Sharepoint Alerts and Email Integration in General

In the Basic Sharepoint List Features post, I mentioned alerts, and how you can setup email-based alerts on any sharepoint list. This post looks a little deeper at this functionality, and explains how you might go about setting up an alert yourself.

Yep, you read that right, any end-user can setup the alert themselves without any administrator involvement.

Now, I’ll confess I’ve got an ulterior motive here. When we first setup these Engineering blogs, we setup an alert to a mailing list. And apparently, now folks want to get on that mailing list in order to get alerts from these blogs. And as you’ll soon see, that’s not really required–anyone can setup their own alerts without needing to be on a mailing list.

We’ll also be looking at Sharepoint email integration on a wider scale than just alerts. Contrary to what you might have been told previously (and the marketing material is definitely misleading), there is really no reliance on Exchange for Sharepoint email integration. However, there are Exchange-Sharepoints integration points. We’ll get to this larger integration story after looking at alerts first.

So setting up alerts can seem a bit tricky because the interface to do so varies based on the site/page/list you are currently at. For Document Libraries, you’ll find an Actions menu with an Alert Me option. But for most other Sharepoint locations, you won’t find an action menu. Regardless of where you are, you should find the authentication (or profile) menu in the upper right corner. It’ll say something like “Welcome NETID\barkills” or “Welcome Brian Arkills” or some variant. If you haven’t authenticated, it’ll say “Sign In”, and you’ll need to login first before you get a drop-down menu. If you click on it, what menu options you see depends on your level of permissions for the site. If the site has permitted anonymous access, and you do not have at least read permission on the site, then you’ll only see two options:

  • Sign in as a Different User
  • Sign Out

If, however, you have at least read permission on the site, then you’ll see more menu options:

  • My Settings
  • Sign in as a Different User
  • Sign Out

And if you happen to be a site owner, you’ll see even more menu options:

  • My Settings
  • Sign in as a Different User
  • Sign Out
  • Personalize this Page

The menu option you need in order to setup alerts is the ‘My Settings’ one. So in some cases, you may need to request read permissions.

Within the My Settings page, you’ll see a portion of what is known as your Sharepoint profile. Assuming you are using your NETID user account, you should see an email address listed which is your official forwarding email address. There should be a bar with a link entitled ‘My Alerts’ on this page. That will take you to the ‘My Alerts on this Site’ page. From there, you can choose the ‘Add Alert’ button/link. This will take you to a page where you can choose which sharepoint list you want to track. For this blog, you’d probably want to track the Posts list. After making a selection, and clicking Next, you’ll see a page where you can configure the details of your alert.

You can change when alerts are sent, with options of:

  • all changes
  • new items are added
  • existing items are modified
  • items are deleted

And you can additionally filter on these conditions:

  • anything changes
  • someone else changes an item
  • someone else changes an item created by me
  • someone else changes an item last modified by me
  • somone changes an item that appears in the following view

And finally, you can choose the frequency of email alerts, with the following options:

  • send email immediately
  • send a daily summary (specify time)
  • send a weekly summary (specify day & time)

Now, let’s move from the end-user perspective to the Administrator perspective.

To enable alerts on a sharepoint site, you first need to go into the ‘Central admin’ site for the sharepoint farm. From the Application Management page, you need to configure the Web Application Outgoing Email Settings. Each web application can have a different set of settings, where what is required/configurable is:

  • Outbound SMTP server
  • From address
  • Reply-to address
  • Character set

There is no control of the format of the email alert sent, and from I’m told the format is an attached HTML format.

You can also email-enable sharepoint lists, i.e. inbound email integration. This permits someone to send an email to a sharepoint list with content for that list. To use this functionality, you are *required* to install the Microsoft SMTP Server Service. No option to use Exchange for receiving & processing the email. After installing that component, you’ll need to visit the Central Admin > Operations > Topology and Services category > Incoming Email Settings page to configure the farm to use that SMTP service.

After setting the SMTP service up, on the “settings” page for any given list, you should see an additional option under the Communications section, called Incoming Email Settings. You’ll need to give it an email address. The email address has to route to your SMTP service.

If you also want that email address to show up in the Exchange GAL, then you need to get it setup as a contact in Active Directory. There is an option in the central admin configuration to automatically setup these Sharepoint-centric contacts in AD. However, it isn’t clear yet whether there are implications which will prohibit doing this in the NETID domain. It’s possible this could create a situation where a UW NetID account name collision would occur. There’s some further investigation needed on our end here.

Finally, I should mention a few other Exchange integration options. Of course, there’s the offline functionality that Outlook provides. There are several Sharepoint webparts which provide for integration with Exchange-based data. There’s a Exchange OWA webpart, which would allow you to have your Exchange OWA experience within the context of a sharepoint page, subject to whatever configurations you apply to it. There is also an Exchange Calendar webpart, to expose Exchange calendar data on a sharepoint page. Within Outlook 2007, you can access a sharepoint-based calendar, and copy calendar events between any Exchange calendar you have access to and the Sharepoint calendar using an easy drag and drop action.

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