Getting Started as an OfficeJS Developer

At the MVP Summit 2018, I have had a number of conversations with various MVP’s that there really should be more documentation on how to get started with OfficeJS from scratch. Like web developer – from scratch.

So, this blog post is my attempt to get you started as if you have little to no web developer experience. The hope is that once you have read this and studied the linked content you will be able to:

  • Write HTML and JavaScript
  • Understand what JQuery is and how to use it
  • Setup your VSCode environment
  • Identify the key parts of an add-in (source code files)
  • Begin writing, and debugging your own code.

To get started, if you are completely new to web development (or even a little rusty and need a refresher), you might want to read the following articles/tutorials. If you already know this stuff, then you can move on:


NOTE: From these links you need to come away with an understanding of these basic fundamental concepts that are used heavily in OfficeJS:

  1. How JavaScript and HTML work together
  2. The HTML DOM model
  3. How to write HTML and define controls (buttons, text boxes, etc.) with an id
  4. How to use JQuery(*) to get a reference to a control on the HTML page and then manipulate it with JavaScript.

(*) JQuery is simply a library that, for simplicity sake, makes it easy for you to access and manipulate HTML controls via the DOM. You access it with a “$” character. This is why you might see so many “$”‘s in the sample/example code out there.

Once you know the basics of creating a web page, and manipulating it, you can then begin by setting up VSCode and learning how to code OfficeJS solutions. As for development environments, there are many out there, and many are nearly the same, but I suggest VSCode because it is simply a better environment to learn “webby” development. Especially if you are on a Mac. With that said, you will want to:

  1. Setup and configure VSCode
  2. Start learning Office from the new quick start and tutorials on
  3. You can also stick to the basics (no development environment needed) if you install and use Script Lab.

NOTE: A fundamental concept you need to come away with after working through the tutorials is to understand the “parts” of an add-in. I think the best way to understand the PARTS of an add-in:

  • All you really need for an OfficeJS solution are two files. A manifest and an HTML file.

To understand the anatomy of an add-in, you can read this post where I describe the most basic add-in you can create. Here is a simplified explanation to get your started:

  • The Manifest – an XML file that defines to Office your add-in. It defines things like the name, a unique id (GUID), the platform and app it supports, and most importantly your Ribbon (text, icons, etc), and what happens when you click those buttons. Specifically, it tell Office where to navigate when that button is clicked. Then this XML file is what gets “installed” in your Office app. Office reads it, places the button(s) on the Ribbon which loads the defined web page when clicked.
  • The HTML file – this contains “script” tags which point to all your code, supporting libraries (like JQuery) which similar to VBA/VSTO references. The HTML page also contains your Task Pane user interface (buttons, etc.).
  • The JavaScript file – This is your code, which will contain an Office.initialize() function that Office locates and executes when the HTML page is loaded. This can be a separate file or like the most basic add-in an inline script tag in your HTML file.

The entire load and run process for an add-in works like this:

  • The Manifest is loaded by Office and adds a button to the ribbon.
  • When the button is clicked, the HTML file specified in the manifest is loaded in the task pane.
  • When the HTML file is loaded, all the script tags (references and your own JS file) are loaded.
  • Once all the scripts are loaded, Office locates the Office.initialize() function and executes it.
  • It is in this code block that you can initialize your controls, like buttons on the HTML page, and what happens when the user clicks them.

Once you have your VSCode development environment setup for Office, and you are ready to start your first project, follow these steps I outlined for using the Yeoman generator.

I hope this is enough to get even the most novice non-web developer going. If you have any questions, please post them below. If there is any additional content you would like to see, please let me know.

The last thing I will leave you with is to answer an interesting question that arose this week:

Why would I learn to develop in OfficeJS? I am not interested in just making a web widget for Excel.

I think this is a common misconception. Office 365 Web Add-ins (OfficeJS) are at all not like Windows Vista Sidebar Gadgets for Office. They are actually quite powerful and there are many useful scenarios. Here are a few:

  • Integration with internal applications like CRM
  • Document tagging, or placing metadata on parts of the document, possibly linked with internal systems, controls or processes
  • Document building, either interactively through a task pane or dialog or from predefined rules
  • Advanced content editing, identifying and replacing specific content based on more complex rules than simple search/replace
  • Sending data from the document for more complex analysis and/or manipulation via back-end services and then updating the document with the results.

