This post is the third post in the series 'Fiddler – the tool that gives you superpowers!'
Part 1: X-Ray vision
Part 2: Invisibility
Part 3: Faster than a speeding bullet!
Part 4: Ice Man
Faster than a Speeding Bullet
If you have done any development of Web Resources with Dynamics CRM then I'm certain that you'll have become impatient whilst waiting to first deploy your solution and then publish it before you can test any changes. Everytime you need to make a change you need to go round this loop which can slow down the development process considerably. Using the Auto Responders I described in my previous post (Invisibility) you can drastically speed up this development process by using Fiddler to ensure changes you make to a local file in Visual Studio are reflected inside Dynamics CRM without waiting for deploying and publishing. You make the changes inside Visual Studio, simply save and refresh your browser and voilà!
Here some rough calculations on the time it could save you on a small project:
Time to Deploy
Time to Publish
Number of web resources
Time to reproduce live data in test/development
Number of issues to debug in live
Total Savings for small project
What is perhaps more important about this technique that it saves the frustration caused by having to constantly wait for web resource deployment and ensures that you stay in the development zone rather than being distracted by the latest cute kitten pictures posted on facebook!
Do remember to deploy and publish your changes once you've finished your development. It seems obvious but it is easily forgotten and you're left wondering why your latest widget works on your machine but not for others!
More information can be found on this at the following locations:
Read Part 4 - Ice Man!
The next few posts are for those who saw me speaking at the most recent CRMUG UK Chapter meeting about Fiddler2 and wanted to know more (and as a thank you to those who voted for me in X(rm) factor!). I've been using Fiddler for web debugging for as long as I can remember and I can honestly say that I could not live without it when Developing Dynamics CRM extensions as well as supporting and diagnosing issues with existing solutions. I first blogged about it in connection with SparkleXRM development but this post elaborates further on the super powers it gives you!
What is a Web Debugger?
Fiddler2 is a Web Debugger which basically means that it sits between your browser and the server just like any normal proxy, but the difference is that it shows you all the HTTP traffic going back and forwards, allows you to visualise it in an easy to read format as well as allowing you to 'Fiddler' with it – hence the name.
You can easily install fiddler for free by downloading it from http://www.telerik.com/fiddler.
The following posts describe the superpowers that Fiddler can give you whilst you are developing solutions or supporting your end users.
Part 1: X-Ray vision
Part 2: Invisibility
Part 3: Faster than a speeding bullet!
Part 4: Ice Man
If you wanted to diagnose a problem that a user was having with CRM that could not reproduce then try following these steps:
Ask the user experiencing the issue to install Fiddler2 (this may require administrator privileges if their workstation is locked down).
Get to the point where they can reproduce the problem – just before they click the button or run the query, or whatever!
Ask the user to reproduce the issue
Ask the user to click File->Save->All Sessions and send you the file.
Once you've got the file you can load it into your own copy of Fiddler to diagnose the issue.
If the user has IE9 or above and they are not using the outlook client then the really neat thing about the latest version of Fiddler is that it can import the F12 Network trace. This allows you to capture a trace without installing anything on the client and then inspect it using Fiddlers user interface. To capture the network traffic using IE:
Get to the point where they are about to reproduce the issue
Press F5 (to start the trace)
Reproduce the issue
Switch back to the F12 debugger window by selecting it
Press Shift-F5 to stop the trace
Click the 'Export Captured Traffic' button and send you the file
Now you can load this file into fiddler using File->Import Sessions->IE's F12 NetXML format file.
This technique is going to save you lots of time when trying to work out what is going on over the phone to your users!
Next up is Invisibility!
When I blogged about my CRM 2013 Start Menu solution I said I would also post about how it caches metadata on the client – so here is that post!
Metadata is the information that describes other data and in the case of CRM 2013 metadata describes entities, relationships and attributes as well as other configuration elements such as the sitemap. The Start Menu solution needed to read the sitemap in order to dynamically display it in the drop down command bar button. Initially the solution read the site map from the server every time the menu was displayed. This wasn't too bad but the solution also then had to make additional requests for entity metadata to retrieve the localised display name, image and object type code. What's more is the solution then had to retrieve the user's privileges and iterate over the sitemap to decide if the user had access or not. This is a common scenario with any webresource development for Dynamics CRM – it could be option set labels or view layoutxml - all need by the client every time the page is displayed. Since this metadata doesn't change very often it makes it a very good candidate for caching.
