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Microsoft Releases SharePoint Framework Developer Preview

Microsoft today released its first "developer preview" of the SharePoint Framework.

The SharePoint Framework got the spotlight at Microsoft's general availability release of SharePoint Server 2016 back in May. At that time, Microsoft promised that the coming framework would ease client-side SharePoint development, with access to open source tooling. It's also designed to have development hooks into the Microsoft Graph, which is the underlying fabric behind Office 365 services.

Now the SharePoint Framework is available for some testers, Microsoft announced today. Initial documentation can be found at the GitHub repository here. Testers have to be an Office 365 developer tenant to use the preview.

SharePoint Framework Plans
Microsoft plans to update the SharePoint Framework at a rapid pace. The preview today has Web Parts support, but Microsoft's plans include "delivering modern page editing experiences, enabling seamless access to data in other O365 workloads through the Microsoft Graph, streamlining the tools, and moving toward general availability," Microsoft's announcement explained.

The announcement also listed some long-term plans:

In the longer term, we'll expand the framework beyond web parts to custom pages and portals, as well as document library customization. We will expand support of the SharePoint Framework beyond Developer tenancies to the full set of Office 365 tenancies later this year. We will also make the SharePoint Framework available for SharePoint 2016 on-premises releases, targeting 2017. Keep an eye on this blog and @OfficeDev for updates.

The new SharePoint Framework isn't replacing the existing SharePoint add-ins model for client-side SharePoint development. The two approaches will be brought closer together, Microsoft's announcement emphasized.

"Over time, as we bring the add-in model to our latest auth platforms and integrate it with our modern user experience investments, we'll bring the add-in model and the SharePoint Framework closer together," Microsoft's announcement stated.

In May, Bill Baer, a senior technical product manager for SharePoint at Microsoft, had characterized the SharePoint Framework as being an additional resource for client-side SharePoint development. Baer said that the framework was "embracing not only open source patterns and practices, such as JavaScript, Web templates and frameworks; it's also enabling you to use the tools that you've already been using, turning those into first-class citizens, so Yeoman, Gulp, Node.js and many of the tools that are associated with modern Web development," according to an interview with RCPmag.com's Scott Bekker.

Preview Highlights
The developer preview of the SharePoint Framework is "still a fairly early preview and is rough around the edges," according to Mike Ammerlaan, a SharePoint product manager at Microsoft, in an Office 365 developer podcast published today. Ammerlaan is a 17-year Microsoft veteran who started on the SharePoint team in 2003.

Microsoft is aiming to make the SharePoint Framework support modern Web development techniques and be more responsive, Ammerlaan said. While in the past, there was an emphasis on server-side rendering with Web development, today it's shifted to keep the server side more lightweight, he explained. Another "huge" factor for Web developers today is the tapping of cloud-computing resources, he added.

When it comes to Web development for SharePoint, Microsoft's intention is that developers won't require SharePoint-specific knowledge, he explained. For instance, Ammerlaan said that Microsoft wants to make it easier for developers to bring any framework they want into SharePoint, which is one reason the team has leaned toward supporting the open source JavaScript React framework in SharePoint Framework. The Angular JS open source JavaScript-based framework also is supported.

The developer preview currently has the following support capabilities, according to Ammerlaan:

  • Yeoman tools support for standard starter templates
  • Gulp run-time build support
  • SharePoint Workbench support (a "miniature" version SharePoint that can be run on a local machine for dev-test purposes)
  • New APIs for REST endpoints when building a Web Part

Visual Studio tooling is still to come. Right now, Microsoft is focusing on the lightweight dev tools, Ammerlaan said.

He also reiterated the idea that the SharePoint Framework will be complementary to the add-in development model.

"One thing I do want to clarify is that the SharePoint Framework is really designed to support building these rich client applications," Ammerlaan said. "I certainly wouldn't consider it the new model of SharePoint development."

The SharePoint add-in model might be used for iframes to add presentation layers. On the other hand, sometimes developers need full access to a SharePoint site. In that case, the SharePoint Framework works well for developers, Ammerlaan explained.

About the Author

Kurt Mackie is senior news producer for the 1105 Enterprise Computing Group.

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