Tuesday, 3 April 2007

Sharepoint BDC - Easy LOB Integration

MOSS 2007 brings out new capabilities in integrating third party data sources and line-of-business apps into the sharepoint environment. Once integrated, these data sources act 'quite' similar to the standard sources letting you apply the various sharepoint functions such as list, search etc.

There is no need to write complex custom handlers (nobody wants to write one - not recommended by the MOSS team either!) or IFilers, now with the introduction of Business Data Catalog - BDC

The idea is very simple - you could integrate any data source which has an adapter via the ADO.NET path or a webservice. Once you dig out the adapter,the only remaining step is to define the BDC. The BDC definition is an XML file conforming to the BDCMetaData.xsd schema. Tip - when you start with a new XML file using VS.NET 2005, go to the properties for this XML file and point the 'schema' to the BDCMetaData.xsd; this enables intellisense while editing the XML file.

Common items which you define in the BDC :
LobSystemInstance - This defines where the datasource is and the adapter to use for connection, think of it as the connection string you normally provide.

Entities - When you expose the data source, what you definitely need to tell MOSS is what items you need to make available from your datasouce. Say from the default SQL Server [pubs] DB, you might want to expose the employee items only. For each entity, you would need to define the properties (employee id, name etc) and the identifier (employee id) at the bare minimum.

Methods and Method Instances - This defines the actions you could perform against the entity. You would define the method defintion ; say by using an SQL command string with the parameters (parameter types could be .NET types, say System.Data.IDataReader, System.String etc).

Method instances is an interesting concept; the same procedure definition (a template) could have different roles (method instances) to play under different scenario. Method types define the role the method plays. Eg:- when you need to define a SpecificFinder and a Finder type, a single method template should suffice.

Some of the method types defined are quite smart; AccessChecker method type could be used to do a custom access filter of the items in MOSS just before it is shown to the user (say just before the search result is shown within MOSS). You could write stored procedures in the backend which tell MOSS whether the data needs to be shown to the specific user, then link it up as an AccessChecker in the BDC definition file. I think thats cool.

BDCMetaMan - A very handy tool where you define the connection, entities etc visually and the XML file is generated for you. The free version could be used as a draft for more hands on tweaking.

Check out BDC covered extensively at MSDN.

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