potential AppSource)

Configuration

After I posted the component in LinkedIn, a few people reached out to me how to configure the component and its Flow. I had privately responded to them.

The component accepts 3 properties

  1. Regarding Id – Can be bound to any text field. However, I recommend creating a separate text field as I need to update it’s value to trigger onChange event in Dynamics to refresh the grid. Currently, it is the only supported way to refresh the grid.
  2. SharePoint Site URLs – You can include multiple site collection addresses with comma separated value. For instances, https://mysite.sharepoint.com/site1, https://mysite.sharepoint.com/site2
  3. API/Flow URL – The URL of Flow end point. It will look like this “https://prod-19.australiasoutheast.logic.azure.com:443/workflows/…invoke?api-version=2016-06-01&sp=%2Ftriggers%2Fmanual%2Frun&sv=1.0&sig=…&spsite={0}&spfilepath={1} . Get my Flow here. Once you imported the Flow, copy the HTTP URL from the trigger. Then, append the URL with &spsite={0}&spfilepath={1} and set it as property value.

Last step is to hook up JavaScript to refresh the grid. Create a JavaScript web resource or update the existing one with the following script.

function refreshAttachmentGrid(executionContext) { 
var formContext = executionContext.getFormContext();
var attachmentGrid = formContext.getControl("attachmentsGrid");
attachmentGrid.refresh();
}

Then, add the web source to the Email form and add onChange event on the attribute you bound with PCF to call refreshAttachmentGrid function.

That’s all you need to configure to use the component.

I hope you enjoy this mini-series of blog. You can read Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3.

I will be back with another cool PCF that works in both model-driven apps and canvas apps. Stay tuned. Bye for now.

Making a better User Experience with PowerApps Component Framework from sketch – Part 3 – The Slow Start

Published / by AK / 1 Comment on Making a better User Experience with PowerApps Component Framework from sketch – Part 3 – The Slow Start

You can read previous episode Part 1 – The Problem and Part 2 – The Sketch.

The Slow Start

I always take time to figure out the suitable frameworks and libraries, try them out and learn them, as the first stage, before building. That makes me a slow start. Sometimes, notoriously slow. It is, to me, worthy as it will give me an extra boost from the mid stage.

List to free you up

Firstly, I listed down main questions/challenges in this problem

  1. Office UI Fabric – How would I use? Where would I learn? How would I test?
  2. Popup dialog – Which dialog should I use; PCF Popup service or Modal from Fabric?
  3. Getting document lists from SharePoint – How would I retrieve document lists from SharePoint?
  4. Getting a file content from SharePoint – How would I read the file content from SharePoint? Using JavaScript or custom WebAPI or Microsoft Flow?

Intelligence == Liability

This is something I learned during my early day with Test Driven Development (TDD). Smart people do not write unit tests on their code, because their code always work. By the time, they write unit tests on their code, it is eventually too late.

The same concept

Writing down a list of things you need to do can be challenging. It can be seen as waste of time, lack of creativity and extra works.

To me, it is the total opposite. With list, you don’t need to memorize what you need to do, thus it frees up your brain. As a result, you can shift your focus to new stuffs for boosting the creativity.

UI Fabric

It is a preferable choice in creating user interface that mimic Microsoft Office products. Besides, it is built with React. No brainer here. But the problem is I had never used UI Fabric before.

I went to UI Fabric and started playing with controls and styles.

The best thing about UI Fabric documentation is you can export the sample code to CodePen and play around with it. It was an ultimate time saver, as I didn’t need to setup UI Fabric in my machine.

I learnt how to use several components like

  • Detail List for showing files from SharePoint
  • Icons for displaying appropriate file icons so it is visually appealing
  • Scrollable Pane for making the popup dialog compact even with a long list of files
  • Search for allowing users to search files so they don’t need to scroll through
  • Button for triggering a logic to attach files from SharePoint to Email attachments in CDS
  • Progress Bar for informing users attaching files is in progress so they know it is doing something

Popup dialog

First, I looked at Popup service in PCF. I felt its implementation is not very friendly plus minimal documentation. It would be perfect for a simple dialog.

I turned into Modal component in UI Fabric. Since I will be using other UI Fabric components, I decided to stick with Modal from Fabric. Plus, I can test it CodePen whereas I have to setup a PCF project for Popup service.

Getting documents from SharePoint

You cannot retrieve documents from Advanced Find although you can see it in the query.

