Wednesday, October 10, 2012

How to successfully publish custom Document Set content types - Part 1: I got 99 problems...

I recently worked on a project where we had a large number of custom content types, all based on Document Set, and we needed to publish them through a Content Type Hub. Sounds simple, right? As it turns out, it's not so straightforward.

If you've ever tried to create a custom Document Set content type through code you may have run into the problem described here -- if you do what you really should do when creating a derivative content type and set Inherits="TRUE", you end up losing all your custom XML documents. For those who don't know, let's take a look at the ramifications of that little problem.  Here's a sample custom Doc Set definition the way we would want to make it:

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="utf-8" ?>
<Elements xmlns="">
  <!-- Parent ContentType: Document Set (0x0120D520) -->
  <ContentType ID="0x0120D52000E295900502E84310BD8863E5E3468033"
               Name="My Custom Document Set"
               Group="My Custom Content Types"
               Description="A custom content type derived from Document Set"

    <Folder TargetName="_cts/My Custom Document Set" />

      <FieldRef ID="{CBB92DA4-FD46-4C7D-AF6C-3128C2A5576E}" Name="DocumentSetDescription" Hidden="TRUE" />
      <FieldRef ID="{BCD93B9E-9DFF-4AE1-BC0E-607D3ACC9218}" Name="CustomField1" DisplayName="Custom Field 1" Required="TRUE" />
      <FieldRef ID="{6692F1B7-8087-4E65-B509-C819D694FAED}" Name="CustomField2" DisplayName="Custom Field 2" Required="FALSE"/>
      <FieldRef ID="{7EC6256B-F521-4D43-B346-FE010478DDCF}" Name="CustomDateField" DisplayName="Custom Date Field" Required="TRUE" Format="DateOnly" />


      <!-- List of all fields [site columns] shared between all content types and the document set. -->
      <XmlDocument NamespaceURI="">
        <sf:SharedFields xmlns:sf="" LastModified="1/1/2010 08:00:00 AM">
          <!-- Add shared fields here using the syntax below-->
          <!--<SharedField id="00000000-0000-0000-0000-000000000000" />-->
          <SharedField id="BCD93B9E-9DFF-4AE1-BC0E-607D3ACC9218" Name="CustomField1" />
          <SharedField id="6692F1B7-8087-4E65-B509-C819D694FAED" Name="CustomField2" />
          <SharedField id="7EC6256B-F521-4D43-B346-FE010478DDCF" Name="CustomDateField" />

      <!-- Add Event Receivers-->
      <XmlDocument NamespaceURI="">
        <Receivers xmlns:spe="">
            <Assembly>MyCustomCode.MyEventReceivers, Version=, Culture=neutral, PublicKeyToken=756a9f17c5fe9a3b</Assembly>

      <!-- List of all content types that are allowed in the document set. -->
      <XmlDocument NamespaceURI="">
        <act:AllowedContentTypes xmlns:act="" LastModified="1/1/2010 08:00:00 AM">
          <!-- Add content types that will be used in the document set using the syntax below -->
          <!--<AllowedContentType id="00000000-0000-0000-0000-000000000000" />-->
          <AllowedContentType id="0x0101"/>
          <AllowedContentType id="0x01010069928169381543AC927453E7A865E300"/>

      <!-- List of all fields [site columns] that should appear on welcome page. -->
      <XmlDocument NamespaceURI="">
        <wpFields:WelcomePageFields xmlns:wpFields="" LastModified="1/1/2010 08:00:00 AM">
          <!-- Add welcome fields here using the syntax below -->
          <!--<WelcomePageField id="00000000-0000-0000-0000-000000000000" />-->      
          <WelcomePageField id="BCD93B9E-9DFF-4AE1-BC0E-607D3ACC9218" Name="CustomField1" />
          <WelcomePageField id="6692F1B7-8087-4E65-B509-C819D694FAED" Name="CustomField2" />
          <WelcomePageField id="7EC6256B-F521-4D43-B346-FE010478DDCF" Name="CustomDateField" />

      <!-- List of all default documents associated with the content types. -->
      <XmlDocument NamespaceURI="">
        <dd:DefaultDocuments xmlns:dd="" AddSetName="TRUE" LastModified="1/1/2010 08:00:00 AM">
          <!-- Add default documents using the syntax below -->
          <!--<DefaultDocument name="Sample Document.docx" idContentType="0x0101" />-->

      <!-- Documents used (OOB) -->
      <XmlDocument NamespaceURI="">
        <FormUrls xmlns="">

      <XmlDocument NamespaceURI="">
        <FormTemplates  xmlns="">

Now take a look at the XML Documents section... it's huge! If we lose our customization there, we lose the key things that make a Doc Set a Doc Set: the shared fields, the welcome page fields, the default documents, etc. Plus, if we have any custom event receivers or forms, we lose those too. That's quite a lot to lose for trying to do things correctly.

