Friday, 4 November 2011

Selecting the correct workflowid

A very quick one, which is mostly an aide-memoire for myself, but others may find useful.

I occasionally need to run CRM workflows programmatically using an ExecuteWorkflow request. This takes a workflowid as a parameter, but the question is, which one ? If you look at the workflow entity, you'll find several records for a workflow with a given name. The logic I use to determine which is the correct on is:

  • statecode = 1 (Activated)

  • activeworkflowid is not null

But use the workflowid value of the record for which activeworkflowid is not null. This seems a but counter-intuitive to me, hence this post

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

PartyList attributes and the plugin event pipeline

This should be a quick post about a subtlety with the plugin event pipeline. I recently wrote a plugin that could modify the data that's submitted when updating an activity record. This should have been a straightforward plugin on the Pre event that modified the Target InputParameter, and it all worked fine, except for partylist fields (such as the resources field on the serviceappointment entity, or optionalattendees on the appointment entity). Essentially, any changes I made to these fields in the plugin were ignored.

Fortunately, there is a solution, and it depends on the stage that you register the plugin on. If you register on stage=20 (i.e. within the transaction), your changes are ignored. However, change the registration to stage=10 (before the transaction), then it does work. There's no documentation on this, but I expect it is due to how the partylist data is saved. This data is written to the activityparty table in the database, and I expect that the SQL for this is already fixed at the start of the transaction, and hence is unaffected by changes in the plugin code.

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Unexpected error with ConditionOperator.In and typed arrays

I just met a bizarre error when using the Crm xrm assembly when using the ConditionOperator.In in a query. In this case the query was to find all notes related to a list of CRM entities, and the error was "Condition for attribute 'annotation.objectid': expected argument(s) of type 'System.Guid' but received 'System.Guid[]'". I was using almost identical code to some code that did work, but there was a subtle difference in the overloads of some of the xrm methods.

Consider the following code, which works:

QueryExpression q = new QueryExpression("annotation");
Guid g1 = Guid.NewGuid();
Guid g2 = Guid.NewGuid();
q.Criteria.AddCondition(new ConditionExpression("objectid", ConditionOperator.In, new Guid[] { g1, g2 }));

However, change the last line to the following, and it fails with the error above:

q.Criteria.AddCondition("objectid", ConditionOperator.In, new Guid[] { g1, g2 });

On the face of it, you'd expect identical behaviour, but it looks like the problem is due to the parameter overloads on the different methods. The constructor for ConditionExpression takes 5 overloads, and the compiler will use System.Collections.ICollection for the array of Guids. However, the AddCondition method only offers one type for the third parameter (params object[]). The result of this is that the code fails because the parameter is interpreted as object[] {new Guid[] { g1, g2 }}.

Interestingly, other code can also work, e.g.

q.Criteria.AddCondition("objectid", ConditionOperator.In, new object[] { g1, g2 });
q.Criteria.AddCondition("objectid", ConditionOperator.In, g1, g2);

