Microsoft has been working towards a unified sharing experience across their cloud products. The dialogs that many are using today in Microsoft 365 services like SharePoint and OneDrive for sharing access to files is also finding its way to Power Platform.
The visible UI in a sharing dialog is only one part of the experience. Knowing what the traditional sharing experience for Dataverse records has been in Dynamics 365 and what the underlying security model consists of, the new direction can present a few surprises for app makers and admins.
For example: did you know that a user without any visible security role may be able to read the data of certain Dataverse records? Wow! That goes against everything we’ve learned about security modelling in the good ol’ XRM era. Sounds like something worth investigating a bit deeper then.
Enabling the sharing links
Since the new sharing functionality can have a big impact on the security model of your business apps, this capability needs to be consciously enabled by the administrator. I haven’t yet come across the official Docs materials for the feature. Presumably this page is where the details will eventually be published. For now, this blog post is based on my experiments of what you need to have in place (by minimum).
First, you need to enable the collaboration feature in the environment settings via Power Platform Admin Center (PPAC):
Next, you should go to the Privacy + Security page of the same environment and switch “enable sharing” to on:
As the message says, this should “allow users to share read-only links to records with other users from this environment.” I managed to get this working in a couple of different environments in our tenants, yet another demo tenant in the same European geo refused to co-operate. So, don’t be surprised if you see different results in your environments at this point.
The link sharing experience
Now that the features are turned on via PPAC, you should be able to go to a record like an account in a model-driven Power App and discover the new sharing menu in the top right corner of the form. Selecting “copy link” will give you a standard link that is the exact same URL as you’d get from the browser’s address bar. That’s because it’s meant for “people with existing access”.
Once you click on the chevron and explore the link settings, there should be more options available (assuming the environment settings applied earlier have taken effect). Let’s select the “people in your organization with the link” option this time:
Now we get a URL that is appended with parameters “shareLink” and “sig”. These are the magic keys to authorize someone who does NOT have existing access to the record in Dataverse.
To validate how the feature actually works, I used our sandbox tenant’s user account FF App User as the guinea pig. First, as an administrator I went and removed any existing security roles for this user from the environment. Then I ran the diagnostics test from the user list in PPAC. A warning was displayed, saying “this user doesn’t have any security roles assigned directly to them”. Looks perfect for our testing purposes.
(I actually also removed the license, yet that didn’t get flagged in the diagnostics test. Oh well, we all know how mysterious the license assignment and validation in Power Platform can be, so let’s ignore it this time.)
Opening the naked URL of the Power Platform environment with this user account resulted in a screen saying “we can’t find any apps for your role”. Under normal circumstances, this would be the end of the road for a user.
This user has a special trick up his sleeve, though: the sharing link with the secret access code parameters. Using it allows us to open the account form outside any Model-driven app module. Yes, it’s read-only as the feature’s description text suggested, but from a viewing perspective this record form seems fully functional.
How far do the sharing rights go?
If we’d go back to our admin user’s profile and re-run the user diagnostics in PPAC, we’d see that there still aren’t any security roles assigned for the FF App User. Let’s visit the sharing dialog of the single record instead and go to “manage access”.
This screen shows us that we have one sharing link generated for the account in question, with read permissions. Also, since FF App User has accessed the record via the link, the user account is listed under “shared with”.
Time to go deeper still, so let’s open XrmToolBox. Using the Access Checker plugin, we can run a test for the specific account record and the specific user account. We do indeed see that when called via the API, the user has both read and share privileges for this record:
Could we find out even more about how the privileges are applied? Sure! Another plugin in XrmToolBox, “Your User Security – Magnified”, gives us a very interesting output for the FF App User account:
As many of you know, there are plenty of system metadata tables (entities) that the user must be able to read for the application to function properly. Things like “attribute” or “user” are therefore understandably opened up for the FF App User account upon sharing the record.
There are plenty of real business tables listed in that output, too. Contact and activity, for example. While the privileges are granted only in the user’s scope (meaning only records that the user is an owner of), this made me go back and think: what else did we see on the account form when we opened that one record?
Activities related to the account show up on the timeline. In addition, we’re able to navigate to their forms. We do also see the primary field values of anything that’s in a lookup, such as the regarding opportunity name.
Clicking on lookups, such as the contacts that are activity parties, will show an error message on missing read access rights. So, the security model is still enforced as expected, meaning we couldn’t just navigate via links to other records. It’s not just the lack of a surrounding app and its navigation that is missing from this user, there’s access checks also on the server side of course.
It’s good to keep in mind that the modern collaboration features are currently enabled only for certain tables: account, contact, opportunity, case. There may be more configuration options ahead for how the sharing links work once the feature reaches general availability.
Sharing within Microsoft Teams
The primary scenario that these internal sharing links have surely been designed for is collaboration within Teams. Already back in July 2021 it was announced by Satya Nadella that “Teams customers will receive access to Dynamics 365 data within Teams at no extra cost.” We’ve been waiting for that possibility to arrive ever since.
Given how the concept of sharing access to data has been radically different between a document world like SharePoint and a business record world like Dynamics 365, there has understandably been a lot of work needed to be done on the platform side. Now that the share links infrastructure appears to be in place, are we ready for the collaborative apps story to come to life?
Although the sharing capabilities are a Power Apps feature, there doesn’t yet appear to be the needed pieces in place on the Teams side for any low-code apps to take advantage of record sharing. However, if we test the sharing links in a Dynamics 365 enabled environment and with the Dynamics 365 Teams app deployed for the user, things start to light up:
Pasting the link into a Teams chat will now unfurl the contents and show an information card preview of the record. We also get the option to view the full record in the context of Teams, via the “view details” button. These are small yet important steps in allowing people to get work done within the platform that is Microsoft Teams, without needing to look for the details in another browser window.
We’re still missing some of the elements showed by Microsoft as part of their collaborative apps story, like Context IQ for at-mentioning a Dataverse record or Loop components to embed live data into messages in Teams or Outlook. While we wait for a delivery timeline on those elements, at least this easy record sharing feature in Power Apps model-driven apps has a target GA date for September 2022.