SharePoint Document in Advanced Find
SharePoint Document in Advanced Find

So, what did I do? I used Developer toolbar and inspected the network traffic. It gave me FetchXML I needed and the response I can work with.

Getting a file content from SharePoint

I tested reading SharePoint file using “fetch” library”, I immediately hit into CORS issue.

Therefore, I had to develop a custom WebAPI. I decided to use Microsoft Flow as a HTTP endpoint, since Microsoft Flow already has the out-of-the-box SharePoint connector.

Slow is smooth. Smooth is fast.

United States Navy SEALs

Up to this point, I spent almost 2 days to figure out and play around with most components I needed to use. I hadn’t written a single line of code in the PCF project.

Now, I asked myself the same question.

Am I ready to build? Definitely, YES.

Yes, I am ready to build the component by myself. Besides, I am ready to give a definitive guide to others for build the component I want.

Next, I will share you how long it took me to build a working component (excluding these 2.5 days:0.5 day of sketching and 2 days of learning). Stay tune for the final episode.

Making a better User Experience with PowerApps Component Framework from sketch – Part 2 – The Sketch

Published / by AK / 2 Comments on Making a better User Experience with PowerApps Component Framework from sketch – Part 2 – The Sketch

Part 1 – The Problem can be found here.

Time for Proof of Concept (PoC)

I like building canvas app, for Proof of Concept (PoC) purpose. It is so easy. Drag and drop, a few clicks and formula, and then you can see the result.

I thought of building a canvas app in the first place. However, I quickly discarded the idea as soon as I figured out there was no easy way and it’s going to take much time.

So, I turned into PowerApps Component Framework (PCF).

Sketching the idea

I love using pencils and paper. It is so physical and gives me the first hand experience. After doodling a couple of pages, I came up with the following sketch.

On the paper

I am trying to build a button using PCF that can be placed on the email form.

When users click it, I want to show a list of SharePoint documents from the related record (regarding) as a dialog. I want users to select multiple files and attach them to the email with a single click.

When users click Attach button in the dialog, it will call a WebAPI that will return the file content from SharePoint. Then, the component will create an attachment in CDS email, and hide the dialog.

From Requirements to Build

Sketching the idea is easy. Listing down requirements is straightforward. Saying “I want these” is a piece of cake.

But, the build is a real challenge. It is even more challenging if a builder doesn’t know technologies, frameworks, libraries and their abilities to make his life easier. This is where a leader can make difference.

Guess to solve

For instance, Person A asks you to create a web page, saying “I want a responsive web page on every device. You can probably use CSS and tweak positions, width, and alignment to make them responsive.”

There is a clear requirement which is a responsive design. But the solution to the problem is blur. No definitive. It is more misleading when Person A starts talking about tweaking position, layout and alignment. A builder can easily drift away with tweaking x and y, width and height, and alignment in basic CSS, which works on every single browser and device.

Make a difference

Now, what about this. Person B says “I want a responsive web page on every device. You can check out Bootstrap, especially its layout/grid system. Let me know if you have a challenge. We will figure it out.”

Whom would you love to work with? Person A or Person B?

To me, it is definitely Person B. A leader who gives you a clear direction but makes you learn it yourself. At the same time, he doesn’t mind getting his hand dirty.

Now, back to the sketch I drew. It’s time to ask the important question myself, and I must answer it honestly.

Am I ready to build?

The answer is NO. There are a couple of things I needed to figured out.

In the next post, I will write how to figure out what I needs to learn and try out before building an actual component. Stay tuned for Part 3 – The Slow Start.

Making a better User Experience with PowerApps Component Framework from sketch – Part 1 – The Problem

Published / by AK / 4 Comments on Making a better User Experience with PowerApps Component Framework from sketch – Part 1 – The Problem

Since the public preview of PowerApps Component Framework (PCF), I always want to build a component that enhances the user experience (UX) in model-driven apps in Common Data Service (CDS) or Dynamics 365.

Recently, I had an opportunity to build a component with PowerApps Component Framework (PCF) that will save several mouse clicks from each user.

I literally started building a PCF component using a paper and a pencil. I thought of sharing my experience in this mini-blog series.

Activity and document management in CDS

People uses Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system to keep track of every interaction with customers in one place. If users have to juggle between many applications to see all interactions, it will not be productive.

CDS includes an activity management, tracking emails, tasks, phone calls, letters, and appointments. Users can sync these activities between CDS and Exchange.

