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Microsoft SharePoint 2013 : Looking at Visio Services (part 1) - Displaying Visio drawings in Visio Services

4/1/2014 2:14:57 AM

Visio Services allows users to save and share their Visio drawings to a SharePoint site. You can use Visio Services to render a Visio drawing that people can view in their browser. Since Visio Services does all of the rendering, anyone can view the Visio drawing without having Visio or the Visio Viewer installed on the computer.


The Visio 2013 Viewer can be downloaded at www.microsoft.com/en-us/download/details.aspx?id=35811.

The power Visio Services can add to your solutions with very little effort is often overlooked. Simply because the eye is plugged directly into your brain and the eye is our primary sense, users can easily distinguish between differences in color, shape, size, and form. When users are presented with a large list of data, they have to read that data and interpret them and then do some kind of calculation or comparison. By default, SharePoint tends to present data in a tabular form; however, it is far easier if someone else has already done the calculations/comparison and presents the results visually so that users can see what the data is telling them quickly, with a single look.


Visio Services can be used to display visualizations of SharePoint 2010 workflow instances in the browser. Visio visualizations cannot be used with SharePoint 2013 workflow instances. However, you can use Visio drawings to create and modify both SharePoint 2013 and SharePoint 2013 workflows using the Visio client application; and in SharePoint Designer, you use the built-in Visual Designer, which is a Visio ActiveX control, to create and modify SharePoint 2013 workflows.

When you upload a Visio file into SharePoint and it is presented in the browser using Visio Services, it is considered as a read-only file (except for commenting). You cannot change Visio diagrams using Visio Services, or the data in a Visio file, you need to use the Visio client application to do that; however, the diagrams can react to changes in the data if the data they are based on is external to the file; that is, the diagrams can be data driven. Connecting data to Visio diagrams, known as data linking, must be configured using Visio 2010 Professional, Visio 2010 Premium, or Visio Professional 2013.


When Visio is teamed with a SharePoint 2010 or SharePoint 2013 environments, users do not need to know how to create the Visio diagrams, nor do the creators of the Visio Services solutions need to write code. By using the standard, out-of-the-box features of both Visio and SharePoint, the creator can create integrated solutions without writing code. The development life cycle of Visio Services solutions involve three basic players:

  • Creator . The creator understands the business data, is aware of the trends and significant changes in the data, as well as knowledge of the overall business process in the organization. Creators may not write code or necessarily understand the technical intricacies of software product development; however, they do know the business systems that host the data for the Visio Services solution. They will create the Visio diagrams, connect those diagrams to business data, and then upload the Visio diagrams to SharePoint and build any dashboards.

  • Consumer . Users of the Visio Services solution must know how to interact with the solution developed by the creator of the solution. In many ways, the solution will be similar to other solutions built with SharePoint, such as the use of web part connections or the solutions built using Business Connectivity Services (BCS) or Excel Services.

  • Developer . A developer extends the out-of-the-box functionality of Visio and SharePoint by using the Visio Services class library, in the Microsoft.Office.Visio.Server namespace and the JavaScript object model in the Vwa namespace in Visio Services, as well as other parts of the SharePoint object model.

In SharePoint Server 2013, Visio Services renders diagrams created in either of the following:

  • Visio 2010 . These must be created using Visio 2010 Professional or Visio 2010 Premium and must be published to a SharePoint site as a Visio web drawing (*.vdw) file. Standard Visio 2010 diagrams (.vsd files) are not rendered by Visio Services and require Visio 2010, Visio 2013, or Visio Viewer to be viewed.

  • Visio 2013 . These must be created using Visio Professional 2013. The new standard diagram format in Visio Professional 2013 (*.vsdx files) can be rendered by Visio Services, along with web drawings (.vdw) format. You should use the new .vsdx format unless you require compatibility with previous versions of Visio.

The new Visio 2013 file format

Visio 2013 contains new XML-based file formats, known as Office Open XML, based on the Open Packaging Conventions (OPC) standard (ISO 29500, Part2). This makes it possible for Visio to provide new functionality and improve interoperability with other applications. Microsoft Office 2007 introduced new XML file formats for Microsoft Word (.docx), Microsoft Excel (.xlsx), and Microsoft PowerPoint (.pptx). Just as those file formats were a combination of a ZIP archive package and XML content, so too are the new file formats for Visio. In fact, you can save a drawing in Visio 2013 as one of the new file formats, rename the file extension to “*.zip” in Windows Explorer, and then open the file like a folder to see the contents inside.

The benefits offered by the new XML file format include the following:

  • Smaller file sizes due to the new compressed format, which can be up to 75 percent smaller than the comparable binary document.

  • Greater security. This is the result of data being stored in a standard structure, with a separate file extension for files with executable macro code. The macro-free file extensions are .vsdx for Visio drawings, .vstx for Visio templates, and .vssx for Visio stencils. The equivalent macro-enabled file extensions are .vsdm, .vstm, and .vssm.

  • Improved data recovery via segmenting and separating different components within the file.

  • Previous to SharePoint 2013, you had to publish a Visio drawing to Visio Services as a Visio web drawing (.vdw); now you can save new Visio XML-formatted files to a document library and the drawings can be viewed natively in the browser by using Visio Services, both with on-premises installations of SharePoint 2013 and Office 365.

