Customizing SharePoint Online Using SharePoint Designer 2010

SharePoint Online

Published: November 2010

SharePoint Designer 2010 is the tool of choice for rapid development of SharePoint applications. By using SharePoint Designer 2010, advanced users and developers can create SharePoint solutions in response to business needs.

Available in SharePoint Online

Advanced users can compose no-code solutions that encompass a variety of common scenarios, from collaborative sites to human workflows, leveraging the building blocks that are available in SharePoint in an easy to use environment. In addition, developers can use SharePoint Designer 2010 to get a quick start on SharePoint development projects.

Using SharePoint Designer 2010 to Customize SharePoint Online

SharePoint Designer 2010 delivers a powerful site-authoring experience by providing one place where you can do the following, all without writing a line of code:

  • Create a SharePoint site

  • Customize the components that compose the site

  • Design the logic of the site around a business process

  • Deploy the site as a packaged solution

The tasks you perform in SharePoint Designer are generally referred to as customizations, instead of development, because tasks performed in SharePoint Designer require you to create or edit SharePoint items declaratively, instead of using server-side code. (Some tasks you perform in SharePoint Designer can employ client-side scripting.)

You should be aware of an important aspect of SharePoint Designer customization: When you are using SharePoint Designer, you are editing directly against the selected SharePoint Online site. This differs from SharePoint solution development in Visual Studio 2010, where you create and debug your solution on a local SharePoint installation, and then deploy the completed solution to the solution gallery in SharePoint Online.

SharePoint Designer is available as a free download from Microsoft. For more information, including system requirements, see Microsoft SharePoint Designer 2010 (32-bit).

Using SharePoint Designer to Create SharePoint Online Business Solutions

The business solutions you can create in SharePoint Online by using SharePoint Designer fall into the following main types of solutions.

  • Interactive data-rich user interfaces

    With SharePoint Designer 2010, you can create powerful and dynamic user interfaces for your SharePoint data, and you can make them available in many places, including your SharePoint site and custom windows, panes, and fields in Microsoft Office business applications.

    The interfaces that you can create include custom views, forms, Web Parts, navigation, and custom Office client windows and task panes. This kind of flexibility enables you to create completely customized user experiences of your business data.

    You might combine multiple data sources into a single view, create dashboards with related item views, design custom forms tailored to individual roles, and customize the available toolbars and Server ribbon commands associated with the data.

  • Declarative workflows for managing business processes

    Every business process in an organization consists of a set of activities that are connected based on a common business need. SharePoint declarative workflows are designed around this model by providing rules-based workflows that consist of sets of conditions and actions. You organize and run a series of actions that correspond to a work process that is based on a sequence of conditions and actions.

    By using SharePoint Designer 2010, you can create declarative, rules-based workflows that manage the business processes in an organization. Workflows automate both business application processes and human collaborative processes. Workflows for business application processes might update one data source when another data source changes; and workflows for human collaborative processes might send a document to an employee's manager for approval.

    The declarative workflows you can build in SharePoint Designer introduce application logic to your business processes without requiring you to write code. This is made possible by the workflow designer in SharePoint Designer 2010, which allows nested logic, substeps, and more. Alternatively, you can design and share workflows by using Microsoft Visio 2010 with its flowchart templates that can be exported to SharePoint Designer 2010.

  • Connections to data that is inside or outside of SharePoint

    With SharePoint Designer 2010, you can connect to numerous data sources, and then integrate that data into your site and Office client applications. Your users, as a result, can see and interact with business data on your site and from within the programs you choose instead of connecting to those data sources separately.

    Directly from the ribbon, you can connect to an external database, SOAP service, REST (Representational State Transfer) service, and more. Connecting to data sources is a powerful feature of SharePoint Designer 2010 because there are so many supported options you can use to make data available to your users. With data connections, you can bring together lists and libraries, external databases and data sources via OLE DB or ODBC protocols, XML web services via SOAP, and more.

  • Designed and branded sites

    The final area of customization provided by SharePoint Designer 2010 is design and brand—that is, taking a consistent look and feel and applying it to your SharePoint site. You can incorporate a company logo, color scheme, headers and footers, supporting graphics, custom navigation, and more. As a result, every page on the site can be immediately recognized as a part of a larger corporate site. In SharePoint Designer 2010, you design and brand SharePoint sites by using master pages, page layouts, and cascading style sheets.

    Designing and branding a site is different from the other pillars of customization, where the focus is on creating custom business solutions. Branding is something you generally perform less often and at the top of a site collection. That custom brand is then inherited by the site collection's subsites. The branding effort is also likely to be performed by a web designer instead of a solution creator.

    For these reasons, master pages, page layouts, and cascading style sheets are disabled by default for all users except SharePoint Online administrators. In this way, only those responsible for the site brand have access to these powerful, yet sensitive files. You can re-enable them for specific users.

Restricting Access to SharePoint Designer in SharePoint Online

The SharePoint Online administrator has the ability to restrict the tasks for which other users can employ SharePoint Designer. The SharePoint Online administrator can do the following:

  • Restrict who can detach pages from the site definition

  • Restrict who can edit master page and page layouts

  • Restrict who can edit files in URL site hierarchy

  • Prevent the use of SharePoint Designer 2010 to edit sites

Deploying Custom SharePoint Online Solutions from SharePoint Designer 2010

SharePoint Designer includes functionality that enables you to package the SharePoint items you have created and edited, so that you can deploy them to another server or across the enterprise, or open them in Visual Studio 2010 for additional development. The Save as Template feature enables you to save a solution as a SharePoint solution package (.wsp) file. You determine what is saved in the .wsp file. It can contain the entire contents of your site, including data sources and structure, views and forms, workflows, and Web Parts, or you can save individual components, such as a list, a view, or a workflow.

This ability to save SharePoint items in .wsp files that can be opened in Visual Studio 2010 means that a designer can create the SharePoint items in the familiar, intuitive SharePoint Designer interface and then hand it off to a developer for further development in Visual Studio 2010, a tool that developers are familiar with. Or, if you are a developer, you can use SharePoint Designer for rapid application development, knowing you do not have to redo your work because you can easily port it to Visual Studio 2010.

For an overview of the SharePoint Designer interface and capabilities, see Introducing SharePoint Designer 2010. For a more detailed list of resources to get you started, see Getting Started with SharePoint Designer. For access to all the SharePoint Designer end-user help, see the SharePoint Designer Help center.

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