Where Can You Show External Data?
Published: May 2010
After you create an external content type, you can use any of the presentation features of Microsoft Business Connectivity Services (BCS) to provide a rich experience to the user, without writing any code.
On the server, by using external content types as the data source, you can show external data in the following components. Note that the feature set and the capabilities differ in Microsoft SharePoint Foundation 2010 and Microsoft SharePoint Server 2010. For example, Profile Pages and the rich client features mentioned in this section are only available if you have SharePoint Server 2010 and Office 2010. See What Is Included in Business Connectivity Services? for details.
An external list is a new feature in Microsoft SharePoint Foundation 2010 that enables accessing data from external systems in the same way that SharePoint list data is accessed. External lists use external content types as their data sources. External lists enable you to use the metadata that is already defined about an external content type to create a SharePoint list that has external data that looks and performs like any other SharePoint list.
Figure 1 shows an external list of customers from the Northwind Sample database.
You can also take external lists offline to Microsoft Outlook 2010 and Microsoft SharePoint Workspace 2010. This enables you to work with external data just like native Outlook Item types (such as Contacts, Tasks, and Posts) in Outlook, and lists in SharePoint Workspace. It also enables online and offline scenarios on external data in Office client applications.
External lists enable writing back to the external system if the external system allows it, and if it is modeled accordingly by the external content type. This implies that users can edit external data directly from within SharePoint 2010. Any changes that were made to the items in the list are synchronized automatically with the external system. Also by using the Refresh data button in the list, you can synchronize and get updated data from the external system automatically.
Notice that unlike a SharePoint list whose data is stored in the SharePoint content database, the data in an external list is stored only in the external system. External data is brought into the SharePoint list at run time when you navigate to the list.
The schema of an external list relies on the model and cannot be extended by adding new columns in SharePoint Server 2010. Also in this release, external lists do not offer all of the functionality offered by typical SharePoint lists, such as workflow, content types, versioning, check-in, and check-out.
Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007 provided the Business Data list column type that is now available to all SharePoint lists (except external lists) in Microsoft SharePoint Foundation 2010. The Business Data list column type is now renamed external data column, and it enables users to add data from external content types to standard SharePoint lists. Just like an external list, the external data column can display data from any external content type that is modeled in the BDC. Figure 2 shows a SharePoint list that was extended with external data columns from the Customer external content type.
Three scenarios in which to use external data columns follow:
Tagging a document in a list For example, in your Request for Proposal (RFP) document library, you can add an external data column to tag the proposal document with the customer who proposed it. This enables users to view the customer's details and perform actions associated with them from the document library.
Annotating (or extending) data in an external system without changing the external system For example, you can add a column to your list for tracking the number of hires referred by employees in your team, even if the external system does not track that data.
Picking values from a canonical list of values For example, you can use an external data column in a list that enables users to select the ZIP Code/Postal Code of a city instead of entering the ZIP Code/Postal Code manually.
If you have Business Connectivity Services Rich Client Extensions, you can use External Item Content Controls in Microsoft Word to show external data columns in Word. This enables you to perform the previous three scenarios inside a Word document.
When you add an external data column to a list, you can choose any number of fields to retrieve from the external system and display in the list. For example, when you add a column of type Product (external content type), you can display multiple fields such as the ID, Name, QtyInStock, and Price in the list.
The external data columns provide all the other features of standard Microsoft SharePoint Foundation 2010 lists, such as workflow, versioning, check-in, and check-out. In addition, by using the Refresh data button in the list, you can synchronize and get updated data from the external system automatically.
Business Connectivity Services offers the following Web Parts: External Data List, External Data Item, External Data Item Builder, External Data Related List, and External Data Connectivity Filter. These Web Parts rely on BDC, and offer three main benefits:
No required coding, and reusability These Web Parts enable you to display external data on your portal site without writing any code. Also, these Web Parts are generic and reusable and can show any kind of data (external content type) registered in the Business Data Connectivity (BDC) service.
Connectability These Web Parts support Web Part connections and make it easier to create Master-Detail applications without writing any code. For example, you can display customers and their details by using the External Data List and External Data Item Web Parts by connecting them. These Web Parts can also be integrated in dashboards.
Customization These Web Parts support WYSIWYG editing in Microsoft SharePoint Designer 2010 and can be customized by using XSLT transformations.
The Business Data Web Parts are read-only and they do not offer write-back capability to the external system.
An External Content Type Picker provides picking and resolving functionality to the user. You can embed a picker in a form or page for scenarios where a user should be able to pick an external content type from the list of available external content types. Figure 3 shows an External Content Type Picker that appears on a Create Column page in SharePoint.
An External Item Picker provides picking and resolving functionality for external items on the server and in rich client Office applications. You can embed a picker in a form or page for scenarios where a user should be able to pick an external item, such as customer John from a list of customers. The following figure shows how an external item picker displays a list of customers and lets you easily choose a customer.
The topic Business Connectivity Services in Microsoft Office 2010 describes the presentation features on the Office 2010 applications.