JSON Interface – prerequisites

There are two objects we use in all JSON interfaces. We use the TempBlob table and our custom JSON Interface Codeunit.

Abstract

JSON interface uses the same concept as a web service. The endpoint is defined by the Codeunit Name and the caller always supplies a form of request data (JSON) and expects a response data (JSON).

These interface calls therefore are only internal to the Business Central (NAV) server and are very fast. All the data is handled in memory only.

We define these interfaces by Endpoints. Some Endpoints have Methods. We call these Endpoints with a JSON. The JSON structure is predefined and every interface respects the same structure.

We have a single Codeunit that knows how to handle this JSON structure. Passing JSON to an interface requires a data container.

Interface Data

TempBlob is table 99008535. The table is simple but is has a lot of useful procedures.

Wikipedia says: A Binary Large OBject (BLOB) is a collection of binary data stored as a single entity in a database management system. Blobs are typically imagesaudio or other multimedia objects, though sometimes binary executable code is stored as a blob. Database support for blobs is not universal.

We use this BLOB for our JSON data when we send a request to an interface and the interface response is also JSON in that same BLOB field.

For people that have been working with web requests we can say that TempBlob.Blob is used both for RequestStream and for ResponseStream.

TempBlob is only used as a form of Stream. We never use TempBlob to store data. We never do TempBlob.Get() or TempBlob.Insert(). And, even if the name indicates that this is a temporary record, we don’t define the TempBlob Record variable as temporary. There is no need for that since we never do any database call for this record.

Interface Helper Codeunit

We use a single Codeunit in all our solutions to prepare both request and response JSON and also to read from the request on the other end.

We have created a Codeunit that includes all the required procedures for the interface communication.

We have three functions to handle the basics;

  • procedure Initialize()
  • procedure InitializeFromTempBlob(TempBlob: Record TempBlob)
  • procedure GetAsTempBlob(var TempBlob: Record TempBlob)

A typical flow of executions is to start by initializing the JSON. Then we add data to that JSON. Before we execute the interface Codeunit we use GetAsTempBlob to write the JSON into TempBlob.Blob. Every Interface Codeunit expects a TempBlob record to be passed to the OnRun() trigger.

Inside the Interface Codeunit we initialize the JSON from the passed TempBlob record. At this stage we have access to all the data that was added to the JSON on the request side.

And, since the interface Codeunit will return TempBlob as well, we must make sure to put the response JSON in there before the execution ends.

JSON structure

The JSON is an array that contains one or more objects. An JSON array is represented with square brackets.

The first object in the JSON array is the variable storage. This is an example of a JSON that passes two variables to the interface Codeunit.

All variables are stored in the XML format, using FORMAT(<variable>,0,9) and evaluated back using EVALUATE(<variable>,<json text value>,9). The JSON can then have multiple record related objects after the variable storage.

Adding data to the JSON

We have the following procedures for adding data to the JSON;

  • procedure AddRecordID(Variant: Variant)
  • procedure AddTempTable(TableName: Text; Variant: Variant)
  • procedure AddFilteredTable(TableName: Text; FieldNameFilter: Text; Variant: Variant)
  • procedure AddRecordFields(Variant: Variant)
  • procedure AddVariable(VariableName: Text; Value: Variant)
  • procedure AddEncryptedVariable(VariableName: Text; Value: Text)

I will write a more detailed blog about each of these methods and give examples of how we use them, but for now I will just do a short explanation of their usage.

If we need to pass a reference to a database table we pass the Record ID. Inside the interface Codeunit we can get the database record based on that record. Each Record ID that we add to the JSON is stored with the Table Name and we use either of these two procedures to retrieve the record.

  • procedure GetRecord(var RecRef: RecordRef): Boolean
  • procedure GetRecordByTableName(TableName: Text; var RecRef: RecordRef): Boolean

If we need to pass more than one record we can use pass all records inside the current filter and retrieve the result with

  • procedure UpdateFilteredTable(TableName: Text; KeyFieldName: Text; var RecRef: RecordRef): Boolean

A fully populated temporary table with table view and table filters can be passed to the interface Codeunit by adding it to the JSON by name. When we use

  • procedure GetTempTable(TableName: Text; var RecRef: RecordRef): Boolean

in the interface Codeunit to retrieve the temporary table we will get the whole table, not just the filtered content.

