Having a big mouth is easy. Everyone can go on social media and tell whats wrong in the world. But did you actually try to change it? Or are you just talking about it?
Dynamics NAV is full of legacy code and even for senior developers who have been using it for a long time it’s hard to understand so every bit of cleanup and moving back to simple and easy to understand code is more than welcome.
One year ago Michael Nielsen asked me if I wanted to create a new set of reports that would replace the standard NAV reports for those in our community who use the ForNAV product. The reports had to be easy to understand and maintain, also for end users who don’t have a huge amount of experience with C/AL and our data model.
Oh, and by the way, “please start with the document reports” is what he asked.
Cool. Now what…
I’ve been working with Dynamics NAV since it was called Navision Financials. I started as an end-user with no experience in C/AL and no understanding of the data model. So all I have to do is move myself back two decades. What was so easy about Navision back then that made me able to make the move to software development.
This image shows the Sales Invoice back in those days. What made it simple?
- You were able to start designing the report from the User Interface
- You can add fields without first adding them to the dataset
- We had transheaders, transfooters, running totals etc. without code
- If you changed the sales invoice you could save the report as credit memo and proforma invoice
This image shows the Sales Invoice in NAV 2018 using Report Builder. I don’t think I have to explain why I think this is not a step forwards.
Let’s say the four things I mentioned earlier are the design goals. Let’s make it a little more challenging.
- It should be possible for users to make relatively challenging changes without needing a special license.
- Most (small) companies send reports as PDF. They should look stunning, better than the printed version.
- In the USA they have Sales Tax, not VAT. Those customers should also have an optimized experience and not be confused with wrong terminology.
- Avoid code cloning wherever possible.
- No changes to standard NAV code.
This image shows the result. I hope you agree that it looks clean and not terrifying to start with if you are not a developer with a university degree.
Let’ go through the design step-by-step to see if all the design goals are achieved.
1. Start From the User Interface
Ok, this is unfair, not my achievement, but you can start the designer from every ForNAV report directly from the Windows Client. I got this for free.
2. Add Fields without changing the Data Set
Another thing I got for free. In ForNAV you ONLY need to add the record to the dataset, not the individual fields. You can grab any field, any caption and even related tables WITHOUT doing anything in C/Side.
Let’s look at the Header.
Note that the addresses are one field. No need to do any coding, ForNAV automagically generates the address for you and uses the country code to decide how to format the postcode and country
Customer Caption & Payment Terms Caption
Do you also find these NAV terms annoying when you send documents to your customers? Do your customers understand what a “Bill-to Customer No.” means? Or “Payment Terms Code”? It would be so much nicer if this shows “Customer” and “Payment Terms”.
ForNAV allows you to print the caption of the NAV table and translates it if NAV has the translation. In NAV2018 that is 22 languages! For FREE!
This is a header in Dutch, and even the Payment Terms are translated if the translation table is used. All of this without writing a single line of code. ForNAV automatically detects the metadata and handles translation for you.
The detection is done using the Design Patterns in NAV. If your ISV solution applies these best practices you get this for free to!
If you ask anyone about their top three issues with RDLC, missing transheaders and transfooters is almost always mentioned. It makes you look like an idiot if you tell your customers that making that work requires you to count lines and even then it may go wrong. You spend hours coding.
With ForNAV running totals works like you expect but you get more! The “continued” caption is translated in all 22 NAV languages for free.
4. Change 1 report, change them all
So you finished creating the invoice layout your customer wanted. Everything prints on the correct position. Great! Congratulations. O yeah, by the way, this is also how the credit memo & order confirmation should look, and is it possible to create a pro-forma invoice in NAV?
We’ve all been there and in classic Navision there was this great trick. Export your report to a text file, use find and replace on the correct strings and voila, you had a working copy. Alternatively one could also use a compare tool because all the control id’s, function names and sections were called the same.
With RDLC this has become a challenge so to say and how nice would it be to have this back.
ForNAV allows two ways to make sure your reports are the same.
1. Master Sections
With Master Sections you can tell your report to use the layout for a specific section from another report. The controls that have identical names will be inherited and controls that are not present (the Sales Shipment does not have all the fields the Sales Invoice has) are removed.
2. File, Save As, Done
Ok, I’ll be honest, this was Michael’s idea, not mine. Look at the name of the DataItems in our ForNAV reports. The Header tables are called, eh, well, Header and the Line, this is getting boring, are called Line.
