OfficeJS: Get the current user’s Username

While working on a customers proof of concept, we determined that we needed to know who the current user opening the add-in is. In most scenarios where there is a Store Add-in, you have the user log in. But we are in a enterprise environment, have an embedded taskpane and did not want to nag the user every single time they opened the document.

Outside of the BETA API set, there actually is not a way to do this in Word, Excel and PowerPoint. In the current BETA API (soon to be released), is the new Single sign-on (SSO) API. Detailed here:

https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/office/dev/add-ins/develop/sso-in-office-add-ins

I know, I know… you do not want to have to have the user sign-on and neither did we. But actually you do not need to. You make a call to getAccessToken() – after you have gone through the rather complex process of setting up your application in Azure AD – and in the returned token is the user information. Here is all you need for code to get to the username:

Communication between Office Web Add-ins

Sometimes you have multiple add-ins and you need to facilitate communication between them. For example, a common scenario I have heard is that you have:

  • A Content Add-in that displays something like a graph or an organization chart.
  • A Taskpane app that allows you to manipulate settings, upload and download data from a backend web service.

You need to be able to facilitate communication between the two so that when updates happen to one add-in, the other receives those updates. I recently worked on a proof of concept that helped prove how this can be done.

The solution is to use the Document as a communication medium. In the particular case we used CustomXMLParts in the document. Here is how it would work:

  • One add-in would need to send an update to the other, so it would write a CustomXMLPart with a specific namespace and a “context” (basically, I am the TaskPane communicating) to the document.
  • Both add-ins will have a window.setInterval() thread running to check the documents for CustomXMLParts in that given namespace.
  • The timer on the Content Add-in would fire, find the new customXMLPart from the taskpane, read the contents and then update itself as needed and finally, delete the CustomXMLPart.

Here is the code for the Content Add-in to look for the message from the TaskPane:

Next, here is the code in the Task Pane Add-in that will send the message for the content add-in to read:

Getting Started with OfficeJS

If you are just getting started with OfficeJS, then this post is for you. I will assume you have some understanding of what Office Web Add-ins are. However, there is one very basic point I will demonstrate in this tutorial:

  • An Office Web Add-In is simply a web site and an XML “description” file. I detailed this in this blog post. And we are going to build on that.

So, you are brand new to OfficeJS, and want to get started. The first thing you need to do is get your development environment up and running. There is a script for that:

Microsoft Office Development Environment Script

NOTE: For more information on this script, please read my blog post.

Next, you will need to pull down the Web Add-in Side Loader tool. Keep this ZIP on your desktop. This will be used later in the steps below to make it really easy for you to install the Add-in to Excel. However, if you prefer to do the steps manually, see the link below. For more information on this tool, please see my blog post and/or the GitHub repository.

Now that you have the development environment setup, lets build your very first, super basic Excel add-in:

  • Create a folder on your desktop called “MyFirstAddIn”
  • Open Notepad and copy/paste the code from HERE, then click File, Save, name it “manifest.xml”, change the type to “All Files *.*”, browse to folder on your desktop, and click Save.

NOTE: In this step you created the manifest file. This file will be used to “install” the add-in into Excel. Essentially, it will tell Excel where the web page is for the task pane.

  • Close Notepad, then open it again. Copy paste this code HERE, then click File, Save, name it “home.html”, change the type to “All Files *.*”, browse to the folder on your desktop, and click Save.

NOTE: In this step you created the primary file for website. This one file contains both the HTML and JavaScript needed to make the taskpane load in Excel.

  • Now you need to side load the manifest and you do that by first opening the ZIP file on your desktop: Set-WebAddin (v1.0.0.0).zip and extracting the Set-WebAddin.exe to the “MyFirstAddIn” folder.
  • Press Window+R to open the run dialog, and type CMD and press enter.

NOTE: This will open the Windows Command Prompt which you will use to sideload the add-in and run it.

