The following links are the most important references about EWM work item configuration and attribute customization.
- Customization of Work Items in Rational Team Concert
- Work Items Attribute Customization Wiki page
- Work Item Customization in Rational Team Concert
- Work item editor presentations
- Defining URIs for artifact types, attributes, and other resources
- Read-only control for Work Item attributes in Rational Team Concert
- Changing your RTC Process Configuration – Best Practices
- RTC Process Customization – What you can and cannot do
- Process Enactment Workshop for the Rational solution for Collaborative Lifecycle Management has the last two labs explaining attribute customization.
About Jazz.net forum questions
A lot of the input that I take under consideration comes from questions and answers on the Jazz.net forum. Some of the examples originate from customer requests.
Questions on Jazz.net and even customer requests do often not provide good requirements. They often provide some implementation idea instead. The real problem or business case is usually hidden and not exposed. So it is important to question the request to drill down and expose why the question was asked as it is and what the background of the question is. If the real reason for the question is exposed, the answer can be completely different.
One example is: “Can I auto subscribe users to a work item?”. In pretty much all cases I can remember, the purpose of this was to send an e-mail notification to a user e.g. when the work item was created. Adding a user to the subscribers might or might not be a viable solution, but the example clearly exposes the problem.
So take the questions on Jazz.net with a grain on salt and try to dig deeper to understand what the question is really about.
What is Process Configuration and Attribute Customization?
EWM allows to configure the process of a project area. There are several options that can be used.
- Work items, work item attributes, editor presentations, workflows can be configured.
- Roles can be configured
- Permissions can be configured
- Operational behavior can be configured using out of the box preconditions and follow up actions.
Attribute Customization is a work item related capability provided by EWM. It provides built-in capabilities that can be configured and thus be considered process configuration as mentioned above.
The capability types available for configuration are:
- Default value provider for built in attribute types.
- Calculated value provider to support calculation with work item attributes to support certain processes.
- Value Sets to provide customized sets of selectable values for work item attributes. Built in value sets allow to extract string values from an XML page in the Web, select contributors by role and allow to select enumeration vales based on other dependent enumerations.
- Validators to validate values of attributes based on range or regular expressions. Validators can show a warning in the UI and be used with a built in advisor to prevent saving a work item, unless the offending attribute values are corrected.
- Conditions can be used with built in advisors to make work item attributes read-only or required. There is no built in condition available at this time.
What is special about Attribute Customization?
The danger is that the low skill cap attracts very inexperienced users, which can eventually lead to issues, including server performance issues. Some of the capabilities can be overused. There is also a tendency to overcomplicate the work item workflow and the process.
Attribute Customization is configured on the attribute level. This means that any attribute customization will apply to all work item types that have the attribute configured.
The API description in the Work Items Attribute Customization Wiki page explains which work item attribute value types are supported. Only very basic attribute types such as strings, numbers, enumerations, timestamps and dates are really supported. Especially note that the support for complex item based attribute types such as team areas, contributors etc. is very limited. For a those attributes, all you can access is the UUID and the display name. If you want to set such values, you must return the UUID of the item.
It is also very easy to annoy the users with overcomplicated processes, thousands of choices, required attributes nobody knows the values for etc. In general big numbers are bad and small numbers are good. When drop down boxes grow too big and the number of items ever increases, the users will be affected in their ability to successfully use the process. I have seen cases where the users got confused and did not realize that they had to enter a value and complained the UI had stopped. Overcomplicated processes will likely cause performance complaints and wear away the will to support the chosen tool and process.
There are limitations in the amount of custom attributes for a work item type (100). Having a lot of work item types is also not helping to make the process easier. Keep numbers low e.g. 10 would be a guidance for work item types.
Also keep in mind that there are size limits for all work item attribute types. Especially note that for list type attributes there is a size limit. How many selections can be stored is limited by the site of the list attributes and the size of the ID’s or item UUID’s that are stored.
Where and when is Attribute Customization not executing
Work Item Proxy
There are several posts on the Jazz.net that discuss how the proxy could be used. Again, it is internal API and should not be used, if you do, you are on your own. There might be unwanted side effects and the internal API could change at any time.
Why does my script not work?
This question comes up often on the forum. It is pretty much impossible to debug others scripts on Jazz.net. There are reasons for that:
- Java Script Attribute Customization depends on the process used in the project area. The community does not have and, due to privacy, security and other concerns will not get this.
- It is quite some effort to setup a test project area, even if one would have a process template.
So it is usually impossible to help on this level. What can be done is scanning the script and the description in the question for typical issues.
- Attachment Scripts must be enabled in the advanced teamserver.properties to be working – see below.