Saturday, 9 April 2011

Options for upgrading ASP .Net extensions for CRM 2011

I like April. One reason is that it's the start of my MVP renewal cycle. After April 1st April I will either have been renewed, or not, and I feel less circumspect about making critical comments about decisions Microsoft have made. So, ASP .Net extensions with CRM 2011. Since the first release of CRM (CRM 1.0 or CRM 1.2 depending on your country), a major extension point for On-Premise CRM implementations was to develop ASP .Net extensions and deploy them within the CRM web site. Having a supported way to place these extensions within the CRM web site was important for several reasons:
  1. To allow relative Urls in IFrames, ISV.Config and SiteMap. Main reasons for that are to cope with IFD environments where different domain names are provided for internal and external access, and to avoid configuration issues exporting/importing between environments
  2. To allow single-sign on and impersonation, so the code could act on behalf of the CRM user, without needing to re-enter their credentials
  3. To maintain the Site Origin (aka same site of origin). This is an important consideration as Internet Explorer security will only permit code interaction between pages if it considers that they are part of the same site. For example, the ability to pass data to a dialog using window.dialogArguments, or the ability to access objects on a calling window via window.opener both depend on the pages being in the same site
However, CRM 2011 puts significant restrictions on putting your ASP .Net extensions within the CRM web site. Essentially, the only supported option is to retain existing extensions that use the CRM 4 endpoint. So, what happens to the points above if you can't put your ASP .Net extensions in the CRM web site:
  1. You'll have to use absolute Urls. This makes deployment between environments (e.g. from development to live) harder, as the Urls would have to changed. In small-scale environments this would be just a manual task, but in larger environments you may decide to build a process to automate this. Overall, I see this as a major annoyance, but not a major problem
  2. Microsoft have put work into making single sign-on work across web sites. This depends on setting up Secure Token Services, which incurs some administrative and deployment overhead. There's an additional deployment overhead of setting up a new web site for the extensions, and configuring access to it. I've not tested this fully, but assuming it works as promised, this should resolve the single sign-on and impersonation issue
  3. This is the big problem area. I don't think same site of origin can be maintained with the ASP .Net pages outside of the CRM web site, which effectively removes support for a common type of extension that was possible in all previous versions (Note, IE 8 has some settings that affect how Site Origin is applied, and this might help, but IE 7 is a supported browser for CRM 2011, so this cannot be a universal solution)

So, what can/should you do with your ASP .Net extensions that you wrote for CRM 4.0, or were intending to write. I see 3 main options:

  1. Don't upgrade your code. ASP .Net code that uses the CRM 4 web service endpoint will still work in the ISV folder, and Microsoft have not said it is unsupported. This is the simplest option, but it means you need to maintain CRM 4 code, and you'll still have to address the issue when CRM 6 comes out. You could cross your fingers and hope that, in CRM 6, Microsoft reintroduce support for ASP .Net extensions within the CRM web site
  2. Upgrade the code to use the CRM 2011 endpoint, and deploy it in a separate web-site from CRM. As stated above, this causes extra deployment overhead (which I consider is a significant overhead, which is often under-estimated), and you won't be able to use same site of origin, so you have to expect some limitations
  3. Rewrite the code as web resources (Silverlight, or HTML with javascript). Microsoft have introduced quite a lot of integration points in CRM 2011 that makes this a powerful option. This has a major advantage that the resources are necessarily hosted within the CRM web site, and can be deployed as part of a CRM solution. However, these are client-side technologies and some extensions would need extra work to build (e.g. extensions that access a database on another server). My biggest problem though is the development effort required to rewrite code in substantially different technologies, and these are technologies that are not as mature as ASP .Net

Of these, I don't like any of the options. Numbers 2 and 3 would be necessary if you need to support CRM Online, but for On-Premise implementations there are some difficult decisions to make. Don't get me wrong, I appreciate that there are a lot of good things for developers in CRM 2011; web resources and the single sign-on across web-sites are very powerful and very welcome, and the only options for CRM Online, it's just a shame to lose some On-Premise options.

But to finish on a more positive note, another reason I like April is that this is a great month for ski touring.

Friday, 8 April 2011

Removing prompt for credentials when browsing with Internet Explorer

This post isn't intended to be a complete list of solutions to issue when you are unexpectedly prompted for AD credentials when browsing with Internet Explorer, but it gives some rules of thumb regarding where to start looking. The scenario: You try accessing a page using IE, and are prompted by a 'Windows Security' dialog for AD credentials when you don't expect it.

Possible causes: There are many, but the first thing to do is work out if it's a server-side issue, or a client-side issue. A simple test is what happens if you provide valid credentials in the Windows Security dialog:

  • If you can then connect, then this is a client-side issue
  • If you are prompted again, either 2 or 3 times, then get a permission error (normally HTTP 401), then it is a server-side issue

Client-side issues If it's a client-side issue, then look at the client IE settings, and the URL of the web page: If IE considers that you have already logged into the DNS domain (the part of the url prior to the first single / - e.g. http://crm:5555/), then it should reuse these credentials and you won't be prompted to login. However, IE is picky about matching the DNS domain, so if you've already logged into http://crm, then it won't trust other aliases (e.g. http://localhost,, and will prompt for credentials.

If you're using CRM 4 and have extension pages in the ISV directory of the CRM web site, then it is best to provide the URL as a relative path (e.g. /ISV/MyCompany/MyPage.aspx) rather than an absolute path, to avoid this issue.