NOTE: The word “sideload” is a fancy way to say install it for only your instance of Excel. It is also known as Developer Sideloading.

  • Change the directory to the folder on your desktop with this command:
cd "%userprofile%\desktop\MyFirstAddIn"
  • Next, type this command:
Set-WebAddin -test -manifestPath "%userprofile%\desktop\myfirstaddin\manifest.xml"

NOTE: In this step you have sideloaded the add-in to Office. This essentially tells Office you have an added an Excel add-in via the information in the manifest file which, when loaded tells Excel everything it needs to know about it, including where to find it. If you prefer to do the sideloading steps manually, you can follow them here.

  • Now you are almost ready. Type this last command (that is a dot/period at the end, very important):
http-server .

NOTE: The above steps start a local the http-server on your computer so that it will serve the webpage in the browser from the folder (.) you are current inside. You can now test this by clicking this link.

  • You are now ready to go. Simply open Excel and a new Blank Workbook. Then on the Insert tab, click the down arrow next to My add-ins and click BasicAddin. It should look like this:
The BasicAddIn in the Developer Add-ins menu
  • Your add-in Task Pane should load.
  • Click in cell A1, type “Hello World!”, and then in your Task Pane, click the “Click here” button and you should see “Hello World!” in the bottom of the page.
  • Once you are done, you can press CTRL+C in the command prompt window to shutdown the server and then to uninstall the add-in you can use this command:
Set-WebAddin -cleanup -manifestPath "%userprofile%\desktop\myfirstaddin\manifest.xml"

And that is it. There are three things to note here:

  • You created your first web add-in.
  • You did not use VSCode or any Integrated Development Environment. You did this only with Notepad.
  • But as an added bonus – you have also installed VSCode and the tools you need to start doing more complex things with Office Web Add-ins.

JavaScript, HTML, Web, CSS, front-end, back-end, web server, ports, local hosts… some, if not all of these are new terms if you are just getting into this new world of the Web and Web add-ins. But it does not have to be that complicated. As I referred to earlier, the following posts should be your next two stops on your journey:

Getting started as an OfficeJS Developer

Start Developing in OfficeJS Today with ScriptLab

If you have any questions, please reach out to me.

Office Scripts: The future is here

Microsoft has been working hard to make Office available on every platform. One of the biggest changes has been the ability to run Office the a browser or Office online. However, one drawback has been that automation in Office online has been limited to Web Add-ins which are aimed solidly at professional developers. However, Visual Basic for Applications (VBA) macros are only supported in Windows and Mac clients. They are not supported on the web platform, the iOS or Android platforms. And, well, they still are not.  wlEmoticon-disappointedsmile.png  However, something new has arrived which will allow you to create “macros” anywhere, on any platform (eventually).

Microsoft recently announced Office Scripts. It is an end-user approachable, web and collaborative supported scripting language. It is still in preview and only supported in Excel online, for now.

First, to access this you must have your administrator enable it in the Office 365 Portal:

turn_on_scripts

For citizen programmers this line from the above page says it all:

Scripts allow you to record and replay your Excel actions on different workbooks and worksheets. If you find yourself doing the same things over and over again, an Office Script can help you by reducing your whole workflow to a single button press.

So, I enabled it in my test tenant and created the quintessential “Hello Wold” Action Recording. When your administrator enables this on your tenant, you will get this new Automation tab:

AutomationTab

From there, I clicked on Record Actions, typed “Hello World!” in cell A1, and then stopped the macro. It then asked me to name it and give a description (optional), and then Save. From there it opened the Code Editor and here is what I see:

Once you open a new workbook, you can then click on the Code Editor button and you will see all your recorded scripts:

recordings

The future is here. Check it out now. You can learn more about Office Scripts from here: https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/office/dev/scripts/tutorials/excel-tutorial.

