AL Extensions: Extending an Extension

Something I’ve been meaning to write about since I started developing extensions is how to extend another extension, or in other words, the process of creating a dependent extension.

For the sake of keeping things straight in this post, I am going to refer to the following 2 extensions:

  1. Parent: the extension that is being depended on.
  2. Child: is dependent on the Parent extension.

So, without further ado, here we go!

First, develop and build the Parent extension. Take note of the following values from the app.json of the Parent extension:

ExtendingExtension1

Now publish the Parent extension to your development system so that we can download the symbols for the Child extension.

Time to move to developing the Child extension, where we need to specify the dependency to the Parent extension. We do that using the following property in the app.json file.

ExtendingExtension2

Using the id, name, publisher, and version values from the Parent extension, we populate the property as follows:

ExtendingExtension3

As soon as you save the app.json file, you will be prompted that symbols are missing. This is because the AL compiler is now looking for the symbols for the dependent extensions.

Click the Download Symbols button in the VS Code notification and download the symbols form the development database where you published the Parent extension.

Take note that the dependencies property accepts an array of values, which means you can specify multiple dependency extensions.

Once the symbol download is complete, you will be able to reference any objects, events, functions, etc. that are available in the Parent extension. You’ll also be able to extend the Parent extension as needed.

Be Aware

  • Make sure that when you publish your extensions, you must do the extension that are depended on first (e.g. Parent). If you try and publish the extension with the dependency first (e.g. Child), it will error stating that references do not exist in the database.
  • When you remove extensions, you must remove the extensions that have the dependencies first (e.g. Child) as you cannot remove an extension that has other extensions depending on it.
  • If you update any of the extensions that are being depended on in your development database, you must also change the corresponding version in the dependencies property of any extension that is dependent on it. Once this is done you will be prompted to download the new symbols file. If you don’t do this you will be developing off of an old version of the symbols ad publishing the extension may fail.

How is this useful?

  • A Dynamics NAV ISV can use this method to create a “library” extension that contains standard functionality that is required to be available across one or more functional extensions.
    • By the way, this scenario is fully supported for any extensions submitted to AppSource. The library extension does not appear in AppSource. When a customer installs the functional extension, the library extension will also get installed.
  • A Dynamics NAV partner could create an extension that contains some common functionality they deliver to all of their customers. They could then create a dependent extension that contains a customized layer on top of the original extension that is unique to each customer.
  • A Dynamics NAV partner needs to extend another partner’s extension.
    • If you are going to do this, you must have access to getting the symbols for the extension you are building on top of. You don’t need the actual .al source files, just the symbols file.
  • A customer who develops their own custom solution can build their own extension and make it dependent on another extension that’s in their system.

Until next time, happy coding!

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AL Extensions: Reading JSON info with Powershell

A quick post today on how to read values from a JSON file with PowerShell.

PowerShell contains the commandlet ConvertFrom-Json, which as its name implies, converts a JSON object into a PowerShell object, from which you can then access the values and read them into variables, etc.

Let’s assume we have a file named MyFile.json, which contains the following JSON object:

{
   "id": "123456",
   "name": "MyObjectName"
}

We can convert this into a PowerShell object with the following code:

$JsonObject = Get-Content -Raw -Path .\MyFile.json | ConvertFrom-Json

We can then read the value of  name into a variable like this:

$Name = $JsonObject.Name

SO WHAT?

As the title of this post suggests, we can make use of this handy code with our AL extensions.

In my previous post, I showed you how to create a custom AL extension build task with Visual Studio Code. You can expand on this and launch a PowerShell script to execute the ALC compiler. When you do that, one of the parameters you can supply to the compiler is the output path and resulting app file name. By using the app.json file that is part of every AL extension, you can utilize things such as the extension publisher, name, version, etc. in your compiler process.

