Plan customizations, solutions, and apps for SharePoint Online

There’s a range of possible customizations and solutions you can achieve for SharePoint Online sites with Office 365 Enterprise plans, extending from basic browser-based customizations to developer-created apps. This article will help you identify the level of customization that meets your needs, and it will provide pointers to the guidance you’ll need to get started. It’s possible that you can meet most of your needs by using existing features in SharePoint Online “as-is” or with modest customizations.

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Customizations: simple to complex

SharePoint Online customizations range from non-technical changes you can apply quickly in the browser using site commands or features to custom app development using developer tools:

  1. Customization using the browser    You can use browser-based settings for simpler customizations like changing title and logo, updating navigation links, applying a new site theme, changing the contents of a page, or changing views for lists and libraries. Browser-based customizations are the easiest customizations, and they require minimal technical expertise.
  2. Customizations using supported tools and applications    You can use supported SharePoint tools to perform more extensive customizations. For example, Office applications like Access 2013, Excel 2013, and Visio 2013 help you create highly dynamic, data-rich pages on your site. You can even create a SharePoint app as a no-code solution by using Access 2013. You can also use Microsoft SharePoint Designer 2013 and Microsoft InfoPath 2013 to create powerful workflow-enabled solutions and rich forms.
  3. Customizations using apps for SharePoint    The new Cloud App Model in SharePoint 2013 enables you to add and use apps on SharePoint Online sites. Apps are small, easy-to-use web applications that perform tasks or solve user needs. You can add apps to your site to customize it with specific functionality or to display information. For example, you can add apps that perform general tasks like time and expense tracking. Or you can add apps that perform various document-based tasks. You can also add apps that display news or information from third-party websites or that connect to social websites.

    You can customize your site using third-party apps, custom apps, or a combination of both:
  • Third-party apps    Site users (with Site Owner permissions or greater) can browse for and acquire a range of third-party apps from the SharePoint Store, which is an Office.com-hosted marketplace accessible from SharePoint Online sites. Admins can also buy licenses for specific apps for all users in an organization.
  • Custom apps    Your organization can also develop its own apps for SharePoint Online and make them available to users through the App Catalog site. If you know how to build a web application, then you know how to build an app for SharePoint. You can use any language, such as HTML, JavaScript, PHP, or .NET, and your favorite web development tools, including Microsoft Visual Studio 2012, and a new web-based tool, "Napa" Office 365 Development Tools. For more information, see Get started developing apps for SharePoint.

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Can I still develop sandboxed solutions?

Microsoft recommends that you develop apps for SharePoint rather than sandboxed solutions whenever it is possible for you to do so. If you are an upgrading customer who already has existing sandboxed solutions that are deployed to users, these solutions will continue to work and are still supported.

Apps for SharePoint offer several advantages over sandboxed solutions. Apps provide end users with a way to extend SharePoint sites without creating additional operational burden for admins. Apps are also easy for end users to discover and add. Apps for SharePoint also integrate with cloud-based resources in smoother and more flexible ways than sandboxed solutions.

For more technical guidance about when you should opt to develop custom apps instead of sandboxed solutions, see Apps for SharePoint compared with SharePoint solutions. See also Get started developing apps for SharePoint.

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What do you want to customize? (with ideas for how to do it)

In order to determine the method of customization or development that is appropriate for your organization, think about what you want to customize and what kinds of solutions you want to develop.

There are several different ways you can achieve the same outcome on a SharePoint site. For example, if your goal is to create a highly-customized list, you can achieve this by using different List Settings in the browser to configure a list and its views. You might even be able to perform all of the desired customization this way.

However, if you want to add powerful functions and interactivity to the list, you could use SharePoint Designer, InfoPath Designer, or possibly a supported Office 2013 application like Access, Excel, and Visio to do this.

It is a good practice to first start with browser-based customizations before using supported tools and applications to achieve similar customizations.

In this section:

I want to change the look and feel or site design

First, try browser-based options: Then, try no-code solutions : Then, consider custom code solutions:

Use the Site Settings page to:

Use Design Manager to leverage your expertise in HTML, CSS, and JavaScript (available only for publishing sites):

  • Easily design HTML master pages and page layouts in your HTML editor of choice.
  • Convert the HTML file to an ASP.NET master page.
  • Add key functionality to your pages, such as a search box or navigation control, from the Snippet Gallery.
  • Design unique UI experiences for different devises by creating device channels.

For more information about using the Design Manager, see MSDN: Develop the site design in SharePoint 2013.

Use InfoPath Designer to:

  • Customize list forms, workflow forms, and form library forms
  • Apply new layout, colors, and themes to the forms

For more information about working with InfoPath, see Find content about InfoPath 2010 and 2013.

Develop apps for SharePoint that feature App Parts or custom UI actions, such as ribbon or menu commands.

Use Visual Studio to:

  • Create custom site pages
  • Create custom ribbon enhancements
  • Create custom dialog box or ribbon controls
  • Deploy custom design solutions as features

 Note    If possible, try to customize your site using custom CSS elements and themes rather than custom master pages. Custom master pages will block upgrade to the latest user interface experience when upgrades are rolled out to customers. This may introduce unexpected costs for your organization at upgrade time.

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I want to customize the appearance of information on sites

First, try browser-based options: Then, try no-code solutions: Then, consider custom code solutions:

Customize individual pages on the site:

  • Add and edit text, images, video, and other objects
  • Add and customize Web Parts
  • Add and customize new lists and libraries
  • Create custom views and forms for lists and libraries
  • Create and edit content and publishing pages
  • Enable or disable features

Add third-party apps for SharePoint to integrate information into sites. See Buy an app from the SharePoint Store.

