Introducing the PnP provisioning engine

This article introduces the PnP provisioning engine, which was released in April 2015 within the OfficeDev PnP project, and which is updated on a monthly basis in alignment with the release schedule of the Office Dev PnP Core Library.


This article was originally a white paper written by Paolo Pialorsi in April 2015.

The goal

Let’s start from the main goal of having a provisioning engine. With the introduction of Microsoft Office 365 and Microsoft SharePoint Online, developers are facing the new Cloud Add-in model as a new way of creating custom software solutions for Microsoft SharePoint, SharePoint Online, and Office 365 in general. However, while in the past developers provisioned custom artifacts using the CAML/XML-based Feature Framework, either with full trust code (FTC) solutions or sandbox solutions, provisioning artifacts in the new Cloud Add-in model should be done via the "remote provisioning" technique. What does it mean to do remote provisioning? It means using the client-side object model (CSOM) to provision artifacts instead of using the Feature Framework.

What if you want to model and provision artifacts by using a test and a production environment, or what if you want to automate provisioning of artifacts, just because you want to sell your customizations to multiple customers? Likewise, what if you want to define a custom site template that you can reuse across multiple site instances, such as customer-oriented sites or project-oriented sites?

Using the new PnP provisioning engine, you can model a site by configuring the design of site columns, content types, list definitions and instances, composed looks, pages (either web part pages or wiki pages), and much more, via your web browser. When you are done with the design, you can export what you have done into a persistent provisioning template format (XML, JSON, or whatever you like), and you can apply that template to as many target sites as you like.

If it sounds interesting... keep reading, and let’s learn how to do it!

Create a provisioning template

As already stated, the easiest way to create a custom provisioning template is to create a fresh new site collection in SharePoint Online, configure your artifacts (site columns, content types, list definitions and instances, composed looks, and pages), and save the result as a provisioning template.

Let's say you have defined a sample site with a custom look (custom color theme, custom logo, custom background image). You can see the resulting home page in the following figure.

The home page of a template site

Moreover, you have defined several site columns, a content type, and a library of invoices with a custom View. In the following two figures you can see the result.

A library of Invoices with a custom content type

The settings page of the Invoices library

To export that site as a provisioning template, you can either use PowerShell or CSOM code, with some extension methods, which are provided by the OfficeDev PnP Core Library.

Using PowerShell extensions

To use the PowerShell extensions for SharePoint Online or SharePoint, go to PnP PowerShell overview,and install the OfficeDev PnP Core PowerShell extensions.

After you have connected your PowerShell environment to Office 365 by using the Connect-PnPOnline cmdlet, you can use the following PowerShell cmdlet: Get-PnPProvisioningTemplate -Out "PnP-Provisioning-File.xml".

The –Out argument instructs the cmdlet about where to save the provisioning template.

Using CSOM extensions

To use the CSOM extensions, you can create any kind of .NET software project (such as console, Windows, SharePoint Add-in), and add the OfficeDev PnP NuGet Package. The NuGet Package is available for SharePoint on-premises and SharePoint Online.

Let's target SharePoint Online, which has been tested more, and is the main target of the PnP Core Team efforts. You need to connect to Office 365, create a ClientContext instance and retrieve a reference to a Web object.

Thanks to a new extension method, called GetProvisioningTemplate, you can retrieve a ProvisioningTemplate object that can be saved by using a template provider and a serialization formatter. Both the template provider and the serialization formatter objects can be customized so that you can implement whatever persistence storage and serialization format you like. Out-of-the-box, the PnP provisioning engine provides support for File System, SharePoint, and Azure Blob storage template providers, as well as for XML and JSON serialization formatters.

In the following figure, you can see an outline of the overall architecture of the PnP provisioning engine.

The architecture of the PnP provisioning engine Framework

The result of extracting and saving a ProvisioningTemplate instance object is, for example, an XML file like the one shown in the following XML code excerpt.