It would seem that the easy solution is to just set Inherits="FALSE", which means you then have to remember to explicitly add into the definition all the stuff you should be inheriting, like the default Doc Set event receivers.  (Which, truth be told, I did not do, and because of that ended up stumbling into my solution for all these problems, which I will describe in the next post.)  But at least all your customization remains intact. And indeed that does work if you are only deploying to one site. But what if you need to syndicate your Doc Sets through content type publishing? Well, then you might run into another problem, which shows up in the content type publishing error logs on the subscribing sites after the publishing doesn't work:
Content type 'My Custom Document Set' cannot be published to this site because feature 'MyContentTypeDefinitionsFeature' is not enabled.
Wait, what? I need to enable the feature that has my content type definitions on the site I'm trying to publish to? If I need to do that, why am I even bothering with the publishing? When I first got this error, I was left scratching my head a bit, but went ahead and obliged SharePoint and enabled the feature.  And then the publishing worked... sometimes.  And sometimes it wouldn't, and there seemed to be no rhyme or reason to when it would and when it wouldn't.  The content type publishing error logs only reported an "unknown error."  So I started digging a little deeper and cracked open the ULS logs, where I found this error:
Unable to locate the xml-definition for CType with SPContentTypeId <Content Type ID>
And to top that off, in the cases where the publishing would actually succeed, I started getting yet another problem -- anytime anyone would try to create a new Doc Set based on one of our custom types, it would fail with an error stating that the content type definition was read-only. Well of course it's read-only, it's been syndicated, that's exactly what's supposed to happen! But why is that causing a problem? If I'm getting a read-only error, that implies that SharePoint is trying to modify the content type definition itself.  Why?

I then proceeded to google the google out of Google.

After a while, I finally found a few things that helped me paint a picture of what was happening.  A very speculative picture, no doubt. I won't claim that what I thought I understood about the problems is anywhere near accurate. But, in some strange way, it made sense to me, and eventually led me to figuring out a real solution to the problem.

First, I found this question and answer on StackExchange about needing to enable the feature that held the CType definitions when trying to publish. Someone was having the same problem I was, and the answer made sense to me.  Because I had set Inherits="FALSE", SharePoint couldn't pull the XML Schema from the original definition on the Hub (or from the parent CType), but it did know what feature held the Schema, so it demanded that the feature be activated so it could access the Schema there.

Then I found this blog post about the "unable to locate the xml-definition" error in the ULS logs. It doesn't offer much information about the problem itself, but it does have one little gem that I latched on to -- the author has "seen these errors happen in environments where deployed package [sic] was deployed before." In a certain sense, during the publishing process, SharePoint is trying to deploy a content type definition to a subscribing site by pulling it from the Hub.  However, to get past the previous error, we've enabled the feature containing the content type definition on the subscribing site already, and therefore have "deployed the package before," so to speak. Now, maybe what's happening is not that SharePoint can't find the XML definition for the content type -- it's actually finding two, and can't decide which is the right one to use.

The final piece of the puzzle (third strike? last straw?) came when I cracked open a reflector and started to trace through what happens when a new Doc Set is created.  As it turns out, as part of the creation process, the DocumentSet.Provision() method is called, which will cause SharePoint to check to see if the content type definition has the default Doc Set event receivers.  If it doesn't, even though you are technically creating the Doc Set based off a list level CType definition, SharePoint will reach up to the parent definition at the site level and try to provision the event receivers there. And, since my site level definitions were read-only because they were syndicated through content type publishing... I would get a read-only error. Because (as I said earlier) I had neglected to include the default Doc Set event receivers when I originally set Inherits="FALSE".

So what it all boiled down to at this point was that I absolutely had to get things working with Inherits="TRUE". It would give me the default Doc Set event receivers which would get rid of my read-only error.  And most importantly, it would allow SharePoint to know where to pull the Schema from and enable successful publishing, while only activating the feature on the one site it should be activated on - the Content Type Hub. But...what to do about inevitably losing the custom XML Documents? I had already written all that CAML, I really didn't want to have to write some crazy huge feature receiver just to re-do all that work in code.

As it turned out, the answer was right in front of my face.

To read about what it was, and how I got everything working, stay tuned for part 2...

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