Submitting to Business Central Open Source, the code review…

So to continue where we left off yesterday when I did a pull request on the Business Central System App project on GitHub.

After my pull request someone at Microsoft did a code review in order to make sure quality standards are respected. Here are the details:

I have to admit something. First of all, this is not actually my code. It came from my colleague Michael Nielsen. Secondly this blog post is a bit orchestrated since Jesper and I discussed in Antwerp at NAVTechDays how to promote people contributing.

Working with Microsoft is pretty tough since your doing code for millions of users, not just one customer. Business Central should be easy to use and if you call the culture info with for example 0 or 80,943 you’ll get an error explaining that the language does not exist but not in an easy to read way.

I’m tempted to follow the idea to wrap the call in a TryFunction, but that means introducing a readeable error message, which includes translation and I am worried that will delay my pull request.

An alternative is to wrap it into a try function and return the orriginal integer if the call fails.

What do you think? It proves to me that coding for millions is a lot harder than it looks.

Business Central System App is Open Source! Contribute, don't be shy…

With the recent Wave II release of Business Central we also got the first wave of Open Source in our beloved NAV/BC product.

This means that rather than making customization for one specific customer or ISV you can now have this pushed back into the product and stay there forever.

Today I did my first Pull Request and I wanted to share how I did that.

What did I need?

With reports, especially documents that go out, translations are key. In the next release of our ForNAV extension we wanted to add a new feature where you can translate invoices by simply adding captions to a table or import them from an Excel sheet or Azure Blob Container file.

With translations there are rules that allow you to inherrit languages from related languages if they are related. For example Flamish (NLB) can be inherrited from Dutch (NLD).

Especially in Europe this drastically reduces the number of translations and you only have to manage exceptions where terminology is different. (Trust me, this is the case with Flamish and Dutch).

DotNET

I actually only need one line of DotNET code

CultureInfo.CultureInfo(LanguageId).Parent.LCID

Normally you are not allowed to do DotNET, but System App has target set to OnPrem so simple usages of DotNET are actually allowed. (I hope).

Fork & Clone

The first step is to log into GitHub and Fork the Microsoft ALAppExtensions project and clone this to your Visual Studio Code

Branch & Publish

Then you do the change. Remember Microsoft has this two-layer model where your real code is in the implementation.

Pull Request & License

The final step, or at least where I am now, is to do a pull request and sign the license.

After this you need a code review and this is what I am waiting for right now.

Tip #65 | AppSourceCop & mandatoryPrefix

Today I was a bit puzzled by getting this error message and how to fix it.

error AS0054: The AppSourceCop configuration must specify one of the following properties: 'mandatorySuffix', 'mandatoryPrefix', or 'mandatoryAffixes'

Yes, you can google the message but that only brings you to pages that describe the message, not how to fix it.

It appears to be easy so I wanted to spare others the time.

AL Extensions – File Naming and Organizing

This is a blog that I wanted to write for quite a while, but it’s only until last week or so that I think I’ve found what I like to call, a “best practice” or if you will, a “Design Pattern”.

What is this all about? With the move from C/AL to Visual Studio Code we also moved to file based instead of stored in database.

This means we also have to give these files a name and we have the option to organise the files into folders, or subdirectories if you are a born-in-dos generation.

If you follow the Microsoft guidelines and/or use the tooling from Waldo your extension your extension will probably look something like this:

Although this works perfectly there are a few issues with this that I don’t like. I’ll try to explain myself.

Object ID’s

The Object ID is still there. Not perse a big problem but in the cloud they don’t mean anything anymore except making the object Unique. In the past, we as developers tried to use object ID’s in a smart way, like make sure that table & page have the same ID, or make sure that Header and Line tables have adjacent ID’s so Object Designer in C/Side would show them nicely grouped.

In most projects as well as in Microsoft’s BaseApp this is no longer true and possible. We have too much legacy to trust sorting and grouping objects by ID.

Prefixes

If you prefixed your objects in C/Side and run the conversion your filenames look something like this.

