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How to: Create external content types for SQL Server in SharePoint 2013

SharePoint 2013

Learn how to create an external content type for SQL Server in SharePoint 2013.

Last modified: July 01, 2013

Applies to: SharePoint Server 2013

Creating an external content type is a pivotal task when you are working with external data. An external content type contains important information about connections, access, methods of operation, columns, filters, and other metadata that is used to retrieve the data from the external data source.

Working with external data requires several prerequisite tasks to enable secure access to the data. The following information can help you plan your next steps. Also, if you have problems trying to work with external data, this information can help you identify the issue. To access external data, you or an administrator must do the following:

Prepare SQL Server   A database administrator needs to provide permissions to make sure that that the right people have access to the data and that the data does not end up in the wrong hands. The database administrator must also create a SQL Server account that has db_owner permission. The database administrator might also want to create specific tables, views, queries, column aliases, and so on to limit the results to just what is needed and to help improve performance.

Configure SharePoint services   An administrator must activate Business Connectivity Services (BCS) and the Secure Store Service.

Configure the Secure Store service   An administrator must determine the best access mode for the external data source, create a target application, and set the credentials for the target application.

Configure Business Data Connectivity Services   An administrator must make sure that the user who creates the external content type has permission to the Business Data Connectivity (BDC) metadata store and that appropriate users have access to the external content type on which the external list is based.

Be sure Office 2013 is ready to use To synchronize external data with Office 2013 products, you must use Windows 7 or a later version, and make sure that the Office installation option for Business Connectivity Services (BCS) is enabled (this is the default). This option installs the Business Connectivity Services Client Runtime which does the following: caches and synchronizes with external data, maps business data to external content types, displays the external item picker in Office products, and runs custom solutions inside Office products. You must also have SQL Server Compact 4.0, .NET Framework 4, and WCF Data Services 5.0 for OData V3 on each client computer (If necessary, you are automatically prompted to download the software).

  1. Start Microsoft SharePoint Designer 2013.

  2. Click Open Site, and then enter the appropriate site name.

  3. In the Navigation pane, under Site Objects, select External Content Types.

    Note Note

    SharePoint Designer 2013 groups external content types by the namespace in the initial window of the External Content Type Designer.

  4. To open the External Content Type Designer, on the ribbon, click External Content Type.

  5. On the New External Content Type page, do the following:

    • Next to Name, click New external content type, and then enter a unique name for the external content type.

    • Next to Display Name, enter a different name if you want a more descriptive display name.

  1. In the Office Item Type drop-down list, select one of the following:

    • Generic List   Select this option for any type of list.

    • Appointment, Contact, Task, or Post   Select this option if you are creating a list that behaves like an Outlook Contact, Task, Appointment, or Post item. The Office item type that you select here determines the Outlook behavior that you want to attach to the external content type. For example, a Customer external content type behaves as a native Contact Item in Outlook.

  2. In the Offline Sync for External List check box, make sure Enabled is selected, which is the default.

    Note Note

    If you disable this option, then the SharePoint Connect to Outlook command is not available for an external list.

Note Note

The Farm and Site feature, Offline Synchronization for External Lists, must also be active. This feature is active by default at the Farm level, but not active by default at the site level.

  1. To specify the SQL Server database for the external content type, click Click here to discover external data sources and define operations.

  2. Click Add Connection, select SQL Server in the External Data Source Type Selection dialog box, and then click OK.

  3. In the SQL Server Connection dialog box, enter the name of the server, the database name, an optional description, and then click OK.

  4. To choose an authentication mode, select one of the following:

    • Connect with User’s Identity   Uses the Pass-through authentication mode.

    • Connect with Impersonated Windows Identity   Uses the WindowsCredentials authentication mode.

    • Connect with Impersonated Custom Identity   Uses the RDBCredentials authentication mode.

  5. In the Secure Store Application ID box, enter the target application ID name created in the Secure Store Service.

  6. Click OK.

SharePoint Designer 2013 validates and tests the connection information. If you see messages, you must resolve them before you continue.

  1. In the Data Source Explorer, expand the database to view the tables, views, and routines that it contains.

  2. Select a table, view, or routine.

  1. In the Data Source Explorer, right-click the table, view, or routine, and then select one of the following:

    • Create All Operations   Defines a create item, delete item, read item, read list, and update item operation.

      Note Note

      Create All Operations is available only for tables and views. Routines require specific operations.

    • New Read Item Operation   Defines a read item operation.

    • New Read List Operation   Defines a read list operation.

    • New Update Operation   Defines an update item operation.

