Bennett Adelson Technical Blog

Posts from the consultants at Bennett Adelson

InfoPath is Still Alive


In January 2014, Microsoft announced the end of any future updates to InfoPath, with an implication that it might not be included in the next version of SharePoint. A year later, Microsoft has officially confirmed that InfoPath Forms Services will continue to be one of the services included in SharePoint Server 2016, and its inclusion in Office 365 will remain ‘until further notice’. (The InfoPath 2013 desktop application still remains the last version to be released.) They also announced the cancellation of FoSL (Forms on SharePoint Lists), the InfoPath alternative they were developing, which they had announced at SPC2014. This is very relevant to news to the many organizations wondering how to develop forms in SharePoint if there was no more InfoPath.

Recommendations

Based on this latest announcement, we are continuing to advise our clients to consider InfoPath for any forms project for which it is a good fit. Short term projects or agile processes that need rapid forms development make good candidates. With its inclusion in the next version of SharePoint, and Microsoft’s standard 10-year support cycles, InfoPath still has quite a bit of life left in it.

Why use InfoPath?

Even when it was facing extinction last year, it’s important to realize that InfoPath still has a comprehensive and broad set of powerful features that give it an advantage over many of the alternatives. Here are just a few of the features that are sometimes overlooked:

  • Promoted columns
    • Promoted columns represent fields inside the form that have been published into columns in the SharePoint forms library. The classic example of the value of the promoted column is the Expense Report. A manager can view a forms library that lists each report, with a column representing the total expense amount that needs approval, as well as a sum of all totals. Without the promoted column, the manager would have to open each form individually.
  • XML backend
    • InfoPath uses an XML schema behind the scenes to power its forms. For the normal power user, this fact is irrelevant, and should be considered a black box that need not be opened. But for the SharePoint developer who may need to create code to programmatically examine the contents of InfoPath forms, this is a useful fact. The CreateNavigator method, for instance, can be used to grab an instance of the XMLForm object for the current form document as a data source:
      02
  • Workflow integration
    • Part of InfoPath’s value in the creation of no-code solutions in SharePoint lies in its natural integration with SharePoint Workflow. Both InfoPath and SharePoint workflow natively interact with SharePoint columns, and can use them to coordinate with each other regarding the status of the process, relevant data fields, etc. The included Workflow Status column provides a convenient in-line way to see the progress of the associated workflow right from within the form library.
  • Code-behind
    • There are many times when the standard InfoPath features aren’t quite enough. Sometimes we need to apply code behind our forms to programmatically perform certain features. The Developer tab of InfoPath Designer gives us the ability to attach C# or VB code in Visual Studio to our form for just such a purpose, as seen in the simple example below which applies code that runs when the form loads, adding text to a field. We should always, of course, be mindful of the implications of code-behind to our forms deployment process:03
  • Outlook integration
    • Many times, you can interact with a forms process right from Outlook. It can present InfoPath forms embedded into an email message, with the ability to open, fill out, or submit. These forms could be submitted to you via an automated workflow, or could be opened on demand via the New button:
    • 04

It will be interesting to see if organizations will continue to use these powerful features included in InfoPath, given the ever-uncertain future of the product.

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