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cindyc
Frequent Visitor

Custom Connectors - My experience creating a FLOW with a custom connector, and what you should know

Hey Everyone,

 

I just wanted to share what my experience was when I created a custom connector for a FLOW I worked on.

 

FLOW Description

 

The FLOW we needed was an electronic document creation system. It required taking a document from a scanner, which was emailed via outlook to a particular mailbox. One the email arrived, we take the document, and send it to a Custom Connector which is connected to a REST API on a remote machine. Once the document is uploaded to the REST API, parse out some data from the document, rename the document, and upload the document into Sharepoint (TEAMS), with a row entered into a list with a link to the document, and the document saved in a folder.

 

Custom Connector (assuming your account has the access/authority to create a CC)

 

I won't get into the details of the FLOW so much, but I'll focus on the Custom Connector (CC). Creating the CC was very straightforward. Within FLOW editor, on the left side of the screen, click "Data", "Custom Connectors".

 

cindyc_0-1620066341148.png

 

On the next screen, you click "+ New Custom Connector", "Create from blank".

 

cindyc_1-1620066454266.png

You enter the name for the CC, and then proceed, on the next 4 screens (1. General, 2. Security, 3. Definition, 4. Test) in CC creation, entering in the host, protocol, action (for uploading a file, I'm using POST), request definition (multipart/form-data) and endpoint as well as security key was as easy as filling in the data on the CC creation screens. 

 

cindyc_2-1620066566593.png

 

Testing on the 4th screen however is another topic for another day, but I was NEVER able to test successfully from the 4th CC screen, its useless.

 

* Lesson Learned - Create a new CC by importing an OpenAPI file

 

One thing you could do when you want to create a copy or clone, is that inside the CC screen, which lists all of your CCs, each CC has a download button;

 

cindyc_6-1620068973354.png

 

When you click the download button, it creates a .swagger.json file which is also known as an OpenAPI file.  What you can do is download a .swagger.json file from an existing CC, and then open it in Notepad or some other app to edit text file, change the name, the endpoint, etc and then create a new one by importing the .swagger.json (OpenAPI file).

 

cindyc_7-1620069379458.png

 

Connections

 

So what is a connection?  In order to get FLOW to connect to your REST API endpoint over a CC, you need to create a "Connection".

A connection is simply a place to store (in my case because I use the API key) the API Key for security. I normally create 2, one for test/development and another for production, this way I can switch out when I need to.  Switching out from production to test/dev is not actually this easy - you would need to create a clone or copy of your CC, because most likely your production REST API endpoint will be different from your test/development (see above for how to create a new CC by importing an OpenAPI file), and then create a copy/clone of your FLOW, and put in the test/dev CC step.

 

You can create a connection in one of 3 places. 

 

1. On the 4th screen of the CC Creation process

 

cindyc_3-1620066925301.png

 

2. On the "Data", "Connections" screen ("+ New Connection")

 

cindyc_4-1620067254620.png

 

3. Inside the FLOW Editor ("My Connections", "+Add new connection")

 

cindyc_5-1620067436860.png

 

Incorporating the CC into your flow

 

So now you have your FLOW, at least started anyways, and now you have your custom connector, with a connection, that will hit your REST API.  Now add the CC to your FLOW by clicking the + button to "Insert a new action", and choose "Custom" to select your custom CC (the pic below actually has 4 CCs, you would choose whichever one you need);

 

cindyc_8-1620069937074.png

 

* Lesson Learned - OFF TOPIC - How to structure the REQUEST data to upload a doc to a REST API from a FLOW/CC

 

I'm including this just to show you guys how to structure the REQUEST within the CC inside your flow for uploading a document.

There are other places online you can look it up, but there are really 2 parts to this;

 

1. BASE64 ENCODE THE DOCUMENT DATA - in my case, the document type we are dealing with is pdf.

To get the documents or really, attachments, first we need to setup a loop, so we can loop thru all of the attachments (See "Attachments" below in the pic inside "select an output from the previous steps" - this just means get the list of attachments from the email and loop over it) in the email.

