Replicate SharePoint Hub site navigation to other Hub sites

I have been working with a large government department where Microsoft Services helped them transform their intranet to SharePoint Online leveraging all the modern capabilities available as well as rethinking what an intranet was. This work included envisioning to fully exploit all of Office 365 and a crucial Information Architecture (IA) design which also mapped their existing, complex and poorly performing hierarchy of subsites to several new hub sites and a completely flattened site structure. I hope to write more about this work soon.

Primary intranet site navigation provider

To create a consistent user experience, the look and feel for several hub sites was replicated, creating the feel of a single intranet. The hub site navigation also needed to be replicated, and that is wherein the challenge lay. The navigation cannot be easily copied from one site to another, let alone between hub sites, and thus this solution was born.

We decided to create a dedicated hub site that only the intranet team can access. Within this hub site, we were then able to create the intended intranet navigation and get the headings, order and links just right without troubling anyone. Once we were happy with the navigation and testing successfully passed, the idea was that we would be able to replicate the hub site navigation to all our other hub sites. More importantly, the process could be easily repeated, keeping the intranet navigation updated across many hub sites. The task could also be automated but we opted to leave it as a manually initiated task.

Script to replication hub site navigation to other sites

The solution to the problem is a PowerShell script made up of two functions. One function that gets the navigation from the hub site acting as the master or primary navigation provider (supplied from a parameter). The other function replicates the navigation to other hub sites. The Get-SPOHubSiteNavigation function exports the hub site navigation from the site provided to a CSV file. The CSV file is then used by the Copy-SPOHubSiteNavigation function to replicate the navigation links to other sites. The process could be hijacked somewhat to add hub site navigation from a CSV file rather than reading it from an existing hub site. We found it was easier to get a feel for the navigation in a real SharePoint site rather than work with the information in a spreadsheet.

Screen recording of the Copy-SPOHubSiteNavigation replicating navigation between two hub sites.
Screen recording of the Copy-SPOHubSiteNavigation replicating navigation between two hub sites.

You can also disable the export process by setting the -Export parameter to -Export:$false. This switch makes the Get-SPOHubSiteNavigation quite useful for displaying the hub site navigation in an accessible collection. This collection can be used with pipe functions, to filter or sort the collection, for example. This collection is also much easier to work with than using the Get-PnpNavigationNode -Location TopNavigatioBar -Tree cmdlet and parameters to show the full navigation structure.

Hub site navigation collection displayed in a table.
Hub site navigation collection displayed in a table.

Observations

As with many of my posts, I like to share any observations I have made during the work.

  • The cached Hub navigation appears to refresh every 30 minutes if left unchanged. You can force the cache to refresh by editing the links and then clicking cancel.
  • A JSON file gets saved to the /_catalogs/hubsite library which could be related to the cached navigation. It has a GUID based name e.g. 20d31c78-8a8c-499a-b953-ecc673344cef.json and appears to get modified by the System Account when changes to the hub site navigation are saved.
  • The cached JSON file looks like this:
  • This JSON file, in theory, could be read from a source site and the navigation element copied and injected into the JSON on a target site through manipulation of the JSON payload and the /_API/navigation/SaveMenuState API.
  • When trying to add a new navigation node using the Add-PnpNavigationNode cmdlet. If the parent node was invalid I got the following error. This wasn’t because the URL linked to a file or folder that didn’t exist as the error below suggests.
Add-PnPNavigationNode error
Add-PnPNavigationNode : error when no resource or file is available from the Url supplied.
  • The script could benefit additional error handling, particularly to ensure the target site(s) provided are registered as hub sites.
  • Bonus tip! If you find you have lost changes to the navigation, this same JSON file is part of a library where version history is enabled. This file appears in hub sites and sites associated with a hub site. The version history might help you recover from any loss, but you won’t be able to restore it as the library appears to be read-only.
Version history available for JSON file which I suspect ins the cached hub site navigation
Version history available for JSON file which I suspect ins the cached hub site navigation

I hope you find this post useful. As always #SharingIsCaring

Switch between modern SharePoint homepages using PnP PowerShell

This featured in Episode 44 of the SharePoint Dev Weekly podcast.

