Sharepoint 2010 Custom Workflow Activites

(If you’re impatient, you can see the code before reading the article)

Sharepoint has a workflow engine, and you can develop workflows for Sharepoint using either Sharepoint Designer or Visual Studio. Today I’m going to focus on workflows that are created using Sharepoint Designer. A step in a workflow, such as “Copy item from List A to List B”, is called an Activity.

Sharepoint Designer comes with a number of activities out of the box, but you can use Visual Studio to create custom activities that are surfaced to Sharepoint Designer. For example, if you saw the existing workflow “Copy item from List A to List B”, but it wasn’t quite what you wanted, you could create a custom activity for “Copy item from List A to List B and List C”, and that activity would then show up in Sharepoint Designer when creating a workflow.

Lets dig into how you can create a custom activity for Sharepoint Designer using Visual Studio.

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Generics

Ok, so I’m a little late to the game here. Generics came out with .Net 2.0, which was released back in 2005. I’ve used them a good bit, but today I was asked what particular advantages Generics had over what was available in .Net 1.1, and, not having worked with .Net 1.1, I wasn’t really sure. So I did some digging and figured I’d share my results, for what it’s worth.

In .Net 1.1, if you wanted to have a collection of objects, such as a linked list, a simple array-like list, a queue, or, in fact, if you wanted to make a class that made use of some object internally, but you wanted to make your data structure available to multiple internal types, you had several options, but they all had some significant limitations.

Lets look at some examples. Suppose, for instance, you wanted to create a queue class, where you could have a queue of int, string, or any other type such as car, pet, or person (other classes you need to define elsewhere). Here are your options in .Net 1.1:

1. You could just use the generic ‘object’ type, as seen below. The big disadvantage here is that you have to be very careful adding and removing items, because you could easily add an object of the wrong type and you wouldn’t know until run time when you hit an invalid cast exception.

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public class Queue
{
public void enQueue(object o) { … }
public object deQueue() { … }
}

2. You could create a intQueue class, a strQueue class, and so on. The intQueue class would look like the code below. You would get type safety, but the big disadvantage here is that anytime you want to create a queue of a new object, you have to create a new queue class, such as petQueue, carQueue, personQueue. That’s a lot of duplicated code, which increases maintenance time and you could easily end up with inconsistencies between your queue classes.

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public class intQueue
{
public void enQueue(int i) { … }
public int deQueue() { … }
}

Enter .Net 2.0 and Generics. In .Net 2.0, you can define your generic queue class as such:

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public class Queue<T>
{
public void enQueue(T t) { … }
public T deQueue() { … }
}

Notice that we use the generic placeholder of T. T is whatever class you want it to be, but T is defined when you actually declare / instantiate an object of the Queue class. Here is how you would make use of the class:

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Queue<int> myIntQueue = new Queue<int>;

Notice how we put int in between the < and > signs. This signifies to the compiler that we are creating a queue of type int. So if we take the queue of int and try to add a string to it, like this:

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myIntQueue.enQueue(“ABC”);

The compiler will throw an error, telling us that we can’t add a string to a queue of int.

So there you go. Generics give us the ability to generically (i.e., in a template sort of way) declare data structures that encapsulate other types without knowing what the type is that we are encapsulating, and they provide compile time type safety.

Development Tools

I’m setting up a new development environment, and I thought I’d share the list of tools and technologies I’m putting into place there. Please add any you’d recommend in the comments. Everything here is free except the OS, SmartSVN, and RedGate SQL Source Control.

Operating System: Windows Server 2008 R2 x64 ($$)
Application Server: IIS 7 with .Net 4.0
Database Server: SQL Server 2008 Developer Edition R2 x64 ($35)
(yes, that’s right - Microsoft has a fully-featured version of SQL server for development that is dirt cheap)

Installation Tools used:

  • Web Platform Installer - tool to help install IIS, .Net, MVC, and other components
  • NuPack - helps to add extra assemblies / web.config merges, etc. for third party DLLs for your project

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Migrating Umbraco from MySQL to MSSQL

So you’ve been running the Umbraco CMS for a while on MySQL, but you’ve been told you need to move it to Microsoft SQL Server. Does it sound intimidating? It doesn’t have to be. With the SQL script and instructions in this post, it’s not too bad. First, let’s start with an overview of the process.

Overview:
1. Use the Umbraco installer scripts to create blank Umbraco tables on your SQL server
2. Set up a linked database in SQL Server to your MySQL database
3. Migrate the data (using my script below)
4. Update your web.config to point to the new database

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SVN Trouble

(If all you want to do is solve the same problem, you only need to add a Timeout 1800 line to your c:\program files\visualsvn server\conf\httpd-custom.conf file and restart Visual SVN server - you can, of course, adjust the number of seconds as you like)

First off, if you are doing any kind of software development and you aren’t using source control of some kind, you are missing out big time. I highly recommend source control. I use Visual SVN for the server and Smart SVN for the client, but there are lots of other great options out there. OK, on to the good stuff.

We have purchased licenses for RedGate’s SQL Source Control, which allows you to use SQL Manager to check in SQL objects into a SVN repository. Very cool. I had been using this for a short while, and I soon saw this error when trying to scan for changes:

Could not read chunk Size: secure connection truncated

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Toodledo

Having recently changed over to using a Droid Incredible, I’m having to rework some of my productivity tools to work with the Incredible. Part of that was finding a new GTD / Todo list app.

I had used OmniFocus on my Mac / iPod Touch, but ever since the iOS 4 upgrade, the only way to get it to sync is to wipe out the OmniFocus database on the iPod Touch and start over (My guess is that they updated their software to work with multitasking, and as a result it breaks with devices, like the iPod Touch 2G, that don’t support multitasking on iOS4). Not a great solution. After waiting several months for a fix to this, I’ve given up and I looked around for something similar for my Droid. I strongly considered Remember The Milk, but the Mobile side of that app was rather weak.

I ended up settling on Toodledo. It needs some work on the ability to set custom filters, but overall it does the job I need it to do and it even has a widget for the Droid that shows my ‘hotlist,’, which is a huge help for me to quickly see the next 10 items on my list, color coded by priority.

Will I stick with it long term? I’m not sure. But so far I like it. I did spend a couple of hours transferring all of my todo items from OmniFocus to Toodledo the other night, so I’m committed to trying to make it work.

I use it to keep track of my grocery list, and I walk around with it at Kroger like a true geek, checking things off as I put them in my cart - my wife has had several good laughs at me as a result.

But I also use it to keep track of when to do maintenance on the cars and house, errands I need to run, etc. It’s great to have a GTD tool that works on the web and syncs to my Droid.