SharePoint site with InfoPath forms and Random session lost issue

We were able to fix a sticky issue which was bugging us since a long time. Its a sporadic issue and its always interesting to debug issues like these.

Issue details: This is in reference to SharePoint portal site which uses InfoPath Forms extensively which was extended into multiple zones (intranet, extranet) with dual authentication (AD and LDAP with MFA/FBA). The issue with the site was that it was losing the session randomly while the user is actively working on it. The random time period could be anywhere from 8 mins to 20mins or more.

Debugging the issue: We started facing this issue in our (staging/no-harm) environment and later we realized it wasn’t isolated to a specific environment as this was reproducible in our QA, UAT etc environments too. Changing or increasing the session timeout value was certainly not having any kind of effect on the random timeout issue. That was ruled out of the picture. I started looking into SharePoint logs, IIS logs and Application specific event logs, still hitting the wall.

With the infrastructure we have one hits the SharePoint site through a multi-factored authenticated (MFA) site which is basically a single point of entry for external partners. This MFA site authenticates using SiteMinder/LDAP. The extranet forms based authenticated (FBA) based SharePoint site picks up the user context from this site without prompting the user to log in again.  The next step was pushing this issue to the MFA/Application-security team to verify if all is well from their side.  Yes, everything remains the same and fine on their side.

We have been using Fiddler/HTTPWatcher to track the http headers exchanged while trying to reproduce the session lost issue. After tracking down the HTTP headers while reproducing the session lost I found that the ASP.NET_SessionId cookie which was supposed to be sent in the header is  not being sent at that moment and thus session is lost.

Below is a small useful excerpt from a blog link:

How a web application uses cookies to maintain session state is simple: the application framework simply associates all the runtime state of the application with the ID (i.e. SessionID) and makes sure to send that ID with a Set-Cookie on the initial HTTP response, and whenever the web browser makes a subsquent request to the application’s URL namespace, the application framework inspects the cookie header for an ID and if it is found, look up all of the associated runtime state and continue processing the web application with that state. Good application frameworks would also control the time period of validity for this runtime state via something like Session

But now the question arises about what and why this is happening? Why does the browser stop sending the ASP.NET_SessionId cookie randomly?

One thing that I noticed is that there are multiple cookies that are maintained and the number of cookies are increasing for each page refresh or access. On close observation we narrowed it down that on page access that has an XMLFormView control which contains the InfoPath form is adding 2 cookies which look something like below:

2877de91-2fc1-48bd-b134-7e5480751aa1_sel    Sent        /    test..com    (Session)

2d12188c-1f35-427c-b741-634acde50a8e_pb    Sent    0    /    test.com    (Session)

I couldn’t find any good documentation/links on how InfoPath Forms Services use cookies especially the above ones. However, the _sel and _pb represents the selection and postback cookies.

As the number of cookies are increasing and as it exceeds the browser limitation of max 20 cookies per domain the ASP.NET_SessionId is dropped and thus the session is lost.  Here is the copy one of the lines from Microsoft KB Article:

If a Web application uses more than 19 custom cookies, ASP session state may be lost.

In order to conclude this I wrote a quick and dirty (my favorite) java script solution to remove the InfoPath form cookies that are not used or empty and retain only the latest 2 cookies. With this script plugged into the master page the session lost issue never happened again.

I uploaded the script to SkyDrive. Here is the link to the folder and you will see a file named: CookieCleanupScript.txt

https://skydrive.live.com/redir?resid=52790689DEA81341!6040

Solution to handle large SharePoint lists or library

SharePoint has limitations at various levels. Below is a quick information table:

Container

[recommended limitation of contents]

Web Application

[150000 Site Collections ] (with the limit of 50000 per content db)

Site Collection

[250000 sites ]

Site

[2000 sub sites/sites]

Site/Sub site

[2,000 libraries and lists]

Library/List

[10,000,000 documents/items  and 2,000 items per view]

The above are recommended limitations by Microsoft. Please read the article from MSDN for detailed information and benchmarks. However these limitations vary depending on the hardware specs (YMMY): databases, web applications and the arrangement of sites/site collections. Joel Oleson[MVP] has provided a limitations chart based on his real time experience.

Below is an excerpt from a white paper released by Microsoft on handling very large lists.

