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ISV Utilities for Comparing Customizations and Transferring Configuration Data (Microsoft Dynamics CRM 4.0)

Inna Agranov
Microsoft Corporation

February 2009

Summary

Learn how to build and use two new powerful tools developed for Microsoft Dynamics CRM 4.0. The Customization Comparison Utility lets you compare the customization files between two Microsoft Dynamics CRM systems and the Configuration Data Utility lets you transfer custom configuration data from one Microsoft Dynamics CRM system to another.

Download the Visual Studio 2008 and Visual C# code samples for this article:

The Readme.doc files that are included with the sample code contain information about how to set up and build the sample applications. The user guides contain detailed information about how to use the sample applications and view the results. You can find the Readme.doc files and user guides in the project folder for each utility.

Applies To

Microsoft Dynamics CRM 4.0

Microsoft Visual Studio 2008

Introduction

Microsoft Dynamics CRM is a highly customizable system. Not only you can modify different sections of the product, you can also create new components to address business needs. The Microsoft Dynamics CRM platform offers a robust set of tools, APIs, and documentation that helps you build custom business applications. As the applications built on the Microsoft Dynamics CRM platform become more and more complex, a need for specialized support tools grows. In this article you will learn about two very useful tools that help you analyze the impact of customizations on the system and maintain consistent configuration data across multiple Microsoft Dynamics CRM systems.

Evaluating the Impact of Customizations with the Customization Comparison Utility

To evaluate the impact of customizations, it is helpful to compare customization files between the source and the target systems before you import customizations. The Customization Comparison Utility helps you accomplish this task.

Analyzing Customizations

Often you have to export custom components from one Microsoft Dynamics CRM environment and import them into another, for example, from development into test or production. However, before you import customizations, it is very helpful to assess the impact of customizations on the target system. The system where you import customizations may have been changed since the last installation. You have to consider the extent of the changes and how they may affect the new installation. While some of the changes, such as renaming of the attributes or adding new attributes, are minor, other modifications, such as deletion of entities or changes in the forms may have a significant effect on the system.

Analyzing and understanding the system customizations may result in more successful deployment of a new version of the application. This analysis minimizes the risk of overwriting important customization data in the target system. For example, if only several attribute names have changed, you may be able to do a plain import using the import/export functionality built into Microsoft Dynamics CRM. However, if some key components were deleted, such as entity forms, you may have to merge the customizations with the changes in the target system. Comparing customization files between the two systems helps you determine which approach will result in more successful deployment. This is also very useful when you are diagnosing the problems between two systems. By comparing the customization files, you can often identify possible causes of the existing problems.

Using the Customization Comparison Utility

The Customization Comparison utility lets you easily compare two Microsoft Dynamics CRM customization.xml files. Unlike other XML comparison tools, this utility can read and understand Microsoft Dynamics CRM schema. The results of comparison show the differences in entities, attributes, forms, views, workflows, security roles, entity maps, and relationships. You can use this tool before you import customizations into a system to evaluate the effect they will have on the system.

Use the tool to compare XML customizations files between the source and the target systems. If you use a zipped customization file, make sure that it contains only one customization XML file. The following illustration shows the results of comparison between two customization files. The compared items include entities, roles, workflows, entity maps, and relationships. You can drill down into each item to see more details. From the entities, you can view the changes in attributes, forms, and system views. You can easily see the changes in source and target. It shows the items that are present in the source file and not present in the target file and the items that are present in the target file, but not in the source file.

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In addition to reviewing the results of the comparison in the grid, the tool includes a report that you can easily export to Microsoft Office Excel for additional analysis.

For more information about how to use the tool, see the Customization Comparison user's guide included in the download package for this utility.

Transferring Configuration Data with the Configuration Data Utility

When you work with multiple environments, such as development, test, and production, or multiple Microsoft Dynamics CRM organizations, keeping consistent configuration data across all systems can be very important. The Configuration Data Utility helps you achieve this. It lets you export custom configuration data from a source Microsoft Dynamics CRM system and import it to a target Microsoft Dynamics CRM system.

Storing Configuration Data in Custom Entities

In Microsoft Dynamics CRM you often use custom entities to store business information. However, you could also use custom entities to store system configuration data. For example, if an application integrates Microsoft Dynamics CRM with a third-party system, you could create a configuration entity with attributes such as pollingtime, url, and retries to store the configuration data needed for the integration. This is very convenient because the data stored in the configuration entity can be used by the system administrators to configure a new application or update an existing application. To keep the configuration data up to date, you may have to frequently upload the new data, or have an automated task to do it.

Using the Configuration Data Utility gives you a simple and efficient way to transfer custom configuration data from one system to another. One of the main benefits of this utility is that you can import configuration data from multiple custom entities at the same time. While it only imports and exports data for custom entities, the tool can handle useful scenarios, such as importing records that reference other records that are also being imported.

ImportantImportant
For the tool to work correctly, the schema for the source entities and the target entities must be identical.

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In more complex cases, use the Microsoft Dynamics CRM data export and import tools or Data Migration Manager to transfer data for custom and system entities.
For more information about these tools, see Microsoft Dynamics CRM online Help.

Using the Configuration Data Utility

Use the Configuration Data Utility to export the source system configuration data and import it into a target system. The tool provides a convenient interface that lets you select the custom entities that contain the configuration data in the source system, save the data into a data file, and then import the records from the data file into a target system.

To run the tool, you must be a system administrator with appropriate privileges to create, read, and update entity instances.

The following illustration shows the entities in the source system that are selected for export.

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For import, specify the target server where you import the configuration data and the data file that you created during export, as shown in following illustrations.

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The tool offers a command line version that you can run from a command prompt.

For more information about how to use the tool, see the Configuration Data Utility user's guide included in the download package for this utility.

Additional Information

Download the Microsoft Dynamics CRM 4.0 Software Development Kit (SDK) from the Microsoft Download Center.

For more information about custom entities, see Entity Customization.

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