  • Support for coauthoring when Visio drawings are saved to SkyDrive, SharePoint, or SharePoint Online in Office 365.

The new XML files can be read and updated without the need of a client application; for example, a developer could write code to selectively read one item out of a Visio .vsdx file without having to extract the whole file, or they could change the logo in all the background pages of all .vsdx files in a SharePoint library to reflect new branding guidelines.

Although Visio is part of the Office product, it is slightly different from other Office applications, and hence some Visio functionality has been shoehorned in the XML file to look like Office format. For example, the previous version of Visio also included an XML-based file format, the Visio XML drawing format or .vdx, as well as XML template, .vtx, and XML stencil formats, .vsx. Therefore, for example, some of the Visio XML schema from the .vdx file has remained the same in the .vsdx format.

1. Displaying Visio drawings in Visio Services

When you click a Visio file in a SharePoint library, by default the Visio diagram opens in a webpage for a full-screen viewing experience, as shown in Figure 1.

A screenshot of the Visio Web Access page.

Figure 1. The Visio Web Access page displays the drawing in a Visio file.

The SharePoint page hosts an instance of the Visio Web Access Web Part, where the URL of the page is <SharePointSiteURL>/_layouts/15/VisioWebAccess/VisioWebAccess.aspx?id=<fileURL>&Source=<pageURL>, where:

  • <file URL> is the relative address of the location of the Visio file, such as /sites/IT/Workflow/Shared_Documents/Contoso_Sales_Process.vsdx.

  • <pageURL> is the URL of the page where you clicked the name of the Visio file, such as the All Items view of a document library: http___intranet_adventure_works_com_sites_IT_Workflow_Shared_20Documents_Forms_AllItems_aspx.

At the top of the Visio Web Access page is a breadcrumb that allows you to navigate to the page you were previously on, <pageURL>. If you click the cross (x) in the upper-right corner of the Visio Web Access page, you will also be redirected to <pageURL>. Below the breadcrumb are four links:

  • Open in Visio . Click this link to open the Visio drawing in the Visio client application. This requires that Visio or Visio Viewer is installed on your computer. A Microsoft Office dialog box opens, warning you that some files can contain viruses that are harmful and that it is important to be certain that the file is from a trustworthy source. Once you have clicked Yes in the dialog box, Visio will open. You can also click the file name in the breadcrumb to open the file in Visio.

  • Refresh . Use this link to refresh the page. When the Visio diagram is linked to an external data source and that content has changed since the last refresh, the new data appears in the diagram. Changes in the data source might not be immediately reflected by refreshing the diagram, depending on the data caching settings for Visio Services. In SharePoint 2013, refreshing can now alter all shapes, shape styling, and calculated shape data during a refresh, and that BCS is now a supported data source for refreshable data.

  • Shape info . Click this link to open the Shape Information pane and then select a shape in the drawing to view detailed information about the shape, as shown in Figure 2.

    A screenshot of the Share Information pane and a diagram, with a shape in the diagram selected.

    Figure 2. Use the Shape Information pane to display detailed information about a shape.

    The pane can be repositioned by dragging the title bar of the pane using the left mouse button (floating), or it can be docked. You can also resize the window by grabbing one of the borders of the pane and dragging it. If a shape has a hyperlink, when you pause the mouse over the shape, the Pointer tool changes to show that it can be clicked. Select the shape, and then click it again to follow the link. Hyperlinks are also displayed in the Shape Information pane, which is useful for shapes that contain more than one hyperlink.

  • Comments .  Use this link to open the Comments pane. When the drawing is saved in SharePoint and viewed in the browser by using Visio Services, users who do not have the Visio client application can add comments to a shape or at the page level which are indicated by a cloud icon, as shown in Figure 3. Commenting is not supported for .vdw or the older binary Visio file formats.

    A screenshot of a Visio drawing displayed in Visio Web Access. Comments have been added to the page and a shape. The Comments pane is displayed.

    Figure 3. You can attach comments to a page or to shapes.

    You can view all comments in the Comments pane. You can add, edit, and delete comments within the Visio client application. Comments are stored as part of the Visio file (.vsdx); therefore, you need to save the file to save your comments, and therefore comments in Visio files are similar to using comments in other Office applications, such as Word. Depending on the configuration of your SharePoint library, when you are editing a draft version, then comments may only be seen by other contributors and would only be seen by all users when the .vsdx file is published as a major version. To display the Comments pane in Visio, click Comments Pane on the Review Ribbon tab in the Comments group.

    Visio Services includes new JavaScript APIs to read comments from a page or shape in a diagram.

Visio diagrams can have multiple pages, and in the footer of the webpage is the number of pages in the diagram. At the top of the page, to the right of the breadcrumb, is a Page Navigation box, which you can use to view the page you want to see, as shown in Figure 4. Selecting a different page will cause Visio Services to load and render that page, as well as update and link data and data graphics.

A screenshot of the top portion of a Visio Access webpage, with the Page Navigation box selected showing two pages.

Figure 4. Use the Page Navigation box to view pages in a multipage diagram.

You can click and drag the diagram around the webpage to view specific parts of the diagram. Use the zoom tools in the footer to change the size of the diagram and to make the entire diagram visible in the browser window.

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