Create SharePoint apps with Access 2013. For more info, see Create an Access app.

Use SharePoint Designer to:

  • Add text, images, scripts, and Web Parts to pages
  • Create and customize site and Web Part pages
  • Add custom actions
  • Add Custom navigation

Use Microsoft InfoPath 2013 to:

  • Add text, images, and links to list and workflow forms
  • Add custom data connections and functionality to list and workflow forms

For more information about working with InfoPath, see Find content about InfoPath 2010 and 2013.

Use supported Microsoft Office applications to:

  • Publish workbooks with data, charts, and visualizations using Excel 2013 and Excel Services
  • Publish data visualizations with Visio 2013 and Visio Services

Use the Script Editor Web Part to add JavaScript code to site pages.

Develop apps for SharePoint that feature App Parts designed to display information

Use Visual Studio to:

  • Create custom site pages
  • Create custom Web Parts

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I want to display content from different data sources

First, try browser-based options: Then, try no-code solutions: Then, consider custom code solutions:
  • Add Web Parts that retrieve content from external sites or data sources
  • Customize list views and forms from various data sources

Use Excel 2013 and Excel Services to display and visualize data from a wide variety of data sources.

Use Access 2013 to quickly create sophisticated database-like no-code solutions with SQL Server as the backend database.

Add third-party apps for SharePoint to integrate information into sites. See Buy an app from the SharePoint Store.

Configure Business Connectivity Services and to connect to data sources such as SQL Azure databases or Windows Communication Foundation web services.

Use InfoPath 2013 to display data from lists and form libraries with:

  • Custom list forms
  • Custom form library forms
  • Custom form-based applications

For more information about working with InfoPath, see Find content about InfoPath 2010 and 2013.

Develop custom apps for SharePoint to integrate and display information.

Use Visual Studio to:

  • Create custom list definitions
  • Create custom site pages
  • Create custom Web Parts
  • Create custom dialog box or ribbon controls

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I want to customize workflows for business processes

First, try browser-based options: Then, try no-code solutions:
  • Use the available “out-of-the-box” workflows to manage common business processes like document review and approval
  • Change the workflow attributes, such as approvers, due date, and associated task list
  • Use SharePoint Designer to create custom declarative workflows
  • Use the Visual Designer in SharePoint Designer 2013 (available if you also have Visio 2013 installed) to design workflows visually by dragging and dropping shapes from a toolbox.

SharePoint 2013 includes the SharePoint 2010 workflow platform, so any custom workflows that your organization created in SharePoint 2013 will continue to work. For more information about workflow, see Workflow in SharePoint 2013.

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I want to connect SharePoint Online to an on-premises SharePoint Server 2013 deployment

A hybrid SharePoint environment is composed of SharePoint Server 2013, typically deployed on-premises, and Microsoft Office 365 - SharePoint Online. A hybrid environment may be configured to provide one of several levels of integration, depending on the purpose of the integration.

Hybrid SharePoint environments may provide some or all of the following functionality:

  • Federated search:    Users in the cloud and in your on-premises domain environment will be able to obtain search results that include content from both locations.
  • Business Connectivity Services:    Makes line-of-business data available, by using Business Connectivity Services, to applications for SharePoint and external lists in SharePoint Online.
  • Single sign-on (SSO):    Users who are connected to either the corporate network or Office 365 only have to authenticate once in a given session to access resources in both the on-premises SharePoint farm and SharePoint Online.
  • Directory synchronization:    User accounts in the on-premises Active Directory Domain Services (AD DS) domain automatically synchronize to Office 365.
  • One-way or two-way server-to-server trust:    A trust relationship between the on-premises SharePoint farm and SharePoint Online that enables secure connections and data flow.

For more information about configuring a hybrid environment for SharePoint Server and SharePoint Online, see Hybrid for SharePoint Server 2013.

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Making solutions or apps available to users

After you finish developing a solution or a custom app, you may need a way to make it available on one or more sites or site collections in your SharePoint Online environment. Here are some ways you can do that:

  • If your solution is a customized list or a specialized site or page, you can share a link to that page or site with users.
  • If you have developed a custom SharePoint or Office app, you can make it available by uploading it to the App Catalog site. For more information about making custom apps available, see Use the App Catalog to make custom business apps available for your SharePoint Online environment.
  • If you add a third-party app from the SharePoint Store, you can make it available to all users across the site collections in your SharePoint Online environment by acquiring licenses for all users in your organization. Or, you can acquire licenses for only those who need to use it, and assign those licenses to the designated users. For more information, see Buy an app from the SharePoint Store and Manage app licenses for a SharePoint Online environment.
  • If you want to change the settings for whether or not site users can acquire apps from the SharePoint Store, see Configure settings for the SharePoint Store.
  • If you simply want to create a custom solution and make it available as a template to other users, you can save lists, views, workflows, and sites as templates, that can be used right away or that will be available in SharePoint for other users to build from. You can perform these steps directly in the browser as well as in supported tools like SharePoint Designer 2013. Learn more in the article Save, download, and upload a SharePoint 2013 site as a template.

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Exploring partner solutions and services

If you are interested in exploring services or applications from Microsoft partners that are available for SharePoint Online, visit the Microsoft Office 365 Marketplace.

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Return to SharePoint Online Planning Guide for Office 365 Enterprise and Midsize.

 
 
Applies to:
SharePoint admin center, SharePoint Online Enterprise (E1), SharePoint Online Enterprise (E3 & E4), SharePoint Online Midsized Business