SP 2010: Customizing the forms for External Lists (BCS) in SharePoint 2010 by using Custom Field Controls and jQuery

Tobias Zimmergren
Tobias Zimmergren

Author: Tobias Zimmergren
http://www.zimmergren.net | http://www.tozit.com | @zimmergren


As many of you know, customizing a form for a SharePoint list isn’t very tricky to do – but when it comes to modifying the forms for an External List it becomes a bit more of a challenge. In this article I will walk you through how the BCS (Business Connectivity Services) model can enable you to modify the New- and Editforms by creating and utilizing your own Custom Field Controls and I will also talk about how you can change the behavior and rendering of your DisplayForm using jQuery.

Related articles about BCS that may be worthwhile:


  1. SP 2010: Developing for SharePoint 2010 and Windows Azure – Part 1
  2. SP 2010: Custom RSS provider for your BCS connected External Lists
  3. SP 2010: BCS problem with AuthenticationMode and RevertToSelf
  4. Access denied by Business Data Connectivity – Solution
  5. SP 2010: Programmatically work with External Lists (BCS) using the Client Object Model
  6. SP 2010: Programmatically work with External Lists (BCS) in SharePoint 2010
  7. SP 2010: Getting started with Business Connectivity Services (BCS) in SharePoint 2010[/blockquote]


So let’s pose that our scenario is that we’ve got a a source of data coming in through BCS and is represented like it’s always represented out of the box with BCS. What we would like to do is to customize the New- and EditForms to allow custom logic and we would also like to change how the DispForm behaves.

In this sample we’ve got a very simplistic BCS model containing one entity with these properties:
13. Identifier (string)
14. Color (string)
15. Published (boolean) In SharePoint, our model is represented like this in the out of the box UI:

| Display Form | New- and Edit Forms |
| [![ScreenShot1530](GHOST_URL/conScreenShot1530et/content/images/2012/06/ScreenShot1530.png) | [![image](GHOST_URL/content/imagimageet/content/images/2012/06/image6.png) |

What we really want to achieve in this article is to manipulate the behavior of our Display- and New/Edit forms to look something like this:

| Display Form
Published: Icon instead of Yes/No text.
Color: Lit up with the selected color in the UI.
| New- and Edit Forms
Color: Replaced with a custom field control |
| [![image](GHOST_URL/content/imagimageet/content/images/2012/06/image7.png) | [![image](GHOST_URL/content/imagimageet/content/images/2012/06/image8.png) |

As you can see in the last two images above, the result of our development is that we’ll be using a custom control (DropDown) instead of the standard TextBox for our Color-field, and we’ll change the way the Published-field looks in the Display Form. It should give you an idea of how you can customize and alter the behavior of your BCS External List Forms.

So without further ado, let’s get started with modifying our forms!

(I assume that you already have a BCS Model in place and will not iterate the steps for creating one here…)

Modifying New/Edit forms: Custom Field Control to the rescue

When it comes to the BCS Model, you should really always edit it through the XML and not through the Visual Studio UI. Start by right-clicking your BCS Model and selecting the "Open With…" alternative:

Then choose your favorite XML editor:

When you’re in this mode, you obviously have to be careful not to mistype or misspell anything as it can result in a broken BCS Model. Awesome :-)

To cut it short, here’s an extract for the "Creating" Method, which references a Custom Field Control called ColorField:

ColorField ColorField

As you can see above I’ve referenced a property called "SPCustomFieldType" in the code (Read more on BCS Custom Properties), which in turn is referencing something called "ColorField". The ColorField is my CustomField control that is simply a DropDown-box to be represented in the UI instead of the good’ol text box.

Modifying Display Forms: jQuery to the rescue

When it comes to modifying the DispForm of the External List, I’ve had several attempts with the documented RendererDefinition in the past and not one single time it worked for me nor any of my clients. So with that experience, I’ve resorted to using jQuery to modify the rendition of the Display Form. Obviously one could use jQuery for the New- and Edit Forms as well, if you want to.