Being able to send an email directly from CDS is convenient to users, as they don’t need to switch to Outlook to send an email. If an email is sent from a case, the email will automatically associate with the case, giving a 360 degree view.

Today, users often use SharePoint as a central document management system to store documents related to cases and customers. CDS offers out-of-the-box integration with SharePoint, thus integration is merely a couple of mouse clicks. Everything is perfect.

Attaching documents in Email

When users send an email to the customer in CDS, they often need to attach documents from SharePoint by going through following steps:

  1. Open a case record
  2. Navigate to Documents tab
  3. Click a file to download*
  4. Choose a local folder to save the files* (several clicks to navigate and create a new folder)
  5. Navigate to Activity tab
  6. Add a new Email
  7. Save the email
  8. Click Attach File button from the command bar*
  9. Choose a file from the local folder* (several click to navigate to the correct folder)
  10. Repeat the whole process if the user needs another file from SharePoint

*Repeat if more than one file is needed


A problem?

You can clearly see the user experience (UX) is horrible. Look at followings:

  1. Users have to download each file individually
  2. Users have to store files locally in an organised manner
  3. Users will not know know if local files are outdated
  4. Users have to attach a file individually
  5. The worst part? Users have to go through the whole process if they forget to download a file.

What if users can attach documents from SharePoint to an email directly?

It will be a time saver to users. Imagine users can attach multiple files from SharePoint to an email in CDS.

In the next post, I will show you how I plan to tackle the problem. Stay tuned for Part 2 – The Sketch.

React – Extended boundary of PowerApps Component Framework

Published / by AK / Leave a Comment

In previous post I demonstrated about how to use React with the former version of PowerApps Component Framework (PCF) by modifying PCF packages, which is unsupported.

I am a strong believer that plain old JavaScript is a not a good choice when it comes to building moderately complex component that use DataSets, and as such, since day one, I have been looking forward to Microsoft officially supporting React in PowerApps Component Framework.

Recently, the Microsoft PCF team finally announced their official support of React with PCF and released an example on how to achieve it. To my surprise, the approach I described in my previous blog post was conceptually similar to theirs.

I personally feel Microsoft’s example is too complex to understand to someone who is not familiar with React.

In this post I am going to explain how to use React in PowerApps Component Framework, through a step-by-step explanation, using a very basic component, a text box. This blog post is intended to those developers who are not familiar with React.

React 

React is a JavaScript library for building user interfaces. You can learn about it at https://reactjs.org/docs/getting-started.html

Principle

Skipping the basic steps, below are the 3 React principles you need to be familiar with

  1. Components – Components let you split the UI into independent, reusable elements, and force you to think about each element in isolation. Conceptually, components are like JavaScript functions. They accept arbitrary inputs (called “props”) and return React elements describing what should appear on the screen.
  2. Props – Props are immutable and therefore read-only. A component must never modify its own props.
  3. State – A state can be local or encapsulated. It is not accessible to any component other than the one that owns and sets it.

For example, you can create a component and assign it some props by the caller. The component will then manage its own state.

React is designed for “top-down” or “unidirectional” data flow.

A picture is worth a thousand words

Before we start, I would like to present the following diagram. It summarises the concept of using React in PCF.

PCF component will pass the Input value and a custom function (in this example, it is notifyChange) to React component via Props. In React component, we will copy Props into State in componentWillReceiveProps. Now, we can make changes to the State value in React component. When we decide to send the value from PCF, we will call the function notifyChange which will then signal its new value to PCF.

Based on this diagram, we are going to build a simple text box using React.

Build a simple text box without React

You can follow Microsoft documentation to create a PCF project. Once you open it in Visual Studio Code, let’s create a sample text box using TypeScript. You can find the sample code for this step here.

Principle #1 and creating a React component

To create a React component, let’s create a new file called ReactSampleTextBox.tsx, and add the code from here. In render() function, we are creating an input text.

Now, go back to index.ts and render the ReactSampleTextBox component. Code can be found here.

We will start to see the benefit of using React. Your index.ts becomes much cleaner. You will see an input text from React component when you run the component. Please note we are here to create a simple React component without passing any data from the PCF component.

Principle #2 and passing data

In PCF, this principle is about passing data from PCF to the custom React component. However, the principle states that we must use Props to pass the data to our custom React component and that it must remain read-only. But, since we have States, we use componentWillReceiveProps to set the value of Props to State.