For typical customer scenarios in which the standard Office SharePoint Server 2007 browser-based user interface is used, the recommendation is that a single list should not have more than 2,000 items per list container. A container in this case means the root of the list, as well as any folders in the list — a folder is a container because other list items are stored within it. A folder can contain items from the list as well as other folders, and each subfolder can contain more of each, and so on. For example, that means that you could have a list with 1,990 items in the root of the site, 10 folders that each contain 2,000 items, and so on. The maximum number of items supported in a list with recursive folders is 5 million items.

Based on the above excerpt and simplifying it further we can achieve a viable scalable and highly available solution to implement very large lists. Here I am going to discuss a use case which involves large lists and how it can be handled.

Use case/Problem case:

Highly used sharepoint site where user submits requests using various infopath forms which are submitted to the document libraries which has custom workflow attached to it. On an average there would be around 900 to 1000 requests submitted per day.

Proposed Solution:

With the usage rate mentioned in the above use case the list will have accumulate 200000 items in the document library within the first six months. Much against to this the recommended limit is to have 2000 items per list/library before it starts showing a degradation in the performance. The only way to get around this limitation is to use folders within the library and distribute the items/files within these folders. We can even have nested folder structure. The maximum number of items supported in a list with recursive folders is 5 million items. But having a recursive folder structure means more complexity and as data grows there will be manageability concerns. Without using recursive folder structure and thus using a simple solution we can have 4 million items in a single list/library.

The solution is very simple; We will have 2000 folders in a library (since 2000 is the limit on number of items a library can have). Then each folder will have 2000 items within it. Thus the total number of items the library holds with this approach is 2000 * 2000 which is 4 million.

Implementation Details

Assumption: This implementation is based on the assumption that every new infopath form request submitted will be assigned a unique auto-incremented integer as the identifier. This can be implemented by using custom sql database table with an auto-increment integer column. For each form request submitted a new row will be inserted which will assign an unique integer to it.

The integer id assigned to the request submitted forms the crucial part of this solution. Using this we can identify where to store a new request and what is the location/url of an existing(already saved) request item. This comes in very handy in various places (like sending email with item url, building custom views over the lists, restoring data etc).

To determine the library/list to which the request/item will be saved will be determined by the following algorithm.


Input: [itemid : integer]
step 1: set variable thresholdItems = 2000
step 2: var delta = itemid/(thresholdItems*thresholdItems)
step 3: delta = Math.Ceiling(delta);
Output: “Repo”+ delta

Sample Runs:

Input Output
2000 Repo1
6500 Repo1
2300300 Repo1
4000000 Repo1
4000001 Repo2

As we can observe in the above table the until the item id is 4 million i.e 4000000 the library name is Repo1 and from 4000001 onwards the library name changed to Repo2. Similarily the next library Repo3 is required for the item id = 4000001 + 4000000 = 8000001. So on and on…

Note: We can utilize elevated privilege code to create the library with the required name on the fly whenever it is needed.

To get to the folder to which the item will be saved with in the library use the following algorithm.


Input: [itemid : integer]
step 1: set variable thresholdItems = 2000
step 2: var delta = itemid/(thresholdItems)
step 3: delta = Math.Ceiling(delta);
Output: delta

Sample Runs:

Input Output
1 1
837 1
2000 1
2001 2
3500 2
4000 2
4001 3

As you can see the folder name result changes for every 2000th item. So all the items with id between 1 and 2000 goes to the folder named “1”. All the items with id between 2001 and 4000 goes into folder named “2”. So on and on..

Note: once again you can always use elevated privilege code to create the folders on the fly as and when needed.

Below is the final outcome of this solution:

Since we now have the library name and folder name we can build the complete path/url easily. The format will be http://yoursitecollection.com/libraryname/foldername/itemname. Using this and wrapped between elevated privileges if required we can always upload the file as per the derived location.

Example:
http://yoursitecollection.com/Repo1/1/1.xml
http://yoursitecollection.com/Repo1/1/1500.xml
http://yoursitecollection.com/Repo1/1/2000.xml
http://yoursitecollection.com/Repo1/2/2001.xml
http://yoursitecollection.com/Repo1/2/3988.xml
http://yoursitecollection.com/Repo1/2000/4000000.xml
http://yoursitecollection.com/Repo2/1/4000001.xml
http://yoursitecollection.com/Repo2/1/4001390.xml and so on and on….

I will soon provide the code to create the library/folder on the fly and also the code to upload the item to the derived location.

