Solution Dependencies & Management

Solutions are marvellous things. They enable us to be able to package up lots of components, and deploy them to different environments all together as one single package.

However, there have been changes over time as to how solutions are used. I’m not (for the most part) going to go into the Managed VS Unmanaged debate, which I leave to people who are more in the know….

Microsoft Dynamics 365 apps are installed using solutions. Third party apps provided by Independent Software Vendors (ISVs) also use solutions.

In Power Apps, solutions are leveraged to transport apps and components from one environment to another or to apply a set of customisations to existing apps. A solution can contain one or more apps as well as other components such as entities, option sets, etc. You can get a solution from AppSource or from an independent software vendor (ISV).

Custom development should also take place within a solution, to allow it to be deployed appropriately.

But it’s important to take a closer look at how solutions work overall, as we can be involved on multiple projects within the same environment. Not only that, some solutions may require other solutions to be present first, in order to actually work! A great example of this is Master Data Management (or MDM), which is where companies have a ‘backbone’ of data, which other parts of the system then hangs off.

To understand this concept better, let’s take a quick look at solution layering.

Solution Layering

Layering occurs on the import of solutions and describes the dependency chain of components from the root solution introducing it, through each solution that extends or changes the components behaviours. Layers are created through an extension of an existing component (taking a dependency on it) or creation of a new component or version of a solution

Managed and unmanaged solutions exist at different levels within a Microsoft Dataverse environment. In Dataverse, there are two distinct layer levels:

  • Unmanaged layer. All imported unmanaged solutions and unmanaged customizations exist at this layer. The unmanaged layer is a single layer.
  • Managed layers. All imported managed solutions and the system solution exist at this level. When multiple managed solutions are installed, the last one installed is above the managed solution installed previously. This means that the second solution installed can customize the one installed before it. When two managed solutions have conflicting definitions, the runtime behaviour is either “Last one wins” or a merge logic is implemented. If you uninstall a managed solution, the managed solution below it takes effect. If you uninstall all managed solutions, the default behaviour defined within the system solution is applied. At the base of the managed layers level is the system layer. The system layer contains the tables and components that are required for the platform to function.

The following diagram introduces how managed and unmanaged solutions interact with the system solution to control application behavior.

  • The system solution represents the solution components defined within Dynamics 365 or the Power Platform. Without any managed solutions or customisations, the system solution defines the default application behaviour. Many of the components in the system solution are customisable and can be used in managed solutions or unmanaged customisations.
  • Managed solutions are installed on top of the system solution and can modify any customisable solution components or add more solution components. Managed solutions can also be layered on top of other managed solutions. As long as a managed solution enables customization of its solution components, other managed solutions can be installed on top of it and modify any customisable solution components that it provides.
  • Unmanaged customisations. All customisable solution components provided by the system solution or any managed solutions can be customized in the unmanaged customisations
  • Unmanaged solutions are groups of unmanaged customisations. Any unmanaged customized solution component can be associated with any number of unmanaged solutions. These can be edited & modified, regardless of the environment in which they’ve been deployed to
  • The ultimate behaviour of an instance of Dynamics 365 or Power Platform application is the culmination of the system solution, any managed solutions, and any unmanaged customisations.

The official stance of Microsoft, according to its Application Lifecyle Management (ALM) documentation, is that unmanaged solutions are used for development, and that managed solutions are released downstream to further environments. For bespoke solutions, however, this may not fit, and an appropriate balance must be found.

Data ‘Backbone’ & Solution Dependencies

Given the way that companies are adopting Power Platform (and Dynamics 365, of course!) it’s highly likely that we will build out system structures that will form the backbone for multiple applications on an on-going basis. With this in mind, it’s appropriate to put in place proper planning for this, to avoid any issues that could occur in the future with appropriate system designs

Solution Dependencies

When creating system structures within an environment, using unmanaged solutions, connecting two (or more) tables together will create dependencies on each other. In simple terms, if we connect Table A to Table B, there’s a reciprocal relationship created back from Table B to Table A:

This happens even if Table A is in Solution 1, and Table B is in Solution 2. If they’re in the same environment (& both solutions are unmanaged), it will create the two-way dependency.

This will cause issues if trying to deploy each solution individually, and will fail on import, as the system will require all items to be available in the solution

Workable scenario

The way in which to handle the issue of solution dependencies is to ensure that the ‘master backbone’ of system design is created in the main development environment, and then to use that in secondary development environments as the core of additional solutions:

This is in line with the emerging recent Microsoft Best Practise information around solution management (which is likely to be moving towards having a single environment per developer, rather than multiple developers working in the same environment).

The steps for doing this are as follows:

  1. Main ‘core solution’ exists (as unmanaged) within the main development environment
  2. When a project requires this to build upon:
    1. Secondary development environment is created
    1. ‘Core solution’ is exported as managed from the main development environment, & imported into the secondary development environment
    1. Project work is carried out within the secondary development environment
    1. Once project solution is complete (or when appropriate for deployment), it can be exported from the secondary development environment
      1. If deploying directly from the secondary development environment to downstream environments, it should be exported as managed
    1. The solution should be exported as unmanaged, and imported back into the main development environment. This will not cause dependencies to be created with the ‘core solution’ in it

Note: The main ‘core solution’ should consist of the items that are needed for core system work. If additional items are needed for multiple projects to work off (eg Account Manager field), this would need to be added to the core solution, rather than the individual project solution/s, as otherwise there could be further issues downstream.

If the project is completed, but requires further work to be carried out later on (or development support), then the following should be done:

  1. Secondary development environment is created
  2. ‘Core solution’ exported from the main development environment as a managed solution, and imported into the secondary development environment
  3. Project solution exported as unmanaged from the main development environment, and imported into the secondary development environment
  4. Work and/or support can be carried out within the secondary development environment, and released appropriately

I’m expecting further information around this to be released by Microsoft in due course (I’m a little surprised there’s not more out there at the moment, to be honest!). It’s vital that we ensure that we’re working with solutions in the right way, to stop any issues occurring later on down the line.

Have you ever had a problem around this? Drop a comment below – I’d love to hear your experiences!

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