    • New Delete Read   Defines a delete item operation.

    • Refresh   Refreshes the list of tables, views, and routines in the Data Source Explorer.

  2. Click Next.

Notes

  • On views that span multiple tables, make sure that that write operations are supported. Otherwise, Create All Operations or New Update Operation might fail.

  • Always define at least a New Read Item Operation and New Read List Operation because SharePoint features, such as external lists, rely on these operations.

  • Choose specific operations, instead of Create All Operations, when the table or view does not support certain operations.

  1. To specify the columns that you want to display from the table or view, click Next.

  2. In the Parameters Configuration dialog box, by default all columns (known as Data Source Elements) are selected. To remove unnecessary columns, clear the corresponding check boxes.

    Note Note

    Unlike a native SharePoint list, you cannot change the column name of an external list. Consider using an SQL column alias to provide a more meaningful name or a shorter name.

  3. To select an identifier field, click and highlight a field (typically a unique-valued field), and then under Properties, click Map to Identifier.

Important note Important

To prevent specific fields from being updated, such as an ID or primary key field, clear the Required check box, but select the Read-Only check box, which is needed to retrieve items so you can update other fields.

Tip Tip

Always carefully read the messages in the Errors and Warnings pane. They provide useful information to confirm your actions or troubleshoot any issues. Periodically click the Errors and Warnings pane and make sure that there are no more errors or warnings.

If your external content type maps to an Outlook item type, you must map one or more fields from your external content type to the Outlook item fields. When you map an external content type, such as a Customer, to an Outlook item type, such as a Contact, you must explicitly map the individual fields in the external content type, such as Customer First Name, Customer Last Name, Customer Address, and Customer Phone, to their respective Outlook item type fields, such as a contact’s FirstName, LastName, BusinessAddress, and BusinessPhone.

  • For the each field, do the following:

    1. Click and highlight the field.

    2. Under Properties, next to Office property, click the down arrow. and then select the appropriate matching field.

Note Note

You do not need to map all the corresponding fields. However, the fields shown in the following table must be mapped.

Table: Outlook item type mapped to Outlook item field

Outlook item type

Outlook item field

Contact

LastName

Task

Subject

Appointment

Start, End, and Subject

Post

Subject

Unmapped fields, depending on the number, are displayed as extended properties as follows:

  • Adjoining   Appended to the form region at the bottom of an Outlook form's default page (two to five fields).

  • Separate   Added as a new page to an Outlook form (six or more fields).

The external item picker control allows users to select a field, such as an ID field or a field that has unique values, to conveniently choose an item. This control is available in SharePoint and Office 2013 products. For example, users can use this control to choose an item from an external list of customers and Word 2013 enables this control for use with content controls that are linked to external data columns.It's a good idea to select the specific columns you want to display in the external item picker control because the default operation is to show all the columns, which in most cases, is not necessary.

  1. For each field that you want displayed in the external content item picker, click and highlight the field, and then under Properties, click the Show in Picker check box.

  2. Click Next.

Note Note

All filters that you define are displayed in the external item picker control. Although you cannot remove specific filters from the external item picker control, you can define a default filter by clicking Is Default in the Filter configuration dialog box when you are creating or modifying the filter.

If you do not define a filter, an external list returns all of the data up to the Business Connectivity Services (BCS) throttle limit (by default, 2,000 items) or all the data that is defined in the external content type, if less than the current throttle limit. In addition, the entire processing of the results occurs within the SharePoint product. It’s a good idea to define at least one filter. In general, there are two types of filters that you need to be aware:

  • Data Source Filter   When you create an external content type filter, which is known as a Data Source Filter, the filter operation occurs within the SQL Server database. This is important when you are working with lots of data because you can offload processing from SharePoint products to the external database and gain performance improvements. After you create the external list, you can use the Data Source Filter by creating a view that specifies different filter values in the Data Source Filter section of the List View settings page.

  • SharePoint filter   Users can still filter the data by using a SharePoint filter, either the column header filter or by using the Filters section in the List View settings page. In this case, the filter operation occurs within the SharePoint product, not within the SQL Server database.

A good strategy to consider is to create a set of external list views based on specific Data Source Filters that make sure that larger amounts of data are filtered first in the external data source, and then users can further filter and refine the results by using SharePoint filters.

You can create several different types of filters. For each filter that you create, do the following:

  1. Under Properties, next to Data Source Element, select a field.

  2. Under Properties, next to Filter, click Click to Add to display the Filter Configuration dialog box.

  3. Click Add Filter Parameter.

  4. In the New Filter box, enter a filter name.

  5. In the Filter Type box, select a filter type:


    Comparisons

    A Comparison filter limits what items are returned based on a condition (such as State = "New Jersey") and is converted to an SQL WHERE clause.