You can do something like the following…

$JsonObject = Get-Content -Raw -Path .\app.json | ConvertFrom-Json

$ExtensionName = $JsonObject.Publisher + '_' + $JsonObject.Name + '_' + $JsonObject.Version + '.app'

$CompilerPath = 'C:\Users\<username>\.vscode\extensions\Microsoft.al-0.10.13928\bin'

$ALProjectFolder = 'C:\MyProjectFolder'
$ALPackageCachePath = Join-Path -Path $ALProjectFolder -ChildPath '.alPackages'
$AlPackageOutFilePath = Join-Path -Path 'C:\MyCustomOutputFolder' -ChildPath $ExtensionName

Set-Location -Path $CompilerPath
.\alc.exe /project:$ALProjectFolder /packagecachepath:$ALPackageCachePath /out:$AlPackageOutFilePath

…which would replicate the same file name that the out of box compile process does, but will still allow you to direct the file to be output to a custom path. For example, maybe a shared AL package cache that you use for multiple developers.

Until next time, happy coding!

AL Extensions: Custom Build Process Using Visual Studio Code Tasks

I recently discovered the Tasks menu in Visual Studio Code and after a bit of wondering why I’ve not seen it after using VS Code for many months, I then took a quick look into what it was all about.

Turns out VS Code has yet another amazing feature called Tasks, which let’s you automate things such as builds, packaging, deployment, and probably whatever else you can think of. You can read all about tasks in detail here.

This got me thinking, I wonder if I can use this to make my own build process for AL extensions? Turns out this is quite easy…and here’s how you can do it.

Open up your AL extension folder and select Tasks > Configure Tasks.

TasksConfigureTasks

In the command palette select Create tasks.json from template.

CommandBoxConfigureTasks

In the command palette select Others.

CommandBoxSelectOthers

You’ll now see a tasks.json file create in the .vscode folder of your AL project.

tasksJsonFile

In the tasks.json file you’ll see some default settings like this:

{
    // See https://go.microsoft.com/fwlink/?LinkId=733558
    // for the documentation about the tasks.json format
    "version": "2.0.0",
    "tasks": [
        {
            "taskName": "echo",
            "type": "shell",
            "command": "echo Hello"
        }
    ]
}

We need to change the task command so that we build our AL extension. When you install the AL Language extension, behind the scenes is installed a command line compiler (alc.exe). The alc compiler accepts 3 parameters:

  1. project: The path to the AL project folder
  2. packagecachepath: The path to the folder containing the reference packages
  3. out: The path to output the packaged extension app file to. This parameter is optional. If it’s not specified then the compiler will output the app file in the project folder with the default name of <Publisher>_<Name>_<Version>.app

For example, in order to build our AL extension with the default output and name, we’d need a command such as this:

C:\Users\<username>\.vscode\extensions\Microsoft.al-0.10.13928\bin\alc.exe /project:C:\ALProject1 /packagecachepath:C:\ALProject1\.alpackages

One more quick thing before we continue. Within VS Code tasks, you have access to some predefined variables. You can read about what they are here. For our task, we’re interested in the ${workspaceFolder} variable, which will give us the path to the workspace folder of the project.

Back to the VS Code task. We need to update the tasks.json file now. We’ll change the taskName property to a more meaningful name, and we’ll update the command property to execute our alc compiler. Make sure to note the double slashes and that you replace the <username> and AL Language extension version number with the correct one as per your environment.

{
    // See https://go.microsoft.com/fwlink/?LinkId=733558
    // for the documentation about the tasks.json format
    "version": "2.0.0",
    "tasks": [
        {
            "taskName": "Offline Build",
            "type": "shell",
            "command": "C:\\Users\\<username>\\.vscode\\extensions\\Microsoft.al-0.10.13928\\bin\\alc.exe /project:${workspaceFolder} /packagecachepath:${workspaceFolder}\\.alpackages"
        }
    ]
}

Now that we’ve updated the task file, you need to set this task as the default build command. To do that you select Tasks > Configure Default Build Task from the menu. Doing this will not change the existing F5 or Ctrl+F5 commands that Microsoft delivers with the AL Language extension.

TasksConfigureDefaultBuildTask.png

In the command palette select the name of the task you created above. In my case, I’ve named the task Offline Build.

CommandBoxSelectTaskName

The following lines were just added to your tasks.json file:

"group": {
    "kind": "build",
    "isDefault": true
}

You can close and save the tasks.json file now if you still have it open. You’re ready to use your new build task in the following ways:

  1. Tasks > Run Task
    • With this method you can select to run any task that you’ve created.
  2. Tasks > Run Build Task
    • This will work only if you’ve made your task the default build task.
  3. Ctrl+Shift+B
    • This will work only if you’ve made your task the default build task.

