Should I try Visual Studio?
August 23, 2011 3:25 PM   Subscribe

SharePoint filter: Hitting limits with SharePoint Designer; Should I dive into Visual Studio?

I'm using SharePoint Designer to make some workflows that trade information between lists, auto-populate lists with information from other lists based on parameters, etc. I keep hitting limits on SP Designer--especially when I try to do stuff like group logical conditions in a step. I also want to use workflows for multiple lists (not possible in SP Designer).

When I research solutions, I keep seeing "use Visual Studio". I know I could probably think of different ways to do things and avoid the limits with SP Designer, but I'm kinda wondering if it would be easier if I just bit the bullet and started doing real programming. Not a programmer, but I think I know enough to be dangerous? I'm lusting some of the workflows I could build with Visual Studio.

I don't want to ask my work to pay for Visual Studio, and then I crack it open and it's WAY over my head. When I watch tutorials about VS, I think I could learn it and it looks like fun. I'm pretty good at learning on my own.

tech level--data manager, web experience, lots of SharePoint/Infopath "power user" stuffs, know some PHP, SQL, Oracle, blah blah, etc etc, not pertinent to this, but I wanted to illustrate my knowledge level. Not fluent in any programming language, I have the basic concepts and I want to level up. I think since I'm actually trying to achieve a means, I could learn a language more easily.

Am I going the right direction? Is Visual Studio the right tool? Any advice or resources?

(currently on SP 2007, upgrading to 2010 in the next year)
posted by hotelechozulu to Computers & Internet (8 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Microsoft offers free trial editions of VS you can download and use for non-commercial purposes. While this wouldn't probably help for the actual work you need to do, the versions they offer are more than full-featured enough to build full applications, etc. and would allow you to play around and learn quite a bit so that you could decide if you wanted to pursue this.

VS 2010 Express Editions
posted by BigHeartedGuy at 5:02 PM on August 23, 2011

Yeah, you can mess around with VS 2010 Express to get a feel for Visual Studio but you will need Visual Studio Professional for the Sharepoint Extensions. Don't let VS scare you. I have been using it for 7 or 8 years on a daily basis and I probably don't use 90% of it.
posted by Ad hominem at 5:10 PM on August 23, 2011

Best answer: There will trial versions of Visual Studio Professional (and above) that you can use to try it out. I will however caution you that dropping into Visual Studio to create workflows will probably be a big leap for you. There is a certain amount of visual designing of workflows in VS but as soon as you have to write actual code you'll have to understand the programming language, the SharePoint API and the Windows Workflow Foundations API (the last of which is probably your biggest stumbling block). You will want to find yourself a good book that you like that will walk you through learning this stuff.

You are going to want to get yourself a virtual machine that has SharePoint + Visual Studio running in it to make your development be as smooth as possible (MS has trial VM images of these as well). This is essential as doing this work in SP2007 means installing code on the server and that isn't likely something your administrator is going to want you to do while you experiment and learn. As you can imagine this means you need a pretty beefy PC for development or access to a machine somewhere that can host your VM.

Lastly, you might consider things like jQuery and its extensions like SPServices which help you access the SharePoint web services from the client side. This would let you build your own interfaces that mash up data from different list as well as do things like push changes to many lists,etc.

Good luck.
posted by mmascolino at 5:43 PM on August 23, 2011 [2 favorites]

Best answer: i've gotten away with not using vb, but doing work-arounds when dealing with logic issues (breaking up complex logic statements to smaller ones) often i use hidden variables to store info to break up the statements... but it can get messy.

i have found that while you can't do some stuff from designer's gui's, you can meddle in the xml and asp pages to get the workflows to do what you want...
posted by fozzie33 at 6:20 AM on August 24, 2011

SP2007 and SP2010 are night and day different in development, so be warned.

If you're going to go the Visual Studio route, make sure you know C# and understand XML, because that's what you're going to be doing a lot of. I'd recommend once you're comfortable with them, get some books, and watch some videos.
posted by blue_beetle at 7:14 AM on August 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: fozzie33, I thought of that idea as I walked out of the building--create hidden variables in a previous step to lump statuses together and condense my logic statements. I've been using a lot of these already. It's good to read that someone else has the same issues and hit a similar solution. I was just worried about having too many bloated workflows running on a list.

mmascolino, I had seen the jquery stuff mentioned on some SP blogs, which I'm already familiar with in other applications, so I will try that path. I was already wondering what permissions I would need to actually deploy any workflows I could make in VS--part of the reason why I came here before talking to my SP Admin--didn't want to scare the crap out of him.
posted by hotelechozulu at 7:22 AM on August 24, 2011

I don't know how to do exactly what you are trying to do, but it is possible to write c# code directly within spd. You might want to look into that to start.
posted by callmejay at 8:39 AM on August 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

alot of the data i deal with is sensitive, so i also ensure at the end i clear out the hidden variables... also, make sure to put plenty of notes in the workflow, so you know where it breaks when it invariably does break.
posted by fozzie33 at 11:03 AM on August 24, 2011

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