Process Builder Apex Actions

A technical best practice in the Salesforce domain is to employ Apex code predominantly as an enabler for the declarative platform capabilities. This light-touch approach is simple in concept; the minimum amount of Apex code necessary is introduced to enable non-technical build features to solution the functional requirement. In the majority case this works very well and provides a strong maintainability story. In more complex scenarios complete technical solution options can be warranted and are perfectly acceptable, but one should always preclude the Apex-as-glue approach first.

In practice this model can be challenging to implement. The solution design process must be driven by individuals who are both expert in the current-release declarative capabilities of the platform and have the skill and experience to deconstruct a requirement into a structured solution design composed of declarative and technical components. Typically functional experts revert to technical solution options as a last-resort and don’t always think in terms of blended solutions. Salesforce technical resources don’t usually have a deep understanding or practical experience of the functional capabilities of the platform – some do, most don’t consider this a development concern or don’t have the opportunity to build skills in this area.

The recent introduction of the (Lightning) Process Builder with its ability to invoke Apex Actions (via the InvocableMethod annotation) provides a powerful shared language between functional and technical perspectives, enabling a clear decomposition of functional and technical solution components. To elaborate on this, process automation solutions can be implemented (i.e. Processes) that are comprised of declarative functionality but also with delegation to Apex code where gaps exist. In other words a clear exemplar of the model described previously. Adding parameterised Apex Actions in this context enables declarative configuration of the technical component and removes the black-box issues related to Apex Trigger components etc.

The screenshot below shows an Apex Action invocation within the Process Builder design environment.

Process Builder - Apex Action

In consideration to the concept of Processes (or indeed Flows – the technology that underpins Process Builder) invoking Apex Actions, a new development paradigm becomes possible, one that avoids black box, inflexible Apex Triggers and places control and configuration in the hands of non-technical resources (business analyst, administrator, app builder etc.).

From the development perspective Apex Actions should be coded as reusable, encapsulated components with flexible configuration (via parameters) and simply dropped into Processes as required. Note, Actions are also invocable directly from the REST API – a further point of potential for this approach. This component-based architecture should work well for all parties. The question of when to write an Apex Trigger or an Apex Action will be influenced primarily by factors such as whether the logic applies to all record modifications or is selective and whether bulk operations must be supported at default batch sizes – at the time of writing there are governor limit considerations with Process Builder that should not apply to correctly written bulk-safe Apex Triggers.

Custom Metadata Types – Salesforce Winter ’16

1 Create New Custom Metadata Type

This post provides a high-level overview of the Winter ’16 enhancements to the Custom Metadata Types platform capability.

Custom Metadata Types – The App Configuration Engine for Force.com

There are in my view two distinct ways to consider Custom Metadata Types (CMT); firstly as analogous to Custom Settings and secondly as an architecturally significant paradigm shift in regard to platform extensibility. In the former case CMT can be viewed as a straightforward, almost like-for-like replacement to List Custom Settings – with the added benefit that records can be deployed as metadata. There are of course considerable differences between the two, however conceptually this view is simplistic and approachable. In respect to the latter case, prior to CMT platform extensibility for Force.com could be viewed as a vertical model where new instances of pre-defined metadata types are created to deliver custom interactions. Custom Metadata Types enable a horizontal extensibility model where new type definitions can be introduced and instances created as metadata. The platform is no longer constrained to the pre-defined set of metadata types, developers have freedom to extend the model and deploy both the types and instances freely across environments. This horizontal extensibility model enables a host of new use cases such as bespoke development frameworks that abstract or extend the Force.com platform, an idea variously described as Platform-on-a-Platform or Custom Platform.

Custom Metadata Types were introduced as a beta release in Spring ’15, with the GA release in Summer ’15. The enhancements added to Winter ’16 appear to represent another milestone on the journey toward an increasingly capable platform extensibility model where custom types can be related to standard types, perhaps to override or extend platform behaviour. This is definitely a key area of the Force.com platform to pay attention to over subsequent releases.

Note, the native user interface for Custom Metadata Type administration shown in the following screenshots is a new Winter ’16 feature, previously Metadata API calls were required to define types and manage associated records.

