At Deliveron, we work with all sorts of tools, some very sophisticated and some not so much. Sometimes it is the simplest of tools that seem to make jobs easier. Such is the case with one of SharePoint’s often overlooked features for synching document library contents with the file system.
I was recently working on a project where I needed to generate several hundred XML files that would later be checked for accuracy by comparing the output of the new system with that of the legacy system. The team, composed of developers, testers and architects needed an effective way to collaborate and refer to these files.
The desktop tools we used for generating and comparing the XML files didn’t lend well to managing the files inside of SharePoint. Those tools were more geared towards working with files through Windows Explorer than in a web browser. We considered physically attaching the files to Team Foundation Server (TFS) work items, however, that presented the same limitations as managing them directly in SharePoint.
We decided we would store the output files in SharePoint and use OneDrive for Business synchronization to keep local copies for all the team members.
How to set up synchronization in SharePoint
Once you have a library in SharePoint, you can easily start synching the contents with your computer. Just browse to the library and click on the Sync icon. See Figure 1. You are not limited to just one library; you can establish synchronization on a number of document libraries.
Figure 1 – Synch a SharePoint Document Library
Once this is done, OneDrive for Business will begin copying the files to your computer. Whatever I change on my computer is automatically synchronized with SharePoint. Myself and other team members can easily create, edit, delete and even reorganize these files without opening a web browser. All my changes are made available to the rest of the team in near real time. Any conflicting change is managed by the synchronization service. You are alerted if you and someone else modifies the same file and a synchronization exception needs to be dealt with manually. In the case of Office documents, the Office client application prevents editing a local document when someone else has the same document open for edit and a coauthoring session cannot be established.
As mentioned earlier, we needed to provide a way to link related documents to TFS work items. Now that we are using the synchronization capabilities in SharePoint, we can accomplish this fairly easily. We simply included a link to the file of interest residing in SharePoint. See Figure 2.
Figure 2 – Linking a Team Foundation Services work item to an external file.
Once again, this allowed testers to easily manage the output files using a local file system and all files were automatically synchronized with a library in SharePoint, providing all team members with the ability to collaborate on the output.
This simple tool allowed the team to work fast and collaborate freely whenever they needed. While the use of SharePoint is traditionally thought of as a place to keep and collaborate on Office documents, XML and other file types work just as well. The flexibility of TFS allowed us open work items and refer to these files even though they didn’t physically reside in TFS.