Thursday, September 7, 2017

Which schema to use in the Microsoft Graph for custom metadata: Schema Extensions or Open Extensions? Or maybe neither? I need help!

[Read my follow-up post at: http://www.techmikael.com/2017/09/an-approach-to-working-with-schema.html]

I’m trying to build out a solution for custom metadata for Office 365 Groups and it’s not that easy to do the right thing. My scenario is some worker process setting data, so I’m running in an app only context, not user delegated.

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If you don’t know what I’m talking about, Schema Extensions and Open Extensions are ways to store additional metadata to objects in the Microsoft Graph. Objects can for example be a user account, an e-mail message in Exchange or an Office 365 Group object. You persist the metadata with the object, not in some outside store.

Using Open Extensions is by far the easiest, as you can define your extension and the key/value pairs of data arbitrary, using the permissions of the object you are extending. The caveat however is that you cannot filter on these metadata. Say you added metadata to e-mail messages saying it’s customer related. Using Open Extension you cannot query to retrieve only those messages tagged. For me, not being able to filter is a blocker.

This is where Schema Extensions come in. Schema Extensions are typed schemas and you can indeed filter on them. But here are the issues I have experienced so far – I might be wrong about some of these, and base them off my testing. There is a whole lot more information about schema extensions on the old Azure AD Graph docs – which may or may not have solutions to my issues.
  • Schema Extensions cannot be created using app only permissions, so you cannot really automate it, and you might need a separate ADAL app to create it from the one you use for other automation.
  • A schema can not be used before it transitions from InDevelopment to Available.
  • You cannot delete a schema which has transitioned into being Available.
  • You cannot delete properties, only add new ones once a schema is made Available.
  • You cannot add a schema which is InDevelopment to for example an Office 365 Group object, making development harder.
  • Unless you have a verified domain of com, edu, net, org, you will end up with a random prefix for your schema extension. Which means you cannot easily filter to find the schema you created, but need to loop over all to find the one ending in your name. Unless you choose to record the name, but that won’t work for a generic solution across tenants.
In order to get the most flexible solution you might want to put metadata you need to filter on in a schema extension, and all others as open extension data. But this increases complexity as data are stored in two ways. Not the most ideal way to go, but a possibility.

Summary

While storing metadata in the Microsoft Graph seems like a good idea, as it reduces the number of moving parts, it might not be the best solution for every scenario. The ALM scenario for me right now is a bit in the wind, and perhaps storing the data outside the Microsoft Graph is a better and more flexible approach – even though I have to add more moving parts to the solution.

What’s your take?

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