What is the new “SharePoint Development Framework” that Microsoft talked about at its Future of SharePoint event May 4th? What value does it bring to SharePoint development – and ultimately, to businesses that use SharePoint?
Many Technet and blog articles delve into the programming particulars of this new framework, and we will leave them to explain those details. Our concern here is the business value of the framework and why Microsoft highlighted it as one of the cool new features of SharePoint.
A Modern Development Kit for SharePoint
An Open and Connected Platform Means More Options for All
The extensibility of the SharePoint Framework is another compelling factor. A range of new APIs is due for general release this year (e.g., Office Graph) along with open source options. Ultimately, this will make a big difference to SharePoint enthusiasts who are not necessarily developers, as it will enable them to proactively contribute to their own SharePoint environments.
What’s Old Is New Again
Microsoft did not so much invent new tools as adapt existing ones for SharePoint development purposes. Two of the framework’s components, Yeoman and Gulp, have been part of the open-source community for a number of years. As mentioned during the May 4th presentation, Microsoft engineers have been using the framework for some time to build modern apps and experiences for Web and mobile devices. Microsoft has now packaged and shared this new approach with the SharePoint development world as a whole.
The SharePoint Development Framework features the following trio of technologies:
- Yeoman: A scaffolding tool for modern Web applications. In non-developer lingo, this means that developers can immediately create project structures that facilitate the use of custom functionality. Bottom line: developers can work faster.
- Gulp: Gulp leverages a wide variety of plugins to perform repetitive development tasks, automate minification (removing unnecessary characters from source code), and perform compression. Bottom line: it makes development more efficient.
- Workbench: A local, offline testing environment that replicates SharePoint, allowing developers to test new web parts and apps before pushing them to production environments. Again, the result is increased developer efficiency.
For a good overview of the framework’s components, see Be prepared to the SharePoint framework by Jose Ferreira.
SharePoint Pages Easier to Create and Enhance
The framework provides a page layout that is responsive and mobile-ready by design. Each page has a “Chrome” structure that surrounds the page body. This Chrome layer manages the presentation of the page so that it displays appropriately for the device in use, whether a desktop, tablet, or smartphone. The body of the page becomes a canvas where web parts, files, apps, Delve components, and other elements can be placed and arranged according to business needs, without the worry about whether the page will display properly on different devices.
For more information on the new page structure, see this technical video from Microsoft.
The new SharePoint Development Framework introduces some much-needed discipline to an arena that was quickly succumbing to a customization-centric morass. It should open the gates of innovative SharePoint development, both on-premises and in Office 365. It’s a win-win for Microsoft, developers, and IT organizations: more options, increased efficiency, engagement with non-developers, and decreased development time will combine to impact the financial bottom line… in a good way.