Missing metadata with Office 2003 – yet another “duh” moment…

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I had a problem this week that got resolved with something quite obvious, but I learned a lot in the process, so I am detailing it here.

Symptoms: Using MOSS 2007 SP2 and Office 2003 SP3, users complained that metadata on documents went missing. Consider the scenario below where we have a sample document library.

image

Our user opens the “Memo to Council re Convenor” document into Word 2003, makes a change and saves it. Note the difference. Where’s my metadata?

image

I asked about this on the ozmoss mailing list, and others noted the same issue. Some had applied the June 2009 cumulative update for WSS3 and the problem was solved for them. I applied this update, and it improved the situation, but did not cure the problem totally.

Upon further investigation, we were able to ascertain that the problem would only happen on certain PCs. The same user could update the same document on a different PC and it would work fine. A fiddler trace of the process allowed me to narrow down the issue and understand the sequence of events. The root cause of the issue was incorrect handling of HTML/JavaScript by Office 2003 and/or Internet Explorer. This manifests itself in an inconsistency in the display of properties in the Office “Web File Properties” dialog box (file->properties in an office 2003 app). Consider the example below.

clip_image002  clip_image002[5]

Note that the first dialog shows that values for the metadata columns are blank or default. Now consider the same document opened on a different PC. Well what do you know – we have metadata!

Fiddler confirmed that when saving a document to SharePoint from an Office 2003 application, the same HTTP request is made to SharePoint as is done when displaying the document properties in the above example.

In both cases, A HTTP GET request is made to the owssvr.dll  (WSS RPC)  and the dialogview method is called. Therefore, the root of my problem has something to do with the fact that the data returned by this call was not being parsed properly by MSWord on one PC (as illustrated by the first of the above dialog box screenshots). When a user than saved their edits, blank or default values are being written back to SharePoint, in effect “losing” the metadata.

So let’s take a look at the HTTP call and the data returned. The call to owssvr.dll  looks like this.

GET /somesite/_vti_bin/owssvr.dll?location=My%20Committee/Agenda%20attachment%20July%2009.doc&dialogview=SaveForm HTTP/1.1

The output returned by SharePoint is a bunch of HTML and JavaScript that MSWord then renders by calling the Internet Explorers rendering framework programmatically. (I’ve included sample output at the end of the post for the hardcore nerds).

So the question now becomes, what was preventing the correct HTML rendering on one PC and not the other? This was a difficult question to answer because I was unable to find a way to debug JavaScript when the output was rendered in Office 2003 apps.

When you think about it, there can be many potential causes here. Given that Internet Explorer is effectively doing the work (WinINet), this whole process could be adversely affected by add-ins, zone settings, AD policies, virus scanning, etc. On one affected PC I disabled all all-ins to Internet Explorer and retried without success. After around half an hour of frustration, I decided to reset IE’s configuration as shown below.

image

After accepting the various warnings, I retried the test and it all worked! Metadata was now being properly saved. “Awesome”, I thought. I’m not quite sure what the true root cause is, but at least I know how to cure it.

Then it suddenly dawned on me that I’d been stupid. For all of my low level examination of the office 2003/RPC interaction with SharePoint, picking the brain of gurus like MCM Spence Harbar, I’d never thought to clear the temporary internet files cache. Doh!

On the next affected PC I did so, and the problem also went away instantly.

*Blush*

In my defence of my dumbness however, I had never examined the behind the scenes integration with Office 2003 and SharePoint, and it did not even twig that Internet Explorer would be involved in the picture. Given that this problem manifests itself within Office 2003 applications, it is not immediately obvious that your temporary internet files would cause an issue here – but now I know better :-).

And now I get it…

Now Office 2007 is not affected by this because it does not use this method at all. In 2007, the document information panel uses InfoPath to render metadata. At the time I naively thought that was a dumb idea because the document information panel cannot display custom column types. For example, let’s say you created a custom column type to hold a phone number with the correct formatting for country code and the like. In a SharePoint site you can display it fine, but in the Office 2007 document information panel, you will never see it. InfoPath only will work with the out of the box in column types.

My rationale was that if Office 2007 instead used JavaScript and HTML, then it should be able to display these sorts of custom columns. That may actually be true, but it is irrelevant. When you think of the sheer number of ways that the rendering of the code could be interfered with (Temporary Internet Files being one precedent), you can see why the Office team might have opted for the safety of InfoPath instead.

Now that I understand that this is how Office 2003 does it, I can plainly see that it leaves too much room for error.

So even though my problem was solved by a simple clearing of the cache, it still remains that things like a bad add-in or a bad AD policy setting could interfere with the Office 2003/SharePoint integration. So if you ever have this issue crop up, try the temporary internet files thing or reset IE’s configuration completely. It may save you a lot of time and pain troubleshooting.

Thanks for reading

Paul Culmsee

www.sevensigma.com.au

 

 

 

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11 Responses to Missing metadata with Office 2003 – yet another “duh” moment…

  1. KjellSJ says:

    It is not entirely true that a custom field cannot be edited in DIP. If your custom field is not too advances, use the DIP fallback mechanism by setting AllowBaseTypeRendering and ParentType in the field definition: http://nickgrattan.wordpress.com/2008/01/06/sharepoint-2007-custom-fields-and-edit-property-on-server/

  2. Pingback: Another Office 2010 Build Leaked, Windows Mobile 7 in Beta, Windows 7 Sweepstakes on Twitter - SharePoint Daily - Bamboo Nation

  3. admin says:

    Hey thanks for the post regarding making custom columns visible in the DIP. Great stuff!

  4. RuthJ says:

    Thanks for posting this. I’ve just learned loads!

  5. Daniel says:

    Great post!!!

  6. Marie says:

    Thank you so much, it solved my problem when I was about to give up 🙂

  7. Sigeg P says:

    Great post! I’ve lost 1-2 years because of this issue, doing workaround to overcome the issue, even re-created the field many times. Your post enlighted me.., Thank you.

  8. Thanks for the info, I was having trouble with editing PDF and this worked, well almost seems like the problem come back after a period of time. Then you have to clear the temp internet files again. have you found a cause and a fix?

  9. Sumit says:

    Great Post!!! Atleast now i have an answer why it is not working Thanks 🙂

  10. Sumit says:

    Hey Hi Paul..I tried clearing up temporary internet files and resetting the IE’s configuration completely but it did not resolve the problem..Can u help here and let me know if there is any other possible workaround/resolution

  11. Nancy says:

    Struggling for days to find a solution for this seemingly obscure problem… finally found your post. Thanks so much!!

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