To me this looks like a horrible waste of the first 15 or so characters of your filename. I tried it for a while and it’s very hard to work with.

Abbreviations

For reasons of legacy object names in AL can only have 30 characters. On top of this you’ll loose 3 or 4 on the TLA you need to mandatory put in my Microsoft. This often leads to horrible object names which are then converted to your file name

Lack of Intent

If all of your projects have the same object tree it does not make it very clear what kind of extension you are looking at. By opening the project we can only recognise it as an AL project but we cannot see what it does.

I can hear you say, so what? What do you suggest we do Mark?

BaseApp

When I opened the BaseApp in AL I got the first Aha moment on how to solve this puzzle. To my surprise Microsoft was not following their own guidelines.

It would not be the first time they don’t follow their own guidelines and at first it pissed my off a bit. But only untiil the beauty of this naming pattern struck me just like that.

With these naming guidelines you can automagically see what belongs together regardless of the Object ID and Object Type

Old Naming Conventions

For those of you who remember the old Solution Developer materials will also know that there are strickt naming guidelines. Like the Table Name is singular, the Page Name is Plural. If you have a List and a Card you name them like that etc, etc, etc.

If you were religious about these rules and follow this pattern your project suddenly makes much more sense to look at.

Subfolders

So I hear you say, what about subfolders? The BaseApp has over 6000 files and this naming does not make it easy to work with if everything is in one root folder.

The logical answer here is to apply common sense. Group your objects together if they belong together.

Clear Intent

This also gives your project a clear intent. I can see by looking at the folder structure that this is a report pack with Labels, Sales Taks reports, Financial reports, and so on, and so on.

Remove Abbreviations

If you remove the abbreviations and then look at for example a Journal the pure beauty of this way of working with files becomes as clear as sunshine on a cloudy day.

See how nice the Batch, template and register are grouped together and it’s very easy to find the file you need.

One can debate if in this specific case the word “Example” is overkill, but if you think for a moment it would say “Item” I’m sure to think you agree with me.

Call to action

To me this is another indication of how smart one of the old Navision rules were and it looks to me that Navision was born in the cloud back in the late 1980ies. They just had not invented the cloud yet.

Use your brain, think out of the box and be surprised.

Managing DotNET Dependencies on AppSource for Business Central

When you try to convert existing C/Side objects to AL the first attempts are typically done while scoping OnPrem. This gives an overview of the errors to be fixed w.o things like DotNET.

In this phase you typically switch between C/Side and Visual Studio Code all the time fixing the errors one-by-one and reconverting.

Once the errors are fixed the software can be tested and deployed using either Docker or a local install.

This is a very safe way of ensuring there is a migration path for your existing customers what is not overly complex and thus affordable from a TCO perspective.

The next step is moving to AppSource and this is where you need to remove all the DotNET dependencies.

The biggest issue with DotNET is that it’s often used in interfaces and most partners that I’ve worked with put every interface they ever did in their C/Side toolbox just in case you ever need it again.

Chances are you may never need many or most of them, but how do you determine that? And where to start?

Decouple!

If you can somehow decouple your business logic from your DotNET dependencies you create a Core solution, and each interface can be a dependent extension.

These depedent extensions will most often be per-tenant extensions. You don’t want to go through the whole AppSource validation for interfaces you only need almost never.

Example

Let’s look at a simple real life example I did today. It’s an interface that reads the ferry sailing times from TT-Line and offers the option to book one.

Off course decoupling is smart here in the first place since you may also want to interface with other ferry companies but that’s not what we’re looking at now. In the example I have the C/AL code and the DotNET code is on one codeunit and it needs to be decoupled.

The Function GetTimeTable is called from the application somewhere. If I remove this codeunit from my extension I get errors.

Step 1 – Copy the codeunit using File-Save As and call it <<Name>> Impl.

This separates the link between your application and the code making the orriginal codeunit a Facade and the new codeunit the Implementation.

