A Short Tour through NAV 2009: Part 2

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Programming Microsoft Dynamics NAV 2009

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by David A. Studebaker | November 2009 | .NET Microsoft

Read Part One of A Short Tour through NAV 2009 here.

NAV 2009: A set of building blocks and development tools

If you look at NAV 2009 from the point of view of a developer, you may see it as a set of customizable off-the-shelf program objects (the building blocks) plus the IDE which allows you to modify those objects and create new ones (the C/SIDE development tools).

The NAV 2009 system is an object-based system, consisting of several thousand application objects, the building blocks, made up of the eight different object types available in NAV. NAV does not have all of the features of an object-oriented system. A full-featured object-oriented system would allow the definition and creation of new object types, while NAV only allows for the creation and modification of the predefined object types.

NAV object types

Let's start with some basic definitions of the object types that are part of NAV:

  • Table: Tables are the definers and containers of data.
  • Form: Forms are the screen display constructs for the Classic Client user interface.
  • Page: Pages are the screen display constructs for the Role Tailored Client user interface. Pages are designed and rendered (displayed) using technology that is new to NAV 2009.
  • Report: Reports allow the display of data to the user in "hardcopy" format, either onscreen (preview mode) or via a printer device. Report objects can also update data in processes with or without accompanying data display output.
  • Dataport: Dataports allow the importing and exporting of data from/to external files in the Classic Client.
  • XMLport: XMLports are similar to Dataports. In the Classic Client, XMLports are specific only to XML files and XML formatted data. In the Role Tailored Client, XMLports handle the tasks of both XMLports and Dataports.
  • Codeunit: Codeunits are containers for code, always structured in code segments called functions.
  • MenuSuite: MenuSuites contain menus which refer in turn to other types of objects. MenuSuites are structured differently from other objects, especially since they cannot contain any code or logic. In the Role Tailored Client, MenuSuites are translated into Navigation Pane menu entries.

The C/SIDE Integrated Development Environment

NAV includes a full set of software development tools. All NAV development tools are accessed through the C/SIDE Integrated Development Environment. This environment and its full complement of tools are generally just referred to as C/SIDE. C/SIDE includes the C/AL compiler. All NAV programming uses C/AL. No NAV development can be done without using C/SIDE.

The C/SIDE Integrated Development Environment is referred to as the Object Designer within NAV. It is accessed through the Tools  Object Designer menu |option as shown in the following screenshot:

Programming Microsoft Dynamics NAV 2009

The language in which NAV is coded is C/AL. A sample of some C/AL code is shown as follows. C/AL syntax has considerable similarity to Pascal. As with any programming language, readability is enhanced by careful programmer attention to structure, logical variable naming, process flow consistent with that of the code in the base product and good documentation both inside and outside of the code.

Insert code1

A large portion of the NAV system is defined by tabular entries, properties, and references. This doesn't reduce the requirement for the developer to understand the code, but it does allow some very significant applications development work to be done on a more of a point-and-choose or fill-in-the-blank approach than the traditional "grind it out" approach to coding. NAV gives developers the ability to focus on design rather than code. Much of the time, the effort required to create a new NAV application or modification will be heavily weighted on the side of design time, rather than technical development time. This long term goal for systems development tools has always been true for NAV. As the tools mature, NAV development continues to be more and more heavily weighted to design time rather than coding time.

Object Designer tool icons

The following screenshot shows a list of Object Designer tool icons. These Object Designer icons are shown isolated in the screenshot and then described briefly in the following table. Some of these icons apply to actions that are only for objects which run in the Classic Client, some are for objects for both clients. Additional information is available in the C/SIDE Help files and the Microsoft NAV documentation.

Programming Microsoft Dynamics NAV 2009

The following table lists the specific development tools used for each object type. Also, as shown in this table, some objects are limited to being used in the Classic Client, some are limited to being used in the RTC environment, some are used in both, and some are interpreted differently depending on the environment in which they are invoked.

