Introducing SPELL, a framework to speed up SharePoint customizations

Spell (paranormal), the claimed art of altering things either by supernatural means or through knowledge of occult natural laws unknown to science.

(Source: Wikipedia)

For 8 years, I have been writing solutions for SharePoint from the user’s side – I mean with only the SharePoint UI or tools like SharePoint Designer (originally FrontPage) as entry points, without direct access to the server.

When I started, in 2004, these were mainly patches to enhance the SharePoint interface, like menus or tabs. Then in the following years, the evolution of JavaScript and AJAX, and key enhancements in SharePoint 2007, like workflows, allowed me to build more and more sophisticated solutions, evolving from enhanced Web pages to the status of small applications.

In 2008, I started publishing some solutions on my blog. Others did the same, and today SharePoint users can find online a large choice of tools that allow them to quickly enhance a basic SharePoint team site.

However, this organic growth comes at a price. When users start relying heavily on these solutions, their pages become cluttered. Sites become much slower because of redundancies. Maintenance quickly becomes an issue, especially when these users start adding libraries like jQuery. Sometimes, there will be conflicts between the tools, because they were not built with modularity and scalability in mind.

I have been witnessing these issues in the past couple years, and also facing them myself, as I was duplicating the same snippets over and over across different modules. To address this, some time ago I started grouping all my scattered solutions under a single umbrella, called SPELL.

What can SPELL do?

The goal is to offer a consistent, easy-to-maintain-and-upgrade package that covers all the customizations that can be done from the user’s side: client side scripting, CSS, XSL views, SharePoint Designer workflows, calculated columns, etc.

For now, SPELL is mainly a JavaScript library (abbreviated $P) that allows to:

  • enhance the look of SharePoint pages, with tabs, slideshows, menus, etc.
  • build dashboards, including color coded indicators and charts
  • enhance the out of the box forms (New, Display, Edit)
  • connect with plugins offered by JavaScript libraries (jQuery or other) for additional functionalities
  • etc.

The free SharePoint User Toolkit gives you an idea of the kind of questions SPELL can address, although on a completely different scale.

SPELL includes utilities such as for example:

  • functions to facilitate the use of Web services, REST services, RSS, owssvr, etc.
  • functions to interact with the content of SharePoint pages
  • data format manipulations (xml, JSON, datatables)
  • a templating engine

Who could be interested in SPELL?

SPELL is for anybody who need to customize SharePoint, beyond out of the box list views and page layouts. It works with SharePoint 2007, SharePoint 2010 or SharePoint Online (Office 365), An important difference with traditional libraries is that SPELL is meant to be end user friendly, in the same spirit as the SharePoint User Toolkit. The idea is to offer a Lego-like set, so that even users with limited technical knowledge can safely assemble solutions.

Despite an ambitious scope, SPELL doesn’t aim at replacing server side solutions on large scale deployments. Its purpose is rather to fill the gaps, at the team level, or serve as an intermediary step while waiting for final solutions that have longer development cycles.

Timeline and availability

I have been working on this project, on and off, since 2010. The main component of the framework, the JavaScript library, just reached version 0.3, and is the first version to be put in production. In the weeks and months to come, it’ll be deployed for my current users, going from DJ30 companies to small businesses (and even one man shops). I also plan to build a special edition with tabs, slideshow and charting connectors as part of a hosting service. Later on, SPELL will be the core of a SharePoint coaching program that will start this Fall. The objective is to reach version 1.0 by October.

An important step this year will be to assess SPELL against the new version of SharePoint, and confirm if the upgrade process is as easy as advertised…

For more details…

I am currently building an interest list for the SPELL coaching program. Feel free to send me an e-mail, and I’ll include you in a distribution list to receive progress updates and code samples. You’re also welcome to provide specific information about your environment and your needs, to discuss how SPELL could help on your projects.

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5 thoughts on “Introducing SPELL, a framework to speed up SharePoint customizations

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