 

 

cindyc_10-1620071799284.png

 

What I need to do in my flow is, take each pdf attachment from the incoming email trigger (trigger is the first action of the FLOW), and upload it via the CC to my REST API. So I create a "Compose" step before the CC step, and load it with the "AttachmentsContent";

 

cindyc_9-1620071612888.png

 

But the above pic is just to get and show the partial text i need for the pdf attachment contents, and if you hover over it, the "Compose" variable value looks like;

 

items('Loop_thru_attachments')?['contentBytes']

 

But this isn't all we need, like I said its just the partial text we need for this "Compose" element. What we really need to do is to take that partial text and wrap it in base64 encoding and enter it into the "Expression" editor which pops up every time you click inside a text field like below. We do this because we need to;

 

"...encode binary data into an ASCII character set known to pretty much every computer system, in order to transmit the data without loss or modification of the contents itself." What is the real purpose of Base64 encoding? - Stack Overflow -giorgio, Wolverine

 

Now Hold the blue "Ok" button under "Expression" for 2 seconds, and it will update the text field with the new base64 value.

 

cindyc_1-1620077440891.png

 

which essentially looks like;

 

base64(items('Loop_thru_attachments')?['contentBytes'])

 

This is a super crucial pre-step for the actual CC step. From my experience, a CC to upload a file, WILL NOT work unless you base64 encode it.  

 

*Note: base64 decoding

 

Just as a reminder, because you are base64 encoding the binary file data in your FLOW prior to making the CC call, you'll need to base64 decode the file in somewhere in your REST API's endpoint function before you can do anything with the file (Early on in my endpoint function), I do;

 

cindyc_0-1620151506403.png

 

Flask/python makes this easy, and I'm certain it will be just as easy in other languages/frameworks.

 

2. STRUCTURE THE REQUEST WITH multipart/form-data - now inside the CC step in our FLOW, we need to do pretty much the same thing when we created the CC on screen # 3. Definition, although here we are using variables for the values, whereas when we created the CC, we just typed in text as placeholders.

 

cindyc_0-1620077315157.png

 

The first variable inside "$mulitipart-item 1" is just for the AttachmentName. The second is the output from the "Compose" step where we base64 encode the contentBytes of the pdf attachment.

 

Test it Out

 

Now we have our FLOW created along with our CC and inside it's REQUEST, we are sending the base64 encoded stream of our pdf file contentBytes. The first few times I tested this out, it worked great. Each attachment that was sent to the REST API via my CC contained only 1 page, hence 1 pdf file. But then I realized that part of the requirement was that users can scan multiple docs at a time within a stack of paper, and those pieces of paper in turn will all get combined into one pdf file attachment, and I would need to split the pdf doc into individual docs, and then upload each one to Sharepoint. Testing one page pdfs was fine, but these multi-page pdfs started taking a long time, and they were starting to fail, and I had no idea why.

 

Why was my CC (Custom Connector) failing?

 

One of the reasons was that the duration for the REQUESTS spawned from my CC could take varying amounts of time based on how many pages there were.  Inside my REST API I split the pdf, and for each page, convert each one to an image, convert the images to text, parse the text and look for specific fields, etc, etc, etc. Some took 10 seconds, while others took several minutes. So I looked in the "Settings" of the CC inside my FLOW, and saw a timeout setting.  I thought great, I'll just set this timeout to like 10 or 15 minutes or some amount that I know will never happen, and it will be fine!  Ummmmm..... no.

 

CC Settings Inside Flow

 

Lets take a look at the "Settings" for our CC in the flow;

 

cindyc_2-1620078370581.png

 

Asynchronous Pattern

 

Setting this to "On", means that the CC will handle specific return values. If 202 "Accepted" is returned, then the CC will continue to call the REST API until it gets success 200 or anything else (Failures of 4xx, 5xx, etc).

 

Timeout

 

This one can be confusing - here is the description;

 

"Limit the maximum duration an asynchronous pattern may take. Note: this does not alter the request timeout of a single request."

 

A single request timeout is 120 seconds or 2 minutes. And the above text is saying that no matter what you set this timeout value, and no matter how many calls are made async, it will not allow you to set it beyond the limit of a single request, which is again, 2 minutes.  And this is exactly what I saw when testing. I would set it to 15 minutes and if a REST API call took 3 minutes, it would always fail with a timeout failure after 2 minutes. And even worse, if a RESPONSE came back with a status code of 4xx, 5xx, etc, the whole FLOW would then go into a fail state, and you wouldn't have the opportunity to get the message or anything inside the response and then try to handle it based on what's in there.

 

How do we handle long running CC REQUESTS?

 

You can try to handle this by using this built-in Async handling in your CC settings, if you'd like. I ended up not doing that.  