 

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 https://office365.com 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: https://code.visualstudio.com/ .
  2. Download and install Node to get Node Package Manager (NPM): https://nodejs.org/en/download/. On this page you will want to download the Windows/MSI/64-bit version.
  3. Download and install Git: https://git-scm.com/download. 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: https://git-scm.com/video/what-is-git
    • 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 office365.com. 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.

OfficeJS.dialogs version 1.0.8

I have recently updated the OfficeJS.dialogs to version 1.0.8. I have also updated the Node Package Manager version as well. You can get it by running the following command in the VSCode Terminal Window:

npm install officejs.dialogs

With this latest version comes a few bug fixes, some cleanup of the code, cleaner JSDoc documentation and a PrintPreview dialog. The PrintPreview started out as a proof of concept but it actually works for me – in the browser anyway. I am not sure how well it will work in any of the full clients as I have not tested it there yet. If anyone has a chance to test it, please let me know if you encounter any issues.

Here is a sample of the PrintPreview dialog:

print

Here is some code to implement it:

 

OfficeJS.dialogs Updated (v1.0.5)

I have been working hard on my OfficeJS.Dialogs library and just published version 1.0.5. You can get it from NPM and GitHub. See my previous post for more information on how to do this.

I have added a few new features:

  • A simple Alert.Show() method that displays a simple OK box. For those times you want to just simply pop up a quick notification to the user.
  • A Progress.Show() that displays a progress bar. This allows for you to show the progress bar and then issue Progress.Update() to move the progress bar along. When you are done you call Progress.Complete().
  • A Wait.Show() dialog that will show an indeterminate spinner. This form will remain up until you issue a Wait.CloseDialog().
  • New UpdateMessage() and Update() methods were added to the MessageBox. This was done to allow you to quickly ask a lot of questions of the user in one instance of the dialog, without giving the user back to the application for a second while the new dialog is rendered. UpdateMessage() will just update the message but keep all the buttons the same, but you will specify a new callback. Update() will allow you to fundamentally change all the settings the MessageBox (buttons, icon, caption, text and all), plus a new callback function.
  • Behind the scenes I made some improvements/bug fixes:
    • If you try to show two dialogs too quickly, nothing will happen. So I added a half-second delay between dialog displays to make sure you never get an overlap.
    • You will get an error message in your callback if more than one dialog is attempted to be opened at once.
    • “Window Messaging” has been setup with Progress and MessageBox to allow the parent and the dialog to pass messages back and forth. It involves using setTimeout().

For those interested in the last item, here is what that look like:

        /**
        * Handles messages coming from the parent
        */
        function startMessageHandler() {
            setTimeout(function() {
                var message = localStorage.getItem("dialogMessage");
                localStorage.setItem("dialogMessage", ""); // clear the message
                if(message !== undefined && message !== null && message != "")
                {
                    var msg = JSON.parse(message);
                    if(msg.message == "update") {
                        // update the form
                        updateForm(msg.settings);
                    } else if(msg.message == "close") {
                        // do nothing special here
                        return; // stops the message pump
                    } else if(msg.message == "progress") {
                        if(msg.settings.Number > 100) return;
                        $("#bar").prop("value",msg.settings.Number);
                    }
                }
                startMessageHandler(); // call again
            }, 0);
        }

Here is an example of how to use the Progress dialog. The method signature is like this:

Progress.Show( [message], [start], [max], [completeCallback], [cancelCallback] )

  • The message is the message the user see’s when the dialog is opened.
  • The start is the number you want the progress bar to start at. Usually this should just be zero (0).
  • The max is the number you want the Progress bar to end at. Usually this should be 100. But it can be any number you want. If you have 5 steps to perform in the background while this dialog is up, you can set this to 5.
  • The completeCallback is your callback function to be called when your code calls the Progress.Compelte().
  • The cancelCallback is what gets called when the user presses the Cancel button on the form.