We sometimes need to give interface Codeunits access to the record that we are creating. Similar to the OnBeforeInsert() system event. If we add the record fields to the JSON we can use

  • procedure GetRecordFields(var RecRef: RecordRef): Boolean

on the other end to retrieve the record and add or alter any field content before returning it back to the caller.

We have several procedures available to retrieve the variable values that we pass to the interface Codeunit.

  • procedure GetVariableValue(var Value: Variant; VariableName: Text): Boolean
  • procedure GetVariableTextValue(var TextValue: Text; VariableName: Text): Boolean
  • procedure GetVariableBooleanValue(var BooleanValue: Boolean; VariableName: Text): Boolean
  • procedure GetVariableDateValue(var DateValue: Date; VariableName: Text): Boolean
  • procedure GetVariableDateTimeValue(var DateTimeValue: DateTime; VariableName: Text): Boolean
  • procedure GetVariableDecimalValue(var DecimalValue: Decimal; VariableName: Text): Boolean
  • procedure GetVariableIntegerValue(var IntegerValue: Integer; VariableName: Text): Boolean
  • procedure GetVariableGUIDValue(var GuidValue: Guid; VariableName: Text): Boolean
  • procedure GetVariableBLOBValue(var TempBlob: Record TempBlob; VariableName: Text): Boolean
  • procedure GetVariableBLOBValueBase64String(var TempBlob: Record TempBlob; VariableName: Text): Boolean
  • procedure GetEncryptedVariableTextValue(var TextValue: Text; VariableName: Text): Boolean

We use Base 64 methods in the JSON. By passing the BLOB to TempBlob.Blob we can use

and then

on the other end to pass a binary content, like images or PDFs.

Finally, we have the possibility to add and encrypt values that we place in the JSON. On the other end we can then decrypt the data to be used. This we use extensively when we pass sensitive data to and from our Azure Function.

Calling an interface Codeunit

As promised I will write more detailed blogs with examples. This is the current list of procedures we use to call interfaces;

  • procedure ExecuteInterfaceCodeunitIfExists(CodeunitName: Text; var TempBlob: Record TempBlob; ErrorIfNotFound: Text)
  • procedure TryExecuteInterfaceCodeunitIfExists(CodeunitName: Text; var TempBlob: Record TempBlob; ErrorIfNotFound: Text): Boolean
  • procedure TryExecuteCodeunitIfExists(CodeunitName: Text; ErrorIfNotFound: Text) Success: Boolean
  • procedure ExecuteAzureFunction() Success: Boolean

The first two expect a JSON to be passed using TempBlob. The third one we use to check for a simple true/false. We have no request data but we read the ‘Success’ variable from the response JSON.

For some of our functionality we use an Azure Function. We have created our function to read the same JSON structure we use internally. We also expect our Azure Function to respond with the sames JSON structure. By doing it that way, we can use the same functions to prepare the request and to read from the response as we do for our internal interfaces.

My Soap Service Proxy Codeunit

Up to now we in Advania have been using the method described here on my blog to connect to most of the Soap web services that we needed to integrate with.

The problem with this method is that we have to manage a lot of DLLs.  This has caused some issues and problems.

Another thing is that we are moving to AL.  And in AL we can’t just throw in a custom DLL to do all the work.

In C/AL We can do this with standard dotnet objects

AL code to do the same with the built in AL objects but that code is not much shorter.

With a custom proxy DLL the code would be

With this example we can easily see why we have chosen to create a proxy DLL for most of the Soap services.

I wanted to find a way to make things easier in AL and I remembered having dealt with C/AL objects by Vjeko from some time ago.  I took another look and that code helped me to get started.

The result is a Soap Proxy Client Mgt. Codeunit in C/AL that I have sent to Microsoft’s cal-open-library project asking to have this code put into the standard C/AL library.

Using this Codeunit the code will be like this.

What about AL?

For now this C/AL Codeunit is not in the standard CRONUS database.  I need to import the C/AL code and make sure that AL will be able to use that Codeunit.  You can see how to do this in my last blog post.

This C/AL Code will directly convert to AL and is ready to use.

