Working with Azure Blob and NAV

This is something that’s long overdue, I wanted to write this before my summer vacation.

My reason for holding back is that I want to share all the code for this project and this needs cleaning up. This is still not done and if you want the code you’ll have to contact me.

Why am I still writing this? I am actually writhing this from the “International” airport of Cork Ireland where I spent the day with my friend Tim Grant.

Tim and I go way back when we both worked together on the Design Patterns project with Microsoft and the reason for my visit was to help him with his go-to cloud strategy.

Last spring we moved all EDI and E-Invoicing at my customer Vos Transport from On-Prem to Azure Blob Storage and Logic Apps.

In total we moved 4.5 million files to the cloud and migrated a few dozen EDI processes to use Azure Blob storage as queues.

The cost of storage and running this is less than 100 euro’s per month and it is insanely stable. So stable that I had to use Statical Prism today to find some of the code and explain it to Tim.

I’ll let this post sit here for a while and see what happens. if I get spammed to share the code I’ll spend the time cleaning it up. If nothing happens than no time is wasted.

Enjoy…

Tip #61 | .gitignore for AL projects

The Business Central Community loves Git, but GitHub does not seem to even know we exist. It recognises our projects as perl projects and there is no suggestion for a .gitignore file.

Why .gitignore?

It’s generally considered best practice to use Git for managing uncompiled code, but not to store the result of a project, nor it’s dependencies.

Also, settings that may vary from developer to developer are best not to be stored since doing to would continously lead to conflicts with pushing and merging.

For AL projects this means we need to exclude our .app file (the result), the alpackages (our dependencies) and the vscode settings file.

Or if you want to copy & paste

.alpackages/
.vscode/
*.app

NOTE: You should create your .gitignore before the initial commit. Removing files later is a tedious process.

Tip #60 | Suppress Warnings in Visual Studio Code

One of the most anoying things about writing AL code in Visual Studio Code is getting warnings that you cannot fix. Simply impossible.

My “favorite” warning is this one

For almost a decade it’s been possible to sort on flowfields from code and in reports and in most cases it works fine. On larger datasets it might require a covering index for performance.

This warning is a joke because it suggests to add a flowfield to the key’s. Even if it were a normal field; in extensions you cannot influence keys in Base Application anyway.

It’s recommended to fix this per project and to do this you need to add a settings.json file to your .vscode folder like this:

The content of this file should be something like this:

{
    "name": "ForNAV",
    "description": "ForNAV Rules",
    "generalAction": "Hidden",
    "rules": [
        {
            "id": "AL0432",
            "action": "Hidden",
            "justification": "Marked for removal, be careful with this rule…"
        },
        {
            "id": "AL0254",
            "action": "Hidden",
            "justification": "Not possible to solve"
        },

Tip #59 | Multiple Start Configurations in Visual Studio Code

When developing extensions for Business Central you have a wide array of publishing options to choose from.

My most used options when working on the ForNAV Customizable Report Pack are our Sandbox and Docker.

Testing is best on the Sanxbox for two reasons. First because all the Azure Active Directory stuff actually returns something which is useful for licensing scenario’s. Second because you can easily share the result with the team since everyone is on the same Sandbox.

Docker is useful when you don’t want to test on current but on an older or vNext instance.

Lastly it’s also possible to install Business Central on your own infrastructure altough this is a dying species.

In your Visual Studio Code project you can specify how you want to publish in the launch.json file but did you also know you can setup miltiple configurations and then choose one at the time of publishing.

This is how it could look:

{
     "version": "0.2.0",
     "configurations": [
         {
             "type": "al",
             "request": "launch",
             "name": "Docker",
             "authentication": "UserPassword",
             "startupObjectType": "Page",
             "breakOnError": true,
             "launchBrowser": true,
             "server": "http://bcsandbox",
             "serverInstance": "NAV",
             "enableLongRunningSqlStatements": true,
             "enableSqlInformationDebugger": true,
             "schemaUpdateMode": "Synchronize"
    },
    {
        "type": "al",
        "request": "launch",
        "name": "Microsoft cloud sandbox",
        "startupObjectId": 6188475,
        "startupObjectType": "Page",
        "breakOnError": true,
        "launchBrowser": true,
        "enableLongRunningSqlStatements": true,
        "enableSqlInformationDebugger": true,
        "schemaUpdateMode": "Synchronize"
    }
] 
}

Now if you publish your code Visual Studio Code will ask for the correct configuration.