Caching isn't the problem
Whenever designing a cache solution – the first thing to think about is how to invalidate that cache. It's no good being able to store something for quick access if you can't tell if it is stale and needs to refresh – this could lead to problems much worse than poor performance!
Dynamics CRM neatly already provides us with a client side caching mechanism it uses for Web Resources. I blogged about this back in the CRM 2011 days – but it really hasn't changed with CRM 2013. The general principle is that if you request a Web Resource in the following format then you will get the HTTP headers from the server that means that the browser/proxy server can cache the file.
The net result is that the next time that the browser requests this file, provided it has the same number before the WebResources folder then the file will not be requested from Dynamics CRM but served from the cache.
Every time you publish a web resource the number that is used to request web resources is changed so that the client browser gets a new copy and then caches that until the next change of number.
So we have a very effective caching mechanism for static content – but how do we make use of this for dynamic content? What we need is a way of storing the sitemap and all the other metadata needed into a web resource so that it will be cached – but we don't want to have to update a webresource with this information – what we need is something similar to ASP.Net where we can dynamically generate the web resource when requested and then cache the result on the client.
Dynamic 'Ghost' Web Resources
Varying content by language/LCID
Varying content by record id
Varying content by user
Varying content by other parameters such as date
Check out the code for this web resource plugin to see how it's done.
Invalidating the cache
Since we now can cache our server side generated JSON on the client – we need to know how to clear the cache when something changes. In the case of the 'Start Menu' solution that something changing is the sitemap.xml or entity names. The cache key number that is used by the client will change whenever a web resource is added or updated so to clear the client cache we simply need to update a dummy web resource. Part of the solution publishing that contains a sitemap or entity name change should always include a web resource update so that the client will reflect the updates.
Be careful with caching of sensitive data
Caching of metadata is the most common use of this technique, but it could also be used for caching commonly used reference data such as products or countries. This cache can be invalidated easily by making a simple request for the most recent modified on date – but make sure you don't cache any sensitive data since this would be accessible by anyone with access to the client machine.
Making things easier
A future update of SparkleXRM will contain a client side metadata caching framework that I'm working on that uses the techique I describe here, but in the mean time I hope this helps you get better performance from your client side code.
When Windows 8 didn't have a 'Start Menu' there was so much fuss that we saw it return with Windows 8.1 (sort of). If you miss the navigation style of CRM 2011 you might find my CRM 2013 Start Menu solution very helpful.
The solution provides a 'Start menu' on most screens that provides drop down menu with a security trimmed sitemap and a link to Advanced Find from wherever you are (very useful!):
It also provides form navigation when you are on a record form – this is similar to the way the navigation would have looked in CRM2011:
The solution is a SparkleXRM sample if you are interested – I'm going to do a post soon on the techniques I've used to provide client side metadata caching.
First you'll need to install SparkleXRM 0.1.4 or later
Then you can install the Start Menu Managed Solution (be sure to leave the activate checkbox checked upon import of the solution)
Any language resources that are accessible via the SDK will be automatically used but the resources in the sitemap are not all accessible to code and so if you want to provide translations you just add a new web resource with the name - /dev1/js/QuickNavigationResourcesLCID.js. You can use the QuickNavigationResources_1033.js one as a template to translate. If you do create a translation, please let me know so we can add it to the solution.
There is a short delay on first use as the site map is cached
When a user doesn't have access to some elements of the sitemap, the links are removed, but if all subareas are removed, the parent group isn't.
Thanks to Jukka Niiranen, Damian Sinay & Mitch Milam for testing and feedback.
With CRM2013 UR2 being released very soon I have made an update to the Ribbon Workbench that you'll be prompted to install by the auto update when you next open the Ribbon Workbench. I strongly advise you to install this update before you install UR2 otherwise the Ribbon Workbench will no longer work, and you'll need to re-download and re-install.
