The SharePoint Framework: a new path for developers?


SharePoint 2016 may still seem like a relatively recent release, but the latest edition of Microsoft’s document management and storage system has now been around for nearly nine months. SharePoint 2016 of course took centre stage at the Future of SharePoint event in May of last year, leaving the new SharePoint Framework—released at the same time—to perhaps fly under the radar. So can we expect the SharePoint Framework to make some noise in 2017? Well, given its functionality for developers, we believe it should.

What is the SharePoint Framework?

Following on from their cloud-first, mobile-first mantra, Microsoft have made clear their investments around the user experience in SharePoint. This largely involved creating new, modern experiences for the core SharePoint capabilities—using the latest web development technology and taking advantage of the new SP 2016 UX in document libraries, lists and portals. And, like much modern web development, these are built client-side to provide a lightweight and rapid experience. This, as Microsoft explains, is at the heart of the SharePoint Framework:

“the SharePoint Framework (SPFx) is a page and web part model that provides full support for client-side SharePoint development, easy integration with SharePoint data and support for open source tooling.”

The SPFx offers newfound levels of customisation for developers—this is the first time ever that Microsoft have offered a model that can be used on any platform with any JavaScript framework to build your SharePoint customisations. Microsoft themselves actually built some of the updates they shared at the Future of Microsoft event through the SharePoint Framework—namely new experiences for the mobile app, SharePoint Online and OneDrive for Business.

Despite its power, the SharePoint Framework is yet to take off. One of the core findings in the 2016 State of SharePoint and Office 365 Development report, published by Rencore, was that while introduction of the SharePoint Framework is intended to revolutionize how developers work, it is currently not that widespread. While developers are beginning to move over to client-side approaches, there is still a large number of developers still building customisations with server side technology (48% continue to do so).

Side-note: Currently, the SharePoint Framework is only available with SharePoint Online and Office 365. We can expect the SPFx to come to SharePoint on-premises in 2017.

What is its significance to developers?

Over the course of SharePoint’s history, a large developer community has extended and shaped it considerably. Originally, custom web parts were created for predominantly on premise environments, using traditional development tools and languages such as C#. However, current development trends usually involve client-side technologies such as JavaScript, doing much of the heavy lifting that server-side languages like C# and the .NET Framework were needed to do. To meet the needs, a new development model was needed; based on JavaScript, the SharePoint Framework is the next evolution of SharePoint development.

Understanding the SPFx

The SharePoint Framework is not meant to take away from any existing SharePoint development models, quite the opposite. But as the number of options to extend SharePoint continues to rise, it becomes increasingly valuable to know the ideal scenarios in which the SPFx can help you, as well as some of the tool’s key characteristics.

  • 100% JavaScript

Using the SharePoint Framework, you can build solutions that consist 100% of JavaScript. Similar to SharePoint solutions built in the past using Angular, Knockout, jQuery and JSOM, such SharePoint Framework solutions would still be executed fully in the browser.

You can also build more complex SharePoint solutions that combine the modern SharePoint UX and the add-in model for code isolation and security. The SharePoint Framework also supports integration with powerful Office 365 power cloud services.

  • Host wherever you wish

Your SPFx solutions code can be hosted anywhere you want: in SharePoint, on your own servers or in the cloud. Specific scripts are loaded from within the browser, as the solution contains a URL reference to wherever the code is located.

This means solutions hosted externally to SharePoint can use a wide variety of technologies that would otherwise not be available. This frees developers from many of the technical limitations of previous versions of SharePoint.

  • Mobile and modern UX

The modern SharePoint UX is built with a mobile-first philosophy in mind. Team sites are not only now responsive, but their contents and customisations can be used with the new SharePoint mobile app. If mobile users are an important audience for your solution, you should strongly consider building it through the SharePoint Framework.

  • A tighter security model

SharePoint solutions of old ran in ‘full trust mode’, which as many found to their cost meant a problem with the customisation spread throughout SharePoint itself. Being client-side code, SharePoint Framework solutions have little access to SharePoint itself (they run in context with the user and there is no permission evaluation). More secure, more stable solutions are in the interests of everyone.

A framework for success

Like all SharePoint development models, over the years, the SharePoint Framework has its strengths and limitations. But it is certainly a step forward and a welcome acknowledgement by Microsoft that development tools and trends have moved on. By using it effectively, you can better leverage the capabilities of the SharePoint and build better, more stable customizations and add-ons. For developers, it’s a big win.

Attend a Webinar on the SharePoint Framework

Andrew Connell
Andrew Connell

To learn more about the SharePoint Framework, why not attend our webinar with SharePoint MVP Andrew Connell on the 31st January 2017. Learn more:

A global provider of SharePoint Tools since 2007, our SharePoint developers ensure products are evolving alongside the industry, and provide your business with the best experience possible. For more information, contact us today.

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