Publishing LightSwitch apps for SharePoint to the Catalog (Brian Moore)

Publishing LightSwitch apps for SharePoint to the Catalog (Brian Moore)

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Ok, your app is done, you’ve learned how to authenticate it and publish it like I demonstrated in my previous post.  When you’re done with the publish wizard on a SharePoint app, you’ll see an explorer window open with folders for each version of your app.  Probably just 1.0.0.0 so far - in the folder is a .app package.  This .app package will always contain the information SharePoint needs to install and run your app.  Things like permissions, end points, project artifacts (like lists), etc.  This .app package is what you give to SharePoint to make your app available to users.

If you published an autohosted app, then the package also contains the LightSwitch application itself.  All the files that make up your web site.  If you published a provider-hosted app, then all of those files that make up your web site are already on a live server somewhere (if you did a remote publish) or in a WebDeploy package waiting for you to deploy the package.  In the provider-hosted case, you do want to make sure that your LightSwitch app is running before any users install the app package into SharePoint otherwise they’ll just see a 404 of some sort.

So now what do you do with this .app package?

Apps for SharePoint

First, a little background on the app model for SharePoint.  Everything on SharePoint 2013 is an app.  All the things you might be familiar with (list, libraries, code) are packaged into an app for SharePoint.  This way, whenever the user wants something for the site, there’s an app for that.  Where do you get apps?  From the store.  For Office365 there is a public store that contains public apps.  Some are free, some have other licensing models.  You can also get apps from a private app catalog for your SharePoint site.  So basically you have access to public apps and private apps.  LightSwitch can build apps for either scenario, though there are some things to be aware of which I’ll cover later.

So when you publish a LightSwitch app for SharePoint, you will publish not only your web application but also the app package that will be uploaded to the App Catalog or SharePoint store.  So let’s take a look at this from end to beginning.

The App Catalog

Even though you can put your LightSwitch app in both the app catalog or the SharePoint Store, I’m going to walk through the App Catalog scenario.  Your LOB apps written in LightSwitch (especially your first one) are likely to be “private” apps so first things first.  When you want to add an app to your site, you can go to the site contents and, well, add an app.

 

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When you click add, you’ll see all the apps that come with SharePoint, all the lists and libraries you might be familiar with.  When you put your LightSwitch app in the app catalog, it will show up here as well.  Since there are a lot of apps already for your site, you can look for apps just from your catalog by clicking the “From Your Organization” link.

 

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Yours will probably look like this (empty).  Also notice the link to the “public” store.

 

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So we need to get our app into our catalog – and if this is the first time you’re working with the catalog, you might not even have a catalog yet.  A private app catalog for apps “From Your Organization” is another SharePoint site collection in your tenant.  It’s a special site template that any site in your tenant can attach to, to install apps.  So to create one we need to go to Site Admin to create an app catalog.  First step is to go to SharePoint central admin.

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Then go to “apps” and select “App Catalog”

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You’ll see an option to create a new catalog or use an existing one, if you don’t have one, just create a new one – you can change anything you need to later.  It will take SharePoint a few minutes to provision the new site and the page won’t necessarily refresh on it’s own (in case you’re waiting for that spinning circle to go away to know when it’s done).

Now that you have the catalog you need to get the app in the catalog.  Remember this catalog is just another site for SharePoint so you can navigate to it and that’s how you’ll add apps.  You can see your app catalog listed in your site collections in the admin center.

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Navigate to that URL and you are at your app catalog.  Remember that URL because there isn’t really any other way to get to it other than what I just showed you (at least not that *I* know of).  Drill down to the “Apps for SharePoint” section and you’ll see any apps you have that can be installed onto a SharePoint site.  Since I just created this catalog I don’t have any apps.

 

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Putting Your App in the Catalog

We’re almost there… now we just need to take the .app package we built and put it into the catalog.  Just click the “new app” link and you’ll be prompted for the package.  When the app is uploaded you will be prompted to fill in the metadata for the app catalog.  There is a lot there, but it’s all optional except the name.  You can provide a description, change the icon, add images to show case the app.  You can even make it a “noteworthy” app that will pop it to the top of the list when users browse the catalog.

 

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Once you’ve saved the app, you’ll see it in the list.  Remember that this is our “private” catalog that contains apps just “From Your Organization” but your users will need permission to the app catalog site to see it.  First, here’s what you should see in the catalog.  Over time you’ll see more apps here and also versions of each app that you can manage throughout your organization.

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To grant permission to the catalog you assign permissions to the catalog site just like you do any other SharePoint site collection – through the Site Settings for that site.  This will let you determine which users on your site can *see* apps from this catalog.  To install apps on a particular site, the user must have permission to install apps on that particular site.  So seeing something in the catalog is necessary but not sufficient for installing it.  And as you might guess, you may not want all users to install apps and by default they won’t be able to until you grant them permission.  So, first they need permission to the catalog site to even see the apps.  Then they need permissions on an individual site, to be able to install the app.

 

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And finally, just to add another layer on here – just because an app is installed on a site, doesn’t mean all users can run the app.  You may not want everyone to access an app that’s installed and you can again, control that by setting the appropriate permissions in SharePoint.  That’s enough about permissions for now – suffice it to say, that just like any other LOB LightSwitch app, you can still control who accesses your application when it’s running on SharePoint, using what will become (if it’s not already) the familiar SharePoint permission model.