By itself, this will do nothing. You will have to call the Progress.Update() command in order to move the progress bar, or update the message to the user. Here is the method signature for the Update method:

Progress.Update( [amount], [message] )

  • The amount is how much you want the progress bar to move. If you do not specify an amount, an amount of 1 is assumed.
  • The message is a new message to provide the progress bar. If you want to update the message and do not want to increment the progress bar, specify an amount of zero (0).

Once you are all done with the Progress dialog, you issue a Progress.Complete() call. There are no parameters to it. Once called, your completeCallback in the Progress.Show() call will then be executed.

Here is an example:

// reset first to make sure we get a fresh object
Progress.Reset();
// display a progress bar form and set it from 0 to 100
Progress.Show("Please wait while this happens...", 0, 100, function() {
    // once we are done - when your code
    // calls Progress.Complete()
    Alert.Show("All done folks!");
  }, function() {
    // this is only going to be called if the user cancels
    Alert.Show("The user cancelled");
});
doProgress();

function doProgress() {
  // increment by one, the result that comes back is
  // two pieces of information: Cancelled and Value
  var result = Progress.Update(1);
  // if we are not cancelled and the value is not 100%
  // we will keep going, but in your code you will
  // likely just be incrementing and making sure
  // at each stage that the user has not cancelled
  if(!result.Cancelled && result.Value <= 100) {     setTimeout(function() {       // this is only for our example to       // cause the progress bar to move       doProgress();     },100);   } else if(result.Value >= 100) {
    Progress.Compelte(); // done
  }
};

That example also uses the new Alert dialog. This one is very simple:

Alert.Show ( [message] )

This next example uses the new Wait dialog, which is much simpler to implement. Here is the method signature:

Wait.Show( [message], [showCancel], [cancelCallback] )

  • The message is the message you want to show the user. If you specify null, it will appear as simply “Please wait…”
  • The showCancel flag if set will allow the user to see a Cancel button.
  • The cancelCallback function is only valid if the showCancel option is true. When the user presses cancel, this function gets called.

When you are ready to close the Wait dialog, you issues a Wait.CloseDialog(). Here is an example:

  Wait.Show(null, true, function() {
    Alert.Show("The user cancelled.");
  });
  setTimeout(function(){
    Wait.CloseDialog();
    Alert.Show("Done!");
  }, 15000);

If you have some suggestions for some things you would like to see added to this library, please add a comment below or reach out to me on LinkedIn or Twitter. Some ideas I will be working on:

  • Allow you to call another dialog type without having the close the dialog.
  • A selection dialog, where you have a dropdown list of a listbox where you wan select (or multi-select) items.
  • An option to resize forms.
  • An option to use the message handler in your own custom form – minimal code

Dialogs in OfficeJS

I have been working on a number of projects for my customers and recently, dialogs have taken front and center stage. The Office.context.ui Dialogs are powerful, albeit a tad confusing and the documentation suffers from a few easily missed points.  Here is the documentation:

But in this post, I hope to explain everything I have learned. To start off with here is the code to issue the dialog:

  Office.context.ui.displayDialogAsync('https://localhost:3000/function-file/dialog.html',
      { height: 20, width: 30, displayInIframe: true },
      function (asyncResult) {
          dialog = asyncResult.value;
          // callbacks from the parent
          dialog.addEventHandler(Office.EventType.DialogEventReceived, processMessage);
          dialog.addEventHandler(Office.EventType.DialogMessageReceived, processMessage);
      });