Now, it’s time to modify index.ts and ReactSampleTextBox.tsx for passing data.

First, in ReactSampleTextBox.tsx, we need to declare an Interface for props. Let’s call it IProps and it has a property called value. We will use this value property to pass data from PCF to React component. Your ReactSampleTextBox.tsx will look like following. The value property of the input text is bound to props value of React component

In index.ts, declare an object props whose type is IProps from ReactSampleTextBox, assign the value in updateView and pass it to React component on rendering.

When you test the control, you will see the input text in React component will show any value you change via Inputs panel. However, you will NOT be able to directly edit any value in React text box. This is because we don’t tell the input text what to do. Let’s modify ReactSampleTextBox.tsx as following. Here, we create handleChange function, bind it in constructor and bind it onChange event of the input text.

First, let’s create IState interface. And copy the props value into the state in both constructor and componentWillReceiveProps. Next, we create handleChange function and bind it to the input text. Now, if you run the component, you will be able to pass value to React component from Inputs panel and you will be able to change value in text box.

You will notice any value change in React component text box will NOT show in Outputs panel.

Principle #3 and its problem

In the PCF example the third principle is about passing data from custom React component back to PCF. Since React is “unidirectional” how do we pass data from our React component back to PCF?

When using React for pages rendering purposes, a unidirectional data flow is not a problem. We tend to send data to the server-side using HTML Forms and re-render the page.

This could be troublesome with PCF as we have to use notifyOutputChanged in the init method to notify PowerApps Forms that the value has been changed in the component.

Getting around with the third principle issue

To get around this issue, we need to create a notifyChange function, which will update the output value of PCF and call the notifyOutputChanged in our PCF component.

We can pass the notifyChange function to our custom React component as part of props. Whenever a value is updated in our React component, the notifyChange function is executed, which will subsequently call notifyOutputChanged to update the output value and subsequently trigger onChange event on PowerApps Form.

Let’s make small changes to ReactSampleTextBox.tsx by adding onChange property in IProps. Now, when handleChange is executed, we will execute onChange function from props.

Now, back to index.ts. Create a new function called notifyChange which will then call notifyOutputChange.

The last thing to do is to pass notifyChange from index.ts to ReactSampleTextBox as props.

Run it to enjoy React component in PCF. The code can be found here.

I agree this type of component can be done without React. My intention, however, is to explain how values are passed between PCF and React component, and I believe building a very simple component is the best approach to explain the whole process.

If you are hard-core React developer, you might want to use redux to manage the state in a clean way. Field template component will unlikely require redux. However, if you are building a complex dataset component, not only for display but also for CRUD, redux is worth to check out.

Hopefully this post has been helpful to anyone beginning their adventure with React in PCF.

PowerApps Component Framework – Beyond the boundary

Published / by AK / 1 Comment on PowerApps Component Framework – Beyond the boundary

Note: I am going to write some dark magic with PCF. It is not currently supported by Microsoft. These are my personal findings. Views are my own. But if you want to dismantle PCF and want to test the boundary, then read further.

Credit: Andrew Ly for his Number Button Selector control and feedback. Rami Mounla for proofread and correction on the content.

The source code can be downloaded at my github.

Intro

Microsoft has announced public preview of PowerApps Component Framework (PCF) and its Command Line Interface (CLI) in April 2019. Many developers, including me, have been anticipating this new feature. I find the documentation useful. A few people has started building and sharing new controls. No disappointment from this beautiful community.

Absolute need

TypeScript. Although I am not absolutely convinced the preference of TypeScript to JavaScript (by the way, JavaScript is my favorite), it is the only choice we have right now. However, Andrew Ly has pointed out essential areas where TypeScript really shines, such as strong typing, OO concepts thus bringing the gap between JavaScript and OO languages like C#/Java.

Beyond absolute need

There is no doubt you can build any control following Microsoft documentation. But, I don’t want to stop here. I want to push its boundary and limits. So far, I recommend adding 3 more types of knowledge.

2. React for UI components

When the sample from Microsoft documentation shows building the UI using TypeScript, it reminds me of my student days when I had an assignment task asking to build a UI in C++. I could not force myself to create UI in C++ program.

TypeScript for building modern UI? No, please.

I admit I was super lazy during my student life. I only wanted to deliver bare minimum. So, UI in code file is a NO for me. However, as my career began and I collected some experience, I allegedly become a bit wiser. Yet, the wiser me supports the lazy me.

