Sunday, 13 May 2007

Dynamics NAV 5.0 – Send to Application Feature – Part 2

In my previous post on this topic, I looked at the send to application feature in Dynamics NAV 5.0. I explained that you can send data from NAV to Word, Excel or any other application by using an XSLT template to transform the XML data into a format that the target application understands. I also introduced the WordprocessingML language that can be used to create Word documents as XML files – a feature that Microsoft introduced in office 2003.

In this post I am going to show you how to see what NAV is producing as the starting XML file before any transformation is applied. Then we'll look at the WordprocessingML schema and create a simple Word document using Notepad. If you want to see the results of your efforts, you'll need Word 2003 or 2007 installed.

The first thing I wanted to know when I saw this new feature was how it worked. I understood the concepts of XSLT and WordprocessingML and applying transformations to XML files but I had never done it in practice. I didn't know what NAV was giving us to work with. In order to be able to make my own transformations, I needed to first know what my starting point was.

XSLT is a language that can be used to transform an XML file from one format to another. I knew that I could load my own XSLT file as a template for NAV to use but I didn't know what my starting XML file would be. I would like to pretend I am some kind of XSLT guru, but the truth is I just asked some people at work. My question was "what do I need in an XSLT to make my output file a copy of my input file?" The hardest part was convincing people I was not crazy and listening patiently as they explained that there was no point in applying a transformation that would make the output file identical to the input file. I think the answer ultimately came from a Google search – but it helps to know what you are looking for.

Open up Notepad and enter this text:

<xsl:stylesheet xmlns:xsl="http://www.w3.org/1999/XSL/Transform" version="1.0">
<xsl:template match="/">
<xsl:copy-of select="/" />
</xsl:template>
</xsl:stylesheet>

Now save the file as "Copy All.xslt".

Since the file is so short, I will give you my expert explanation of its contents. The first line is probably really interesting. All I know is you need it - so put it in there for all of your XSLT files otherwise they won't work. It's something to do with defining this document as being a stylesheet and indicating that anything that starts with xsl: in the document will be defined in the schema that is referenced by the namespace provided. Incidentally, if you paste the http://www.w3.org/1999/XSL/Transform URL into a web browser, you'll see a link to the XSL Transformations specification. If you really want to learn about XSLT this is probably a good starting point.

The second line says find the start of the file you are reading.

The third line says copy everything without changing it.

Lines four and five are the closing tags for lines two and one respectively.

Now we have our transform, let's look at applying it to NAV. First we'll set up a new application to handle our transform. We need something that's good at displaying XML files – so I decided to use Internet Explorer.

Select Administration > IT Administration > General Setup > Launch Applications. The Send-to Programs form is displayed showing two programs: Excel.exe and Winword.exe.

Create a new record and enter IEXPLORE.EXE as the executable and Internet Explorer as the name. Press Esc to close the window.

Now I want to import my new template and tell NAV to use Internet Explorer to launch the resulting XML file.

Select Administration > IT Administration > General Setup > Manage Stylesheets. The Manage Style Sheets form is displayed showing all style sheets that have been set up for the database (oops – maybe that should have been set up as data per company since your templates are likely to contain company logos – as Microsoft would say: "this is a reseller opportunity" meaning: "oops we stuffed it up – you fix it"). In the standard CRONUS company this will mean a default stylesheet for Word and Excel (common to all forms) and a few form-specific templates (Customer Card letter template, Vendor Card letter, etc.)

Before you can create a new template, you need to select either the Style sheets common to all forms or Style sheets for this form only radio button against the Show label. For this example we want to be able to export from any form so click the Style sheets common to all forms radio button.

Maybe you are thinking you can now create a new record in the list of stylesheets – but that would be too easy. Instead, you should select the Import option from the Functions menu button. The system will display the Import Style Sheet form. Use the assist edit button to open the "Copy All.xslt" you saved earlier or type the path and file name into the Style Sheet field. Enter "Copy All to IE" into the Name field. Use the look-up button to select Internet Explorer as the Send-to Program. Click the OK button to import the stylesheet. You should now see a new line in the Manage Style Sheets form and, if all has gone well, we will now be able to test it out.

Open the Customer Card and click the Send Options button. The Program Selection form is displayed. Select our new Internet Explorer program. The Style Sheet field is showing the first style sheet that can be used for the data we are exporting. If it is not the one you want, click on the field and use the look-up button to select a different style sheet – in this example you should have only one stylesheet set up for the Internet Explorer program. Click the Send button.

If all has gone well, you should now see Internet Explorer with a new xml file displaying the information from the Customer card. Take a look at our xml file. You'll notice that the first part just gives us a hierarchy of all the controls on the form starting with Form, then Tab Control, then Tab Page, then a mixture of labels and text boxes. After the controls, we see some other sections for Customer, WorkDate, Salutation, CompanyInfo, etc. This suggests to me that there is something funny going on. How does NAV know that these things are important? We'll look at how you can create your own custom content to the XML file in a later posting.

To wrap things up, let's take a look at a simple WordprocessingML file. In my next post on this topic, I'll look at how we can create an XSLT to make a Word document in a format of our design.

WordprocessingML is a neat language that allows you to serialise an entire Word document as an XML file. The majority of the file contains tags that start with "w:". The text is typically built up from paragraphs (w:p), runs (w:r) and text (w:t) elements.

Open up Notepad and enter this text:

<?xml version="1.0"?>
<?mso-application progid="Word.Document"?>
<w:wordDocument xmlns:w="http://schemas.microsoft.com/office/word/2003/wordml">
<w:body>
<w:p>
<w:r>
<w:t>WordML Rocks!</w:t>
</w:r>
</w:p>
</w:body>
</w:wordDocument>

Now save the file as "WordML Rocks.xml". Even though the file extension is xml, the file is displayed with a WordML icon. This is because of the progid="Word.Document" property. Explorer is looking inside the xml file to determine how to display the icon.

Double click the file and Word will launch and display a document with a single line of text.

That's all for now. If you want to earn bonus points, you could take a look at the XSLT templates used in the CRONUS company and the XML files they produce.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Very nice article. This was what I was looking for!

Kris said...

Great to see people getting out there and trying new things. I'm sure all who read this would be very grateful for you sharing your knowledge.

Thumbs up!