    1. In the Filter Type box, select Comparison.

    2. In the Operator box, select an operation.

    3. In the Filter Field box, make sure that the field that you want to compare is selected.

    4. If you want values entered by the user to match by case, click Case Sensitive.

    5. If you want to display a list of possible matches ¡n the external item picker control when there is more than one matching item, select Use to create match list in external item picker.

    6. Click OK.

    7. Under Properties, next to Default Value, enter the initial value that you want to filter by, if the user does not enter a value. If you do not enter a value, the external list does not display any items.


    Wildcards

    A Wildcard filter limits what items are returned based on a user-entered string value (such as State Contains "New") and is converted to an SQL LIKE clause. Valid SQL Server wildcard characters are * (asterisk) which means match any number of characters and _ (underscore) which means match one and only one character.

    1. In the Filter Type box, select Wildcard.

    2. In the Filter Field box, select a field.

    3. If you want values entered by the user to match by case, click Case Sensitive.

    4. If you want to display a list of possible matches ¡n the external item picker control when there is more than one matching item, select Use to create match list in external item picker.

    5. Click OK.

    6. Under Properties, next to Default Value, enter the initial value that you want to filter by, if the user does not enter a value. If you do not enter a value, the external list does not display any items. It's a good idea to enter an * (asterisk) as the default.


    Limit

    In most cases, you must define a Limit Filter for Read and Read List operations. If you do not define a Default Limit value, no data is retrieved from the external data source. Ensure that the default value that you enter for the limit filter is less than 2,000, because the default Business Connectivity Services (BCS) throttle is 2,000 items. You can increase this limit if it is necessary.

    1. In the Filter Type box, select Limit.

    2. In the Number box, enter a number.

    3. If you want to display a list of possible matches ¡n the external item picker control when there is more than one matching item, select Use to create match list in external item picker.

    4. Under Properties, next to Default Value, enter the initial value that you want to filter by, if the user does not enter a value. If you do not enter a value, the external list does not display any items.

    5. Click OK.

    Note Note

    The SQL Server database administrator might want to create specific tables, views, indexes, and optimized queries to limit the results to just what is needed and to help improve performance.


    Page Number

    Use the external content type Page Number to supersede the SharePoint page limit defined in the List View page of the external list. Here’s the difference:

    • The external content type Page Number first processes the results within the SQL Server database, and then returns and displays only the number of rows determined by the Page Size value.

    • The SharePoint page limit returns all the rows up to the Default Value size from the SQL Server database, and then displays the number of rows determined by the SharePoint page limit value in the List View settings page.

    Using the external content type Page Number is generally more efficient. In addition, the Order value helps make sure that an accurate display of the results returned.

    1. In the Filter Type box, select Page Number.

    2. In the Page Size box, enter a number.

    3. In the Order box, select a sort direction.

    4. Click OK.

    5. Under Properties, next to Default Value, enter the initial value that you want to filter by, if the user does not enter a value. If you do not enter a value, the external list does not display any items.

  6. If you want to display but not modify a field, click and highlight the field, and then under Properties, select Read-Only.

  7. If you want to make sure that a field always has a value when it’s created or modified, click and highlight the field, and then under Properties, select Required.

  8. To provide a descriptive name in the external item picker control of the Data Source Element name, which is derived from the SQL Server column name, click and highlight the field, and then under Properties, in the Display Name box, enter a name.

  9. To define a default value for the filter (which also displays in the Data Source Filter section of the List View settings page), under Filter Parameters, click and highlight the filter, and then in the Default Value box, enter an appropriate value. If you do not enter a value, then when that filter is used for the first time, no items are displayed.

  1. On the ribbon, click Summary View.

  2. In the Fields section, under Field Name, select a field.

    Important note Important

    In general, it’s a good idea to make the Title a field that has a unique value. The Title field is used to display list or InfoPath forms. Once you set the Title field, you cannot change it.

  3. On the ribbon, click Set as Title.

  • On the Quick Access Toolbar, click Save. This stores the external content type definition in the Business Data Connectivity metadata store.

Note Note

To provide better performance, Business Data Connectivity caches all the objects in the metadata store and updates changes by using a timer job that runs every minute. It might take up to one minute for changes to propagate to all the servers in the farm, but changes are immediate on the server where you make the change.

The external content type is now available for use in SharePoint and Office 2013 products.

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