What this dialog does is opens as a modal form in a frame over the application (in Office Web Apps). It looks like this:

screen.PNG

As you can see the dialog is modal. But what is really important are the two event handlers you need to register to be able to get back to your code:

          dialog.addEventHandler(Office.EventType.DialogEventReceived, processMessage);
          dialog.addEventHandler(Office.EventType.DialogMessageReceived, processMessage);
The first one is an event receiver and really this is the event handler for errors, such as being unable to open the dialog or, most importantly, the user closed the dialog by clicking the (X) in the upper right of the dialog. There are a series errors you can catch, but specifically, the dialog cancel is this:
12006 The dialog box was closed, usually because the user chooses the X button.
The second one is a handler for messages coming from the dialog. These messages can be anything, but is usually a string or a JSON string. You can send a message from the dialog like this:
Office.context.ui.messageParent('{message}');
When the dialog issues a message using the code above, the function defined in the event handler is called. For example, if the user clicks an OK button or Submit button, you can pass the stringified values from the form back to the callback function. From there the dialog actually remains open until the caller issues a close, like this:
    // close the dialog
    dialog.close();
In the example above where I make the displayDialogAsync call, you will see I defined the SAME callback function for both dialog events. I did this because the results can be parsed by the same function. Here is what my function look like:
function processMessage(arg) {
    // close the dialog
    dialog.close();
    // procress the result
    if(arg.error == 12006) {
      // user clicked the (X) on the dialog
      sendEvent.completed({ allowEvent: false });
    } else {
      if(arg.message=="Yes") {
        // user clicked yes
        sendEvent.completed({ allowEvent: true });
      } else {
        // user clicked no
        sendEvent.completed({ allowEvent: false });
      }
    }
}
My previous blog post references all the code for the dialog:

Yo Office

Ok, odd title, I know. For some developers “in the know,” they will understand what I am eluding to. So what does it mean? It is short for Yeoman. In their own words, here is what it does:

Yeoman helps you to kickstart new projects, prescribing best practices and tools to help you stay productive. To do so, we provide a generator ecosystem. A generator is basically a plugin that can be run with the `yo` command to scaffold complete projects or useful parts.

So, by “yo office”, I am telling you that Office Web Add-in templates can be delivered through this cross-platform command line tool. This means you do NOT need Visual Studio (or even Windows) to create a new Office Web Add-in project package. More importantly, these packages are setup through NodeJs Package Manager and are configured to use Node.js web server (which comes on MANY different platforms).

Now, if you are like me (a 20+ year VS Office Developer veteran), when I first heard this, it all sounds just like this:

Γράφω στα ελληνικά και αν καταλαβαίνετε αυτό, καλό για σας
FYI: That is Greek. wlEmoticon-hotsmile.png
So, I have a choice here and that is to make this a long blog post, or a short blog post and I dislike making long posts as much as you do reading them, so… In this case, here is the executive summary: The Microsoft Office Developer team is trying to make Office an accessible development platform no matter where you come from (experience wise) or what platform you use.
Now, for “super hip” developers living on the cusp of command-line based free developer tooling, put this in your MacBook:
yo office
For the rest of you…
To get this to work, you need to install Node JS from here. And next you need to install the prerequisites as per these steps. Once installed, you will open the Node JS command prompt (in Windows, from the Start menu, type NodeJS and it should appear as a choice) and perform these steps:
  1. Change directory (using cd) to the folder where you want the project to live.
  2. Type “yo office” and then answer the questions.
  3. In my case, I developed an Outlook add-in, with a manifest, using JavaScript, called “Outlook-Sample-1” and I chose JQuery as the framework. Here is the output:

yo.PNG

When it is done, it will create a folder called Outlook-Sample-1 and place a set of files in it that you can edit and the NodeJS configuration to run it from a standalone web server locally. I used Visual Studio Code (or VS Code, as it is known, which is a new multi-platform code editor from Microsoft that runs on Mac, Windows, and Linux), to edit the add-in.
NOTE: If you have configured everything in Visual Studio Code correctly, you can not only get NodeJS to interact from the “Terminal Window” you can also hook to GitHub to push/pull your projects. It is a whole other topic for a whole other blog post, but VS Code is a bare essentials utilitarian cross-platform code editing development tool.
Now, which files you need to edit and such are beyond the scope here, but if you have done some development in this area before, you can probably quickly figure it out. I might post more on this in the future. Stay tuned!