 

For my process, I needed a little more control over what comes back inside the RESPONSE, as in I wanted to be able to read the error message or success message from the RESPONSE so I can put that in an email and send it to support or mgt.  The built-in Async handling did not seem as though it would let me do this, if a failure came back in the RESPONSE, the FLOW would just fail, and not give me chance to look inside the RESPONSE.  Keep in mind, you can keep the Asynchronous Pattern setting turned on for this CC as well as the Timeout setting, but in effect they won't matter because the 202 "Accepted" status comes back right away when we put the task on the queue inside flask.

 

To handle this the way I wanted, I had to do a couple few things, and if you don't care about my REST API specs, and what I had to change there, you don't need to read this section.

 

Change REST API endpoint to be asynchronous

 

Within my python flask REST API, I had to change how the endpoint function was structured;

 

1. Setup REDIS Queue - I had to install REDIS queue software on my dev and production machines.

2. Install and Configure Celery task queue manager - python has a task queue manager called celery which is a library that connects to and manages the REDIS (an many other) task queue(s).

3. Add a Status Check GET Request - I had to add another REST API endpoint to act as a task status check, that passes the task id, and asks the queue what the status of that task is. The Response json from both the CC that uploads the document and the CC that checks the status will be built inside flask and looks like when we put the task on the queue and its still pending and being worked on;

 

{

  200,

  { "status": 202,

    "status_desc":"Accepted",

    "msg": "",

    "Location":"73982hr-w9eu02ieu-39u32-93u3h"

  }

}

 

And for our success...

 

{

  200,

  { "status": 200,

    "status_desc":"success",

    "msg": "2 Files were uploaded to sharepoint",

    "Location":"73982hr-w9eu02ieu-39u32-93u3h"

  }

}

 

And for our failures...

 

{

  200,

  { "status": 5xx,

    "status_desc":"error",

    "msg": "An exception occurred trying to parse document text.",

    "Location":"73982hr-w9eu02ieu-39u32-93u3h"

  }

}

 

Notice the HTTP Response status is always 200. We set that to 200 for ALL Responses we send back from the REST API, again, so we can control the FLOW and do what we want to do next, by reading the inner status, and then responding in the flow accordingly. We want all responses to come back, and to read the data from the response, FLOW will not allow you to control it very well if you send back something like;

 

{

  5xx,

  { "status": 5xx,

    "status_desc":"error",

    "msg": "An exception occurred trying to parse document text.",

    "Location":"73982hr-w9eu02ieu-39u32-93u3h"

  }

}

 

And sometimes it will just stop on the previous step or several steps above it and not allow you to see what is going on inside each step of the FLOW to debug it.

 

Also, the "Location" key in the response is really just the task_id from the task queue - we pull this value out of the RESPONSE to call the Status Check CC (see below).  In the built-in Async process its expected that it will contain 202 Accepted and a "Location" param on PENDING tasks - they suggest that the "Location" param should contain the full endpoint you need to call to get the status.  However, even though I kept the name of the param as "Location", I just ended up putting in the task_id ONLY, not the full endpoint.

 

 

Add a New CC (Custom Connector) for the Task Status Check

 

I also had to add a new CC;

 

1. Create a new CC - I created a new CC to call the REST API endpoint that will return the status of the task in the queue.

 

cindyc_3-1620080255247.png

 

Creating the new CC was easier, its just setting it to GET on the # 3. Definition screen, and setting the endpoint with a parameter (localhost:5000 is just an example dev host);

 

http://localhost:5000/st/api/files/pdf/convert_to_text/{task_id} 

 

And when we call it from the FLOW and enter the task_id in there, the URI endpoint would look like (for example);

 

http://localhost:5000/st/api/files/pdf/convert_to_text/e78b2751-57ef-471c-a8b2-95dfb41f8d40 

 

CC Status Check Settings inside the FLOW

 

Within the Status Check CC, we had to change the settings a little bit;

 

cindyc_4-1620080830912.png

 

1. Turn Asynchronous Pattern off - for this CC inside the "Do Until Loop", we don't want to be effected by the timeout or the built-in behavior of Async Pattern here. We want put this CC inside a "Do Until Loop", and then stop the loop when the status changes from 202 "Accepted" to 200 "success" (or failure);

 

cindyc_6-1620081656707.png

 

As you can see as well, I set the Limit count to 20 and the timeout to 20 minutes, we should never eclipse either of those. We will break out of the loop on either success or failure from the RESPONSE. We set the FLOW variable called variables('CONTINUE STATUS CHECK') to either True to keep checking, or False to break out the loop based on the inner status code in the RESPONSE.