The IE security settings will determine whether IE will try submitting your logged-on credentials. By default, it will only do this if you connect to a site in the Local Intranet Zone, so check the IE security settings, and the zone of the web site you're connecting to

Server-side issues If it's a server-side issue, then there are many possible causes, but most of them come to Kerberos in one way or another

Monday, 28 February 2011

Possible SQL Gotcha - use of 'Not In' with NULLs and the customer attribute

I was recently putting together a bit of SQL to illustrate the use of a NOT IN clause for a forum answer, and got some unexpected results. The query was a relatively simple example; find all accounts with no associated opportunities. So, I tried this:

SELECT name FROM FilteredAccount
WHERE accountid NOT IN (SELECT accountid FROM FilteredOpportunity)

Nice, simple query, but it returned no data (and it should have done). However, the following works fine:

SELECT name FROM FilteredAccount
WHERE accountid NOT IN (SELECT customerid FROM FilteredOpportunity)

The only difference is the use of customerid instead of accountid in the subquery. If I'd have expected the first query to work instead of the second query, as customerid is a generated field (it's generated within the Opportunity via by the SQL function COALESCE(accountid, contactid)).

This all seems weird, but it comes down to what happens with nulls. An opportunity will be associated with one of an account, or a contact. So, the subquery 'SELECT accountid FROM FilteredOpportunity' could return a null (if you have an opportunity against a contact), but 'SELECT customerid FROM FilteredOpportunity' will always return non-null values. Don't ask me why, but the presence of nulls in the subquery cause the NOT IN query to misbehave.

One way to confirm this is with another variation on the query above, which also works:

SELECT name FROM FilteredAccount
WHERE accountid NOT IN (SELECT accountid FROM FilteredOpportunity WHERE accountid is NOT NULL)

This query explicitly excludes nulls from the results on the subquery, and so it works fine.

The main lesson I took from this is to always test for nulls in the subquery when using NOT IN; another lesson is to pay close attention when using attributes that represent the composite Customer data type in CRM

For reference, the reason why I was doing this is because this is a classic example of a query that cannot be done through FetchXML, and hence cannot be written with an Advanced Find in CRM. If the primary entity is an account, contact or lead then you have a manual workaround in CRM, for example:
  • Create a marketing list, and populate it with all accounts
  • Use Advanced Find to remove from the list all accounts that have an opportunity
  • This will then leave you with a marketing list that contains all accounts without an opportunity

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

CRM 2011 RTM Release

Seems like the day for announcements: the CRM 2011 RTM code has been released for On-Premise and Partner-Hosted environments. This is nearly 2 weeks earlier than I expected, so congratulations to the CRM product team.

The server software can be downloaded here, and that page has links to download the other components. The build number is 05.00.9688.583, which is consistent with the build number of the binaries in the release SDK.

Using CRM 4.0 assemblies on a CRM 2011 Server

CRM 2011 Server includes a publisher policy that causes any assembly built against the CRM 4 sdk assemblies to load the CRM 5 sdk assemblies instead. There are certain circumstances where this can cause errors loading the assembly; see the end of this post for possible error messages.

One workaround is to not run the application on a Crm 2011 Server, but there is an alternative, which is to explictly tell your application not to use this publisher policy file. This is done through adding the following to the app.config file:

<assemblyBinding xmlns="urn:schemas-microsoft-com:asm.v1">
<assemblyIdentity name="Microsoft.Crm.Sdk" publicKeyToken="31bf3856ad364e35" culture="neutral" />
<publisherPolicy apply="no" />

This raises one more issue: in some circumstances your assembly may not be the main .exe, but a .dll loaded by another process, in which case you'll have to modify/create the .config file for that .exe. This is done by creating a file named .exe.config in the same directory as the .exe (here's an example). I have a nagging concern that I may have to do this with SSIS packages that use a custom component that use the SDK assemblies, which could get interesting, as different executables are used for in design, debug and runtime. If I do have this issue with SSIS, then I'll post a more detailed workaround (if I find it).

