Andy in the Cloud

From BBC Basic to Force.com and beyond…

Using Action Link Templates to Declaratively call API’s

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ActionLinkSetupSalesforce recently introduced a new platform feature which has now become GA called Action Link Templates. Since then its been staring me in the face and bugging me that i didn’t quite understand them until now…

While there is quite a lot of information in the Salesforce documentation, i was still a bit lost as to what even an Action Link was. It turns out that they are a means to define actions that can appear in a Chatter Post to call external or Salesforce web based API’s. Thus allowing users to do more without leaving their feed.

After realising its a means to link user actions with API’s. I could not resist exploring further with one my favourite external API’s, from LittleBits. The LittleBits cloud API can be used with cloud connected devices constructed by snapping together modules.

The following shows a Chatter Post i created with an Action Link button on it that without any code calls the LittleBits API to cause my device to perform an action. You can read more about my past exploits with Littlebits devices and Salesforce here.

ActionLinkPrimary

It appears for now at least, that such Chatter Posts need to be programatically created and as such lend themselves to integration use cases. While it is possible to create Chatter Posts with Action Links in code without using a template, thats more coding, and doesn’t encourage reuse of Action Link definitions which can also be packaged btw. So this blog focuses, as always on the best practice of balancing the best of declarative with minimal of coding to create the post itself. So first of all lets get some terminology out of the way…

  • Action Link, can actually be rendered as a button or a menu option that appears inline in the chatter post or in the overflow menu on the post. The button can either call an API, redirect to another web site or offer to download a file for the user. You have to add a Action Link to an Action Link Group before you can add it to a Chatter post.
  • Action Link Group, is a collection of one or more Action Links. The idea is the group presents a collection of choices you want to give to the user, e.g Accept, Decline. You can define a default choice, though the user can only pick one. Think of it like a group of radio controls or a choices type UI element. As mentioned above you can create both these 100% in code if you desire.
  • Action Link Group Template, is as the name suggests similar to the above, but allows for declarative definition and then programatic application of the buttons to be separated out. Once you start defining Action Links you’ll see they require a bit of knowledge about the underlying API. So in addition to the reuse benefit, a template is a good way to have someone else or package developer do that work for you. In order to make them generic, you can define place holders in Action Links, called bindings, that allow you to vary the information passed to the underlying API being called.

To define an Action Link you need to create the Action Link Group. Because we are using a template, this can be done using point and click. Under the Setup menu, under Create, you’ll find Action Link Templates, click New.

ActionLinkGroup

The Category field allows you to determine where the Action Link appears, in the body of the feed by selecting Primary action (as shown in the screenshot above) or in the overflow menu by selecting Overflow action, as shown in the screenshot below. Note that my example only defines one Action Link, you can define more.

ActionLinkOverflow

Through the Executions Allowed field, you can also determine if the Action Link can be invoked only once (first come first served) or once by each user who can see the chatter post (for example a chatter post to a group). You can read more about these and other fields here.

Your now ready to add an Action Link to the template, first study the documentation of your chosen web API, not that it can in theory be a SOAP based API, though REST is generally simpler. Hopefully, like the LittleBits API there are some samples that you can copy and paste to get you started. The following extract is what the LittleBits API documentation has to say about the API to control (output to) a device

This outputs 10% amplitude for 10 seconds:

curl -XPOST https://api-http.littlebitscloud.cc/devices/a84hf038ierj/output 
-H ‘Authorization: Bearer TOKEN’ 
-H ‘Accept: application/vnd.littlebits.v2+json’ 
–data ‘{“percent”:10,”duration_ms”:10000}’
“OK”

REST API documentation often uses a command line program called curl as an easy way to try out the API without having to write program code. In the screenshot below you can see how the curl parameters used in the extract above have been mapped to the fields when defining an Action Link. Note also that i have used the {!Bindings.var} syntax to define variable aspects, such as the deviceId, accessToken, percent and durationMs.

ActionLinkLittleBits

NOTE: The User Visibility setting is quite flexible and allows you to control who can actually press the button, as apposed to those who can actually see the Chatter Post.

