InfoPath Replacements & Migrations on SharePoint
From the very beginning, one of the primary uses of SharePoint Server was the development of custom solutions based on the SharePoint platform. Whether it was simple data entry forms, workflow interactions and endpoints, or even complex business solutions, there was always a need for designing forms for data entry, editing, and viewing.
Simply put, standard SharePoint list forms were adequate for basic needs and scenarios. But in many ways, they lacked the critical features that users needed, including the ability to efficiently change layouts and apply dynamic behaviors to control fields.
To address these shortcomings, Microsoft offered InfoPath, a proprietary forms services solution, as a part of SharePoint Enterprise Edition. However, InfoPath forms were deprecated a few years ago, reopening many of the gaps that it initially set out to fill.
In this blog, we’ll explore how to migrate InfoPath forms from SharePoint, call out some of the best InfoPath replacements, and help you get back on track to effective collaboration.
What is InfoPath?
To sum it up, InfoPath offered a decent forms designer, control behaviors and validation, and a rudimentary code backend for implementing actions on data change. InfoPath was great for simple solutions which required forms, but it lacked the advanced data control and processing features to accommodate complex solutions. In fact, its limitations often prompted developers to abandon InfoPath projects in favor of custom web parts and applications.
However, InfoPath was still the preferred solution of choice for designing forms on SharePoint lists and form libraries. Its users varied between citizen developers who wanted to improve the forms design in SharePoint lists to professional developers who used InfoPath with multiple connections and custom code to create semi-complex business applications.
Becoming Legacy Technology
When Microsoft retired InfoPath in 2014, it didn’t come as much of a surprise. InfoPath was considered one of the legacy technologies within SharePoint, as it was fully server side, difficult to maintain, and even more challenging to migrate. It was a hopelessly outdated technology whose features were getting regularly switched off.
The planned Forms on SharePoint Lists (FOSL) release with SharePoint 2016 was officially cancelled, with no active development or foreseeable plan moving forward. After Microsoft deprecated sandbox solutions with custom code in SharePoint Online, Office 365 became a graveyard of useless InfoPath forms, meaning organizations that previously utilized InfoPath hit a dead-end.
Essentially, this was Microsoft’s way of telling InfoPath users to move on.
Getting Out of the InfoPath Trap
Getting out of the InfoPath trap and moving onto bigger and better technologies requires a comprehensive migration strategy. The key questions that need to be addressed are:
Does every InfoPath list form or form library have to be migrated?
Which data has to be migrated together with forms?
What are the best InfoPath replacements?
Let’s take a look at some of these questions in detail.
Conducting a Pre-Migration Analysis
A comprehensive analysis of your collaboration environment is a prerequisite for all form migrations. Since many forms will be unnecessary in the new environment, the first step is to create a forms or business solutions catalog and determine what to do with each list form or form library.
Specifically, you should establish if the forms still hold some sort of value for your users. If not, should it be archived with its associated data? Or is it part of an active solution that should be brought to the new technology stack and further developed?
Metalogix Expert is a free tool that helps you conduct a pre-migration analysis and assess your SharePoint environment. Its Readiness Report also helps you to locate InfoPath forms.
Rencore SPTransformator is a third-party tool that can help you answer some of the aforementioned questions. It effectively analyzes your farm, identifies InfoPath forms, and even suggests possible transformations.
Migrating InfoPath Forms
The data collected by InfoPath forms are stored as either SharePoint list data or as XML files within the SharePoint form libraries. In most cases, if you’re migrating an InfoPath-based solution, you will also want to migrate its data to the new platform.
Metalogix Content Matrix
For SharePoint list data, Metalogix Content Matrix is the industry’s best solution. It helps analyze SharePoint data structures, permissions, and associated workflows and migrates them over to the target environment. Content Matrix also supports both SharePoint On-Premises and SharePoint Online environments.
For XML data within SharePoint form libraries, migrating can be a little more difficult. If all of the necessary data has been mapped to the library metadata, then you can use Content Matrix as well, but if the data is buried inside XML files, you’ll have to write custom PowerShell scripts to access the data.
Recreating Forms & Business Solutions
Since there is no designated InfoPath migration tool on the market, forms and business solutions created with InfoPath have to be recreated and developed on the target environment. To do so, an appropriate technology stack has to effectively replace InfoPath.
For simple forms on SharePoint Online lists (which do not require any business logic or intelligence behind the design), Microsoft PowerApps can be used. However, its expression language and designing capabilities are too rudimentary for anything more complex than one-dimensional list forms, and it doesn’t work with SharePoint Server (on premises).
skybow Rich Forms
If you require feature parity with InfoPath—which is the case for all complex business solutions and forms with an advanced user interface — skybow Rich Forms is a great solution that addresses full feature parity with InfoPath.
With the inevitable decline of InfoPath looming ahead, every active user should consider an exit strategy as soon as possible, especially if they are moving into a hybrid SharePoint environment.
Though one-to-one InfoPath migration and replacement tools are not generally available on the market, there is still a broad range of high-quality tools that can help you analyze your environment, migrate data, and recreate your forms and solutions, so you can get back to ensuring user productivity and collaboration.
A great forms technology-driven platform can not only enable business solutions on top of any SharePoint environment, but it will also remain an important topic in the cloud collaboration world for a long time to come.
Adis Jugo is a software architect and trusted advisor, with over 25 years of solution delivery and IT consulting experience. Adis is Microsoft MVP for Office Development and for Office Servers and Services. He is a Director of Product Technology at skybow, company that makes platform for rapid business solutions development on SharePoint.