Remove/Hide/Customize InfoPath Forms Tool Tip

On your sharepoint front end servers, go to the following location
C:\Program Files\Common Files\Microsoft Shared\Web Server Extensions\12\TEMPLATE\LAYOUTS\INC\

Make a backup copy of ifsmain.css.
Then edit the ifsmain.css file as follows:
Search (ctrl + F) for the css class “.errorDiv”, it is something like below:

To hide/remove tool tip:
.errorDiv
{
z-index:100;position:absolute;top:0px;left:0px;display:none;width:300px;padding:2px 3px; border:1px solid  #B22828;background:#FFFED7;color:#B22828;

font-family:Verdana; font-size:x-small; text-decoration:none;font-weight:normal;

}

Modify the above script by adding “!important” just beside display:none. The modified .errorDiv is as follows:

.errorDiv
{
z-index:100;position:absolute;top:0px;left:0px;display:none !important;width:300px;padding:2px 3px;
border:1px solid #B22828;background:#FFFED7;color:#B22828;

font-family:Verdana;
font-size:x-small;
text-decoration:none;font-weight:normal;
}

You can further customize the tool tips as per your needs if that is your requirement instead of hiding it.

The only drawback with this approach is that it will affect the complete server farm. Thus, all the infopath forms on all the sites will be affected with this change.

Update (12/1/09):

Good news is that we were able to figure out how to customize the tool tip specific to a site or page level thus avoiding the drawback mentioned in the above method of implementation. Using a content editor web part you can insert the required Html (also CSS) into a page. Leveraging this technique we were able to add a content editor web part (CEWP) to our custom application page which hosts the infopath form. This content editor web part envelopes the CSS changes required to the tool tip. Below is the CEWP content we added to our page:

<WebPartPages:ContentEditorWebPart runat=”server” __MarkupType=”xmlmarkup” WebPart=”true” __WebPartId=”{87D17157-ECD0-49D6-9906-2DAA4C400992}”>
<WebPart xmlns:xsi=”http://www.w3.org/2001/XMLSchema-instance&#8221; xmlns:xsd=”http://www.w3.org/2001/XMLSchema&#8221; xmlns=”http://schemas.microsoft.com/WebPart/v2″&gt;
<Title>Content Editor Web Part</Title>
<FrameType>None</FrameType>
<Description>Use for formatted text, tables, and images.</Description>
<IsIncluded>true</IsIncluded>
<PartOrder>1</PartOrder>
<FrameState>Normal</FrameState>
<Height />
<Width />
<AllowRemove>true</AllowRemove>
<AllowZoneChange>true</AllowZoneChange>
<AllowMinimize>true</AllowMinimize>
<AllowConnect>true</AllowConnect>
<AllowEdit>true</AllowEdit>
<AllowHide>true</AllowHide>
<IsVisible>true</IsVisible>
<DetailLink />
<HelpLink />
<HelpMode>Modeless</HelpMode>
<Dir>Default</Dir>
<PartImageSmall />
<MissingAssembly>Cannot import this Web Part.</MissingAssembly>
<PartImageLarge>/_layouts/images/mscontl.gif</PartImageLarge>
<IsIncludedFilter />
<ExportControlledProperties>true</ExportControlledProperties>
<ConnectionID>00000000-0000-0000-0000-000000000000</ConnectionID>
<ID>g_87d17157_ecd0_49d6_9906_2daa4c400992</ID>
<ContentLink xmlns=”http://schemas.microsoft.com/WebPart/v2/ContentEditor&#8221; />
<Content xmlns=”http://schemas.microsoft.com/WebPart/v2/ContentEditor”>&lt;![CDATA[<style type=”text/css”>
.errorDiv
{
z-index:100;position:absolute;top:0px;left:0px;display:none;width:200px;padding:2px 3px;border:1px solid #B22828;background:#FFFED7;color:#B22828;font-family:Arial;
font-size:xx-small;
text-decoration:none;font-weight:normal;
}
.errorDivClickable
{
z-index:100;position:absolute;top:0px;left:0px;display:none;width:300px;padding:2px 3px;
border:1px solid #B22828;background:#FFFED7;color:#B22828;
font-family:Arial;
font-size:xx-small;
cursor:pointer;cursor:hand;font-weight:normal;
}
</style>]]></Content>
<PartStorage xmlns=”http://schemas.microsoft.com/WebPart/v2/ContentEditor&#8221; />
</WebPart>
</WebPartPages:ContentEditorWebPart>

InfoPath Form HyperLink Open in Same Window

Problem: The hyperlink control in a browser enabled infopath form opens up in a new window. This might not be a good thing as a usability perspective. It might work for some and might not for many. This post is for those ‘many’.