Object Type

Design Tool

User Interface

Comments

Table

Table Designer

Classic and RTC

 

Form

Form Designer

Classic

 

Page

Page Designer

RTC

 

Report

Report Designer

Classic (and RTC)

If a report is run from the RTC but doesn't have an RTC compatible layout, NAV will run it under a temporary instance of the Classic Client

 

Report Designer (data definition) + Visual Studio (user interface)

RTC

 

Dataport

Dataport Designer

Classic

 

XMLPort

XMLport Designer

Classic and RTC

For the RTC, Dataport functionality is handled through appropriately defined XMLports

Codeunit

IDE code editor for the C/AL language

Classic and RTC

 

MenuSuite

Navigation Pane Designer

Classic and RTC

Much of the navigation in the RTC is done via Role Center pages rather than menus

NAV object and system elements

Let's take a look at the following:

  • Database: NAV has two physical database options. One is the C/SIDE Database Server; the other is the Microsoft SQL Server. The C/SIDE Database Server, formerly known as the "Native" database, only supports the two-tier client. The NAV 2009 three-tier functionality is only compatible with a SQL Server implementation. You won't be surprised to know that one or two product versions in the future, the only database option will be SQL Server. At the basic application or code design levels, you don't care which database is being used. For sophisticated or high data volume applications you care a great deal about the underlying database strengths, weaknesses and features.
  • Properties: These are the attributes of the element (for example object, data field, or control) that define some aspect of its behavior or use. For example, attributes such as display length, font type or size, and if the elements are either editable or viewable.
  • Fields: These are the individual data items, defined either in a table or in the working storage of an object.
  • Records: These are groups of fields (data items) that are handled as a unit in most Input/Output operations. The table data consists of rows of records with columns consisting of fields.
  • Controls: These are containers for constants and data. A control corresponds to a User Interface element on a form/page or a report. The visible displays in reports and forms consist primarily of controls.
  • Triggers: The generic definition is a mechanism that initiates (fires) an action when an event occurs and is communicated to the application object. A trigger is either empty or contains code that is executed when the associated event fires the trigger. Each object type has its own set of predefined triggers. The event trigger name begins with the word "On" such as OnInsert, OnOpenPage, and OnNextRecord. NAV triggers have some similarities to those in SQL, but they are not the same. NAV triggers are locations within the various objects where a developer can place comments or C/AL code.
  • When you look at the C/AL code of an object in its Designer, the following have a physical resemblance to the NAV event based triggers:
    • Documentation which can contain comments only, no executable code. Every object type except MenuSuite has a single Documentation section at the beginning.
    • Functions which can be defined by the developer. They represent callable routines that can be accessed from other C/AL code either inside or outside the object where the called function resides. Many functions are provided as part of the standard product. As a developer, you may add your own custom functions as needed.
    • Object numbers and field numbers: The object numbers from 1 (one) to 50,000 and in the 99,000,000 (99 million) range are reserved for use by NAV as part of the base product. Objects in this number range can be modified or deleted, but not created with a developer's license. Field numbers are often assigned in ranges matching the related object numbers (that is starting with 1 for fields relating to objects numbered 1 to 50,000, starting with 99,000,000 for fields in objects in the 99,000,000 and up number range). Object and field numbers from 50,001 to 99,999 are generally available to the rest of us for assignment as part of customizations developed in the field using a normal development license. But object numbers from 90,000 to 99,999 should not be used for permanent objects as those numbers are often used in training materials. Microsoft allocates other ranges of object and field numbers to Independent Software Vendor (ISV) developers for their add-on enhancements. Some of these (in the 14,000,000 range in North America, other ranges for other geographic regions) can be accessed, modified, or deleted, but not created using a normal development license. Others (such as in the 37,000,000 range) can be executed, but not viewed or modified with a typical development license. The following table summarizes the content as:

    Object Number range

     

    Usage

     

    1 - 9,999

     

    Base-application objects

     

    10,000 - 49,999

     

    Country-specific objects

     

    50,000 - 99,999

     

    Customer-specific objects

     

    100,000 - 98,999,999

     

    Partner-created objects

     

    Above 98,999,999

    Microsoft territory

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  • Work Date: This is a date controlled by the operator that is used as the default date for many transaction entries. The System Date is the date recognized by Windows. The Work Date that can be adjusted at any time by the user, is specific to the workstation, and can be set to any point in the future or the past. This is very convenient for procedures such as ending Sales Order entry for one calendar day at the end of the first shift, and then entering Sales Orders by the second shift dated to the next calendar day. You set the Work Date in the Classic Client by selecting Tools  Work Date| (see following screenshot).

    Programming Microsoft Dynamics NAV 2009

    In the Role Tailored Client, you can set the Work Date by selecting Microsoft Dynamics NAV  Set Work Date|, and then entering a date (see following screenshot).