There are many libraries to choose. However, you can find react and react-dom packges under node_modules after executing “npm install” at step 4.. So, React is the choice. You can also use JSX which makes life easier when building DOMs.

2. NPM for packages

The motto of “Why reinvent the wheel?”. NPM hosts thousands of free packages. Most of the well-established libraries are now distributing over NPM. It is like NuGet for JavaScript. Now, you may ask “why not reference the CDN?”. Well, that brings me to next one.

3. Webpack for bundling

A module bundler. It will bundle all your resources, and packages from NPM, as a single package. Referring to CDN will only work when there is connectivity (or it is dependency). If we want to use it offline in mobile devices, we may encounter some issues.

The good news is that you don’t need to worry about NPM and webpack. PCF CLI handles them gracefully in most cases. I did however notice that there are some issues with adding large NPM packages (>500kb). The bundling tends to behave weirdly.

Create a new PCF Project

You use “pac pcf init” command to create a new PCF project. It will pre-create ControlManifest.Input.xml and index.ts.

pac pcf init
pac pcf init

Create a react component

Let’s create DemoComponent.tsx and write some scripts. The sample source can be found at my github repository.

Project structure
Project structure

Run ‘npm run build’ command. You will get an error saying ‘–jsx’ is not set. To resolve this, you need to add “jsx”: “react” in tsconfig.json located under your root folder. After this, you will be able to run ‘npm run build’ command without any issue.

JSX error
JSX error
Update tsconfig.json
Updating tsconfig.json

Now, let’s render DemoControl in index.ts. You will see an error and you will not be able to run ‘npm run build’ command.

Render react component

Now, let’s change index.ts to index.tsx and you will see the error is gone from IDE. You also need to update the code file extension in ControlManifest.Input.xml.

But, when you run ‘npm run build’, you run into another issue saying ‘Code file needs to be a typescript (.ts)’.

Looking at the error, it comes from pcf-scripts module which is located under node_modules folder in your PCF project.

tsx error during build
tsx error

A quick search using the error message brings me to line 84 at controlcontext.js under pcf-scripts module.

Include tsx
Only allow .ts

You simply need to update ‘if’ statement to allow .tsx extension and save it. And Magic happens.

Include tsx
Add .tsx into file type

Now, if you run ‘npm run build’, it will succeed. Next, it’s time to execute ‘npm start’. When the browser is launched, you will see the error ‘React’ is not defined.

React error
React error

To address this error, open index.html under your pcf root folder\node_modules\pcf-start and add following two script tags.

<script src="https://unpkg.com/react@16/umd/react.development.js" crossorigin></script>
<script src="https://unpkg.com/react-dom@16/umd/react-dom.development.js" crossorigin></script>

As soon as you save your changes, your react component will be rendered.

React control demo

Congratulations! You have created a custom control using PCF and React.

The proceder in this article is experimental only.

Final word

Even though you can deploy React control to model-driven app, this approach is not currently supported by Microsoft. I am sharing this only for experimental purposes and showing how PCF can be extended using modern libraries. I am not a pro-React developer nor a TypeScript developer, therefore, I may have approached this the wrong way. If you have any comments, please share them below.

Six months after deploying my first PowerApps

Published / by AK / Leave a Comment

This post is more of rant than evangelist.

In October 2018, I had involuntarily involved in developing PowerApps for one of our clients at work. “Why involuntarily?” you may ask. Well, although I mainly work with Microsoft platform, I play around with iOS and Android native app developments and help out my friends. So, I fairly know the biggest challenge with mobile app development, making your app to work across different devices.

PowerApps is great. I have no doubt about it. All canvas-apps run inside PowerApps native app on your mobile, thus making it very different from cross-platform development in mobile app. It also means you have no control over the release of PowerApps native app.

Regardless of my strong objection, we managed to deliver the app in 10 days. The purpose of the app is to transform their paperwork of auditing farms. Basically, admin will create audit records in D365 and assign to auditors, then auditors will download records to their apps for offline use, drive out to remote areas for auditing (which also captures photo and signature). When auditors arrive back to their home at night, they sync their offline data to D365 and get newly assigned audits. Photos need to upload to their Google Drive. Why not? Microsoft Flow has out-of-the-box connector to Google Drive. Easy peasy.

