Sharepoint 2010 : Composite Applications with Business Connectivity Services - BCS Components

12/7/2013 2:46:41 AM

1. What Is a Composite Application?

SharePoint 2010 provides the user with a suite of applications and functionality to allow them to take more control over how they represent their data. With the help of Visio Services, Excel and Access Services, and using SharePoint Designer, it is possible for these users to build no-code collaborative solutions through browser-based customizations.


With SharePoint composites, you can:

  • Rapidly create no-code collaborative solutions.

  • Unlock the value of enterprise data.

  • Maintain control over end-user solutions.

While Visio, Excel, and Access allow the user to work on local data and then publish it to SharePoint, leveraging enterprise data was always a challenge. Microsoft recognized this and filled this gap with Business Connectivity Services.

2. Introducing Business Connectivity Services

In SharePoint 2007, the Business Data Catalog (BDC) was introduced to much fanfare. It provided a way to bring enterprise data from SQL, ORACLE, and other sources directly into SharePoint. This was the first step in bridging the gap between SharePoint data and external enterprise data. While it was an important step to take, it proved to be difficult to work with and limited in functionality. With SharePoint Server 2010, Microsoft went from a small step to a giant leap replacing the BDC with Business Connectivity Services (BCS).

With BCS, users can read and write data as easily as they interact with a standard SharePoint list. The Business Data Web Parts help expose the external data for building composite applications. Because the data is fully accessible through SharePoint, the same data can now be accessed through Outlook, SharePoint Workspace, as well as the full Office Suite. Other features include the following:

  • Expose enterprise data from external sources such as databases, Web services in SharePoint 2010, and Office 2010.

  • Map Office Type objects and capabilities such as appointments, tasks, and contacts to external data.

  • Enable a two-way synchronization between the external data and SharePoint, allowing the data to be updated as well as consumed in SharePoint.

  • Provide offline accessibility to the external data using clients such as Outlook or SharePoint Workspace.

While all this gives the user great functionality flexibility, IT departments need not fret; SharePoint still allows IT to control who gets to create what and where.

3. BCS Components

The Business Connectivity Services provide many tools for connecting to and managing how we interact with external data. While SharePoint Server 2010 license holders get more goodies, SharePoint Foundation 2010 is certainly not left out in the cold. Figure 1 shows the distribution of components between the Office products. Before we explore the various components however, we need to understand the fundamental building block of BCS—the External Content Type.

Figure 1. Business Connectivity Services provide a number of components, depending on the version of SharePoint 2010

External Content Types

External data is represented through a new object called an External Content Type. With an External Content Type you get to define the following for the data connection:

  • External Data Source

  • Office Item Type

  • Operations

  • Fields

  • Permissions

After you have defined your External Content Type, you can use this to work directly within SharePoint lists. In doing so, all the data from the external source will now be available in what appears to be a standard SharePoint list when using a SharePoint External List. Using an External Data Column, several of the external data columns can be added to other lists.

As you can see, there are many pieces to the BCS puzzle. Table 1 explains each of the components in more detail.

Table 1. The Many Components of the Business Connectivity Services in SharePoint
FunctionDescriptionSharePoint Foundation 2010SharePoint Server 2010Office 2010
External ListSpecial list type that interacts directly with an external data sourceYY 
External Data ColumnSpecial data type allows you to add external data to any listYY 
Secure Store ServiceHandles credential mapping allowing single sign-on functionality Y 
External Data SearchExposes the external data to SharePoint search for indexing Y 
Rich Client ExtensionsAllows Office clients to connect directly to the external data through SharePoint Y 
External Data Web PartsSeveral Web Parts that allow you to build composite applications from your external data Y 
Profile PagesExpose the external data in a single page for a single item Y 
Rich Client ComponentsWorks with the rich client extensions to access external data  Y
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