Solution:

Note: This solution is valid only for the forms with managed code behind.

The solution I have is very trivial. Just drop a button on the form, stylize it to change its look and feel like an hyperlink. Then on the button click event of the form, just redirect the page to the URL you wanted to. There is a catch or two here.

A) On the click event, you make sure that the existing web request is completed before redirecting to your desierd page. So the code should look something like this:

HttpContext.Current.Response.Redirect(“http://somesite.com/page.html&#8221;,  false);

Passing the second parameter as ‘false’ we are ensuring that the current web request is completed and then redirected.

B) To make the button to be a hyperlink you need to do the following:

Right click the button select ‘borders and shading’, select None under presets. Then under the ‘shading’ tab select the radio button for ‘No color’. Then change the font color to blue(hyperlinks are usually blue) and make it underlined.

After doign all this there is still one thing that remains, i.e the mouse turning into a hand on hover over the button. To accomplish this, from file menu, select save as source files. From the source files, edit the view1.xls file, to set the style to cursor:pointer for the button element. Then open up the manifest.xsf in design mode. You will see the button as an hyper link including mouse hover.

Update (09/03/09):

There is a kind of caveat for the above implementation. Whenever the Response.Redirect is done, the new page from code behind of the InfoPath Form, eventhough the page is redirected, the URL in the browser address bar remains the same. It behaves as the Server.Transfer method.

To fix this anomaly the workaround is redirect to an intermediary page which in turn redirects to the actual page you want to redirect. The intermediary page could be a simple page with java script redirect method.

Share InfoPath Forms Tool: Deploy InfoPath Forms as a WSP Solution

Project Description
Share InfoPath Forms Tool helps make those rigid InfoPath forms sharable in SharePoint. Deployment of InfoPath Forms was never an easy task. Unlike the traditional approach of installing as a form template using stsadm commands, this tool packages delivers a WSP easing deployment.

You can download it from: http://shareinfopathforms.codeplex.com/

Project Details
-History:
I worked on a project were we had to design and deploy around 200 InfoPath forms. And each form has code behind too. So deployment of each form through Central Admin is ruled out. The next best thing we can do was using the stsadm commands. Yes, it did helped ease our job. Thus I went ahead and I built a tool which generates and/or run those stsadm commands for a given form. This tool has been on codeplex since a long time. You can get it at: http://infopathformsinstall.codeplex.com. But then it wasn’t enough. Why?

-Why:
Why did I develop this tool then? It is because even though the stsadm commands helped me solve the problem it wasn’t the best solution. Those commands run forever to complete, its CPU intensive and boring to death. So after some hiatus I found out how easy it was install those forms as a WSP solution and that is the ‘why’ this tool is developed.

-Whom:
To whom is this tool targeted? This tool was initially developed to give it to the SharePoint administrators so that they can deploy all those forms at once. And also, they can activate those forms with a single click. Nonetheless this tool can be used by a SharePoint developer for deploying a form in the local dev environment.

-How:
How to use this tool? Please see the screen shot below. Below are steps in brief:

1. Foremost point, this tool has to be executed by placing it on the server with SharePoint/MOSS installed on it.
2. Select all the published forms from your local drive or the network shared location.
3. If you don’t want to publish few of those forms you can remove them off the list using the ‘remove form’ button below.
4. InfoPath forms may or may not have code behind. In our case all the forms has the code behind but we developed the code in such a way that all the forms point to the same DLL. So in the common settings panel in the right you have to select if your forms has code behind and if you know the path to the DLL. If not just allow the tool to find out the DLL. How does the tool find out the DLL? Read it below.
5. Firstly hit the ‘Generate Features’ button which will generate the 12 Hive/Root structure in the output folder within the project directory. You can check out those feature folders under Output/12/TEMPLATE/FEATURES/
6. Next you hit the ‘Create WSP’ which will create the WSP for all those features and place the WSP file in the Output folder.
7. You can install the WSP right from this tool but that your choice. Once you hit the ‘Install WSP’ button it will prompt you for the site collection URL.
8. Deployment is one complete process and then the next step would be to activate each form from the site collection features page. So, to avoid that you can hit the ‘Activate Features’ button which will activate all those forms which are just installed. This could be a little bit time consuming and CPU intensive.

shareipforms

Enhancements to be released
Below are the items still under development:
* Create a SharePoint form library and enable the library to inherit a form content type.
* Associate an uploaded form template with a form library.
* Other settings (remove New Folder, Open in browser etc)
* Attach Workflow to the form content type. A workflow manager is almost ready to be released. Expect next week.