Short story, the jQuery looks like this:

// Found this through google, but can't remember the source. // Great script for string replacements! String.prototype.replaceAll = function (str1, str2, ignore) { return this.replace(new RegExp(str1.replace(/([/,!\^${}.*+?|<>-&])/g, "$&"), (ignore ? "gi" : "g")), (typeof (str2) == "string") ? str2.replace(/$/g, "$$$$") : str2); }; $(document).ready(function () { // Render an icon instead of Yes/No text var publishedHtml = $('h3.ms-standardheader:contains("Published")').closest('tr').children(".ms-formbody").html().toString(); publishedHtml = publishedHtml.replaceAll("Yes", ""); publishedHtml = publishedHtml.replaceAll("No", ""); $('h3.ms-standardheader:contains("Published")').closest('tr').children(".ms-formbody").html(publishedHtml); // Render the entire TD in the color that was chosen var colorHtml = $('h3.ms-standardheader:contains("Color")').closest('tr').children(".ms-formbody").html().toString(); var colorHtmlTd = $('h3.ms-standardheader:contains("Color")').closest('tr').children(".ms-formbody").attr("style", "background-color:" + colorHtml + ";"); });

Essentially what this jQuery snippet does is that it will find the correct elements in the HTML markup that corresponds to my Fields (you see the :contains("Published") part? That’s where I find the Published-field in the markup). Then I simply alter the text that is sent to us from the server, replacing "Yes/No" with an image of a checked or unchecked checkbox. Pretty simple trick to light up the form a bit without the hassle of trying to get your RendererDefinition working…

Tip: If you want to easily inject your jQuery to the External List Forms, I’d recommend using a DelegateControl override on the AdditionalPageHead. The code for my AdditionalPageHead DelegateControl looks something like this:

protected void Page*Load(object sender, EventArgs e) { string httpRequestUrlString = HttpContext.Current.Request.Url.AbsoluteUri; // Note: You should create a smarter verification for when to load the scripts than to use a hardcoded value like I've done in this sample. if ((httpRequestUrlString.Contains("/Lists/Sample Entity/") || httpRequestUrlString.Contains("/Lists/Sample%20Entity/")) && httpRequestUrlString.Contains("DispForm.aspx")) // Only render scripts if it's the Display Form on the Sample Entity list { // Add a reference to jQuery if it isn't already loaded ScriptLink.Register(this.Page, "/*layouts/TOZIT.Samples.BCSExtensions/Scripts/jquery-1.7.2.min.js", false); ScriptLink.Register(this.Page, "/_layouts/TOZIT.Samples.BCSExtensions/Scripts/bcsDisplayFormScriptSample.js", false); } }

The code snippet above simply checks the current request and determines whether it’s your specific list being loaded, and then also determine if it’s the DispForm.aspx file being served. As noted in the comments, you should modify this if-statement to suit your needs, should you decide to create a DelegateControl like this.


Working with BCS is both fun and challenging at the same time. Like most SharePoint projects your requirements always change, and there’s always a need for further investigating the possibilities for how we can deliver quality solutions. In this article I’ve talked about some tips for how you can modify the NewForm and EditForm of your BCS External List by simply using a Custom Field Control. I’ve also talked about how you can deliver customized forms using jQuery as in the DispForm sample above.

As a final note I’d like to shout out to Scot Hillier who is a fellow SharePoint MVP and author of the Professional Business Connectivity Services in SharePoint 2010 book for valuable tips and awesome discussions regarding this topic.


Tobias Zimmergren Twitter

Hi, I'm Tobias! 👋 I write about Microsoft Azure, security, cybersecurity, compliance, cloud architecture, Microsoft 365, and general tech!

Reactions and mentions

Hi, I'm Tobias 👋

Tobias Zimmergren profile picture

Find out more about me.

Recent comments