Microsoft also does this in the new System Application

Step 2 – Remove All Code from the Facade and change the functions in Event Publishers

This is different from what Microsoft does in System Application. In our case we don’t want a strong contract between the Facade and the Implementation.

Step 3 – Change the functions in the Implementation to event subscribers

Just enter the property window and add the correct properties. Trust me, it works.

Step 4 – Mark the decoupled codeunit in the Version List

When 100% conversion between C/Side and AL is the goal (and it should be the goal) you can use the Version List to mark your objects as part of Core, or as part of a dependent Extension.

Step 5 – Determine what’s next

Now you can ship to AppSource but you’ll have a function that does nothing. You need to rewrite this code to make it work.

Most often there are two scenario’s.

A:> Make use of the new HTTP type variables in AL

B:> Create an Azure Function

Both are valid options and the correct choice depends more on questions like flexibility and language of preference.

NEVER, EVER put interfaces in your Base AppSource solution unless you trust the contract of the API with your life!

Interfaces change all the time. Put them in a Per-Tenant extension or in an Azure Function because these can very easily be changed, debugged, etc.

Monolith ≠ NoOfObjects | Breaking up your extension

If you have IP for Microsoft Dynamics NAV in C/Side your are either in the process of moving it to AL and Business Central or you are busy finding a buyer for your company. Both seem to be very valid options these days.

When you talk to the engineers who are busy executing this task the number one question on their mind, once they got their stuff decoupled from BassApp, is how to break up their extension in multiple apps.

Breaking up as a goal

I was one of the first to blog about the Business Central BaseApp being a monolith application and I have a strong opinion on how to solve it. The new Enum and Interface is the key to solving that puzzle. I’ll get back to that later in this blog.

I get much inspiration for my opinion from following Uncle Bob Martin and reflecting his idea’s to our framework.

This tweet of him caught my attention.

This tweet circled be back to my opinion that just because something was built in C/Side does not make it a monolith. Even if it has many objects.

The ForNAV Report Pack we publish on AppSource has a few hundred files and we’ve divided them into three Apps; Core, Report Pack and Report Pack Test.

Technically we could have taken it even further. Like for example the MICR Check Report for the North American market could have been it’s own App.

Quickly after breaking up our App we learned that working in different Apps is very hard, especially in a small team and my colleague Jacob came up with the idea to make them back into one App during development and then “PowerShell” them into seperate Apps before we publish. Again, more for another blog.

When I did the challenge from Michael Megel yesterday I took decoupling into the extreme with making the al.address pattern depend on the al.masterdata.person and the al.entitystate depend on al.masterdata.product.

Truth is that you can take decoupling and dependencies into the extreme. You’ll end up in a dependency hell.

How and When to Break Up

This may sounds strange, but this decision is more in the hands of your marketing department than in your development team.

Rule #1 – If you want to sell it seperately it needs to be a seperate App.

Cannot make that one simpler than it is.

Rule #2 – Create your own System App with reusable components

Microsoft experimented with making micro extensions, however they suffered from the same issues we had in terms of manageability. You can still make each module have it’s own folder and even check if it compiles separately by giving each module it’s own app.json file.

Rule #3 – Add Reusable code to Microsoft’s System App

This should be Rule #1 actually. As Bugsy said in the NAVTechDays keynote you can submit modules to the Microsoft System App and have everyone share the same code

Rule #4 – Keep it together if it belongs together

Microsofts BaseApp has over 6000 objects and the compiler chews through it with relative ease. It’s bigger than it could be because we lack some features in our language to make it smaller. This results in a lot of cloning of both code and metadata.

If you have a vertical solution you should not be scared if you end up with a core module that has several hundred objects of maybe even slightly more than one thousand.

The compiler wil manage and you can have multiple developers work on features using git with branches.

Rule #5 – Move Interfaces into dependent apps

Most partners I worked with in moving to AL had an endless number of interfaces in their solution. Basically everything they cooked over the years for projects was added to the solution in case they ever need it again.