Download the tool: http://shareinfopathforms.codeplex.com/

InfoPath Managed Form Templates Deployment Tool for SharePoint

This tool is an effort towards helping all those who are working on InfoPath Forms with SharePoint. It helps to upload/install, re-install, upgrade a form template with just a click of the button. The tool also can help in generating a script/batch file so that you can run it manually later on. Also, the tool has ‘Feature Management’ addon, using which you can see a list of activated and deactivated features using a filter if needed. It also provides the ability to activate, deactivate and uninstall a feature.
You can get the tool and read more about it at http://www.codeplex.com/InfoPathFormsInstall
Please let me know of the bugs and enhancements if anyone uses it.
Below is the screen shot of the tool:

InfoPath Form Template Deployer

InfoPath Form Template Deployer

InfoPath Managed Form Templates – upload status stuck or remains forever in ‘installing’ or ‘deleting’ state

The standard approach to upload any managed form template is to go to central admin and select ‘Manage form templates’ and upload the form template. The process isn’t complete, the ‘status’ column should show as ‘Ready’, only then we can activate it to a site collection. Once we upload the status shows as ‘Installing’ and once the SharePoint timer job kicks in it completes the installation behind the scenes and the status is changed to ‘Ready’. The same happens with ‘Deleting’ which completes only when the timer job completes it.

This whole process is long and gruesome if we have to repeat for many forms so I posted some time back on how to use stsadm.exe script to upload/delete/update the managed form templates. That works great.

But it didn’t work for few days back, once the upload is done, the status remained as ‘Installing’ forever . I ran the ‘stsadm.exe -o execadmsvcjobs’ command which forces the timer jobs to complete. Even that didn’t help. Just to get rid of the form, I opted to remove the template which changed the status column to ‘Deleting’ which remained like that forever.

I then started looking out for the reasons behind this weird behavior, and I see that either there should be a problem with the form template itself or the server farm. I ruled out the first reason because, I was not able to complete the upload process for none of the forms.

So, the problem is with the server farm, in which we have a single application server, a single front end web server and a database server. For the upload process to complete, the form template has to be propagated properly to all the servers in the farm. For this propagation, there are 2 important services which should be ON and working, they are:
SPTimerV3 and
SPAdmin
Run the following command to make sure those services are up and running on the servers in the farm:

  • net start SPTimerV3
  • net start SPAdmin

I checked the both on App and Front end servers and both those services were up and running. I was taken aback because this leads me to no where but back to the problem. After some time I ran those commands on the Database server too and I found that the SPAdmin service was not started on it. Once it is started all my form templates worked like a magic.

So just make sure the above services are up and running on not just the application and front end web servers but also on the database servers. Here is a good post which talks about the same.

UPDATE: I completely missed writing about how to undo the stalled status after uploading the form. Please follow the below instructions as per the post I mentioned above:

From Central Administration, go to the Operations page, under the Global configuration group, click on Timer Job Status.  On that page, look for timer jobs that have the name in the following formatting.  If you filename is FOO.xsn, it will look like:
Windows SharePoint Services Solution Deployment for “form-FOO.wsp”

See if there was a failure.  If so, go back a page, and go to Timer Job Definitions.  Drill down in the timer job definition that you care about and you can perform the following:

>> For the case of status stuck on “Uploading”:
1.       Try to restart the job if that is available.
2.       If restart is not available, delete the job, then attempt to upgrade again.

>> For the case of status stuck on “Upgrading”:
1.       Try to restart the job if that is available.
2.       If restart is not available, delete the job, then attempt to upgrade again.

>> For the case of status stuck on “Removing”:
1.       Try to restart the job if that is available.
2.       Else, Remove the job. (continue to step 3)
3.       Then, go back to the Manage Form Templates and try again to Remove the form template.

In simple terms, open the Timer Job Definitions and open the wsp entry you are having the problem with and delete it. Now go back to the ‘Manage Form Templates’ page and delete the problematic form template.