Dynamics NAV solutions can be customized by partners, value-added resellers (VARs), and even some customers. This is an important benefit of the product and the service continues to be available. However, it has traditionally been carried out by overlayering the application code. The move to the cloud with more agile servicing and frequent updates requires a less intrusive customization model that makes updates less likely to impact custom solutions. This new model is called Dynamics NAV Extensions and will probably replace customization.
Dynamics NAV Extensions are a way for Microsoft Dynamics NAV developers and ISVs to extend the functionality of NAV without modifying Microsoft’s original source code. With the new model, when you come to upgrade Dynamics NAV with a cumulative update, you no longer need to merge all the customized objects. That means less upgrade issues.
With NAV Extensions, you can add functionality without changing the standard solution from Microsoft. This has the obvious advantage that major NAV upgrade projects are no longer necessary. Once you are using Extensions, the customizations no longer represent a problem when upgrading to the latest version of the solution.
If you want to prepare for this new model, you should start to work with Dynamics NAV Extensions today.
Barriers to editing Dynamics NAV extensions
Dynamics NAV Extensions are packages that contain additional functionality, report layouts (at least starting in NAV 2017), permissions, and more. The packages can be easily installed, uninstalled and upgraded without affecting the Dynamics NAV source code.
Once the Dynamics NAV extension package has been created, it is no longer easy for others to view the code of the extension, which means that your code is protected. You can view the source code of an extension through the debugger, but you cannot access the code through the development environment and you can’t modify an extension unless you have the source code.
Technically, there is no real problem. The new solution will work and the customer will be able to use the custom functionality. However, if another party wanted to further modify the functionality, it would not be possible because the functionality can only be modified if the developer has the source code.
Evolution of Dynamics NAV Extensions
Dynamics NAV Extensions Version 1
Microsoft Dynamics NAV 2016 incorporated Extensions V1. However, at that stage it was more of a concept than a practical working tool. In reality, it was quite a pain to develop customizations with Dynamics NAV Extensions because you had to restructure code and not all object types could be extended – only pages, tables and code units.
Dynamics NAV Extensions Version 1 did not include:
- Web services
- Job Queues
- Translations and much more
These customizations are usually easy to create using events. So, you can raise an event in your extension and have another extension subscribe to this event, perform certain actions and pass data back. In Extensions V1, this is difficult to do, because you actually need to provide the source code of your extension to everyone who wants to work with your events or with your data structure.
Dynamics NAV Extensions Version 2
Dynamics NAV Extensions V2 helps create a more modern development environment that supports better functionality. You can actually add your events, raise them and then subscribe to them in another extension. You can also use their tables or other functionality without requiring the source code of the base extension.
Microsoft Visual Studio Code downloads the symbols for all dependent extensions. This means, as long you have the base extension installed in your development system and define this extension as a dependent extension, you can subscribe to the event.
How Dynamics NAV Extensions can make Dynamics NAV upgrades easier
We believe that in most cases, NAV Extensions can help developers to upgrade without any problem. Why in most? Because during any Dynamics NAV upgrade we currently carry out (which is classic, nothing to do with Extensions), we can upgrade the most part of the code without conflicts.
What about the exceptions? There are just a few scenarios where you may need to rethink your solution. Here are some examples:
- When new functionality in an upgraded version of NAV can replace your extension. However, they probably can co-exist.
- When Microsoft redesigns part of a solution. Even this doesn’t need to be a major problem. If, for example, you are upgrading to NAV2017, a major redesign of CU80 isn’t that much of a problem thanks to the hooks pattern. Decent code design always helps. If you have been using extensions, you would have been using events anyway, so that’s even less of a problem.
Visual Studio Code and Dynamics NAV Extensions
The Microsoft NAV team has created a new VS Code extension that enables the creation of objects in AL language. But beware; creating a VS Code extension for a completely new language is not straightforward! It requires the creation of a model to support intelligence and the creation of a new compiler. That sounds easy, but it is not.
