This posting is in response to a comment I had on a previous posting; “Using the InputFormSection and InputFormControl to build Custom Application Pages that look like OOTB Pages”. One of the readers posted a comment asking how to go about using the submit button to post to a list. Needless to say, I didn’t feel that answering his question by replying to his comment would be the best response. So I’ve decided to post my response here, where its a little bit easier to elaborate on the subject.

Application pages can in fact be used to create list items, but there are a number of things to consider. The first and probably most important thing, is that application pages can be accessed from any site in your SharePoint farm. If the list the form is meant to write to is accessible globally this may not be much of a problem, but I’d have to question how that list was created and where it is stored. Application pages are part of what I consider to be a fairly modular development framework in SharePoint, and the scenario mentioned doesn’t sound very modular at all; a page that is deployed or accessible from every site, but the list it writes to is only deployed to one. What if the site containing the list is deleted? Or certain fields changed? The site administrator would likely be able to do either, but he/she wouldn’t be able to update the Application Page, which would likely break.

So how do I recommend using Application Pages to write to lists? There are many ways, most (if not all) of which would involve Features. The following is a sample approach:

1. Develop a site or site collection Feature that creates a list. Since we will be writing to this list from a Custom Application Page, I recommend that the list be hidden. This recommendation stems from the fact that we don’t want anybody accidentally deleting or modifying the list, which may impact the Application Page. Of course this would probably mean creating another page to view and/or edit list items; this could be a Content Page or Application Page.

2. Develop the Application Page that writes to the list created by the feature, including logic in it that checks if the feature is activated. If the logic determines that the feature is not activated, the page should display a message stating that the feature needs to be activated for the page to work.

3. Use Custom Actions and Custom Action Groups to create a link to the Application Page(s) from the “Site Settings”, or “Site Actions” menu.

I don’t mean to imply that an Application Page shouldn’t be used to save items to a single globally accessible list. But it requires even more consideration and planning than the scenario mentioned above. Actually, I’ve had to develop such pages; in one example the list resides in Central Administration and is created as part of a Feature scoped at the Farm level.

In another scenario, the list may not be hidden, or even created by the feature. The list may be manually created (to capture very specific criteria) by a site or farm administrator, in which case another Application Page may be used to capture the location of the list, and save it in the property bag of the site or site collection. The Application Page that writes to the list, fist looks at the property bag to determine its location, if the property has not been set, the page simply returns a friendly error.

Like the above mentioned scenarios, I’m sure there are hundreds more. The point is all of them require some thought. Unless strictly used to display information that you know is always available, an Application Page is rarely a solution as a whole. Take time to carefully plan and design your Application Pages, examine your solution from multiple angles making sure it doesn’t easily break. Remember, if you fail to plan you are planning to fail.

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