Ok, ok… I know, I know… I need to stop here and address the big huge hulking elephant in the room. YES, these are command line tools. Yes, DOS is still dead. No, it is. Really. Repeat after me, DOS “IS” DEAD. Now, just accept that this is the way it is, because this is the way it is. I know, it seems so… 1994… Neo called from the Matrix to assure you it is, indeed, 2017. wlEmoticon-surprisedsmile.png For my fellow Visual Studio, 20+ year developer gurus: “deep breaths.” Now, back to our regularly scheduled broadcast..


Here is a view of my project from VS Code, with the Terminal Window open…
vscode.PNG
Once I was done, I opened a NodeJS command prompt in the Terminal window and launched my project using the following command:
npm  start
Once you run this command, you will effectively start NodeJS web server at http://localhost:3000 which will be hosting your WebAdd-in. But you still need to side load your manifest. To do this, you will need to follow these steps (for Windows), here for Mac, here for Outlook. This gets all kinds of technical and deep into other areas that are potentially future blog posts, but the point is that you can then debug your add-in locally no matter which platform you are on.
Ok, Ok… back to the elephant
So, is this BETTER than Visual Studio Enterprise and the JavaScript debugger there and code assistance I get?
Well, this is more nuanced… I lean towards “no” as most of this stuff is too lightweight, especially given my experience. Especially without the debugging. But, I do see some advantages (besides the command line tools) that have its advantages for use on Windows:
  • It is available across multiple platforms – including Windows. VS Code, Node JS, and “yo office” are everywhere, anywhere, over there, under that, etc.. wlEmoticon-disappointedsmile.png
  • Out-of-the-box support for TypeScript. Which I have not blogged on a lot, but Michael Zlatkovsky has covered well in his book. TypeScript makes JSDoc seem like child’s play.
  • Out-of-the-box support for the Node Package Manager ecosystem. This is a huge repository of reusable code.
  • VS Code is a light weight editor that hooks into NPM, Node and Git really well. And while it does not debug, recent builds of Office have added the ability to hook to a debugger right from your taskpane. Which is only good if you have a taskpane, but it is a start.
  • Node provides auto-refresh (browser-sync), auto-compilation, and other goodness.

Again, this might look like a lot of Greek, but if you find your shop turning Greek, you can at least know some starter phrases to begin acquiring the knowledge you need to speak it.

 

So, why is any of this important to me? Especially if you are telling me:
“I use Visual Studio Enterprise (or Pro) and I am happy with it, why would you introduce me to this Greek language lesson.”
The answer comes in three points you can take away:
  • Office development is really multi-platform capable now. This correlates to the fact the Office Applications are also multi-platform. Write your add-in once, and it will run (or the future plan is, it will run) on every platform you can think of: Windows, Mac, iOS, Android, Linux (or essentially an browser or any platform with a browser that has HTML5 support).
  • You know more about the vision, commitments and goals of the core Microsoft Office teams. If you get nothing out of this other than Microsoft is committed to true multi-platform capabilities with Office Web Add-ins, you have come away with a major point. But there is also the knowledge on how Office development can be done no matter the developer background. And hey. You 20+ year VS Office Developer veterans: take this to heart and read into it, because these are the tea leaves; then look over to your mentee that is likely your kids age and <sigh>.
  • You can move to another platform and still take what you know with you. This means that “cool” MacBook you bought several years back and gave to your kiddo when they went off to college can actually do something more than read email and browse web pages. wlEmoticon-hotsmile.png Uh, I still strongly suggest you stick to Web Add-in development on Windows and Visual Studio Enterprise if you are already there… just saying…
So, with this, I hope I have sufficiently given you a vision of things to come, and maybe even given a few of you some new things to research and delve into. If you want more, the entire how-to with Yeoman, including a cool video, is on the following page: