Two years of extension building. Part 3

If this is the future, then that is alright then. Those were my words after getting off the new Harley Davidson LiveWire. For those of you that don’t know, the LiveWire is Harley Davidson’s all new electric motorcycle.

Related reading, On Harley’s, chaos, and Business Central

If you follow this blog at all you will know I have a, probably unhealthy, love of Harley Davidson motorcycles. I love riding them, and I love writing about them. There is something immensely gratifying on sitting on top of an engine so big that it has its own gravity field. These are loud, shaking, living, breathing beasts of motorcycles that are also well built and well engineered. So much so that despite their size they are the culminating companions for ceaseless cruising.

When it comes to writing it is just satisfying to scribble in superlatives. There is no way you can overdo writing about Harleys. Therefore, when I was invited to ride the new LiveWire at my local Harley dealer I grabbed my thesaurus and jumped at the chance.

Riding a LiveWire is like strapping a warp engine to your back and pressing its do not press button. Twisting the throttle launches you and the bike into an alternate reality where pedestrian things like natural laws don’t exist. In fact, the only things that exists there is a surge of quiet speed only punctuated by the mad whooping noises that emanate unbidden from the core of your being. It is quiet, poised, and handles like it is on rails. And still, despite it being all computers and software, it is still a living, breathing beast of a motorcycle. It’s a Harley and like any Harley it speaks to a part of your soul that most people don’t know they have. If this is the future, then that is alright. More than alright.

I’m not buying one though. Not because it is eye watering expensive, but because it does not work for me. For the simple reason that my left knee can’t handle the LiveWires riding position for more than twenty minutes.

This brings us to the real reason for writing this post. There is no point in buying an amazing bike if you can’t ride it just like there is no point in investing in tech that won’t serve your business. Which brings us back to extensions and VS Code.

I spent some time in the past six months helping some people in getting started with creating extensions. Most often these people are confused about how to get started because every time they did a training or saw a presentation they were drowned in stuff like Docker, Source Control, CICD, automated testing, Azure Functions, and more great tools. That is why I wanted to use this blog post to look at what you need to build extensions.

Before you all get on my case on how important source control is and how we need automated testing. I know it is important. But it is more important to have an easy way in and get started with building extensions. Source control, automated testing, and all sorts of other things are not needed to build an extension. What you need to get started is a Business Central cloud sandbox, VS Code and that is it. You don’t need anything else. Once you get going though you will need some, but maybe not all these things. Let me give you a guide into getting started with building extensions and improving your development process. This guide is based on my own experience as a small business owner who builds extensions for paying customers.

  • VS Code and AL development. Just create a new project on your local hard drive, connect to a Business Central sandbox and start coding. Don’t make it more complicated than this.
  • GitHub, you might want to work on your project with a colleague, or you may want to have a simple change log. GitHub is easy to learn and easy to start using. Stay away from Azure DevOps!
  • Docker, you may need to spin up a new docker container because you don’t want to wait for your sandboxes all the time. Don’t get started with Business Central on Docker unless you have 1 TB of free disk space.
  • Test Codeunits, at some point you may want to publish your extension to the app source. For this you need test Codeunits. Once you start building tests you will realize that you should have built your test before building your extension. Only you could not because you needed to learn how to make extensions first.
  • Azure and control add-ins, once you start working on extensions for cloud sandboxes you will run into things you just can’t to with AL. And things you can do better with other tools. Learning C#, .net core, JavaScript, and many other things will be next on your list.

For most businesses this will be enough. At least for now. Things like automated builds, automated testing, and all sorts of tools are simply not needed for small teams. It is not hard to spin up a container and running some tests manually. Nor is it hard to build an extension manually. Remember the LiveWire, you don’t need fancy tech if it does not suit your needs. Keep it as simple as you can!

Please note, once again, that I’m not arguing against automating your development process as far as you can. I’m just saying that you need to make getting started as easy as possible, and that not every developer needs to be a DevOps engineer.

This is, I think, the end of my experiences about getting started with extensions. It has been a fun journey; I hope I shared enough of it to inspire you to try some new things. For me personally the last twelve months have been a transformation from an employed developer to a small business owner. This change has given me a new perspective on many things and I’m sure that there are many exciting things still to learn and explore. Some things have not changed though. This crafty creative still likes to create cunning code, compose capital content, and commute on a commanding cruiser. If this is the future, then that is alright.

Photo by Jez Timms on Unsplash

Published by René Brummel

My driving force is the will to learn. Every day brings its unique challenges, my goal is to rise to each challenge and learn from it. My professional expertise is the streamlining and optimization of business processes. My experience ranges from software development (I know AL, C/AL, C#, .NET, JavaScript, ReactJS etc) and implementation to business processes optimization, project management, training, and coaching. At the heart of what I do lies my vision, “sustainable change comes from conscious choice, made out of free will”.

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