After all that, in this example we’re just going to keep using our own user account which owns the site collection for the app catalog and the dev site, but you can drill in here whenever you’re ready ;)

Installing Your App from the Catalog

Once you have the app in the catalog, there is one path your users will go through to install the app, or any app for that matter.  Again, the user must have permission to install apps onto the site.  Note, that when using a dev site, there are a few ways to install apps onto the site, but for now, let’s walk through what end users will see on non-developer sites.  I used a project site template for this example, but it will look similar to most templates when it comes to installing apps.  First, go to the site contents:

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From there you will have the option to “add an app”.  Once you click to add the app you’ll see a list of the apps available to the site.  Here you can find your app in the list of all the apps - you see our CustEdit app below.

 

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You can also filter the list to show only the apps in your catalog by choosing “From Your Organization” as we did at the beginning of the blog.  Note, that this is the same catalog I was using above, this catalog is shared among all the sites in my tenant – it is “for my organization”.  So everyone in my company or tenant can see this app if I give them permission.  So you can configure permissions for installing or browsing apps in just about any configuration you can imagine.  For example, even though your organization can share a single catalog, you can still restrict who can see particular apps in that catalog.  And also restrict who can install apps on a given site.  The flexibility that is there though is a bit beyond the scope of what I want to cover here (though it feels like I just covered it so I might as well summarize).

 

  • Users need to be granted permission to the app catalog site to be able to see apps “From your Organizaition.”  You just navigate to the catalog site, then the site settings and set perms like you do for any other SharePoint site
  • Users need permission to install apps on a particular SharePoint site (for example Site Owners can install apps, Site Members cannot)
  • You can restrict who can see an app in the catalog by setting permissions for a particular app.  By default anyone who you gave access to in the first bullet above will be able to see the app (perms are inherited) but you can change that
  • Once an app is installed on a site, you can further restrict who can run that app via permissions on the installed app

But for now, since you likely own everything you’re working with, you really don’t need to set any perms yet.

So that’s the app store experience.  Once you install an app from the catalog it will show up under your Site Contents just like every other app installed on that site.

Installing Apps on a Dev Site

You might be wondering by now why you never had to do any of this while you were developing your app.  Developer sites in SharePoint give you some extra functionality to make life as a SharePoint developer easier :) and that’s why.  But that only works on dev sites, to get apps onto non-dev sites, you need to go through the catalog.

There is, as you might have guessed another way to install an app onto a dev site without going through the catalog.  When you F5 your app from VS, the app package is technically installed on the SharePoint dev site and pointing to your application on localhost.  VS does all of that for you.  If you want to actually run your app from the cloud (in this case) instead of localhost, you can do that on a dev site without putting it into the catalog.  You do that by going to the dev site’s “apps in testing” section and selecting “new app to deploy”.

 

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There’s one thing to be aware of going down this path particularly if you’ve been developing your app against this same site.  Remember that I said VS installs the app for you while you’re debugging?  That means your app is probably still installed on this site and if you try to install it again, SharePoint will tell you it’s already installed.  VS doesn’t uninstall it every time you stop debugging because, well, it would take longer to install it again the next time you started debugging, we might as well leave it there -- you probably debug much more often than you do this catalog stuff.  Anyway, if you do get that error, just click in the ellipses by your app and remove it, then try the deploy again.

Finally, another option you have (and you may very well want test this out some day) is upgrading an app that’s already installed.  This is what would happen if you release a new version into the app catalog and users had installed your app.  They would get notification that a new version is available and SharePoint would upgrade your app.  This would include upgrading your autohosted database if you had one.  To try that out, go up to the ribbon and select “Upgrade an app”.

 

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The SharePoint Store

You probably want me to wrap this up by now, but I do want to make a quick mention of the SharePoint Store or the public catalog.  The process for getting your apps into the Office 365 SharePoint Store is, as you might well imagine, very different.  I’m not going to cover that yet.  A few notable things if you want to try this yourself before I get to it.  You will need to make some changes to the manifest to get the store to “accept” your app.  The error will be descriptive but if you need help leave a comment or post in the forum and we can try to cover it briefly.  Also, the SharePoint Store does not *yet* accept autohosted SharePoint apps.  That means you’d have to host the LightSwitch application yourself and deal with multi-tenancy in your LightSwitch app, not to mention pay for hosting it.  So we have a few things we need to make much easier before I cover that in a post.

 

Finally…

That’s all for now, but before I go I want to mention one last thing – partially because I seem to get more comments on a blog when I mention Ms. Massi somehow.  Beth got engaged a few weeks back and for someone who has done as much for our community as she has, we all certainly wish her the best.  Congrats!

 

- Brian Moore, Program Manager, LightSwitch

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  • Thanks Brian! :-)

  • Great post!

  • Question: Can you have lightswitch work with a SharePoint List from a different site collection than the Dev site that you are using to side load and test your app?  My attempts to this have thus far ended with an error message.

  • Kyle - that's not possible due to the auth flows - the "existing list" has to be in the same site collection.  One way to deal with that would be to "copy" that list to your dev site, attach to it there, and then when you publish, just change the connect string to the "original" copy of the list...  LMK if you need more detail on how to do that.

  • "Once an app is installed on a site, you can further restrict who can run that app via permissions on the installed app"

    Can you please explain how?

  • great article Brian,

    I have the same problem as Kyle.

    Can you please give some more info, I cannot understand exactly what you propose.

    thanks

    Sakis

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