Key difficulties deploying a SharePoint Online solution using CSOM




I have been developing a console app that utilises the SharePoint C# CSOM to deploy a solution to SharePoint Online (a.k.a Office 365 SharePoint). The solution involves more than just a wsp (although it has one of those too). I have encountered a few difficulties during this process and this blog will discuss those:

  • (Re)creating a site collection
  • Importing a large-ish taxonomy
  • Uploading and installing a sandboxed solution (that contain only declarative elements)
  • Hooking up of taxonomy and (root site) lookup columns
  • Pre-creating a number of sites with specific features enabled (including the root site)

Before I go any further, for those of you reading this before doing something similar yourselves, please be aware of two constraints which caught me by surprise:

  • You can’t leverage the same import taxonomy function that is available in Term store management. If you already have files in that format you will need some custom code (I have an example later on) or you may want to import from a more robust XML formatted document
  • The CSOM does not support uploading or activating sandboxed solutions! However, there is a CodePlex project that assists with this. I also include the dll later in the post that I have rebuilt with references to the lastest v16 Microsoft.SharePoint.Client dlls.
  • The CSOM does not support activating web scoped features! You can active site scoped but not web scoped. You need to use web templates to achieve this. Again, I will cover this in some more depth later on.

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Deleting and recreating a site collection

The initial step of the deployment process involves creating a new site collection (having deleted it first as required). In order to perform actions at this scope (tenant) you cannot create your client context in the same manner as usual (with a reference to the site collection; as it is yet to exist and the site collection delete and empty recycle bin require it too). Instead you must create the client context passing in tenant/admin site URL.
This is the one that looks like this: https://<tenant>-admin.sharepoint.com

You can then create a Microsoft.Online.SharePoint.Tenant object by passing the ‘admin’ client content to its constructor. This object requires a reference to the Microsoft.Online.SharePoint.Client.Tenant assembly which is available by downloading and installing the SharePoint Server 2013 Client Components SDK. The assembly can then be found here: C:\Program Files\SharePoint Client Components\16.0\Assemblies

The tenant object provides the methods required to perform the create and delete site collection actions. This process involves a lot of waiting about for deletion to complete, and then provisioning to complete. Unfortunately you can’t continue with other actions until this has occurred. I found this to take upwards of three minutes.

A link to the relevant code that I used to achieve this can be found here: https://gist.github.com/paulryan/cbfaa966571d6a9cdb8b

Importing taxonomy

As mentioned above you can’t pass those CSV files directly to the CSOM and have it import it all for you. In my scenario we had already developed a lot (dozens) of term sets in the form of these CSV files so that were able to import them during a discovery phase so it was important that I could support the import of taxonomy in this form. I wrote code to support in the import of these files, but only to the point that it meets my immediate requirements. Please use the following as a rough guide only as it is not fully featured (or tested beyond the happy path).

The code I wrote to support his can be found here: https://gist.github.com/paulryan/e461f8bac28336b05109#file-importtaxonomycsom-cs

Uploading and activating a sandboxed solution

There is a CodePlex project that provides this functionality (as well as some authentication utilities) that I mentioned above. It performs web requests to UI and I am very glad someone else has already done this before me! It was originally created when SharePoint 2010 was present in the cloud and references the v14 assemblies of the Microsoft.SharePoint.Client assemblies accordingly. If you don’t mind maintain references to both v14 and v16 assemblies then this might be fine. I have instead rebuilt the source having replaced the references with the v16 equivalents.

You can download it here: SharePointOnline.Helper.dll

FYI: v14 is SharePoint 2010, v15 is SharePoint 2013, v16 is SharePoint 2013 Online specific

Activating web features

Actually there isn’t a lot more to say here other than you must use web templates if you need to create sites with features enabled as part of the deployment process as it can’t (currently) be done using the CSOM. I would recommend using the web template for nothing other than activating features and put all other declarative elements in a feature. This will provide the best upgrade experience in the future.

Hooking up taxonomy columns

The best place to start is almost certainly a reference to Chris O’Brien’s blog on this here. As I have the luxury of being able to run further deployment code after uploading/activating the sandboxed solution I opted to avoid having to rebuild the solution for various environments and instead hook-up the columns using the CSOM and a mapping. There is a catch with this though.

If your list instance is built from a list template which defines the managed metadata columns then updating the site column via the CSOM fails to push down the new SspID. To get around this, DO NOT include managed metadata column definitions as part of the list definition (in the fields element). When you run the CSOM to update the site columns it will update the content type and add the column to the list instance with the correct SspID.

Good luck building your SharePoint Online CSOM deployment framework!




5 thoughts on “Key difficulties deploying a SharePoint Online solution using CSOM”

  1. hi paul, i am facing an issue while activating publishing features when i create site using csom, is that not supported ?

  2. code activates publishingsite feature but when i go an check the site it is not activated.
    and it throws an exception when activating publishingweb feature, says the publishingsite feature not activated.

    1. The web-scoped publishing feature has an activation dependency on the site-scoped publishing feature. Make sure that you activate the ‘site collection features’ Publishing Infrastructure feature before attempting to activate the ‘site features’ Publishing feature.

  3. Hi Paul,

    Hoping you can help with something that has me beaten.

    We have some custom site columns created in our o365 sharepoint online site using the csom. The columns were created with the “Sealed” property set to true.

    I now need to delete these columns, but it appears that the “Sealed” property is read only, and so I am unable to delete the columns using the CSOM. Any ideas on how to delete site columns that were created as sealed columns? I’m not too fussed on the method, I just need to get rid of them : )

    Thanks in advance for any assistance you can offer if you do happen to see this comment!

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