- The script must be accessible in the process.
- The script files encoding must be UTF-8 and consistent so the file can be read, interpreted and executed.
I will try to provide some details here.
- Attribute customization is for the attribute. This means especially that the customization will be executed in all work item types that have the attribute configured.
- Attribute customization scripts can run multiple times, for example the calculated values might execute multiple times, based on changes to the other attributes they depend on.
- Even the available data of a work item is limited. As an example, a workflow action for a state change is only available in conditions. It is not available in any other attribute customization types, especially not in calculated values. This essentially means, there is no simple way of tracking and detecting a workflow state change.
Java Eclipse plugin extension based Attribute Customization
The Java based attribute customizations would show up in the Admin UI in the same way the built in Attribute customization does. To make this possible the Java based Eclipse plugins need to be deployed in the Eclipse client as well as the EWM Server (see here). The API that is available to the Eclipse client and the server is the EWM Common SDK API. Consider reading this blog post to better understand what this means. The requirement to deploy these extensions on the EWM server are a potential inhibitor for cloud based deployments.
EWM Eclipse Plugin Extensibility
Java base attribute customization is only a subset of the Java Eclipse plugin extensibility available in EWM. The SDK provided for EWM allows to develop all kinds of extensions, including pre-conditions, follow up actions and asynchronous tasks. It is possible to develop such extensions to run in the context of the Eclipse client or on the server. These extensions need to be deployed in the context they are developed for. Server extensions have access to the full capabilities of the EWM Common SDK API and the EWM Server SDK API.
Preconditions also called Advisors can act as process advisors that prevent saving if the data violates some standards. Preconditions can be used to implement attribute customization validators or conditions. Example Advisors can be found here.
Follow up actions, also called Participants can perform additional operations on the EWM data. As an example, follow up actions can collect data across linked artefacts, perform calculations on the data, set attributes and properties for items and save the changes. Example participants can be found here. This includes the capability to create new work items and link the new work items to other work items.
In some cases it is better to use these capabilities instead of attribute customization, because it provides more API than even the Java based attribute customization.
All plugin based solutions require to be deployed. Server extensions require to be deployed in the server, which might be a blocker in an environment hosted as a service in the cloud.
In the next sections, I will try to provide some examples of popular requests. I will describe the background these request have, as far as I can tell, and which implementation options might be viable.
Popular: Custom E-Mail Notification
This comes up in various flavors. Examples are
- Can I automatically set an owner of a work item?
- Can I automatically subscribe a user to a work item?
A Java based attribute customization plugin would have more API access and can provide better control and automation.
A real custom mail notification is possible using the following approaches
- Custom scheduled asynchronous tasks (see Due Date Notifier).
- Custom follow up actions that trigger at work item save.
The last three options require to write custom Java extension plugins and their deployment on the application server, which makes it less attractive in a cloud environment.
As an alternative, EWM has other mechanism that might be better suited. For example there are RSS feeds for various change events, work item queries and dashboards. These do not send e-mail, but they might scale better than e-mail notifications.
Keep in mind that the e-mail notification options are controlled at user level by the user. A real Java Eclipse plugin that sends custom e-mail notifications could work without the need to be correctly configured at user level.
Popular: Calculation with work item attributes
This is often requested to calculate effort or something similar.
It is also possible to use external tools based on API to collect data and then update work items e.g. in scheduled jobs.
Popular: Calculate how Often a work item was in a specific state
I have seen this several times. There is no easy way to detect work item changes. It might be possible to use an approach as shown below to detect this, but I am not sure if this idea below would really work.
With some tricks and several hidden custom attributes for state tracking ST1, ST2 and counting STC, it might be possible to cobble something together. E.g. initialize the hidden state tracking attributes st1 and st2 with a default based on the state ‘New’.
The calculated value of ST1 is triggered and calculated based on the current value of the work item state attribute. If the current state is not the value of ST1 return the new current value.
Calculate the counter based on a triggered change of ST1. If ST1 contains the desired state, return the current value of STC increased by one.
Calculate the value of ST2 when ST1 was changed. Return the value of ST1 as result to the calculated value.
This requires some intelligent usage of the dependent attributes. It might be necessary to use more artificial attributes to get this working. This attempt has however many downsides, especially the custom attributes are all showing up in the history and also create more changes in the work item.
It would be easier to develop a follow up action that actually works on the state change, if this is necessary. It would be important to see if reporting can be used instead.
Popular: Make work item attributes read-only or required
In my experience with requests like here and in this post, to make attributes required or read only, are often motivated by the desire to have more fine grained control. Consider to use permissions to prevent roles from changing attributes.