 

2. Do not set a Timeout value on CC - for this CC we will not set a Timeout value, we will rely on the "Do Until Loop" timeout limit we set.

 

2. Do not set a Retry Policy - for this CC we will not set a Retry Policy value, we will set it to None - this can just get confusing and mess up the FLOW and the timing of the CC REQUESTs - of something fails inside the critical functions inside flask, we already baked in retry logic in python, no real need for it here.

 

Paralell Processing tip - Previously in flask I would run a clean up function to delete the temp files i had created in a folder. But I had to set the initial Incoming Email Trigger to only allow 1 FLOW to be run at 1 time.  This was because if I allowed multiple FLOWS to be run, and the cleanup function was run, it might delete files that were needed later.  So I just named any files created with an additional hex key in flask during a FLOW call to the REST API from the CC, and then at the end of the REST API call, I delete any file with that key so it doesn't affect other FLOW runs. By doing that, I can now set the Concurrency Control value to 2, which is the number of cpu's i currently have on the machine. I set the uwsgi # of processes to 2 as well, and now have 2 celery workers, so running 2 FLOWS concurrently works fine. I may ramp it up to 3 if this continues to perform well.

 

cindyc_0-1620084140498.png

 

Conclusion

 

Creating my own version of an Async CC for me was definitely a learning curve. I had never worked with REDIS or Celery before, and quite frankly after more research, there is a redis python lib out there you can use instead of celery, which I think is a little more straightforward. Once I put this into production, there were a configuration element in Celery that broke an API call I was making later in the process. Once I figured out which config value it should be (--pool=solo) , it was fine. Again, I was not able to get the built-in Async feature of the CC in the FLOW to do what I wanted, but at least with the above (convoluted) process, I was able to control the FLOW a bit more and set the timeout to whatever I want now (within the limitations of the Do Until Loop) for the Check Status REST API call and send notifications for failure, etc. I hope providing insight into the the things that tripped me up can help someone.

2 REPLIES 2
SameerCh
Power Automate
Power Automate

Excellent post! Thanks for sharing your experience and feedback. I am sure there are many things we can do to improve the overall experience - perhaps more of a guided topic with explanations rather than a series of do this, do that. 

murshed
Employee
Employee

Thanks for sharing this outstanding article. I would encourage you to try out the import from github option and the paconn cli, which is designed to accelerate the custom connector development cycle. https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/connectors/custom-connectors/paconn-cli

 

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We are excited to share that the all-new Copilot Cookbook Gallery for Power Apps is now available in the Power Apps Community, full of tips and tricks on how to best use Microsoft Copilot as you develop and create in Power Apps. The new Copilot Cookbook is your go-to resource when you need inspiration--or when you're stuck--and aren't sure how to best partner with Copilot while creating apps.   Whether you're looking for the best prompts or just want to know about responsible AI use, visit Copilot Cookbook for regular updates you can rely on--while also serving up some of your greatest tips and tricks for the Community. Our team will be reviewing posts using the new "Copilot" label to ensure we highlight and amplify the most relevant and recent content, so you're assured of high-quality content every time you visit. If you share a post that gets featured in the curated gallery, you'll get a PM in the Community to let you know!The curated gallery is ready for you to experience now, so visit the new Copilot Cookbook for Power Apps today: Copilot Cookbook - Power Platform Community. We can't wait to see what you "cook" up!    