I’ve been working on a modern intranet project amongst over projects for the last 12-months. This has been more about the transformation of content and business processes, rethinking information architecture and reimagining a modern intranet than it has been about custom development.

I’ve been working on a modern intranet project amongst over projects for the last 12-months. This has been more about the transformation of content and business processes, rethinking information architecture and reimagining a modern intranet than it has been about custom development.

We’ve recently been testing variations in the design of a homepage with different audiences. This side-by-side comparison has allowed end-user feedback, performance and accessibility testing. The same approach has also been useful for previewing and testing the capabilities of new features (like the new Yammer web part). The challenge comes when you need to promote or switch over one of these variations as the new site homepage. The homepage is the page users are directed to when first navigating to a site or clicking on the site logo. It is like as important as the index.html or default.aspx page existence to a website. Note that these variations of the homepage permit testing of content and not site configuration. To test navigation, theme or similar we have separate sites and environments for this purpose.

To solve the problem switching the homepage from an existing page whilst preserving the home.aspx page name I’ve leveraged the SharePoint Pnp cmdlets to create a script that will rename or remove the current homepage (and can remove it through a toggle) and then rename an existing page to make it the new homepage.

Set-SPNewHomePage script demonstration
Demonstration of the Set-SPNewHomePage script in action.

Use my PnP PowerShell script to replace the home.aspx page

Alternative methods

Change the default homepage through SharePoint

Site Owners can use the out-of-the-box make homepage action to make any page the default homepage or welcome page. This is available from the toolbar in the site pages library. But this keeps the page name and means the default page is /sitepages/randompagename.aspx instead of the standard /sitepages/home.aspx that all sites have. From my perspective this is not great. Certainly, intranet-like sites should follow some basic content management principles. Call in a touch on the OCD side but consistently having a standard homepage is one of these for me.

Screenshot of setting a new homepage in the site pages library.
Screenshot of setting a new homepage in the site pages library.

Change the welcome page site property through Site Settings or PowerShell

Previously you could use the classic settings page (typically exposed by the publishing feature) or by browsing to /_layouts/15/AreaWelcomePage.aspx to make changes to the welcome page. This method no longer works and throws an error.

As with the make homepage action describe earlier this changes the default homepage to the use the page name you have provided and means the site won’t be available if users have bookmarked the site with the page name (/sitepages/home.aspx) in the URL.

Screenshot of the welcome page site settings page.
Screenshot of the welcome page site settings page.

What is my point? To this day can I still memory recall core settings pages. With these, you can quickly review or makes changes to settings pages rather than using the UI to navigate to them. This includes those that may no longer be exposed in the UI. Whilst my memory serves me well I don’t recommend this approach as these pages and settings are gradually being replaced with alternatives or removed by the SharePoint and Office 365 engineering team for a reason.

Instead, you can also use Pnp PowerShell to change the site welcome page property. I’ve provided an example script below.

As simple as my script is, it is the approach worth learning the most. I hope you find this article useful and as with all Pnp development effort. Sharing is caring!

The Sign in as Different User option is missing in SharePoint 2013

I’ve been exploring SharePoint 2013 in recent days and noticed that the ‘Sign in as Different User’ option or action from the welcome control (user menu) seems to have been removed or forgotten from the user interface in this build.

Sign in as Different User in SharePoint 2010
Sign in as Different User in SharePoint 2010
No sign in as different user missing in SharePoint 2013
No sign in as different user missing in SharePoint 2013

For someone who works with SharePoint as I do, any kind of administration, developing or testing that requires you to sign in as another you will now become convoluted from the previous version and is somewhat frustrating and annoying. Others such as Nick Grattan have discussed this issue and possible workarounds.

Of all the workarounds currently available such as browsing to the closeConnection page directly, modifying the welcome control and adding the control back (I do not recommend this approach), creating a javascript bookmark, embedding jQuery into the master page to insert the option back in the menu and lastly launching the browser with the RunAs option my preference will remain to browse directly to the closeConnection page:

/_layouts/closeConnection.aspx?loginasanotheruser=true

Or alternatively, use the javascript bookmark Cory Peters has kindly created:

javascript:window.location.href=”http://”+window.location.host+”/_layouts/closeConnection.aspx?loginasanotheruser=true”;

It will be interesting to see what others do and as to whether or not the option gets added back by Microsoft in a future update.