NOTE: Your credentials cache is shared accross these configurations. You will need to clear the credentials cache if you switch.

TIP: You can also use this to create a seperate config for Syncronize and Recreate.

Episode 4 – BC Fall Release | Give Feedback

Feedback is critical for Microsoft to improve Business Central and all of their other products.

For this reason a preview is published of the upcomming release this fall. You can install this using Docker and I’ve been told a DVD will be made available soon.

This release will be the biggest change since the introduction of the Three Tier model and Role Tailored Client and fits into the row completing the move to SQL Server and Dos to Windows.

The move to AL is probably the smallest change here. AL has been running side-by-side with C/Side for a few releases and is proven stable.

More important are dropping the Windows Client and the refactoring of parts as described here. https://github.com/microsoft/ALAppExtensions

I strongly encourage every partner to reflect their solution against the preview.

Learn from the past

When Microsoft introduced Pages and the Role Tailored Concept the majority of the partners ignored the first wave and waited until they persieved it as more mature.

However, when the majority moved it was too late to give feedback as the base architecture was carved in stone and decisions were made that were irreversable.

Running multiple platforms side-by-side like in the days with SQL Server and Native, or Classic Client and RTC is too expensive and partners are using it as an excuse not to move forward.

Ask for help

Don’t reinvent the wheel. Help is available in a large quantity of resources. Getting started can be hard.

An example is the blog from Saurav who explains in clear steps how to get started with clear screenshots from the docker preview.

https://saurav-nav.blogspot.com/2019/08/how-to-setup-business-central-2019.html

The Penalty for sitting it out

Even though some may disagree, upgrading Navision has always been a very easy and straight forward process, especially if you did frequent small steps.

It was harder if you waited longer, but a direct upgrade from Navision Financials 2.01 to version 4.3 or 5.0 were no exceptions.

With the introduction of 2009 a mandatory in-between step was introduced that everyone has to go through which IMHO is the real reason upgrades got a bad reputation.

NAV2018 or Business Central Spring release are other examples of mandatory steps to go through before upgrading and moving to the cloud becomes harder the longer you want as will the price increase.

Dropping out

When the gap becomes too big the chance of dropping out increases and as a community we should do anything we can to prevent that.

Episode 3 – BC Fall Release | Finding Stuff

UPDATE!! Microsoft is listening!!

Big news, it seems that Microsoft is fixing the issues we’ve found in our App for AppSource. Both the functions on the TempBlob and the Language table will be added back!

But also, let’s continue where we left off with the previous episodes because there are more challenges that won’t be fixed. Let’s see if we can fix some reference problems.

Before we do that, please allow me to repeat that despite these breaking changes Business Central remains by far the best customizable ERP system in the cloud.

For this blog post I’m going to fix the errors in the ForNAV Modern Object Designer as Extention. Benefit is that you can do this yourself too. Just download it from http://www.fornav.com, convert it using the fornav converter against spring and than connect it to the Docker. (end of advertizing ForNAV)

Issue #1 – Renamed Codeunits

After connecting the extension to Fall we see that the codeunit NavExtensionInstallationMgt is missing.

However… this is not true, and very confusing.

Reason for this, is that Microsoft RENAMED a codeunit (they actually renamed a bunch). Now in the old days this was NOT DONE, even though in this case C/Side would have handled the rename for us because C/Side works at compile time with object ID’s. This is because C/Side was developed in the late ’80ies early ’90ies when memory was expensive.

Visual Studio Code works with object names. So how do we figure out the new name for this codeunit???

The obvious answer here would be to install the ForNAV Modern Object Explorer but hey, we are fixing this now right? So let’s go nerdy and hack into SQL and see what’s going on there.

In C/Side we can see that the Codeunit ID is 2500. But Fall does not ship C/Side.

Let’s see what we can find in the SQL Server database.

Accessing SQL on Docker

If you run Docker you can still access SQL via Management studio. An SA account is created with the same password as your NAV user. The SQL does not have an instance, so just connect to the IP address of the container.

The default name of the database is Financialsw1 which I think is funny and a remainder of our temporary product name. If you want you can also relate it back to Navision Financials.

First place to look would be the Object Table. So let’s run a query.

Select * from [Object]

No results, which makes sense because there is no more C/Side and all code is in an Extension.