Move this into small Apps with a clear, reusable interface. Leverage the power of Event Publishers with using an Argument table as a strong contract.

This way you only need to install them at implementations where you really need them.

What makes BaseApp a Monolith?

If you can make decoupled code in C/Side, then why is the BaseApp so hard to work with?

It seems that optionfields that make Business Central so flexible are the achilles’ heel which is why Microsoft is working on the Enum and Interfaces.

Just the Enum was not enough, this would leave the case statement as a problem.

So that’s it?

No, not quite, but it would be a major step in breaking up the BaseApp without breaking changes. Another feature we need which may prove itself even harder to implement is extendable flowfields.

Proof of Concept?

If you look at how Business Central was built we can probably break it up the same we it grew. Move modules that were added later into dependent extensions.

Microsoft asked me to do a proof of concept but I doubt if I will have time to do that. We meet in January and breaking up BaseApp is on top of the agenda.

Maybe a few members of the community can work on this together? Many hands make light work.

The goal would be to move a module like Fixed Asset, Service Management or Production to a dependant app without breaking changes (or keep it within certain limits).

Who is up for it?

NAVTechDays – It’s a peoples event…

It’s the weekend after NAVTechDays and I rested from a busy week. Two days of pre-conference training and two days of talking at (a lot of) people mostly at the ForNAV booth but also at the booth of Meta UI, Continia, SQL Perform, Anveo, Prism and AL Ops.

Design Patterns, once again

Teaching the Design Patterns for AL the first time was fun, challenging and exhausting. It was fun because I got to talk about my passion once again, clean code and design patterns. Challenging because it was the first time on AL and my attendees almost all were experienced with having apps on AppSource and PerTenant apps. It was exhausting because I had no idea what to prepare for and the group was very interactive.

Once again I felt I learned more than the students combined. I know that our community is ready for the next step in AL. We finished converting from C/Side and we’re ready to move on. Some of us at least.

One of my attendees, you may know him, Michael Megel encouraged me to think out of the box once again and take the patterns to the next level of abstraction.

I’ll blog about this more in the following weeks but you can take a sneak preview at https://github.com/al-design-patterns.

With C/Side the patterns were left behind with Microsoft on their old wiki. I talked at NAVTechDays with Bugsy to see if they can be carried foreward to AL and Visual Studio Code too. To be continued.

Although I don’t have the ambition I had a few years back I do hope to teach a bit more next period. I am traveling to Denmark next week to teach PrintVis and I applied to teach the class at Days of Knowledge in Denmark.

NAVTechDays

I felt the general atmosphere at NAVTechDays was very positive. The most positive I have seen in a long time.

At the ForNAV booth I have only done demo’s of our AppSource solution. Nobody is remotely interested in the old world which is great.

Where last year most attendees had no clue of the problem we’re trying to solve they now were super enthousiastic of our offering. I guess you first have to try RDLC with AL to appreciate the alternative. ;-).

This seems to be even more true for the new Meta UI product from Global Mediator. It’s now roughly 15 months ago that we locked up two insanely smart JavaScript/Angular experts in an office with no outside windows. I gave them an API endpoint and the question to use that MetaData to build an improved Grid control. The rest is history and the product, a result of more than 10 manyears, was presented at NAVTechDays last week.

I was so proud to see one of these JavaScript experts, the architect of the solution, giving demo’s of the product as if he lived his whole life in Business Central and to hear people say things like “where did this come from all of the sudden”, and “this is by far the best thing I’ve seen this year at NAVTechDays”.

It proves that to be successful with Business Central you need to step outside of your comfort zone and work with people who are smart in technology that can be combined with AL very easily.

Where Directions are to give a roadmap to a company, NAVTechDays is to give inspiration to developers.

The sponsors of NAVTechDays are all but one (I think) companies that offer tools. Different from Directions where there are more vertical solution ISV’s using the oportunity to talk at their international partners.

I hope that NAVTechDays and Directions can co-exist side by side for many years to come although it may be time to start calling it BCTechDays.