No matter what method you choose to execute the task, you can monitor it for errors in the VS Code terminal window.

TerminalWindowOutput

That’s it! Now you’ve got a way to build your extension without having to deploy it at the same time.

Pretty sure I’ve only scratched the surface on what VS Code tasks can do, so I’m excited to see how else I can make use of them in my AL development.

Until next time…..happy coding!

 

 

Learn AL: New string features

The AL language is bringing some nice features to Dynamics NAV developers. I want to cover a couple of the cool new string features.

  1. Function chaining
  2. Replace() function

The following example is something I’ve used in the past numerous times. It finds and replaces a substring within a string. Created in Visual Studio Code, but using good ol’ C/AL syntax, the code would look something like this:

NewString := DELSTR(OriginalString,STRPOS(OriginalString,FindString))
                + ReplaceWithString + COPYSTR(OriginalString,STRPOS(OriginalString,FindString) + STRLEN(FindString));

The above function is easy enough to create, but it was always something that I thought should have been part of the system functions. In AL, we now have the Replace() function, which can be used like this:

NewString := OriginalString.Replace(FindString,ReplaceWithString);
Oh by the way……invoking string functions directly from the variable!? Yes!
Using the “<variable>.<function>” syntax, we can now chain multiple functions together like this:
NewString := OriginalString.Replace(FindString,ReplaceWithString).ToLower();

Whoah! Pretty cool right!?

If you’re not always familiar with function chaining, I should point out that the functions in the chain get applied to the string from left to right, Depending on what you are doing to the string, the order you define the functions in the statement will matter.

This is some fantastic stuff and really brings Dynamics NAV development inline with current development practices.

Until next time, happy coding!

Create a Dynamics 365 Sandbox Environment

Microsoft has given us the ability to create a sandbox environment based on the Dynamics 365 platform. This will allow you to try out new setups, extensions, and even develop new extensions in a safe isolated environment. This is perfect for testing new extensions in a true Dynamics 365 environment.

Each Dynamics 365 subscription is allowed to create one sandbox environment for no additional charge. You can even tear down and reset your sandbox as necessary.

To create a sandbox environment:

  1. Sign in to your production instance of the Financials service.
  2. Choose the Search for Page or Report icon, enter Sandbox Environment, and then choose the related link
  3. Select Create.
    Another tab in your browser will open for finishing the setup of your sandbox environment.
  4. When the sandbox environment is ready, you will be redirected to sandbox environment’s Welcome wizard.
  5. Choose Learn more to read about scenarios that you can try in a sandbox environment. Or, choose Close to continue to the Role Center of your Financials sandbox instance.
  6. At the top of the Role Center, a notification appears to inform you that this is a sandbox environment. You can also see the type of the environment in the title bar of the client.

Once the sandbox has been created, you can access each environment directly with the following URLs:

For more information, see the original Microsoft article here.

Happy coding!

Dynamics NAV 2018 on the way!

After delivering a message at Directions NA 2017 that the typical October release if Dynamics NAV would be delayed until spring if 2018, an article posted by Alysa Taylor (GM of Global Marketing) confirms now that there will be a release of Dynamics NAV 2018 by the end of the current center year.

Check out the full article here.

This is a great response by Microsoft to address what was largely a negative reaction to the Directions announcement, and confirms that they are listening to our feedback!

Dynamics 365 ‘Tenerife’ Release Plan

Quick update on the release plan for the next iteration of Dynamics 365 ‘Tenerife’ (fka Dynamics NAV).

The next release for on-premise deployments was announced to be in the spring of 2018. This is a change from the typical October releases that we’ve been used to for the past 7 years or so.

We’re not sure what the final product name will be at this point.

This change in the release date came as quite a shock to the audience at Directions NA 2017. So much of a shock that Microsoft announced during the closing keynote that they will look into the current release plan to see if there’s anything they can do to get it out ahead of plan.

That’s all for now, happy coding!