SELECT [Object Name], * FROM [NAV App Object Metadata] where [Object ID] = 2500

So let’s see what we can find in the NAV App Object Metadata table

Here it is, and now it is called “Extension Installation Impl”. So let’s try that!

Issue #2 – Protection

So we’ve found the codeunit’s new name. Yeah! Let’s change it and see what happens.

One of the functions started working, but one did not, and the codeunit still does not compile.

The reason for this is the protection level of the codeunit, and a broken contract. But how do we investigate that?

If you try Go To Definition on the object, you still get a “D/AL” file with no code, and it seems like Microsoft is not shipping the AL code in the App file on the Docker Container for the System app. Also we don’t know yet if it is in the system app.

Back to SQL Server

select * from [NAV App] where [Package ID] = '6418C5AF-4672-43DA-AD73-FF140FBBD537'

From the previous query we know that the App the object belongs to has ID 6418C5AF-4672-43DA-AD73-FF140FBBD537.

If we query that app in the NAV App table we can see it is system.

Now the next thing we need to do is clone the GitHub from https://github.com/microsoft/ALAppExtensions. This will get us the sourcecode, but Go To Definition does not work.

I’ll make it easy for you, the code is in https://github.com/microsoft/ALAppExtensions/tree/master/Modules/System/Extension%20Management/src

Codeunit 2500 has a property called Access which is set to Internal. Even if my extension is set to OnPrem I cannot access this function.

Step 3 – The Fix

In my case, the fix is easy. Just clone the code from CU 2500. It’s a fix I hate but IMHO unavoidable in this case.

Step 4 – Compile, Yes!!!

When you now run the MOD (Modern Object Designer) and filter on Object ID = 2500 you can see why I like this thing so much…

And then… No….

Now I should be able to export the object from the MOD but when I try I get this error?

And for a good reason, look at the variables!

Remember, we don’t have a Windows Client anymore? So we cannot run DotNet on client either.

For this I need more time to figure out a solution but I would also ask Microsoft to please enhance the compiler. I should not be able to compile and publish this extension against FALL release.

Episode 2 – BC-Fall Release Wave II | Checking Your Extension

Before we dive into the list of (breaking) changes that I’ve discovered so far, I will first explain how to check your extension against the preview of the fall release.

This is mostly interesting for those who are on AppSource or partners who have refactored their IP into On Prem extensions. I’m going to assume all of them have access to the Ready to Go program. If not, send me a message and I’ll help you onboard.

In another episode we’ll dive deeper into making your own Base App run on System.

So assuming you have a running service tier (on Docker or via de DVD on your machine) we need to make a few changes to the App.Json.

NOTE: You first need a new VSIX compiler. Download this from the Docker or DVD.

Plaform & Application

The Platform version needs to be changed to 15. The application needs to be removed. There is no more application.json file with symbols.

Now the dependencies need to be set. There are (most often) two apps needed here

BaseApp

Not really a “Marketing Friendly” name for the whole old Navision solution converted to AL code, but that’s it actually.

GUID =  437dbf0e-84ff-417a-965d-ed2bb9650972
Version =  "15.0.0.0"

Essentially you’ll get the same information as in previous versions with the app.json file generated by the finsql.exe but the .app file contains source code. I’ll get back to that in next episodes.

System Application

No consistency here. You would expect it to be called SystemApp, or BaseApp to be called Base Application. 😉

This is not to be confused with the platform .app file you’ll still get too. This still contains the 2 billion system objects that just are magically there (I think still maintained by finsql.exe when generating the database)

The new System Application is actually what you can find here on GitHub. But this seems not to contain source code. Again, more in a next episode.

Some examples of application parts that are moved to System Application are

  • TempBlob
  • Language
  • Tenant and Azure AD management
  • DotNET stuff
  • Etc.
GUID =  63ca2fa4-4f03-4f2b-a480-172fef340d3f
Version =  1.0.0.0

Your app.json file will now look something like this

Delete Old Symbols

It’s always a good idea to remove old symbol files before moving on. The compiler always looks at the latest version but here it might get confused because of all the moving parts.

Download new Symbols

Now just get the new symbols and your window will look something like this and starts showing you the warnings and errors.

Please note this is the result after some cleaning up. I’m not finished. I’ll write more about TempBlob and other refactoring challenges later.

See you in the next episode.