My hope is that this is a temporary problem that will be fixed, as the readme in the 5.0.1 version of the SDK refers to an 'incorrect Publisher Policy'. This readme also gives an explanation of this issue

One possible error
System.IO.FileLoadException: Could not load file or assembly 'Microsoft.Crm.Sdk, Version=, Culture=neutral, PublicKeyToken=31bf3856ad364e35' or one of its dependencies. The located assembly's manifest definition does not match the assembly reference. (Exception from HRESULT: 0x80131040)
File name: 'Microsoft.Crm.Sdk, Version=, Culture=neutral, PublicKeyToken=31bf3856ad364e35' ---> System.IO.FileLoadException: Could not load file or assembly 'Microsoft.Crm.Sdk, Version=, Culture=neutral, PublicKeyToken=31bf3856ad364e35' or one of its dependencies. The located assembly's manifest definition does not match the assembly reference. (Exception from HRESULT: 0x80131040)
File name: 'Microsoft.Crm.Sdk, Version=, Culture=neutral, PublicKeyToken=31bf3856ad364e35'

Another possible error
System.IO.FileNotFoundException: Could not load file or assembly 'Microsoft.Crm.Sdk, Version=, Culture=neutral, PublicKeyToken=31bf3856ad364e35' or one of its dependencies. The system cannot find the file specified.
System.IO.FileNotFoundException: Could not load file or assembly 'Microsoft.Crm.Sdk, Version=, Culture=neutral, PublicKeyToken=31bf3856ad364e35' or one of its dependencies. The system cannot find the file specified.

CRM 2011 Documentation Released

The CRM 2011 Implementation Guide was released last week, and it looks like the CRM 2011 SDK has also been released. As far as I can tell, the SDK is a live (as opposed to beta) release, though the hands-on labs were built on beta code. The SDK documentation has version 5.0.1, and it includes binaries with version 5.0.9688.583 which are claimed to match those for CRM 2011 Online. We'll see what version number we get with the RTM code.

And the CRM 2011 Developer Training Kit has also been released recently.

I'm deliberately using the term released to indicate that they are publicly available (as opposed to 'launch', which I consider a marketing event).

Friday, 11 February 2011

Plugin Deployment Options

The CRM 4 SDK gives some information about the storage options when registering plugins but there are a few more considerations. I got prompted to elaborate on this in a forum post, and I think it's worth documenting this here as well:

The 3 storage options are: Database, Disk and GAC. The main differences between these are:

  • Database: The assembly dll is stored in the database, rather than the file system. The major advantages are that the assembly need only be deployed once if you have multiple CRM servers, and that no additional action is required to restore / redeploy the assembly either during disaster recovery, or if redeploying to an alternate server. This is the preferred option in a production environment
  • Disk: The assembly dll is placed in the \server\bin\assembly directory on each server. You have to ensure the dll is placed in the correct place on all CRM servers, so the deployment overhead is a little greater. I normally use this option in development environments as you can redeploy newer versions solely by file transfer, rather than reregistering. Also, if debugging, the assembly .pdb file needs to be placed in the same location; with this option it's easy to ensure the dll and pdb are from the same build
  • GAC: The assembly is placed in the Global Assembly Cache on each CRM server, and again you will have to do this. The GAC does allow multiple versions of an assembly, but CRM doesn't, so you don't really gain anything by using the GAC. I don't think I've ever used this option

There is one further consideration. If your plugin assembly has other dependent assemblies, then you can place this dependent assembly in the GAC whichever of the above options you take. However, if you use the Disk option, then the dependent assemblies can also be deployed into the \server\bin\assembly directory

Friday, 4 February 2011

.Net Framework versions of custom components with SQL 2008 R2 BIDS

Rather a long title, but I couldn't think of anything shorter. Anyway, it's a topic that I would have preferred was better publicised.

SQL 2008 R2 Business Intelligence Development Studio (BIDS) will only recognise extension components (such as SSIS Data Flow Components) that are built against .Net Framework 3.5. Neither earlier nor later versions will work, and I've yet to find any useful messages to tell you why.

So far I've only done enough testing to find combinations that definitely work, as summarised in the following table.

BIDS Version.Net Framework version of component
SQL 20052.0
SQL 20082.0
SQL 2008 R23.5