Fastest way to get entities in Dynamics NAV or Business Central and not only

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It’s 4 pm. To my surprise a skype call from one of the customers I usually talk maybe once a month. She cut the niceties quite abruptly: “Look, I have a list of 100 customers and I need it in production asap. I have 15 fields with data for each new customer. Can you do it today before 5?”

This is the context of this blog post. How do we inject new entities in NAV, and not only, in the fastest way (under one hour) ?

A few weeks ago I engaged a few of my peer developers, not just NAV developers, on what they usually do in this type of scenario.

Some of their answers were really good and could be applied in Dynamics NAV or Business Central.

One of the answers was to ask the customer to enter it manually:)

giphy

That is indeed one way, but I’m not sure if my customer was willing to do it and – under one hour was out of the question.

Another answer was to “quickly” write an integration tool to take the data from the original system and into the target system.

crazy

Some of the answers I recall: “That’s crazy!” or “You have a list!” or “Under one hour, please!”…

Another idea was to manipulate the list, residing in an Excel file, in such a way that we generate the code required to insert the records in Excel in the language of your choice (C/AL, AL, C#) and once generated copy it from Excel worksheet straight into a Run trigger of a codeunit or any other method and execute that method. For Business Central create a new extension, extending only Customer List page with one action “Import Customers” and drop the code generated in Excel in that action OnAction trigger. Install the extension, run the action, un-install extension. I personally used this method at least a dozen times in my career in different environments including NAV. It’s fast, dirty and does the job 🙂

A similar answer was to generate the “INSERT INTO” t-sql statements in Excel and copy the batch in a query window and execute it. We know this is not what we call best practices when working with Dynamics NAV, not to mention Business Central. But this might work very well for other environments, especially when you don’t have to trigger any business logic.

Another answer was to write in the language one prefers a subroutine to manipulate the Excel file programmatically. While this is a method that works most of the time when you have enough time, I don’t think is doable in under one hour unless you already have the bulk of the code and you just need to quickly transform it and polish it for the fields that the customer is including this time. I used this method a few times in Dynamics NAV when one can take advantage of the structure Microsoft put in place since NAV 2013 via table 370 Excel Buffer.

One last answer discussed between the NAV guys was to use RapidStart services. We, the NAV people, are quite lucky to have the mothership design this service for us. We both agreed that this would be one quick way to get the data in and most likely under one hour.

This is what I gathered for this type of time-sensitive requests. What would you do if you encounter this type of task?

How to PowerApps with Business Central

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PowerApps – Intro

What is PowerApps? PowerApps is a service for generating cross platform (iOS, Android, Windows Store) applications. It allows connectivity to different systems, comes up with cloud IDE and a cloud admin interface that allows users to publish apps targeting whatever platform you need. The IDE is called PowerApps Studio and can be downloaded from Windows Store locally on your machine or it can be used as a web application. I designed the app detailed below using the web application.

Most importantly, just like the other power tools, PowerBI and MS Flow, PowerApps is accessible not only to professional developers, but also business analysts, junior developers, or expert users in any company. I wrote this app without any code inside PowerApps Studio, just a few Excel functions invoked sporadically.

The quick PowerApps app I built required:

  • a PowerApps license. I got my free license here.
  • a NAV container hosted on Azure. You could build yours easily, some help here.

Application scope

The app will get from the Azure Business Central container the list of items via Item List page exposed as web service, and will present on the first screen the Item No. and Description for all items. App user can then advance into the details screen for each item. Here, if the Quantity is low the user can advance on a third screen where he can generate a purchase invoice for the desired quantity for the item and vendor selected. The result is that in Business Central the app will generate via a second web service a purchase invoice for the item, the vendor selected and the quantity entered.

Application design

There are two main parts to create your app:

  1. Create app connector
  2. Design app

1. Create app connectors

To create a Business Central connector go to the File menu in the PowerApps Studio and choose Connections:conn

 

The connector to the Azure BC Container instance looks like this:

 

new bc connector

Once the connector is set we can access all web services exposed in Business Central Azure Container.

2. Design PowerApps app

The PowerApps Studio comes with 3 main regions:

  1. Left Side is where you work with the screens. In this simple app I have 4 screens: Master, Detail, Order and Confirm.
  2. The center belongs to the canvas where you drop your controls
  3. Right side is occupied by the Data Source (if any) and the properties of the current control you selected on the canvas

 

studio screens

MasterScreen consists of a Galleria control (GalleriaItems) which contains a list of items retrieved via Items web service Data Source. You will see later that this web service is Page 31 exposed as web service in Business Central Azure Container.

OnSelect event for the Forward button has Navigate(screen,effect) function behind to advance to a certain screen in your app.

forwardbutton

The second screen, DetailScreen displays a bit more fields from Items web service.

detailscreen

If the inventory is low, the app user can decide to order more by clicking on “Order more” button:

orderscreen

Once the user enters the desired quantity to be included on a Business Central Purchase Invoice the app will create a POST request to a new ODATA web service data source (OrderItemVendorWS) and ultimately generate the purchase invoice with one purchase line.

Let’s see the app:

runappgiflast

 

And, in Business Central, the new purchase invoice:

purchaseinvoiceinbc

This is what was needed on the PowerApps side, but additionally, I needed to plug a few new things in Business Central.