More examples on how to use this Proxy Codeunit will follow.  Stay tuned…

C/AL and AL Side-by-Side Development with AdvaniaGIT

Microsoft supports Side-by-Side development for C/AL and AL.  To start using the Side-by-Side development make sure you have the latest version of AdvaniaGIT add-in for Visual Studio Code and update the PowerShell scripts by using the “Advania: Go!” command.

When the Business Central environment is built use the “Advania: Build C/AL Symbol References for AL” to enable the Side-by-Side development for this environment.  This function will reconfigure the service and execute the Generate Symbol References command for the environment.  From here on everything you change in C/AL on this environment will update the AL Symbol References.

So let’s try this out.

I converted my C/AL project to AL project with the steps described in my previous post.  Then selected to open Visual Studio Code in AL folder.

In my new Visual Studio Code window I selected to build an environment – the Docker Container.

When AdvaniaGIT builds a container it will install the AL Extension for Visual Studio Code from that Container.  We need to read the output of the environment build.  In this example I am asked to restart Visual Studio Code before reinstalling AL Language.  Note that if you are not asked to restart Visual Studio Code you don’t need to do that.

After restart I can see that the AL Language extension for Visual Studio Code is missing.

To fix this I execute the “Advania: Build NAV Environment” command again.  This time, since the Container is already running only the NAV license and the AL Extension will be updated.

Restart Visual Studio Code again and we are ready to go.

If we build new environment for our AL project we must update the environment settings in .vscode\launch.json.  This we can do with a built in AdvaniaGIT command.

We can verify the environment by executing “Advania: Check NAV Environment”.  Everything should be up and running at this time.

Since we will be using Side-by-Side development for C/AL and AL in this environment we need to enable that by executing “Advania: Build C/AL Symbol References for AL”.

This will take a few minutes to execute.

Don’t worry about the warning.  AdvaniaGIT takes care of restarting the service.  Let’s download AL Symbols and see what happens.

We can see that AL now recognizes the standard symbols but my custom one; “IS Soap Proxy Client Mgt.” is not recognized.  I will tell you more about this Codeunit in my next blog post.

I start FinSql to import the Codeunit “IS Soap Proxy Client Mgt.”

Import the FOB file

Close FinSql and execute the “AL: Download Symbols” again.  We can now see that AL recognizes my C/AL Codeunit.

Now I am good to go.

Why do we need Interface Codeunits

And what is an interface Codeunit?

A Codeunit that you can execute with CODEUNIT.RUN to perform a given task is, from my point of view, an interface Codeunit.

An interface Codeunit has a parameter that we put in the

This parameter is always a table object.

We have multiple examples of this already in the application.  Codeunits 12 and 80 are some.  There the parameter is a mixed set of data and settings.  Some of the table fields are business data being pushed into the business logic.  Other fields are settings used to control the business logic.

Table 36, Sales Header, is used as the parameter for Codeunit 80.  Fields like No., Bill-to Customer No., Posting Date and so on are business data.  Fields like Ship, Invoice, Print Posted Documents are settings used to control the business logic but have no meaning as business data.

Every table is then a potential parameter for an interface Codeunit.  Our extension can easily create a table that we use as a parameter table.  Record does not need to be inserted into the table to be passed to the Codeunit.

Let’s look at another scenario.  We know that there is an Interface Codeunit  with the name “My Interface Codeunit” but it is belongs to an Extensions that may and may not be installed in the database.

Here we use the virtual table “CodeUnit Metadata” to look for the Interface Codeunit before execution.

This is all simple and strait forward.  Things that we have been doing for a number of years.

Using TempBlob table as a parameter also gives us flexibility to define more complex interface for the Codeunit.  Tempblob table can store complex data in Json or Xml format and pass that to the Codeunit.

Let’s take an example.  We have an extension that extends the discount calculation for Customers and Items.  We would like to ask this extensions for the discount a given customer will have for a given Item.  Questions like that we can represent in a Json file.

And the question can be coded like this.

The Interface Codeunit could be something like

With a Page that contains a single Text variable (Json) we can turn this into a web service.

That we can use from C# with a code like

This is just scratching the surface of what we can do.  To copy a record to and from Json is easy to do with these functions.

And even if I am showing all this in C/AL there should be no problem in using the new AL in Visual Studio Code to get the same results.