Go back to your Action Link Group Template and check the Published checkbox. This makes it available for use when creating posts, but also has the effect of making certain aspects read only, such as the bindings. Though you can thankfully continue to tweak the API header and body templates defined on the Action Links.

Execute from Developer Console the following and it will create the Chatter Post shown in above. Currently neither Process Builder or Visual Flow are yet to support Action Link Templates when creating Chatter posts, which gives me an idea for a part two to this blog actually! For now please up vote this idea and review the following code.

// Specify values for Action Link bindings
Map<String, String> bindingMap = new Map<String, String>();
bindingMap.put('deviceId', 'yourdeviceid');
bindingMap.put('accessToken', 'youraccesstoken');
bindingMap.put('percent', '50');
bindingMap.put('durationMs', '10000');
List<ConnectApi.ActionLinkTemplateBindingInput> bindingInputs = new List<ConnectApi.ActionLinkTemplateBindingInput>();
for (String key : bindingMap.keySet()) {
    ConnectApi.ActionLinkTemplateBindingInput bindingInput = new ConnectApi.ActionLinkTemplateBindingInput();
    bindingInput.key = key;
    bindingInput.value = bindingMap.get(key);
    bindingInputs.add(bindingInput);
}

// Create an Action Link Group definition based on the template and bindings
ActionLinkGroupTemplate template = [SELECT Id FROM ActionLinkGroupTemplate WHERE DeveloperName='LittleBits'];
ConnectApi.ActionLinkGroupDefinitionInput actionLinkGroupDefinitionInput = new ConnectApi.ActionLinkGroupDefinitionInput();
actionLinkGroupDefinitionInput.templateId = template.id;
actionLinkGroupDefinitionInput.templateBindings = bindingInputs;
ConnectApi.ActionLinkGroupDefinition actionLinkGroupDefinition =
    ConnectApi.ActionLinks.createActionLinkGroupDefinition(Network.getNetworkId(), actionLinkGroupDefinitionInput);
System.debug('Action Link Id is ' + actionLinkGroupDefinition.actionLinks[0].Id);

// Create the post and utilise the Action Link Group created above
ConnectApi.TextSegmentInput textSegmentInput = new ConnectApi.TextSegmentInput();
textSegmentInput.text = 'Click to Send to the Device.';
ConnectApi.FeedItemInput feedItemInput = new ConnectApi.FeedItemInput();
feedItemInput.body = new ConnectApi.MessageBodyInput();
feedItemInput.subjectId = 'me';
feedItemInput.body.messageSegments = new List<ConnectApi.MessageSegmentInput> { textSegmentInput };
feedItemInput.capabilities = new ConnectApi.FeedElementCapabilitiesInput();
feedItemInput.capabilities.associatedActions = new ConnectApi.AssociatedActionsCapabilityInput();
feedItemInput.capabilities.associatedActions.actionLinkGroupIds = new List<String> { actionLinkGroupDefinition.id };

// Post the feed item.
ConnectApi.FeedElement feedElement =
    ConnectApi.ChatterFeeds.postFeedElement(
        Network.getNetworkId(), feedItemInput, null);

If you review the debug log produced the above code will output the Action Link Id. This can be used to retrieve response information from the Web API called. This is especially useful if the Web API callout failed, as only a generic failure message is shown to the end user. Once you have the Action Link Id paste the following code into Developer Console and review the debug log for the Web API response.

ConnectApi.ActionLinkDiagnosticInfo diagInfo =
    ConnectApi.ActionLinks.getActionLinkDiagnosticInfo(
        Network.getNetworkId(), '0AnG0000000Cd3NKAS');
System.debug('Diag output ' + diagInfo.diagnosticInfo);

Summary

Its true that Chatter Actions (formally Publisher Actions) are another means to customise the user experience of Chatter Posts, however these require development of Visualforce pages or Canvas applications. However by using Action Links you can provide a simpler platform driven user experience with much less coding.

By using Action Link Group Templates you can separate the concerns of delivering an integration, between those who know the external API’s and those that are driving the integration with Chatter via chatter posts referencing them. The bindings form the contract between the two.

Its also worth noting the Apex REST API‘s can be used from Action Links as well as other Salesforce API’s, in this case the authentication is handled for you, nice!

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