    Programming Microsoft Dynamics NAV 2009

  • License: A data file supplied by Microsoft that allows a specific level of access to specific object number ranges. NAV licenses are very clever constructs which allow distribution of a complete system, all objects, modules, and features (including development) while constraining exactly what is accessible and how it can be accessed. Each license feature has its price. Microsoft Partners have access to "full development" licenses to provide support and customization services for their clients. End-user firms can also purchase licenses allowing them developer access to NAV.
  • NAV functional terminology

    For various application functions, NAV uses terminology that is more akin to accounting terms than to traditional data processing terminology. Some examples are:

    • Journal: A table of transaction entries, each of which represents an event, an entity, or an action to be processed. There are General Journals for general accounting entries, Item Journals for changes in inventory, and so on.
    • Ledger: A detailed history of transaction entries that have been processed. For example, General Ledger, a Customer Ledger, a Vendor Ledger, an Item Ledger, and so on. Some Ledgers have subordinate detail ledgers, typically providing a greater level of date plus quantity and/or value detail.
    • Posting: The process by which entries in a Journal are validated, and then entered into one or more Ledgers.
    • Batch: A group of one or more Journal entries that were posted in one group.
    • Register: An audit trail showing a history, by Entry No. ranges, of the Journal Batches that have been posted.
    • Document: A formatted report such as an Invoice, a Purchase Order, or a Check, typically one page for each primary transaction.

    User interfaces

    The terms two-tier versus three-tier and Classic Client versus Role Tailored Client have come up several times already in our discussion of NAV 2009. Let's initially focus on the user look and feel differences, and what that means to you when designing an application.

    Following is a sample of what the Classic Client (two-tier) user interface looks like. Note that if the login were for a user with limited access privileges, only the permitted menu options would be displayed. Nevertheless, the basic structure of the display is oriented around the structure of the database and the traditional technician viewpoint of how the system works.

    Programming Microsoft Dynamics NAV 2009

    Now let's take a look at the appearance of the Role Tailored Client. The same comment applies about the system displaying only the permitted functions. However, the basic structure of the display here is oriented around a definition of the Role (and therefore the tasks) of the specific user who has logged in. Someone whose role centers around Order Entry will see a different RTC home page than the user whose Role centers around Invoicing, even though both are primarily focused in what we used to think of more globally as Sales & Receivables.

    Programming Microsoft Dynamics NAV 2009

    Obviously the user look and feel has changed dramatically from the Classic Client to the RTC. The design approach for our enhancements must follow the new RTC style. In some ways this will be a more challenging task, especially for those of us who are purely technical developers without much knowledge of the individual user's point of view.

    In order to do a good job of fitting the system to a particular customer, we must have a good understanding of the duties performed by different roles within that customer's organization. This means we need more diagnostic effort at the frontend of our system design and implementation planning. Perhaps we should always have done that, but since our design model was based on how our product worked, rather than how the customer's operation worked, we could get away with doing less. No more. It's not within the scope of this book to discuss that diagnostic effort in any detail. Nevertheless, it is very important that it be done and done well. In this book, we will concentrate on how to address the requirements for Roles once they are defined.

    >> Continue Reading A Short Tour through NAV 2009: Part 3

     

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    Programming Microsoft Dynamics NAV 2009 Using this Microsoft Dynamics NAV book and eBook - develop and maintain high performance applications to meet changing business needs with improved agility and enhanced flexibility.
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    About the Author :


    David A. Studebaker

    David Studebaker is Chief Technical Officer and a founder of Liberty Grove Software with his partner Karen Studebaker. Liberty Grove Software, a Microsoft Partner, provides development, consulting, training, and upgrade services internationally for Microsoft Dynamics NAV resellers and end user customers.

    David has been recognized by Microsoft as a Certified Professional for NAV in all three areas: Development, Applications, and Installation & Configuration. He has been honored by Microsoft as a Lead Certified Microsoft Trainer for NAV.

    David just celebrated his first half century of programming, having started programming in 1962. He has been developing in C/AL since 1996. David has been an active participant in each step of computing technology from the first solid state mainframes to today's technology, from binary assembly language coding to today's C/AL and C#.

    David's special achievements include his role as co-developer of the first production multi-programmed SPOOLing system in 1967. David has worked on a diverse set of software applications including manufacturing, distribution, retail, engineering, general accounting, association management, professional services billing, distribution/inventory management, freight carriage, data collection and production management, among others. Prior to co-authoring this book, David was the author of Programming Microsoft Dynamics NAV (for the Classic Client) and Programming Microsoft Dynamics NAV 2009 (for the Role Tailored Client).

    David has had a wide range of development, consulting, sales and management roles throughout his career. He has been partner or owner and manager of several software development businesses, while always maintaining a hands-on role as a business applications developer.

    David has a BS in Mechanical Engineering from Purdue University and an MBA from the University of Chicago. He has been writing for publication since he was an undergraduate. David has been a member of the Association for Computing Machinery since 1963 and was a founding officer of two local chapters of the ACM.

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