    <?xml version="1.0"?>
    <pnp:Provisioning xmlns:pnp="">
      <pnp:Preferences Generator="OfficeDevPnP.Core, Version=1.2.515.0, Culture=neutral, PublicKeyToken=null" />
      <pnp:Templates ID="CONTAINER-TEMPLATE-1D3F60898418437E8B275147BEC7B0F5">
    <pnp:ProvisioningTemplate ID="TEMPLATE-1D3F60898418437E8B275147BEC7B0F5" Version="1">
      <pnp:User Name="i:0#.f|membership|" />
    <pnp:File Src="PnP.png" Folder="SiteAssets" Overwrite="true" />
    <pnp:File Src="STB13_Rick_01_small.png" Folder="SiteAssets" Overwrite="true" />
    <Field Type="DateTime" DisplayName="Invoice Date" Required="FALSE" EnforceUniqueValues="FALSE"
    	Indexed="FALSE" Format="DateOnly" Group="PnP Columns" FriendlyDisplayFormat="Disabled"
    	ID="{f1c6f202-f976-4f4e-b0a3-8b984991d00d}" SourceID="{5a15b9ca-4410-4854-bc61-d7fb0ff84e56}"
    	StaticName="PnPInvoiceDate" Name="PnPInvoiceDate" CalType="0">
    <Field Type="Text" DisplayName="Invoice Number" Required="FALSE" 
    	EnforceUniqueValues="FALSE" Indexed="FALSE" MaxLength="20" Group="PnP Columns"
    	ID="{5049a822-424c-4479-9648-79c4b3214375}" SourceID="{5a15b9ca-4410-4854-bc61-d7fb0ff84e56}"
    	StaticName="PnPInvoiceNumber" Name="PnPInvoiceNumber">
    <pnp:ContentType ID="0x01010097931365769EE34E9078576A150FF52E" Name="Invoice"
    	Description="" Group="PnP Content Types">
    <pnp:FieldRef ID="5049a822-424c-4479-9648-79c4b3214375" Name="PnPInvoiceNumber" />
    <pnp:FieldRef ID="f1c6f202-f976-4f4e-b0a3-8b984991d00d" Name="PnPInvoiceDate" />
    <pnp:ListInstance Title="Invoices" Description=""
    	DocumentTemplate="{site}/Invoices/Forms/template.dotx" TemplateType="101" Url="Invoices"
    	EnableVersioning="true" MinorVersionLimit="0" MaxVersionLimit="500"
    	TemplateFeatureID="00bfea71-e717-4e80-aa17-d0c71b360101" ContentTypesEnabled="true"
    <pnp:ContentTypeBinding ContentTypeID="0x01010097931365769EE34E9078576A150FF52E" Default="true" />
    <View Name="{3D715498-8FA2-4B80-8D35-885B2A4CCBDE}" MobileView="TRUE" MobileDefaultView="TRUE"
    		Type="HTML" DisplayName="All Documents"
    		Url="/sites/PnPProvisioningDemo/Invoices/Forms/AllItems.aspx" Level="1"
    		BaseViewID="1" ContentTypeID="0x" ImageUrl="/_layouts/15/images/dlicon.png?rev=38">
      <FieldRef Name="FileLeafRef" />
    <FieldRef Name="DocIcon" />
    <FieldRef Name="LinkFilename" />
    <FieldRef Name="Modified" />
    <FieldRef Name="Editor" />
      <RowLimit Paged="TRUE">30</RowLimit>
      <XslLink Default="TRUE">main.xsl</XslLink>
      <Toolbar Type="Standard" />
    <View Name="{D9BC935E-2154-47EE-A9E2-7C9490389007}" DefaultView="TRUE" MobileView="TRUE"
    		Type="HTML" DisplayName="All Invoices"
    		Url="/sites/PnPProvisioningDemo/Invoices/Forms/All Invoices.aspx" Level="1"
    		BaseViewID="1" ContentTypeID="0x" ImageUrl="/_layouts/15/images/dlicon.png?rev=38">
      <FieldRef Name="FileLeafRef" />
    <FieldRef Name="DocIcon" />
    <FieldRef Name="LinkFilename" />
    <FieldRef Name="Modified" />
    <FieldRef Name="Editor" />
    <FieldRef Name="PnPInvoiceDate" />
    <FieldRef Name="PnPInvoiceNumber" />
      <RowLimit Paged="TRUE">30</RowLimit>
      <Aggregations Value="Off" />
      <XslLink Default="TRUE">main.xsl</XslLink>
      <Toolbar Type="Standard" />
    <pnp:FieldRef ID="5049a822-424c-4479-9648-79c4b3214375" Name="PnPInvoiceNumber"
    		DisplayName="Invoice Number" />
    <pnp:FieldRef ID="f1c6f202-f976-4f4e-b0a3-8b984991d00d" Name="PnPInvoiceDate"
    		DisplayName="Invoice Date" />
      <pnp:Features />
      <pnp:CustomActions />
    FontFile="" />

As you can see, the XML elements are fairly self-explanatory. The XML schema used in the example references the 201505 version of the PnP provisioning schema, which has been defined together with the OfficeDev PnP Community, and which can be found on GitHub at PnP-Provisioning-Schema. Within the same repository, you can also find a markdown (MD) auto-generated document, which describes the main elements, types, and attributes available to manually define an XML provisioning template.