Then, the client wanted to add a new functionality which will share photos uploaded in Google Drive to the audited farm. Although you can share files/folders in Google Drive, out-of-the-box connector is not capable of doing it. After going through Google Drive REST APIs, we solved it by creating a custom connector. To deliver all these functions in 10 days was impressive. It was working fine. Well … for two months.

In December, the client told us some of their auditors were facing issues with syncing records. We enhanced our app for a better performance. During the enhancement, it was all fine. When the app was re-opened again, it showed over 200 errors on one of global variables in the app. Suddenly! Set and Patch function on record type global variable didn’t work anymore. (You can find the similar issue here, though I didn’t report it).

I ended up with re-creating an app almost from scratch again. Tweak and fix. Again and again. One of the challenges with web player is you can’t test offline mode. SaveData and LoadData doesn’t work. I hope Microsoft will at least create stubs for these two functions for web player in the future. Having to test it on the device, you have to publish the app, and open the app at least twice in the device to see the latest version. It is not productive at all, but we managed to fix all issues.

But, there was another problem. Microsoft has released the new version of PowerApps and unfortunately it was a bad version. Without noticing the bad version, I kept working on the app. After publishing to test it on my device, it was too late. There was no way to return. If I rolled back to the working version, all my changes will be lost. If I stick to the current version, it can’t be tested. It didn’t look good at all.

Luckily, Microsoft released the bug fix over the weekend and the original issue was gone. But, again, the app was starting to behave weird. Functionalities used to work were not working anymore. For example, if I rolled back to the old working version, it worked. But, not on the latest PowerApps version. It is so frustrating for a developer. You have no control over which PowerApps runtime you want to choose. Microsoft dictates it. Because of it, one bad runtime version can create many issues even if you don’t make any changes.

During the enhancement, we started to notice errors in listing Google Drive files in Microsoft Flow. After searching Google Drive REST APIs, it turns out Google limits items returned from API to 100 by default and it can be changed. However, there is no way to define the paging size in out-of-the-box connector. We didn’t have the issue in UAT and early days of production go-live since items were less than 100. But, now we have an issue. As usual, a custom connector saved our life.

All issues seem to be sorted out, at least, for now. Hopefully, the app will behave nicely for next two months. But, I learned following lessons.

  • PowerApps is easy but not necessarily simple – a lot of gotcha and similar functions with totally different behaviours.
  • A lack of ability to control PowerApps version – one bad version will break your app into pieces just by publishing without making any changes. If it happens in development phase, it will stale the timeline.
  • Out-of-the-box connectors are useful for demo but not reliable for production – always reference to the source API documentation, not Microsoft Flow documentation.
  • Community is great but not all issues are resolved – looking at the example with Set and Patch functions in above link, it took about 2 months to recognise the issue by Microsoft PowerApps team. The worst part is it is not resolved yet.

Channel Integration Framework with Twilio – Part 1

Published / by AK / 2 Comments on Channel Integration Framework with Twilio – Part 1

I have posted the video of incoming call using CIF here. It is a live working demo using Twilio trial account. I am going to share my experience of making this so anyone can easily setup the basic features and start exploring more awesomeness.

I have tested the public preview of Microsoft Dynamics 365 Channel Integration Framework. It was before Christmas and New Years holidays. Moving house over the holiday period kept me occupied for weeks.

Last week, I started to look into CIF again. During the public preview, I had issues with incoming and outgoing calls. I was able to connect to Twilio service. Outgoing/incoming calls that return pre-defined messages were successful. However, I couldn’t manage to figure it out to make a call to a real number.

In this post, I am going to cover D365 users responding to incoming calls directly from web interface – without leaving D365 at all.

Preparation

Before we start, please go through followings

Now, we can begin!

Setting up

You will find steps provided in Microsoft documentations are easy to follow. But I find problems with the section to create Twilio functions (https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/dynamics365/customer-engagement/developer/channel-integration-framework/sample-softphone-integration#create-function-to-use-with-the-app-service).

According to Readme included in the sample code, you have to create functions in Twilio. I followed the instructions and couldn’t manage to make it work. So, I started with creating a basic client and later add a couple of controllers to the sample code to setup a twilio client.

You can follow tutorials from https://www.twilio.com/docs/voice/client/tutorials/how-to-set-up-a-server-for-twilio-client to create a basic client including TokenController and VoiceController. Creating own controllers give us the whole capability of Web, flexibility and fine grain control of call processes, such as limiting the functionality, dynamic routing which could be stored somewhere else.

