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Architecting your SharePoint application–things you shouldn’t miss out on

So a few people recommended I post my slides or content from my European SharePoint Conference session. I cover a list of considerations that makes a good reference for people undertaking the design of custom applications on SharePoint.

Usually in projects you would have people responsible for the design of the infrastructure and then a development team would dig into the technical design of the SharePoint application. They will try to answer how different components will be used to satisfy the requirements. Solution Architects explore various options for meeting each requirement and all these options and choices intertwine into a proposed design, maybe a model or a proof of concept, and hopefully a document. Projects that miss this communication are either chaotic, or extremely agile.

When doing architecture there is usually more than one possible way to achieve the same thing – the “right” one will depend on the situation and each of the things I’m pointing out here could be equally right or wrong. This is especially true for SharePoint. That is why “awareness” and the knowledge of SharePoint are one of the key requirements for an architect to be any good.

This list is not the ultimate list – it is just my summary of what always lands on my table. It is also not the base for a definitive Technical Design document (it’s a start!). Some items below didn’t get mentioned in my talk as time was limiting what I could include.

Front-end Planning

Page Model – How you plan to store you (ASPX) pages

  • Application Pages (_layouts)
  • ASPX files served from a Document Library
  • ASPX files in folders
  • Publishing Infrastructure – page layouts
  • Consider Web Part Pages vs. Wiki Pages

Form Strategy – Consider how you will capture data and what controls/interfaces you will use

  • Understand how SharePoint forms work and consider using SharePoint’s API’s
  • SharePoint InputControls are great but may be difficult to use and may have limitations
  • Consider exchanging data between forms. Plan Session and ViewState requirements
  • SharePoint Scenario Framework
  • Consider validation requirements and the UX on the validaiton
  • Also consider Silverlight and InfoPath forms as alternatives for capturing data

Client-Side Scripting – plan out any requirements for client-side JavaScript

  • If using validation, plan out your client-side scripting and the use of any frameworks
  • Will you use the Dialog Framework or any other popup/dialog framework/toolkit?
  • Consider the use of jQuery, Modernizr, Knockout

Page Components – define what controls, web parts or other components you will use to create the actual interfaces

  • Web Parts vs. User Controls
  • SharePoint Rendering Templates and the Form UI (_controltemplates)
  • Consider the styling/branding of your custom interfaces – you don’t want your developers to be designers (unless they really are)
  • Iframe – various solutions use Iframes to display external content or components hosted elsewhere (plan out authentication)
  • Consume HTML asynchronously – I have seen solutions that grab HTML from an ASHX or other services
  • InfoPath – always think about the User Experience when you deal with InfoPath

Resource Files – evaluate how you will use resource files and what components will require localisation

  • Code-behind resource files
  • ASPX resource files (14\Resources, AppGlobalResources)
  • Feature Resources
  • Localised Web Templates

Back-end Planning

SharePoint Data Model – define the storage of data


  • How are you going to store data?
  • How will it scale?
  • How are you going to access it? (SP OM, External Data (BCS), Web Service calls)
  • How are you going to “replicate” it? (backup, archive, move/copy, log)
  • How are you going to store applicaiton settings (SP list, P&P Settings)

Visual Studio Solution Structure – How will you structure code and artefacts

  • Number of WSPs/Number of Features
  • Separation of code
  • Separation of SharePoint items
  • Namespaces and naming conventions
  • Source Control strategy

Design Patterns/Anti-Patterns – make your code maintainable and nice if it makes sense to do so

  • SharePoint Service Locator (P&P)
  • Façade/Adapter
  • Consider/plan your data access layer

Security Model – don’t think about it in production


  • Kerberos/NTLM (consider the requirement for Kerberos)
  • Claims (consider the effort to pull it off and any side-effects)
  • Plan the use of service accounts and access for/to external systems


  • Use SP groups or AD groups?
  • Nested groups
  • Do you really need item-level security?

Exception Handling and Logging – define how to display/capture errors and how you log them

  • Consider how you will display errors to the user (don’t do lblMessage.Text = ex.ToString(); )
  • Define what needs to be logged and how
  • SharePoint Logger (P&P) gives you a good API for Diagnostic categories and areas


Solution Deployment Frameworks – define how your developers will deploy

  • MSBuild
  • NAnt
  • 100% PowerShell
  • CKS-Dev addin  for Visual Studio 2010

Other Knobs and Dials – there are many other things that affect deployment

  • WSP lifecycle
  • Feature activation
  • Activate on Default
  • Deployment configuration
  • WSP additional DLL’s
  • Force on Activate
  • Safe Controls
  • Web.config modifications
  • Web Part deployment
  • List re-creation
  • Feature Upgrade

Site Templates – reusable functionality that admins or end users could provision

  • Site Definitions
  • Web Templates

Continuous Integration and Testing

  • Plan and define the CI/Build process
  • Always consider how you will upgrade the solution
  • Define the unit testing and mocking requirements (Pex & Moles, TypeMock)
  • Funcitonal UI Testing (Selenium, Coded UI, Telerik Test Suite)
  • Always sync with the test team and what they do/how they will test your solution

To close off the talk I finished off with a few tips:

  • Build applications in such a way that makes you feel proud of what you have built. Doctors feel good when they help people, architects feel good when their creation is built, lawyers are happy when they get paid – there is no reason why SharePoint developers and architects shouldn’t feel good about what they do if they do it well.
  • Motivate your team to do good work – As an architect you are most likely a role model. Do your best to motivate your team members to be champions and get good stuff out there. Reward them for good efforts.
  • Change your job if your boss/architect/team leader/project manager is pressuring you to do crap work with no process around it, no scope, no clarity, no design, etc. Your SharePoint career is way to short for you to be doing crap work in crap teams. Only you could make that change.
  • Apply development practices and architecture to SharePoint solutions – many say that there is no real development in SharePoint. It’s true that there is a lot of “other stuff” in SharePoint projects, but for the development part – make it count.

Here is my slide deck: SharePoint Solution Architecture – Radi Atanassov

During my talk I showed bits of a solution I use to POC various SharePoint components. I use it to explain and demonstrate things to students, forums and colleagues. I call it Community.SharePoint and as soon as it has a few other key components I will post it on CodePlex.

Here is the version I used at the European SharePoint Conference: Community.SharePoint-EUSPC

Hope this helps someone!