Discussing the nuts and bolts of software development

Wednesday, September 10, 2008


Bridge SharePoint - User Profiles and User Profile Properties (part 1 of 2)

There is a constant need in SharePoint feature development to bridge SharePoint 2007 with other web applications. In order to create such a bridge, a variety of user information must be stored in the SharePoint database.

Warning: Do not tamper with the SharePoint database! No matter how tempting it is!

Although this might sound as simple as a small SQL application, tampering with SharePoint’s database could lead to disastrous results and even complete and irreversible server crashes, since many of SharePoint’s recovery features rely on the database being intact. “Feeding” information to SharePoint through its database is unadvisable and sometimes very hard to do, mainly due to the complex structure of the database.

Fortunately there is a built-in solution to this problem that is both simple and efficient: User Profiles and User Profile Properties.

In this post we will see how SharePoint’s user profiles and profile properties can help us do our job fast and easy without worrying about crashing the server or breaking more features than we create.

Let’s start with the storing information problem.
Many developers have already considered using Profile Properties as way to store the required data, but have given up on using them due to their limitations (limited validation, control, variety). Controlling the user’s input and making sure that the values are correct is essential in any bridge, and often auto-generated values based on that data are necessary. SharePoint can only do so much, and this is usually the main reason why developers avoid using the custom profile properties.

Solution: Manage information using the Microsoft.Office.Server.UserProfiles namespaces.

SharePoint Server 2007 stores user profiles in SQL Server, but the information can be imported from other data sources, such as:
· Active Directory
· Lightweight Directory Access Protocol directories (which is not Active Directory)
· Databases
· Enterprise applications (such as SAP or PeopleSoft) by defining a Business Data Catalog connection
· Web applications
· Custom SharePoint web services
· Standard .NET applications, etc.
The main classes are found in the Microsoft.Office.Server.UserProfiles namespaces. The assembly is Microsoft.Office.Server.dll found in C:\Program Files\Common Files\Microsoft Shared\web server extensions\12\ISAPI.
The main objects to handle information within the User Profile store are:
Allows you to access profile properties, the My Site, personalization links, and so on.

Gives access to a collection of UserProfile objects and allows you to create, edit, and retrieve user profile objects and properties from the user profile store.

Manages the user profile configuration.

Note: In order to manage data in a custom user profile property, the property must be first created. You can use the following steps to create a profile property:

1. Start > Administrative Tools > SharePoint 3.0 Central Administrator
2. In the left panel, under Shared Services Administration, click SharedServices1
3. Click User Profiles and Properties
4. Under User Profile Properties, click Add Profile Property
5. Fill in the required data and click OK

Now that we know that SharePoint accepts data from external sources and that it stores individual user values in user profile properties, it’s time to put the two together and find out how to store user data in profile properties from external data sources. This is the topic for part two of this post: Getting/Storing user data from external sources.

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