NAV Extensions after the release of Dynamics NAV 2018
The built-in Visual Designer in Dynamics NAV 2018 and Visual Studio Code are expected to replace the familiar C/SIDE environment as a development tool. However, that’s not just a matter of clicking on a button. It means learning a new way of development, a new language (with old components, though) and a new way of deploying customizations.
All customizations, including customizations on top of customizations are going to become Dynamics NAV Extensions; and that’s a good thing for the industry.
.Net users might say, okay that’s how we do things anyway. But, for NAV developers, this is a big change because we are used to changing any existing piece of code.
So why not work towards a model that is as flexible as .Net and solves NAV upgrade issues as well? Let’s not stick with the traditional “copy-paste-modify” but just “reference-and-extend”.
The downside of customizations is that they often introduce challenges when upgrading Dynamics NAV. It’s exponentially harder to upgrade a solution from one version to the next when changes have been made to the underlying solution. Dynamics NAV Extensions, particularly the latest version – Extensions 2.0 – solves this problem.
Instead of defining customizations in the original source code, Dynamics NAV Extensions are written in parallel with the solution source. The integration with the source code is handled with events.
An extension can add new objects and extend existing objects that are present in the solution. The extension code is packaged in a file, which you can easily deploy to your solution. This allows you to upgrade the underlying solution and, as long as the events remain, the extension will behave in the same way from version to version.
With Dynamics NAV 2018, you can have multiple extensions installed. It’s also possible to make a dependency reference from one extension to another. The question is “how?” When downloading symbols, you’re only getting system and application data.
Please be aware, that several of the extensions installed in NAV2018 are still V1 extensions, and you can reference and download symbols, but the symbol file is empty. So currently it’s not possible to reference a V1 extension from a V2.
Microsoft tools for automatic migration to Dynamics NAV Extensions
To help develop solutions for this new programming environment, you can use a set of new Microsoft developer tools to build, test, and deploy NAV Extensions.
Microsoft In-App Designer
In the client, you can switch to In-App Designer mode. This enables you to change the look and feel of the client quickly and easily. Using this tool, you can define the elements (such as fields or groups) that appear on a page and change how they are displayed. You can also use In-App Designer as an interactive tool to create extensions based on changes you make in the client.
Microsoft In-App Designer includes a wide range of important features, such as:
- Adding a field from the source table to a page
- Moving a field to another position on a page
- Removing a field from a page
- Previewing your design in desktop, tablet, and phone clients
- Saving the changes for the tenant or saving as an extension package file in Visual Studio Code.
- Microsoft Dynamics NAV Developer Preview 3 (Coming soon)
- Changing the caption of a field on the page.
- Adding, moving, renaming, and removing an action.
- Adding, moving, and removing page parts.
- Adding new pages
Erik Ernst, a Microsoft Dynamics NAV MVP, commented, “Personally, I’m thrilled about these new extensions. Not so much because they are special or fantastic. But because they allow me easily to remove them again, or simply not install them. The future direction is clear. Some years down the road, then we will only have the World-Wide version. Localizations are just Extensions, either coming from Microsoft or ISVs.”
A statement from Microsoft added, “There are no plans to stop partners from modifying NAV. But you can see it as an option to transform gradually and get your developers used to using Dynamics NAV Extensions when possible, which will also have a side effect of making upgrades easier. So it should be more of a journey than a hard point in time when you must move from one way of doing things to another.”
At Simplanova, we truly believe that Dynamics NAV Extensions is the solution for many of the pain points we have today. Maybe they are not completely fixed yet, but in the near future they will be! That applies to on-premise, for customizations, and for your private and public cloud. And guess what, for Dynamics365, they are already there!
Add-on upgrade to extensions has become much more relevant with Microsoft Dynamics NAV 2018 version and Extensions 2.0. If you choose Simplanova services to upgrade your Add-on to NAV Extensions, we will move Dynamics NAV code customization to events and redesign the code for a successful migration from Add-on to Extensions.
Simplanova has long experience in Microsoft Dynamics NAV services for ISV and VAR partners. If you would like to discuss how our Dynamics NAV Extensions service can help your business, just fill in the form below.