Once you delve a bit more into the object model and the capabilities, you will learn that you do not always have to open a task pane. You can open a dialog instead. Or, you can have no user interface at all, just have a button click on the ribbon perform work against the document like a macro used to do.

And here is another thought: Office is used by one-billion people world-wide across each of the supported platforms of Windows, Mac, web, iOS, and Android. The goal of these add-ins is to support the same code base (mostly) across all of these different platforms. You really can write-once/run-anywhere. You can build an add-in and then place it in the Microsoft Store and have it reach a huge audience. Do you need more of a reason to get started?

Happy coding.

Updated Outlook Web Add-in Sample

I will be presenting a demo at the MVP Summit 2018 for Outlook and also helping with some labs in Excel on the OfficeJS platform. In preparation, I updated my Outlook Sample on my GitHub. This sample was created in VSCode via a Yeoman template.

What the add-in does is a check of all users on the To/CC/BCC line, splits apart any groups (or groups in groups) and then checks to see if any of the user emails are external to your domain. If any external users are found it prompts you with dialog asking if you are sure you want to send:

Outlook Blocking Add-in

The updated add-in demonstrates:

  • The OnSend event
  • The use of dialogs
  • And the newly added ExpandDL function for Exchange Web Services through the makeEwsRequestAsync() call.

In this sample, I am using both of my libraries:

  • easyEws – to help with the ExpandDL call. Updated in a previous post.
  • OfficeJS.dialogs – to display the dialog you see above.

I also had to create a set of asynchronous functions and asynchronous recursive function calls to perform this work – which got a tad complex. For now all the code is in the function-file.js, but to help with splitting out all recipients and groups I might build this into a new library. For example, here is the function to recursively call itself asynchronously (splitting groups in groups in groups in groups…):

Anyway, I will be demonstrating this add-in and the functionality required at the MVP Summit. So if you are attending, I hope to see you there.

easyEws v1.0.9 Released

With recent changes to Exchange Online, the ExpandDL functionality has been added to the makeEwsRequestAsync function. As such this function, which was previously “advertised” in easyEws (but marked as **DO NOT USE**), now functions as designed.

To use the new function:

NOTE: AS of this writing (2/27/2018), this is NOT supported in Exchange 2016 (on-prem). It is to be released with CU9.

The update is posted to GitHub here:

You can also get v1.0.9 via NPM with the command: “npm update easyews”

Outlook Email Reporting Sample

I just posted a new Outlook sample on GitHub. I have created something very similar to this sample for a couple of customers now and have been using this as a template. What this sample does is place a button on the Ribbon for users to report suspicious email to the administrator. The user will get the option to select why they think it is suspicious as well as provide a comment. When they click Send, it will email the administrator. The email address which receives this notification is configured in the URL for the add-in page via the manifest XML.

Anyway, I wanted to share this basic sample with the community so others can use this to quickly implement similar solutions in their environment.

All the details for configuring the add-in are in the Here is the link the new sample: I also created this in VS Code.

Please let me know if you have any questions or suggestions for other samples you would like to see.

Yo! Create an add-in from your Script Lab code

Let’s say you created the trappings of an add-in with Script Lab and now you want to make it into a stand-alone add-in. You can export your code (just the manifest and html), copy and paste it into an existing project, or upload to GitHub to share it, but you cannot easily convert it into a fully functional Web Add-in project from Script Lab. I took the time to figure this out, so you do not have to. wlEmoticon-hotsmile.png These steps will show you how to export your solution from Script Lab, import into VSCode, apply a Yeoman Office template and then begin testing it in Office Online with, ah… minimal effort (more or less). wlEmoticon-confusedsmile.png

Here are the steps:

      1. First install Script Lab in Excel. You can follow my post for that here: Start Developing in OfficeJS Today with Script Lab
      2. Next, we will load one of the sample. On the Script Lab ribbon, click Code. yo-scriptlab1
      3. Click the Samples button and then select Basic API Call.
      4. Next, click the Share button ( yo-scriptlab2 )and click Export for publishing, this will download a ZIP file in an Internet Explorer download dialog. Click Openyo-scriptlab3
      5. If you get a warning open the file, click Allow: yo-scriptlab4
      6. Select these two files, right-click and then click Copy:
        • basic-api-call.html
        • basic-api-call-manifest.xml.
      7. Leave the ZIP folder and download window open for now.
      8. Next, create a folder on your computer, call it “sample-1” then Paste (press CTRL+V) the two files into the folder. You can now close the ZIP folder you copied from and the download window.
      9. Next, you will need to have VSCode installed and configured for Office development. You can following my post for that here: How to Configure VSCode for Office Development.
      10. Open VSCode and press [CTRL+`] to open the Integrated Terminal.
      11. Change to the “sample-1” folder you created above, using the command: cd c:\\sample-1
      12. Type the following command: yo office sample-1
      13. You will then select the option as detailed below: yo-scriptlab5
      14. Once completed, on the File menu, click Open Folder. Browse to the sample-1 folder and click Select location.
      15. Delete the following files and folder:
        • app.js
        • app.css
        • index.html
        • rousource.html
        • and the function-file folder
      16. If you want to use Chrome as your debug environment, I would suggest this step which you will click to open the bsconfig.json file and add the following line: “browser”:”chrome” like this:
      17. Click to open the basic-api-call.html file and remove the following Script Lab lines:
      18. Save, close, then rename the file to index.html.
      19. Click to open the basic-api-call-manifest.xml and then CTRL+click to open the sample-1–manifest.xml in a side by side window (on the right).
      20. Copy the following lines from the left pane and replace the same lines by pasting them in the right pane:
      21. Save and close all open files. You can now delete the basic-api-call-manifest.xml file.
      22. Your project is now ready. Press [CTRL+`] to open the Integrated Terminal and type: npm start. Make sure it launches on port 3000 or your add-in will not load: yo-scriptlab6
      23. Your browser will open, if you have a wanting page, click Advanced and then click Proceed to the website. You will not see your index.html.
      24. Open a new tab and browse to and then sign in with your credentials.
      25. From the Office menu, click Excel, then open a new blank workbook.
      26. On the Insert tab, click Office Add-ins.
      27. In the upper right of the dialog, click Upload my add-in. Click Browse and then select the file: c:\<path>\sample-1\sample-1-manifest.xml.
      28. Your adding will now be loaded. On the Home tab, you can click to open the taskpane, click the button and it should highlight the selected cell.

One major caveat is that this is not a preferred way to make a Web Project. This is bare bones and really just to get you going with minimal effort (if you can call ~30 steps minimal effort). The important thing to know is that all your code in going to be embedded in script tags inside the the HTML file and not in a separate JS file (as preferred – a.k.a. Separation of Concerns). So keep that in mind as you perform this work. If eventually your project turns into something much bigger, you will need to do some housekeeping.

So, ~30 steps… It would be nice if there were a way to do this more simply, but for now, this is the best way to do this. I have had a discussion with the product team in charge of Script Lab and they agree with such a feature, so I will update this post if it becomes available at some future point. wlEmoticon-hotsmile.png

How to Configure VSCode for Office Development

I thought I had written this some time ago, but I guess I did not. So here goes…

NOTE: First, I want to state that if you are creating applications for the full Office clients, it might be best to continue using Visual Studio 2017 as you are able to debug directly in these clients with much more ease than you can from VSCode.

Some might find it hard to believe, but I have been geeking out hard and using VSCode to develop OfficeJS (Office 365 Web Add-ins). I find it a very useful, light client, where I am able to focus on just the basics. When combined with tools like Node Package Manager (NPM), browser sync, Yoeman and Git, you have a surprisingly robust development environment what makes doing things delightfully easy. wlEmoticon-hotsmile.png But it was not always this way, I had a learning curve and it took me a while to get it all setup and running correctly. I am not saying it was hard, just… different. So I channeled my inner geek and much to his delight, it turned out for the better.