Business Central Container changes

First, create a new AL project, and point Visual Studio Code to the azure container:

Launch.json:

launchjson

Web services:

  • Items service will support MasterScreen and DetailScreen
  • OrderItemVendorWS will support OrderScreen.

web servicesPage 50100 “PurchaseItemList” is a new page based on a new Table 50100 PurchaseItem:

Table 50100 PurchaseItem:

TabPurchaseItem

Page 50100 PurchaseItemList:

Pag50100PurchaseItemList

The Purchase Invoice is generated during OnInsert trigger on the new table:

InsertTrigger50100

Conclusions

Creating an app with PowerApps assumes 3 tasks:

  1. the app backend, the connectors to your apps
  2. the app design, done in PowerApps Studio
  3. Publishing and Management tasks

PowerApps comes with versioning and management capabilities of a few environments (E.g. Dev, QA, Prod). Once your app has been tested by PowerApps app users, you could export it from QA and import it in Prod and distributed it from there. Select Office and  Dynamics 365 plans will allow you to generate and manage these environments.

More specifically, if you go to web.powerapps.com and click on Solutions you will be able to follow (with the right license) Create a new environment link.

Some useful links:

 

Generate Azure Business Central containers using deployment template and parameter files

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As soon as I started working with Containers, more specifically with Azure Containers, around mid-December 2018, I quickly run into a few questions: how can I automate the container creation, how can I update a container (scale up or down, override settings)? How can I scale out my configuration? For some of my questions I identified answers, for others the research is ongoing.

As we established I am not exactly an expert and if you’re still here, the process of generating your first Azure Container loaded with Business Central is a fairly easy one. Check my previous blog where I described step by step the process.

I like to mess around, and I did mess around with the tables where the extensions are managed (system tables 2000000150 NAV App*) ending up with a corrupt container, or rather with a corrupt Business Central. Because I did not have any important data I could just delete the container and run through the steps of manually creating it again. But what if I wanted to automate the process? What if I needed to build 5 distinct containers? How can I speed up the process and make it scalable?

Instead of going through last blog exercise, to delete the corrupt container and re-create it, I decided to investigate Microsoft documentation around deployment templates and deployment parameter files.

This is what I learnt:

In the portal, go to the container created in the previous blog, click on “Automated script” and download:

deploy template

Download the automatic script into a new Visual Studio Code folder. I chose to save it as azuredeploy.json.

vscode-build automated script

Above, is the deployment template I’m going to work with to automate the creation of new containers loaded with a Business Central image. The current image, Microsoft/bcsandbox:latest, in the template code, won’t have data. If you want sample data in your new container(s) use this image: Microsoft/bcsandbox:base. If you need more info about loading your Business Central with data, read Waldo’s and Roberto’s blogs.

image with dataAdditionally, create a new file(the script) – I named it templatedeploy.ps1:

auto_script

Before we run this script we have to take a closer look at the deployment template downloaded from the portal.

template param section

I replaced the highlighted section above with this one below:

my params

I’m adding 3 new parameters, but you could parametrize almost any setting in your  deployment template and create placeholders for them in the deployment template:

placeholders

Moreover, I needed to create a new file in our project, parameters.json:

paramsjson

Before running the script “az group deployment create” looks like this:

command

Now I’m ready to run the powershell script:

result_script_template

To be able to log in Business Central we need the credentials for admin which can be obtained with the command:

az container logs -g rg-template -n d365bc-container-fromtemplate

To perform some cleanup (remove resource group and its content)  run:

az group delete -n rg-template –yes

Let’s now scale out our deployment to 2 containers:

scaleout

And after running “templatedeploy.ps1” we go to Azure Portal and we can see 2 containers under our unique deployment:

scaleout_result

Check the logs, identify the Admin password and you’re ready to login in your container!

That’s what I learnt. What would you add?

How to generate Azure Containers Instances loaded with Business Central in minutes

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To start writing extensions for Business Central we have a few choices: installing locally one of the release candidates that comes in the same format as any other Dynamics NAV DVD packages, creating a locally hosted docker sandbox, or in Azure as a container instance.

As the process of getting your container takes just a few minutes, I prefer to do my extensions testing and development in an Azure container.

To generate my Azure container with Business Central I started by installing Azure CLI for Windows. You can also use chocolatey to install Azure CLI on your local machine.

In Visual Studio Code click on Terminal and in a powershell session start your Azure work by logging in your Azure account with

az login

1.Azure Login

If logged in already and want to check account logged info:

az_account_show

Next, we need to create a resource group, which is a logical container in Azure, something like an organization unit in Active Directory or a folder for Windows files.

The command is “az group create” and takes two parameters: group name and location:

create group

Once the resource group is created we can create the azure container instance loaded with the latest Business Central using the following Azure command:

az container create

containerIn the image above,

  • the group in which the container will be created follows “-g” (group) option: “svrg”
  • the name of the container follows the “-n” (name) option: “d365bc-az-cont-us-cont”
  • the image loaded on this container is stored here: “Microsoft/bcsandbox:latest”
  • the OS is Windows
  • We can only enter 5 ports: 80,7046, 7048, 7049, 8080

For a complete list of parameters for “az container create”, check this.

To check the logs, find the credentials to log in recorded by Azure for the previous command run “Az container logs” like below:

logs

As you have seen above, the admin credentials are displayed and the new Azure Business Central instance appears ready for connections. Lets check by browsing on the link for the web client:

Ctrl + Click on the web client link in the picture above opens the Business Central web client:

webclient

To see the newly container page in Azure navigate to the resource group and then to your container:

az_container_page

After entering the credentials from the logs we are in:

inbc

Good! We’ve got a Business Central instance in Azure running in a container and we’re ready to code and test extensions!

To get into this container in Visual Studio Code generate with AL:Go command a new AL project and change in launch.json the value for server token to the container dns name created above:

vscode to azure

In the next blog I’ll go through the steps of deploying an Azure container loaded with a Business Central image using deployment templates with parameters.

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