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!

 

 

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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!