Key Concepts

Metadata Type
As the screenshot below shows, Custom Metadata Types support Custom Fields and Page Layouts, all very consistent with the Custom Object and Custom Setting equivalents (although not layouts in the Custom Setting case). At this point it’s worth considering the fact that all standard metadata types are comprised of a collection of attributes, for example an ApexClass has Name, Body attributes in the same way a CustomField has Name, Label, DisplayType attributes. This is how Force.com platform metadata is structured. The difference between a CMT and a Custom Object or Setting isn’t the definition it’s the type of data stored; with a CMT we’re recording metadata. Taking a somewhat obscure example, we could invent a new proprietary platform language called Opex (;-)), define a CMT called OpexClass with a Body attribute etc., populate it with metadata records that represent a System namespace and ship some actual ApexClass instances to translate and run the Opex code. I’ll concede this isn’t a practical example, however the point I hope should be clear.

2 Custom Metadata Type

The protected component attribute applies to Managed Packages; meaning visibility of the CMT in a Subscriber org.

When defining a new CustomField for a Custom Metadata Type, there are limitations to the field types that can be specified and as-per Custom Settings there are no picklist or relationship fields (as yet anyway).

3 New Field

Field Manageability is a new concept in Winter ’16 to understand, again in relation to Managed Packages. In short this setting provides field-level editability control, selectable values being:

Locked after release : Field value is locked after deployment (includes the developer org).
Subscriber editable : As the name suggests; deployed (developer) updates will not override subscriber field value changes.
Upgradable : Locked in the subscriber org, developer can edit and deploy upgrades.

4 Custom Metadata Type with Fields

Metadata Record
A Metadata Record is really where Custom Metadata Types head off on their own path; a Metadata Record as the name implies represents an instance of the metadata type as a record that can be manipulated by the Metadata API, deployed via Change Set and packaged. The significance of which is obvious but incredibly powerful. It becomes possible, for example, to track Metadata Records using Source Code Control tools and to deploy metadata plus configuration via a single deployment transaction. No more, 2 stage deployments or clumsy post-install data loading.

5 New Metadata Record

As can be seen in the preceding screenshot it is possible to define a Protected Component setting at the Metadata Record level. This enables the type to be public but records to be selectively hidden in the subscriber org – a very flexible capability.

6 Metadata Records

Key Benefits

As mentioned in the introduction the Custom Metadata Type platform feature is still emerging, in my view at least, the most interesting aspects are potentially yet to be revealed, however there are definitely some key benefits to highlight with the Winter ’16 release.

For Enterprise : Manual steps within an otherwise automated Application Lifecycle Management process can cause compliance issues and release management inefficiency. Custom Metadata Types enable application configurations to be deployed as part of a seamless, one-step deployment process thereby removing manual friction. Configuration management tools can also track and version control the application definition and its configuration state.

For Partners : A long time issue for ISVs has been the deployment of application configuration data as part of the managed package installation process. Post install scripts provide one option, but creating data via Apex script doesn’t scale well or deliver the required fine-grained control over subscriber org configurability and upgradeability. Custom Metadata Types address both issues.

The screenshot below shows both a Custom Metadata Type and Metadata Records added to a Managed Package definition.

7 Packageable

Note, the benefits stated above are those practical benefits of the capability in relation to its generic capability, the actual benefit for many developers will be the flex

Implementation Considerations

Audit trail : Changes to both Custom Metadata Types and Metadata Record are visible via the Setup Audit Trail, this is new to the Winter ’16 release.

8 Audit Trail

Metadata Record Access : Metadata Records can be accessed via SOQL query only, there is no direct Apex support. Note the __mdt suffix.

Widget__mdt[] widgets = 
 [select QualifiedApiName, Height__c, Width__c from Widget__mdt];

Metadata Record Modification : Custom Metadata Types do not support DML operations via Apex, the Metadata API must be used. For use cases where configuration data needs to be created via code, CMT may not be an effective approach.

Relationship Fields : At some stage (Spring ’16 perhaps) in the future evolution of Custom Metadata Types I would expect support for relationships to be provided. This I believe is where the feature will really take-off.

Apex Testing : Currently Metadata Records are visible in Apex unit tests (without SeeAllData=true), it’s likely that simulated test data will be supported in a future release to enable testing under different configurations.

Permissions : The permissions model for Custom Metadata Types is limited, the Metadata Records are either visible or not at the org-level. A finer-grained permission model, perhaps just at the record level would be an obvious progression.