However, the real power of this provisioning engine is the availability of a high-level, serialization format that is independent of the Domain Model. In fact, internally the PnP provisioning engine is completely decoupled from any kind of serialization format, and the whole engine simply handles instances of the ProvisioningTemplate type.

For example, in the following figure, you can see the "Quick Watch" window of Visual Studio showing a ProvisioningTemplate object instance.

The structure - within a debugger watch - of a ProvisioningTemplate object

It is up to you to define the ProvisioningTemplate manually, using a model site, or by composing an XML document that validates against the PnP provisioning XSD schema, or by simply writing .NET code and constructing the hierarchy of objects. You can even do a mix of these approaches: you can design the provisioning template by using a model site, save it as an XML file, and do some in-memory customizations, while handling the ProvisioningTemplate instance in your code.

Apply a provisioning template

Now that you have seen what a provisioning template is and how to extract the Domain Model object from an existing site, you are ready to apply it to a target site.

Let's say that you have another new site collection in SharePoint Online that has been created by using the Team Site template, as shown in the following figure.

The SharePoint Online page for creating a new site collection

By default, the site will look like the following figure, which is the default layout of a SharePoint Online site.

The home page of a fresh new target

You can now apply a custom ProvisioningTemplate instance object either by utilizing PowerShell, or by writing .NET code.

Using PowerShell

If you want to use PowerShell, the following excerpt shows how you can utilize the Apply-PnPProvisioningTemplate cmdlet: Apply-PnPProvisioningTemplate -Path "PnP-Provisioning-File.xml".

The –Path argument refers to the source template file, which the cmdlet automatically applies to the currently connected site (implied by the Connect-PnPnline cmdlet).

In the following figure you can see the final result.

The home page of a target site based on a Provisioning Templated

As you can see, the site has the same look as the original template, and it includes the Invoices library, with all of the same underlying structure and configuration (site columns, content types, etc.).

Using CSOM

What about using .NET code? Following is an excerpt on how to use CSOM and the OfficeDev PnP Core Library extension methods to apply the template.

    using (var context = new ClientContext(destinationUrl))
      context.Credentials = new SharePointOnlineCredentials(userName, password);
      Web web = context.Web;
      context.Load(web, w => w.Title);
      // Configure the XML file system provider
      XMLTemplateProvider provider =
      new XMLFileSystemTemplateProvider(
      // Load the template from the XML stored copy
      ProvisioningTemplate template = provider.GetTemplate(
      // Apply the template to another site
      Console.WriteLine("Start: {}", DateTime.Now);
      // We can also use Apply-PnPProvisioningTemplate
      Console.WriteLine("End: {}", DateTime.Now);

To start, you need to create an instance of a Template Provider object, depending on what kind of persistence you use to save and load the template. Next, you load the template from the source repository by using the GetTemplate method. Lastly, you apply the template to the target site, using the ApplyProvisioningTemplate extension method of the Web type.

On average, the library takes a few minutes to apply the template, regardless of whether you are utilizing PowerShell or .NET code. If desired, you can register a delegate to monitor the overall process while the provisioning is in progress. We are still improving performances of the engine, and so far we have focused our attention on capabilities and functionalities.

Advanced topics

This is just an introductory article; in the near future we will go deeper around some more advanced topics. Nevertheless, it is important to understand that when using the new PnP provisioning engine, you can also provision taxonomies, and use variables and tokens that can be replaced at runtime, based on what you are provisioning (such as list IDs, parameters, or term IDs). You can invoke the provisioning engine from timer job services, provider-hosted add-ins, external sites, and more. Lastly, you can use the PnP provisioning engine to move artifacts from test/staging environments to production environments.

To watch videos about the PnP provisioning engine and the PnP PowerShell extensions, see SharePoint / Office 365 Dev Patterns & Practices.

See also the following videos on Channel 9:

Requirements and wrap-up

To play with the PnP provisioning engine on-premises, you need to have at least the SharePoint 2013 March 2015 Cumulative Update installed, because the engine leverages some new capabilities of the client-side object model, which are not available in previous versions of the product. If you target SharePoint Online, the requirements are automatically satisfied thanks to the Software as a Service model.

Play with the PnP provisioning engine, give us feedback, and enjoy the future of the SharePoint Add-in model and remote provisioning!

See also