So as I stated the challenge was getting it all setup. This is going to be very different, especially if you are coming from the Visual Studio 2017 world (much more so, from the VBA world). So, here are the step by step instructions I use for getting my VSCode development environment all configured for Office Development:

  1. Download and install VSCode: .
  2. Download and install Node to get Node Package Manager (NPM): On this page you will want to download the Windows/MSI/64-bit version.
  3. Download and install Git: On this page you will want to make sure you select to install the latest which is from the link in the upper right of the page.
  4. Now we have the basic packages we need in order to begin development. What we need to do now is install the Yeoman generator. To do this:
    • Open VSCode
    • Press CTRL+`. This will open the console window. Alternatively you can go to the View menu and click Integrated Terminal
    • Switch to the Terminal in the Console and then type the following command: npm install global yo
  5. Now you are ready to start generating OfficeJS add-ins from VSCode, and these steps will walk you through the first one:
    • Type: yo office sample-1
    • Once you do this the scaffold generator will kick in and ask you a few questions. Answer them as I have, in bold, below:? Would you like to create a new subfolder for your project? No
      ? Which Office client application would you like to support? Excel
      ? Would you like to create a new add-in? Yes, I need to create a new web app and manifest file for my add-in.
      ? Would you like to use TypeScript? No
      ? Choose a framework: Jquery
      ? Would you like to open it now while we finish creating your project? Yes
    • Once complete you will not have a solution folder called sample1 under your user profile c:\users\<yourname>\sample-1, but the project will not be open in VSCode, yet…
    • To open your project on the File menu, click Open Folder and then browse to and open the sample1 folder, then press Select Folder. NOTE: If you are coming from Visual Studio where the tree of solution files appears on the right side of the screen, the “Explorer” in VSCode appears on the left and it is actually a listing of ALL files and ALL folders in the solution directory.
    • You will see the code files for your project on the left hand side in the Explorer. The key files of importance to you, getting started will be:
      • sample-1-manifest.xml – this is your manifest for publishing your add-in.
      • index.html – this is your primary page or “task pane” for your add-in.
    • In this example I will not have you edit any of the files, but the basics are completely provided to build a solution. At this point we will check this into Git. Press CTRL+SHIFT+G. This will open the Source Control repository page. Click the icon to the right of the words Source Control, to Initialize Repository. This will open the folder to your solution, simply click Initialize Repository. You can now work with Git to manage your project. I will not go into more detail, but if you are interested, please watch this video:
    • Finally, we are ready to debug. But first, if you are on Windows 10, and you use Edge or Internet Explorer as your default browser, I would strongly suggest using the Google Chrome browser because the debug tools are so much better. However, there is one change you need to make:
      • Open the bsconfig.json file in the Explorer
      • At the top of the configuration you need to place this line: “browser”: “chrome”, so that the file looks like this:
            "browser": "chrome",
            "ui": {...
    • To debug, press CTRL+` to open or return to the Integrated Terminal. Type: npm start. This will open your project in Chrome. You might get a warning that the site is not trusted, click Advanced and select to trust anyway / continue.
    • Open another tab and browse to Once there, log into your account. On the Office menu in the upper left, click Excel. On the Insert menu, click Office Add-ins. In the upper right of the dialog, click Upload my add-in. Click Browse and then select the file: c:\users\<yourname>\sample-1\sample-1-manifest.xml. Your add-in will now load on the Home tab, switch there, and press Show Taskpane.

This looks like a lot of work and I know for most of you that are like me, coming from a Visual Studio and/or VBA background, this is very alien. You might consider this a step backwards or it might seem like it is time to hang up the spurs. wlEmoticon-disappointedsmile.png But give it some time, especially if you are just getting into OfficeJS, it will grow on you. In the meantime, here are some of my other blog entries around this to help you:

Please let me know if you have questions or would like some help with any of this. What I hope to be able to do at some point is to add posts on:

  • Importing a Script Lab project into a Yo Office scaffold
  • A video on the steps outlined in this post. I have done videos for internal training at Microsoft before, but never on my own for my blog. So this will be new territory if I can get around to it.
  • Other samples posts to getting started with various projects.

If you have any ideas of what you would like to see, please let me know.