References

https://developer.salesforce.com/blogs/engineering/2015/08/custom-metadata-types-winter-16.html

https://help.salesforce.com/HTViewHelpDoc?id=custommetadatatypes_overview.htm

http://releasenotes.docs.salesforce.com/en-us/winter16/release-notes/rn_forcecom_development_custom_metadata.htm

Salesforce1 App Customisation

At the time I started writing this post we were living in a Chatter Mobile world, this is no longer the case. As announced recently at Dreamforce ’13 we have entered the Salesforce1 era, the direction of which will no doubt become clearer as we transition to the Spring ’14 release. What is clear now however is that the unified platform is the focus this time, providing mobile enablement (apps) via a rich set of platform services (APIs x 10). A rich set of robust APIs is always great news for any development community, whether you’re connecting a mobile device or sensor device (IoT). I won’t venture further into what Salesforce1 is in concept or the implications, some of this is yet to be seen. In any case this blog is focused on the practical application of the Salesforce and Force.com technologies, and as such the following summary is a point-in-time outline of the information available at the time of writing.

So, on to the topic in hand, customisation options for the Salesforce1 mobile application.

As with most things in life, to make good design decisions it helps to understand the full set of options available (and to see the big picture). This obvious point is fundamental in architecting Salesforce platform solutions; it’s key to have knowledge of the complete standard feature set and extension points (declarative build model) such that technical solution components are minimised. Simply put, in the mobile context this guiding principle means exhaust the potential of the standard apps (meaning Salesforce1) and the customisation options before building a new custom mobile app from scratch.

The following summary notes attempt to clarify the function of the Salesforce1 app and the various customisation options.

The Salesforce1 App – What is it?
In application development terms the Salesforce1 app provides a flexible mobile container into which a blend of standard and custom functionality can be presented on a variety of connected devices (mobile, tablet etc.). The container itself comes in 2 forms; downloadable native app (iOS and Android) and mobile browser app. In either form Salesforce1 employs a feed-first paradigm, with publisher actions and a notification platform. The mobile browser app must be enabled from the setup menu under Mobile Administration->Salesforce1 and becomes the default when accessing Salesforce from supported devices (as-per Salesforce Touch). Salesforce1 does not replace the standard Salesforce web app, or Full Site as it is referred. Salesforce1 does replace Salesforce Touch, Chatter Mobile and Salesforce mobile apps.

Ok, so assuming we’re comfortable with the idea that Salesforce1 is a application container, how can we extend the functionality of the container to deliver custom application interactions?

Customisation Options
The following summary notes attempt to clarify the customisation options available with the Salesforce1 mobile app. Also included in the list are standard capabilities of the container app, provided for completeness. The Salesforce1 App Development Guide provides a comprehensive coverage of the topics including example code that can be loaded into a development org (via github) to experiment with.

— Mobile Navigation
Within the setup menu under Mobile Administration, the Mobile Navigation option provides the ability to define the content and structure of the left hand side menu of the container app (as shown in the screenshot below).

Salesforce1 Tablet

Note. The first item in the list becomes the home page.

— Custom Objects (declarative)
Self explanatory. Recently searched for objects appear under the Recent section in the mobile menu structure according to profile permissions. It would appear that page layouts are shared between Salesforce1 and the standard Salesforce web app. This may prove difficult in terms of providing a balanced structure that is effective in both views.

— Flexible Page Tabs (declarative and technical)
I’m not 100% clear on the use cases for Flexible pages, however they do exist and can be added to Flexible page Tabs and ultimately rendered in the container app via inclusion in the menu structure (via Mobile Navigation). I need to do some further investigation into the potential of Flexible Pages, perhaps I’m missing something obvious.

A Flexible Page can have global publisher actions, list views and scoped recently used items. A maximum of 25 components can be added to the page, this constraint applies to listviews and recently used items.

In terms of definition a Flexible page is manually created in XML and deployed to an org via the Force.com Migration Tool or IDE. Once a Flexible page exists in an org the Create->Tabs page will present a Flexible Page Tabs list (as per Visualforce tabs etc.).

— Publisher Actions (declarative and technical)
Publisher actions are accessed via the (+) button on the home page, Chatter tab, Chatter group and record detail pages.

Actions can be Standard or Custom and Global or Object scoped.

Standard actions include;
Create a Record – respects Validation Rules etc. A Create action defined for a object will automatically relate created child records.
Log a Call – record a completed Task
Update – update a record from the Chatter feed

Default standard actions are provided for the core standard objects (create and update), such actions have configurable layouts and the ability to predefine field values.