This is because when I updated the Ribbon Workbench for CRM2013 I retained the use of getServerUrl – the update now uses getClientUrl because UR2 has removed getServerUrl altogether.
getServerUrl was deprecated back in CRM2011 with UR12 so it's probably about time it was removed anyways!
I have been asked "should I use Real Time Workflows instead of Plugins?" many times since CRM2013 first introduced this valuable new feature. Real Time Workflows (RTWFs) certainly have many attractive benefits over Plugins including:
Uses the same interface as standard workflows making it very quick & simple to perform straightforward tasks.
Can be written & extended without coding skills
Easily extend using custom workflow activities that can be re-used in many places.
If we can use custom workflow activities to extend the native workflow designer functionality (e.g. making updates to records over 1:N and N:N relationships) then it raises the question why should we use Plugins at all?
I am a big fan of RTWFs – they add considerable power to the framework that ultimately makes the solution more effective and lowers the implementation costs. That said I still believe that considering plugins is still an important part of any Dynamics CRM Solution design - the reasons can be split into the following areas:
Performance is one of those areas that it is very tempting to get bogged down by too early by 'premature optimisation'. In most cases performance should be considered initially by adhering to best practices (e.g. not querying or updating more data than needed) and ensuring that you use supported & documented techniques. If we ensure that our system is structured in an easy to follow and logical way then Dynamics CRM will usually look after performance for us and enable us to scale up and out when it is needed (Dynamics CRM Online will even handle this scaling for you!). It is true there are some 'gotchas' that are the exception to this rule, but on the whole I think primarily it is better to design for maintainability and simplicity over performance in the first instance. Once you have a working design you can then identify the areas that are going to be the main bottle necks and then focus optimisation efforts on those areas alone. If we try to optimise all parts of the system from the start when there is no need I find that it can actually end up reducing overall performance and end up with an overly complex system that has a higher total cost of ownership.
It is true that Plugins will out performance RTWFs in terms of through-put but if the frequency of the transactions are going to be low then this usually will not be an issue. If you have logic that is going to be firing at a high frequency by many concurrent users then this is the time consider selecting a plugin over a RTWF.
In some simple tests I found that RTWFs took twice (x2) as long as a Plugin when performing a simple update. The main reason for this is that the plugin pipeline is a very efficient mechanism for inserting logic inside of the platform transaction. A RTWF inserts an additional transaction inside that parent transaction that contains many more database queries required to set up the workflow context. The component based nature of workflow activity steps means the same data must be read multiple times to make each step work in isolation from the others. Additionally, if you update a record in a RTWF, it will apply an update immediately to the database within this inner transaction. This database update is in addition to the overall plugin update. Using a plugin there will only be a single update since the plugin is updating the 'in transit' pipeline target rather than the database.
Another reason that the RTWF takes longer to complete the transaction is that it appears to always retrieve the entire record from the database even when using only a single value.
When using plugins you have a very fine control over determining what data is being updated and can see what the record looked like before the transaction and what it would look like after the transaction. RTWFs don't offer you this same control and so if you need to determine if a value has changed from a specific value to another specific value (say a specific state transition) it is harder to determine what the value was before the workflow started. When a RTWF reads a record from the database, it will load all values, but with a plugin you can select only a small number of attributes to include in the pipeline or query.
RTWFs allow you to select whether to run as the calling user or the owner of the workflow, where a Plugin gives you full control to execute an SDK call as the system user or an impersonated user at different points during the transaction.
Code vs Configuration
With RTWFs your business logic tends to become fragmented over a much higher surface area of multiple child RTWFs. This makes unit testing and configuration control much harder. With a plugin you can write unit tests and check the code into TFS. With every change you can quickly see the differences from the previous version and easily see the order that the code is executed.
I find that it is good practice to have a single RTWF per triggering event/entity combination and call child workflows rather than have many RTWFs kicked off by the same trigger, otherwise there is no way of determining the order that they will execute in.
A very compelling reason to use plugins is the deterministic nature of their execution. You can control the order that your code executes in by simply sequencing the logic in a single plugin and then unit test this sequence of events by using a mock pipeline completely outside of the Dynamics CRM Runtime.
So just tell me which is best?!