Tuesday Tips: Getting Started in the Community

TUESDAY TIPS is back!   This weekly series of posts is our way of sharing helpful things we've learned or shared that have helped members of the Community. Whether you're just getting started or you're a seasoned pro, Tuesday Tips will help you know where to go, what to look for, and navigate your way through the ever-growing--and ever-changing--world of the Power Platform Community! The original run of Tuesday Tips was a highlight of last year, and these all-new Tips will hopefully prove to be just as informative as helpful. We will cover some basics about the Community, a few "insider tips" to make your experience even better, and sharing best practices gleaned from our most active community members and Super Users. Make sure to watch the News & Announcements each week for the latest and greatest Tuesday Tips!   THIS WEEK: I'm Brand New! What Do I Do? The number of new community members we have each week is pretty amazing, and we are so glad to welcome all of you to the Community! You may be wondering. "What do I do? Where do I get started? Will anyone be willing to help me? What I have a question? Help!"   Let's start with this: Welcome to the low-code revolution, and more importantly, welcome to the Power Platform Community! This is a great place to start. Whether you're busy with Power Apps, getting familiar with Power Automate, engaging Copilot Studio, or building in Power Pages, there are a few key places you should check out as you begin your journey: FORUMS: The forums are THE place to ask questions, look at questions asked by other Community members—and see answers and solutions from our Super Users and other helpful people in the Community. Power Apps ForumsPower Automate ForumsCopilot Studio ForumsPower Pages Forums   NEWS & ANNOUNCEMENTS: Our News & Announcements section highlights the newest and greatest updates in the Community, news from the product team, and so much more. It’s updated a few times each week and will also help you find ways to connect with what’s going on in the ever-growing world of Power Platform. Power Apps News & AnnouncementsPower Automate News & AnnouncementsCopilot Studio News & AnnouncementsPower Pages News & Announcements   GALLERIES: The Galleries section of the Community features tons of tips and tricks, features and benefits, and more—through videos created by our Super Users, product teams, and other helpful members of the Community. Power Apps GalleriesPower Automate Galleries Copilot Studio GalleriesPower Pages Galleries BLOGS: The community blogs section is full of handy step-by-step tips from members of the Community—and some of them include detailed answers to some of the questions most frequently asked questions, as well as how they solved a problem they faced. Power Apps Community BlogPower Automate Community BlogCopilot Studio Community BlogPower Pages Community Blog POWER UP PROGRAM: If you’d like to really take a huge step forward in your journey, we recommend checking out the Power Up Program, a Microsoft-sponsored initiative that trains new Power Platform users and has been a huge success since it launched a little over a year ago. There’s a waiting list, so definitely apply soon if you’re interested! Find out more here: Microsoft Power Up Program for career switchers.   There's so much more you'll discover in your Power Platform experience, and this Community is here for YOU! We are glad you've discovered us and can't wait to see where you grow! If you're new to the Community and just getting started, make sure to give this post a kudo and introduce yourself so we can welcome you!

Super User of the Month | Drew Poggemann

As part of a new monthly feature in the Community, we are excited to share that Drew Poggemann is our featured Super User for the month of February 2024. If you've been in the Community for a while, we're sure Drew's name is familiar to you, as he is one of our most active contributors--he's been a Super User for five consecutive seasons!   Since authoring his first reply 5 years ago to his 514th solution authored, Drew has helped countless Community members with his insights and expertise. In addition to being a Super User, Drew is also a User Group leader and a Microsoft MVP. His contributions to our Super User sessions and to the new SUIT program are always welcome--as well as his sense of humor and fun-loving way of sharing what he knows with others.   When Drew is not solving problems and authoring solutions, he's busy overseeing the Solution Architecture team at HBS, specializing in application architecture and business solution strategy--something he's been doing for over 30 years. We are grateful for Drew and the amazing way he has used his talent and skills to help so many others in the Community. If you are part of the SUIT program, you got to hear some great tips from Drew at the first SUIT session--and we know he still has much more to share!You can find him in the Community and on LinkedIn. Thank you for all you do, Drew!

Super Users 2024 Season One is Here!

   We are excited to announce the first season of our 2024 Super Users is here! Our kickoff to the new year welcomes many returning Super Users and several new faces, and it's always exciting to see the impact these incredible individuals will have on the Community in 2024! We are so grateful for the daily difference they make in the Community already and know they will keep staying engaged and excited for all that will happen this year.   How to Spot a Super User in the Community:Have you ever written a post or asked for help in the Community and had it answered by a user with the Super User icon next to their name? It means you have found the actual, real-life superheroes of the Power Platform Community! Super Users are our heroes because of the way they consistently make a difference in the Community. Our amazing Super Users help keep the Community a safe place by flagging spam and letting the Community Managers know about issues. They also make the Community a great place to find answers, because they are often the first to offer solutions and get clarity on questions. Finally, Super Users share valuable insights on ways to keep the Community growing, engaging, and looking ahead!We are honored to reveal the new badges for this season of Super Users! Congratulations to all the new and returning Super Users!     To better answer the question "What is a Super User?" please check out this article: Power Apps: What is A Super User? - Power Platform CommunityPower Automate: What is A Super User? - Power Platform Community Copilot Studio: What is A Super User? - Power Platform Community Power Pages: What is A Super User? - Power Platform Community

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