One of the main things that many of us ‘SharePoint people’ are responsible for is to display and manipulate data on SharePoint pages, right? All sorts of data, not just data from within SharePoint such as List and Library data, but data from databases, through web services, xml files, and all other sorts of places.

So how are you currently providing access to data to your end users? or I guess the better question to ask is ‘Are you the one doing this?’

Usually the answer is: ‘Our developers are taking care of it. It is not something that I do.’ This answer will not work for very long. These types of tasks are soon to become a responsibility for many of us.

The Age of the Citizen Developer

I have been developing applications for many years now. However, I have not touched Visual Studio for quite a few years. How is that possible you ask… well, the term "developer" is not the same as it used to be when I used to actively program using Visual Studio back in 2005.

This term is evolving to mean you build applications for consumption by other users, either with programming or with other composition tools. There is a term that Gartner has come up with to describe the no-code developers like myself: Citizen Developer. Gartner claims that at least 25 percent of new business applications will be built by citizen developers by 2014. I believe it!

As far as developing on SharePoint is concerned, my tools of choice usually are SharePoint Designer  and InfoPath. Both of these extremely powerful tools let you make robust solutions on top of SharePoint without writing a line of code!

The focus of this short article is on working with SharePoint data and external data in SharePoint using SharePoint Designer 2010 (SPD) so let me get right to it. In a separate article, I’ll talk about InfoPath’s inherent functionality to let you create and modify powerful electronic forms in SharePoint.

 

XSLT Web Parts in SharePoint 2010

There are two main Web Parts that let you display and manipulate data in SharePoint:

  • XSLT List View Web Part (XLV)
  • XSLT Data Form Web Part (DVWP)

The XLV lets you display data from lists and libraries while DVWP lets you show data from literally anywhere. The shortcoming (in my opinion) of DVWP is that there is no easy way to customize this Web Part in the browser and it can only be manipulated effectively using SPD 2010. While the XLV can be customized using the browser, the real power for this Web Part is also realized when manipulated using SPD.

These Web Parts work by consuming data in XML format and then letting us manipulate it by using XSLT. Sounds complicated? I assure you that it’s not.

Everything is very visual in nature. All you are doing is customizing and configuring the Web Parts to make them behave the way you need them. It’s truly as simple as that once you get used to doing it.

The results are extremely robust data-driven solutions that you can present on any SharePoint page. The average developer accustomed to programming in a traditional development environment and unaware of these methods will think that you spent hours or days creating these solutions, when in reality, it will only take you a few minutes once you are proficient at it.

All right, enough talking. Let’s get to showing you some of these things to make you a believer too. I've created two videos that I would recommend you check out right now to prove to yourself the power of XSLT Web Parts:

Create Custom List Form pages using SharePoint Designer 2010

Report on data from your Database using XSLT Data View web part

If these videos spark your curiosity, I suggest continuing your XSLT Web Part exploration using the following resources.

 

Additional SharePoint Designer XSLT Web Part Resources

There are a variety of scenarios that can be accomplished with XSLT Web Parts using SharePoint Designer 2010. The following links will provide you with the resources you need to continue your journey.