The benefit is that you can change the Data Source from one table to another and if they are “transferfields” siblings it just works. Even easier than in classic.
Right? This is where you should be enthousiastic enough to go to http://www.fornav.com and download the designer and the report pack to have a look. Go ahead, we won’t monitor you and it’s free. All you need is a Microsoft Training License and you can try the reports in the training numbering range or as a partner just use 70.000 or something like that.
You can even see what I am currently working on as we allow you to download the beta version of unreleased work.
But there is more…
If you are not tired of reading and you want to know more about how we made the standard reports even better than Navision Classic, please continue
1. Make Changes as an End User
We want users to be able to change their own reports, even if they don’t have a development license.
To do that you can create your own report layout using the standard NAV options.
Note that we don’t change the Microsoft standard code so you need to choose RDLC and NAV will tell you the report is open in Report Builder. This is not true (fortunately) since we are working with ForNAV.
Inside ForNAV you can do everything, you can even write code and add variables without any aditional license.
There are four triggers where you can add code, and you can also inherit code from a master report which reduces code cloning.
The coding experience is not fantastic but we are working on that in a next version.
2. Stunning PDF Reports
You want to be proud of your investments. If you spend a lof of money on Dynamics NAV you want to get that compliment of your customer that says WOW. Your order confirmation looks awesome.
We spent a lot of time debating about fonts, fontsize and where to put which data.
We use Segoe IU 8pt except for the legal conditions.
What makes the report stand out is the PDF watermark and the way we print the Company Information.
This makes the layout looks very clean.
3. What about the USA?
Dynamics NAV is born in Denmark and started with VAT in mind. Sales Tax was added later on and many of the Sales Tax features use the same fields and tables as VAT.
The first thing a NAV developer in the USA learns is “Yeah I know, it’s called VAT but it is showing Sales Tax”.
This may feel like not being a first class citizen.
We created a special report for Sales Tax that has specific Sales Tax captions and functionality. This makes it so much easier for users from the USA to understand their layout and avoids unnecessary questions.
4. Avoid Code Cloning
My favorite one. Try to avoid duplicate code.
Code duplication is a nightmare for maintaining code and NAV is full of it. The reason for that is very simple. The first versions of Navision had a very simple IDE. There was no “go-to definition” and all of the business logic was written in one function.
In the 1990ies Navision introduced Temporary Tables to solve that but it never really took of. Until today things like VAT calculation is copied into every table and every report that needs it.
This image illustrates code cloning. It’s taken from the Sales Invoice report in NAV 2018. The VAT buffer is populated and printed using an Integer dataitem.
Here you can see how I tried to improve the experience.
Instead of using the Integer table I directly use the VATAmountLine as a dataitem using the Temporary property that Microsoft introduced in NAV 2015.
NOTE: Because of this you cannot use our report pack in NAV 2013 or NAV 2013R2 unless you do a platform upgrade to at least NAV 2015. (I’m sorry for that)
The calculation is done in a codeunit. Let’s have a look at how this is done.
Variants, RecRef, Reflection and Classes
I don’t think you ever have to change this code, but just in case. Here is how I calculate the VAT.
Step 1 – Move the table to a RecRef variable.
This uses a Variant so you can call this codeunit with any table that has a Document/Line pattern with VAT fields
Step 2 – Make Sure you are not writing to the database
We don’t want printing the report to be slow, so I am checking if you call the API with a temporary table
Step 3 – Read the Lines
The API is called from the Header record and we use reflection to check if there are lines and if the lines table has the fields we need. The fields are used from an arguments table that I use as a class
Step 4 – Populate the VAT Amount Lines
I move the fields I found in the lines table via the arguments table to the VAT Amount Lines table.
The real black magic happens in the arguments table.
Update No. Printed and grab No. of Copies
Examples that are easier to understand are the codeunits that update the No. Printed fields and grab No. of Copies from the Customer table.
5. No Changes to Standard NAV Code
Last item on the list. We did not change any standard NAV code. You can import our objects and run them side by side with the standard NAV reports.
The first time you run a ForNAV report we will automatically launch the setup wizard
Or if you import our objects without using them we remind you next time you print a report.
The wizard will guide you through the process and at the end it will ask you to replace the reports in the Sales & Purchase report selection.