Which is best? Each have their strengths and weaknesses so the answer is "it depends" (as it so often is!).
After all this is said and done – a very compelling reason to use RTWS is the fact that business users can author and maintain them in a fraction of the time it takes to code and deploy a plugin and often will result in far fewer bugs due to the component based building blocks.
As a rule of thumb, I use two guiding principles:
If there is already custom plugin code on an entity (or it is planned), then use a plugin over a RTWF to keep the landscape smaller and deterministic.
If you know up-front that you need a very high throughput for a particular function with a high degree of concurrency, then consider a plugin over a RTWF for this specific area.
If there is one thing that's for sure it's that user interfaces are for every changing. I fondly remember grey pages with rainbow <HR>'s:
Continuous scrolling data sets are a common mechanism seen in news feeds sites such as Twitter and Facebook. As you scroll down the page and reach the bottom more results are loaded dynamically as needed. Dynamics CRM has traditionally shown paged datasets and although this is mostly still true we are seeing some areas shifting to a more continuously such as the Tablet App and Social Feeds (although the news feed does required your to select 'More').
With this in mind I decided to implement a continuous scrolling Data View for SparkleXRM. The original Multi Entity Search sample used the standard EntityDataViewModel but I've now added VirtualPagedEntityDataViewModel to the sample project which shows how this virtual paging can be accomplished. Under the covers it is stilling paging using the fechxml paging cookie but as the user scrolls, additional pages are retrieved in order to show them. Once the pages are loaded, they are cached in the same way that the EntityDataViewModel did. I have also added support for showing the entity image next to the record so the end result is very similar to the Tablet app search results. Infact the entities that are shown are read from the same Tablet search configuration.
You can access the new search via an updated 'Advanced Find' button that shows a pull down on the dashboard home page:
Both the paged and continuous scrolling multi entity searches in in the solution but only the continuous scrolling version is added to the ribbon button.
To install the solution you'll need to:
Install the latest build of SparkleXRM managed solution - SparkleXrm015managed.zip
Install the sample managed solution - MultiEntitySearch20_managed.zip
I'll be rolling a version of the VirtualPagedEntityDataViewModel into the code SparkleXRM soon – so let me know if you have any particular uses for it in mind.
This fantastic Chome add in provides lots of gems to make debugging forms and testing fetchXml really easy:
Form Information- Displays the current form’s back-end information - Entity Name - Entity Id - Entity Type Code - Form Type - Is Dirty- Ability to show the current form’s attributes’ schema names- Ability to refresh the current form- Ability to enable disabled attributes on the current form (System Administrators only)- Ability to show hidden attributes on the current form (System Administrators only)
Current User Information- Domain Name- User Id- Business Unit Id
Find- Ability to open advanced find- Set focus to a field on the current form- Display a specific User and navigate to the record (by Id)- Display a specific Privilege (by Id)
Test- Ability to update attributes from the current form (System Administrators only)- This is helpful when you need to update values for testing but the fields don’t exist on the form
Fetch- Execute any Fetch XML statement and view the results
Check it out in the chrome web store - https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/sonoma-partners-dynamics/eokikgaenlfgcpoifejlhaalmpeihfom
If there is one way of keeping an application looking fresh it's by frequently tweaking the user interface. This approach is adopted by Facebook with success and stops their user interface from feeling old hat. With the latest Dynamics CRM Online update (18.104.22.168) you might have spotted some little differences:
A constantly changing User Interface isn't for everyone, but personally I'm really pleased with the new paint job!
One of the lesser known features of CRM 2011 was the File->Properties dialog that you could view on a record form. It would look something like:
This dialog was very useful for finding out the effective permissions of the current user on a particular record but in CRM 2013 it is no longer present in the user interface – but it is still there in the background!
If you used to use this dialog in CRM 2011 I've created a managed solution that provides you with a Properties button on the Command Bar that shows the CRM 2013 version of this dialog.
FormPropertiesButton1000_managed.zip (2.39 kb)(The usual disclaimer applies)
After installing the solution, you should see a new button in the Command Bar overflow menu:
The dialog looks like this:
The only down side is clicking OK gives the 'Are you sure you want to navigate away from this page' dialog.
Hope this helps.