An overview of SharePoint 2013 apps
One of the big new features of SharePoint 2013 is “apps” and the “app store”. Microsoft defines SharePoint apps as:
“Apps for SharePoint are self-contained pieces of functionality that extend the capabilities of a SharePoint website”
There are really two sides to apps, the developers view and the end users view. Let’s take a look at each in turn.
A developers view of an app
Apps can be hosted in one of three places: The current SharePoint environment, out in the cloud external to SharePoint, or by Microsoft using their Azure platform.
No matter where an app is hosted, it is essentially a separate entity to the rest of SharePoint. This brings with it some fundamental architectural considerations:
- An app cannot use any server side SharePoint code
- In most cases an app can't talk to the parent site or site collection it is accessed from
- Apps cannot change many elements of the site they are in (e.g. branding, look and feel, changes to the ribbon)
- Advanced features like timer jobs are not permitted
Apps give developers vastly more freedom when it comes to how they structure and architect their creations. This freedom does mean that much more upfront planning is often required, and a similar increase in testing time is advisable.
An end user's view of an app
Apps are essentially stand-alone programs that can be installed, and operate, separately to the rest of the SharePoint system. Enterprise installations of SharePoint can even have their own specific “app stores”, containing only internally approved content.
Microsoft has taken the concept of apps even further and renamed lists and libraries, long staple SharePoint concepts, as ‘apps’. When users add new content to a particular site they add an app from the ‘Your apps’ page. The ‘Your apps’ page includes what was previously thought of as lists and libraries, as well as new more traditional SharePoint 2013 ‘apps’.
SharePoint App Parts
Users also have ‘App parts’ to deal with, along with the traditional ‘Web parts’. ‘App parts’ are web parts associated with list and libraries. ‘Web parts’ are still things like the ‘content editor’ and ‘content rollup’ web parts.
It is fair to say users might need a little help when first trying to understand when an “app” becomes a “webpart” or a “list”. But then it is probably fair to say some SharePoint concepts have always needed a little initial user training.
What is for sure is the changes that Microsoft have made make SharePoint 2013 a very powerful platform indeed. It will be fascinating to see what our teams can come up with in the coming weeks and months using this new architecture.