One of the main demands that a SharePoint customer -that has just jumped into the platform- usually makes is “how can I connect SharePoint to send/receive documents from SAP/Documentum/MyOwnRepository/whatever?”.
To receive documents or just any kind of data with associated metadata and, i.e., upload these items to a List, I would say that one of the best options is to use standard Web Services. If the standard services are not enough, then we can create our own service and then use the Object Model to build that extra-functionality.
To send documents (again, with or without associated metadata), the chosen solution in out last customer was use some Records Management functionality as an intermediate step to send the document to the customer’s system. The Records Center is an Enterprise site template available since SharePoint 2007 which functionality has been slightly modified for 2010. The cool point of this solution is that the document can be sent to the Records Center either using the contextual menu (Send To –> “Name of the external connection”), or with a custom Activity in a workflow (to send batches of documents)
These are the steps to implement this solution:
- Add a a new connection in the configuration in Central Admin –> General Application Settings –> Configure send to connections.
- Create a new webservice in a different Web Application (normal ASP.NET service). This will hold the bridge connection between SharePoint and the external service.
So far, it seems a simple and fast to implement solution, but there are a couple of “special
issues features” that may give you headaches for days.
In this first post I am going to cover the connection configuration step and just take a look around to the Records Center, to understand how it works, and what are we going to do.
Let’s begin going to Central Admin –> General Application Settings –> Configure send to connections and add a new connection. You will need to use the service OfficialFile.asmx, as this service implements the methods to copy files into the Records Center. You can find thousands of resources about this service, but the official specification is here: http://download.microsoft.com/download/8/5/8/858F2155-D48D-4C68-9205-29460FD7698F/[MS-OFFICIALFILE].pdf
To set up a new connection using this service, the URL should have the format http://<server>/<recordsCenterUrl>/_vti_bin/officialfile.asmx. Notice that you should have created a Records Center site in order to use this functionality.
Now you should be able to see a new link in the contextual menu of the documents libraries. This link wil execute the action specified in the connection settings (copy to Records Center, i.e).
Click the “Official File” link in the contextual menu will copy the document to the Records Center using the service OfficialFile.asmx, and that is exactly what we want to do with our own service. Now that we –barely- know how it is going to work, we can create our own service based in the OfficialFile.asmx, and override it to provide a connection to the external service. I personally found this solution great because it is going to use a connection to an external system inside SharePoint context. My point: we are gonna have everything under control.
In the next post I will implement the second part of the solution. That is, develope a “Hello World” web service and give a couple of useful tips to make it work.