Access Data from a variety of sources using SharePoint Designer 2010

One of the main things that many of us ‘SharePoint people’ are responsible for is to display and manipulate data on SharePoint pages, right? All sorts of data – not just data from within SharePoint such as List and Library data, but data from databases, through web services, xml files and all other sorts of places.

So how are you currently providing access to data to your end users? or I guess the better question to ask is ‘Are you the one doing this?’. Usually the answer is: ‘Our developers are taking care of it. It is not something that I do’. This answer will not work for very long. These types of tasks are soon to become a responsibility for many of us.

The Age of the Citizen Developer

I have been developing applications for many years now. However, I have not touched Visual Studio for quite a few years. How is that possible you ask… well, the term developer is not the same as it used to be when I used to actively program using Visual Studio back in 2005. This term is evolving to mean you build applications for consumption by other users either with programming or with other composition tools. There is a term that Gartner has come up with to describe the no-code developers like myself called ‘Citizen Developer’. Gartner claims that at least 25 percent of new business applications will be built by citizen developers by 2014. I believe it!

As far as developing on SharePoint is concerned, my tools of choice usually are SharePoint Designer and InfoPath. Both of these extremely powerful tools let you make robust solutions on top of SharePoint without writing a line of code! The focus of this short article is on working with SharePoint data and external data in SharePoint using SharePoint Designer 2010 (SPD) so let me get right to it. In a separate article, I’ll talk about InfoPath’s inherent functionality to let you create and modify powerful electronic forms in SharePoint.

XSLT Web Parts in SharePoint 2010

There are two main web parts that let you display and manipulate data in SharePoint:

  • XSLT List View Web Part (XLV)
  • XSLT Data Form Web Part (DVWP)

 

The XLV lets you display data from lists and libraries while DVWP lets you show data from literally anywhere. The shortcoming (in my opinion) of DVWP is that there is no easy way to customize this web part in the browser and it can only be manipulated effectively using SPD 2010. While the XLV can be customized using the browser, the real power for this web part is also realized when manipulated using SPD.

These web parts work by consuming data in XML format and then letting us manipulate it by using XSLT. Sounds complicated? I assure you that it’s not. Everything is very visual in nature. All you are doing is customizing and configuring the web parts to make them behave the way you need them. It’s truly as simple as that once you get used to doing it. The results are extremely robust data driven solutions that you can present on any SharePoint page. The average developer accustomed to programming in a traditional development environment and unaware of these methods will think that you spent hours or days creating these solutions when in reality, it will only take you a few minutes once you are proficient at it.

Alright, enough talking. Let’s get to showing you some of these things to make you a believer too. There are two videos that I would recommend you check out right now to prove to yourself the power of XSLT web parts:

Create Custom List Form pages using SharePoint Designer 2010

Report on data from your Database using XSLT Data View web part

If these videos have intrigued your curiosity, I would suggest continuing your XSLT web part exploration using the following resources.

Additional SharePoint Designer XSLT Web Part Resources

There are a variety of scenarios that can be accomplished with XSLT web parts using SharePoint Designer 2010. The following links will provide you with the resources you need to continue your journey.

· Articles and Videos about Data Views at Office.com – http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/sharepoint-designer-help/CH010373543.aspx

· Book – Beginning SharePoint Designer 2010 (Chapter 8)

· Video Tutorials – SharePoint Designer – XSLT web part videos

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Configure Single Sign On to use with Data View web part

If you have worked with the XSLT Data View web part before, you know how much power it has. You can point to virtually any repository of data (web services, databases, xml files, SharePoint lists and libraries etc) and bring it into SharePoint. The data gets retrieved as standard XML and you can modify it to look however you like using SharePoint Designer 2007 without having to do any coding whatsoever! Here is a snapshot of a Data View web part showing information from a database table.

When connecting to the database, there are a couple of options for authentication. The first one (and the one that’s shown in most of the demonstrations :-)) is by supplying it database credentials. Making the connection this way assures that only these credentials would be used by this web part… always! Meaning, no matter who is viewing this web part (reader, administrator or someone in the middle), they will all get the same experience. More often than not, this is not the user experience that organizations want. They want the user experience to be dependent on the user’s access level. For example, a sales person in the organization should be able to view the sales revenue data while an IT analyst should not. To make that happen, you need to configure the Single Sign On functionality which comes built into SharePoint Server. Single Sign On in SharePoint simply means that once the user logs on to their machine, SharePoint will take care of supplying their credentials to the backend applications or databases that the user needs access to. The image below shows how the Data View web part can utilize single sign on to access a database.

Want to see how the process works from end to end – configuring SSO and utilizing it in the Data View web part? Check out our free video of the week on Configuring Single Sign On. Enjoy!

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Free Webinar on Creating Data Centric Apps using SharePoint Designer 2010

We’re back again with another free webinar. The content of this webinar was presented as a session by me at the Microsoft Connections 2010 conference in Amsterdam last week. The concepts presented in this session are already available as videos to the subscribers of SharePoint-Videos.com. I’ll be presenting this session in a webinar format to be held this Thursday, Jan 28th.

For this webinar, fundamental knowledge of SharePoint (2007 or 2010) concepts is assumed. Webinar will be held on Jan 28th at 12:00pm Eastern time. You can get more information and register for this webinar here:

https://www1.gotomeeting.com/register/884796449

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