Requests like above are also often motivated by the desire to make EWM work like some legacy tool. My experience so far has always been, that trying to make a tool work against its design is usually fatal. It usually makes the process hard to understand and follow. It also often degrades usability and performance.
Since every user in EWM has at least the default role (Everyone), can have many roles, and the roles have an order, it is also debatable what ‘by role’ really means.
Popular: Dynamically Hiding Work Item Attributes
I have also seen several requests that want to make attributes hidden by some complex, usually role based rule. This is not possible today, regardless the approach.
There are very limited capabilities to control visibility built into EWM. Attributes can be hidden if they are empty, if the work item is in a workflow state, if some endpoint is empty, if there is no project link and if the work item is just created. An editor presentation tab can be hidden, if all contained attribute presentations are empty.
There is no extension point, and there is no attribute customization available, I am aware of, that would allow customize the behavior in any other way.
There are various enhancement requests for EWM in this context. I think it would be nice if there was a custom attribute customization option that could be used with a precondition e.g. ‘Hide for condition’ that could be used similar to ‘Read only for condition’. This would allow to hide attributes that are unimportant. The question is, if it is helpful when attributes show up and vanish for the same attribute type. This is at least debatable. As a user I would likely find this confusing. As always, keep in mind this could open the door for performance issues and abuse. The remark about roles and their usage in EWM also applies.
Please note, just because an attribute is not visible in the work item editor, presentation does not make it inaccessible by work item queries or reports. EWM was also designed for collaboration and not hiding.
Popular: Dynamic workflow
I don’t know where this comes from. I doubt this is a thing in other tools for change tracking, but it cam up more than once.
EWM/RTC does not support dynamically changing the workflow of an instance of a work item. The workflow is tied to the work item type. It would be possible to use a follow up action/Participant to change the work item type under certain circumstances. Due to the lack of support for detecting a state change and the lack of access to other data in attribute customization, it would be not feasible to use attribute customization. A participant is a far better option.
Popular: Dynamic creation of attributes
This came up several times.EWM does not officially support this. It is possible to create an attribute using the API, but this attribute does not surface in the admin UI. It is necessary to add statements to the process XML to make such an attribute configurable in the process and the editor presentations.
This is used by some integrations just once and not meant to be used constantly during operations. Also mind the limit of custom attributes and consider usability of the process.
Restrict Read Access To Data
Some customers want to have more control about who can access which data. EWM has the capability to restrict work item and SCM item read access permission based on access context. If an item can not be read, it can also not be written.
For work items, the restricted access context can be an access group, project area, or team area. It is possible to automate setting the work items restricted access based on categories. This sets the access context to the process area associated with the work item category. This is the only built in automation for category based work item access control. There is no other built in automation for work items e.g. enabling the automatic selection of an access group for the work item.
For SCM data there are more options to set the access context/visibility. Components can have access control set to a project area or an access groups. SCM content in a component, folders, files, can be configured more fine grained. It is possible to limit access to a contributor, a project or team area or an access group. There is no built in automation to set the access context for SCM items.
It is possible to create custom automation to set the access context for work items and SCM items. One implementation approach is using follow up actions. For work item restricted access this can be configured for the work item save operation. For SCM objects follow up actions for the check in and deliver operation could be developed to compute the desired access context. I have explained some of the options in the blog series Setting Access Control Permissions for SCM Versionables.
In contrast to my knowledge back then, I know today, that it is possible to elevate the operation context to an administrator, why this is important is explained in the second last paragraph.
Java Based attribute customization could be more feasible, but it is most likely not possible to elevate the operation to super user access due to the limitation of the available API to the common API. I would consider this approach to be unfeasible for any relevant complexity.
If it is necessary to develop a Java Eclipse plugin for attribute customization anyway, it looks to be more suitable to create a follow up action to automate setting the access context. This allows to use the full capabilities of the EWM SDK common and server API and it is possible to elevate the operation to run in an administrator/super user context.
The reason why it would it beneficial to run the operation in an administrator context is, that the operational behavior usually runs with the permissions and limitations of the user that performs the save operation. This also means the operation fails, if the permissions are preventing it. This limits what can be done. For example it is impossible to change the access context of an item in a way that makes it inaccessible to the user performing the operation. The operation would fail. Elevating the operation to run in an administrator context, would allow such an operation to be successfully executed, regardless of the repository access and permissions of the regular user triggering the operation.
I would suggest to not try to use attribute customization for these use cases.
For more complex problems, the Eclipse plugin Extensibility is a better option, regardless if it is the Java based attribute customization, or Eclipse plugin based EWM extensions, just because the APIs provided in the EWM SDK are so much richer.
This was quite some effort. As always, I hope that this is useful to someone out there.