Custom actions include;
Visualforce pages
Canvas apps

Interestingly actions can be described and invoked via the REST API, resource paths below.
/services/data/v29.0/quickActions (Global)
/services/data/v29.0/sobjects/[object]/quickActions (Object)

— Compact Layouts (declarative)
Compact layouts are defined at the object level and are simply an ordered list of fields by definition. Compact layouts apply in the following areas;

Record highlights fields (first 4 fields in the ordered field list). The record highlights are displayed in the top region of a record detail display under the icon.
Defines the fields that appear in the Chatter feed if a record us created via publisher action.
Enhanced lookup mobile card (more on this below)
Object record preview card

— Mobile Cards (declarative)
Page layouts now have a section for Mobile Cards, the following items can be added which then appear as a swipe-to card within the record detail view within the Salesforce1 app only.

Visualforce Page
Expanded Lookup. Related object (via Lookup) Custom Layout fields are displayed.

— Visualforce Pages (technical)
There are a number of extension points within the Salesforce1 app where Visualforce pages can be employed.

Mobile Card
Custom Publisher Action
Visualforce Tab added to the Mobile Navigation

In all cases the page must be mobile enabled and designed specifically for rendering on constrained devices, i.e mobile plus tablet on a variety of form factors. A best practice to consider in this respect is the development of adaptable pages that support both Salesforce1 and standard Salesforce web app execution. There are 3 development models in this respect classic Visualforce, Visualforce mixed with JavaScript, JavaScript and static HTML only with JS remoting. In all models the recently added (to Visualforce) ability to pass through attributes (HTML5) will be of use. Additionally, Salesforce1 comes with a highly useful navigation framework JavaScript library.

In short, where branded or complex UI interactions are required Visualforce provides a good option. Such pages must be carefully designed to deliver a optimal mobile experience and where possible be adaptable to also work in the standard Salesforce web app. This latter point relates to the cost of development and maintenance, adaptability is better than duplication – at the cost of smart design.

— Force.com Canvas Apps (technical)
There are a number of extension points within the Salesforce1 app where Force.com Canvas apps can be employed. Pilot program currently.

Custom Publisher action – post to the feed from a Canvas app
Chatter Feed – Canvas app rendered in a feed item

The use cases for the above will be varied and no doubt very interesting. Over time I think we’ll see more traction in the area of application composition. The ability to compose experiences and interactions across applications seamlessly (with context) and securely is a powerful concept.

— Smart Search Items
Recently searched for objects for the user. Searches performed in the full web app appear can appear In the left navigation menu, pin objects in the full site to keep at the top of this list.

— Notifications (declarative)
The Salesforce1 notifications platform supports 2 types of notification;

In App – Appear in the app itself and can be accessed manually via the bell icon (top right hand corner)
Push – Mobile device applications only, push notifications not supported by the mobile browser app. Such notifications will appear as badges on the app icon etc.

The notifications are limited to Chatter (mentions, posts, comments etc.) and Approval requests. Notifications are enabled at the org-level, not per-user.

Final Thoughts
In application development terms, Salesforce1 provides a rich set of declarative and programmatic techniques for the development of mobile interactions. Building out compelling mobile experiences that replace or augment existing Saleforce functionality (custom or standard) should be highly achievable whether you’re technically minded or not. This in my view is the real power of the Saleforce1 app, once you accept the proprietary approach there are no barriers to rapid mobile enablement.

Salesforce Public or Resource Calendar?

Not entirely a technical concern, however here I’ll quickly share some notes on public and resource calendars.

1) Resource Calendar – events can’t be added directly, instead events are added through adding the resource to events occurring on User or Public Calendars (select Resources in the search within list). A typical use case for resource calendars would be room bookings, where the room is the resource. Other use cases could be shared equipment, overhead projector (10 years ago maybe) etc..

2) Public Calendar – group calendar unrelated to individual user calendars – events can be added directly. A typical use case for public calendars would be team vacation calendar, or basically any scenario where a group of users share an interest.

3) User Calendar – Standard users and partner portal users have their own calendar. Access to a user’s calendar can be role hierarchy based and via Calendar sharing rules.

4) Limits. There are no explicit limits on the number of public or resource calendars you can have in an org.

5) API. Events can’t be added or modified via the API. Instead a proxy object could be used with Apex triggers to broker changes via Apex code.