In Twilio console, it is very easy to get confused and lost in navigation. However, we can get the information we need from
– Twilio account dashboard at https://www.twilio.com/console
– TwiML apps at https://www.twilio.com/console/voice/twiml/apps
– Phone numbers at https://www.twilio.com/console/phone-numbers/incoming

In short, you need to

Once you have deployed the sample code, you need to configure your trial Twilio Phone Number. First, let’s create a TwiML to route and store it in TwiML Bin. You can find TwiML bin under Runtime or at https://www.twilio.com/console/runtime/twiml-bins/. For testing purpose, let’s create following TwiML.

TwiML
TwiML

You may ask “What the heck ‘ak’ is sitting between Client tag?” Well, it directly relates to the client name of token generated from TokenController.cs

TokenController
TokenController

Once TwiML is saved, go to your phone number and configure its A CALL COMES IN setting by choosing TwiML and choosing the newly created TwiML from Bins.

Phone Number Configuration
Phone Number Configuration

That’s all you need to configure to receive and answer the call using CIF. It takes a while to get it right. Reading Twilio documentations will help you a lot.

Enhancements

You would notice that I use a static TwiML to route to the client in Phone Number configuration. In real world, I think Webhook is a better approach where you can return TwiML dynamically according to implementation of business rules. In addition, TokenController.cs could do similar thing which generates dynamic token for each login user. That way, the call could be routed to the correct client.

Need help?

Reach out to me if you need any help and it is confusing.

Read Office 365 Message Centre using Office 365 Management API

Published / by AK / Leave a Comment

I started my career as a web developer. Since then it is one of the best decision I have ever taken. Web has been evolving and because of it, low code platforms like Microsoft Flow makes our life a lot easier. In this post, I am going to show you how to read messages from Office 365 Message Centre using its API.

Office 365 Management API is well documented at https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/office/office-365-management-api/office-365-management-apis-overview

Since it is web api, Microsoft Flow can easily make HTTP request and parse the response. To do it, let’s register an app in Azure Portal first. As we are going to use it from Microsoft Flow, you need to create Web App / Api type application. Another point is to grant the correct permission to the app. Its permission should be set as below.

Permissions to read messages

Permissions to read messages

Ensure you click Grant Permissions after choosing correct permissions. Otherwise, the authroisation will fail.

After this, the rest is quite straight forward. I have created the following Flow. In general, it will

  1. read the last message time from my Google sheet
  2. check the value of last message time. It sets the correct StartTime condition in HTTP step so we won’t be retrieving same messages over and over again.
  3. parse the data and insert into my Google sheet

Message Centre Flow

Message Centre Flow

HTTP request step is setup as below. It is quite straightforward. Please note we need to filter StartTime properly.

Office 365 Management API HTTP Request

Office 365 Management API HTTP Request

Once the Flow is executed, all messages are nicely inserted into my Google sheet.

Messages in Google Sheet

Messages in Google Sheet

This is all because of the power of Web. Of course, Microsoft Flow makes things easier. That’s all for now.

Passing current login user of Microsoft Dynamics CRM Portal to external web app

Published / by AK / Leave a Comment

You can get the detail of current login user in liquid template va user liquid object. There is another way you can get the current login user via XHR call.

Microsoft CRM Portal has built-in API to generate JWT of current login user. The API is at https://<crm portal url>/_services/auth/token and returns JWT. This JWT is nothing but a JSON object encrypted using RS256 algorithm. So, anyone can decode it. Other words, anyone can encode it also.

You sometimes need to pass the current login user information to external web app. Since it takes very little effort to generate a JWT and pass it to your external website, it is very easy to bypass the security. Therefore, you will definitely want to verify the authenticity of generated token too ensure the token is generated from trusted source (in this case, your CRM portal).

The beauty with JWT is you can verify the signature of token using public key. If you are not familiar with PKI, the process generally involves the source or CRM portal which generates a token using its private key (which is already handled in CRM portal), and the target or your external web app which verifies the authenticity of the token using public key. To do this, get  the public key of your CRM portal at https://<crm portal url>/_services/auth/publickey.

The order of the whole process is

  1. Pass JWT token as a parameter in a web request/link to your external web app
  2. In your external web app, get public key from CRM portal and verify the signature of the JWT contained in web request

That’s easy, simple and neat. Right?

Next time, we will have a look at Azure AD B2C configuration to authenticate users, which requires more configurations and adds a little bit of complexity.