Microsoft Adaptive Cards

This post is a third part of the series about Adaptive Cards technology. It is entirely dedicated to what the technology is about, how it works and how can be used in your solutions. If you are interested in the history of the concept, please open the first part from the series here.

Adaptive Cards – introduction

Since the technology originated from Message Cards, it inherited all the good practices from its precedessor and developed into more matured and cross-platform solution.

One of the things it took from Message Cards is its declarative code built using JSON notation. It guarantees security of the solution, because no code apart from that understood by SDK can be passed to the end user. Trying to inject information from outside the schema will either result in card not being displayed at all or the additional information displayed as plain text.

Talking about the schema – because the technology changes constantly, it’s not a good practice to simply describe it “fixed” in a post. For the latest definition please refer to the documentation here: https://adaptivecards.io/explorer/. However what is a good idea and what possibly won’t change is decomposition of the schema into main building blocks:

Adaptive Cards schema
Adaptive Cards schema
  1. Card definition – that includes version, styling, background, language etc… – basic definition of the canvas of a card author wants to use.
  2. Body – basically all the content that is going to be displayed as the card.
  3. Actions – defines a set of possible actions (buttons, links) that end-user can interact with.

Then inside the “Body” we can define:

  1. Containers – objects allowing to group controls together, for a better look&feel. These are ActionSet, Container, ColumnSet, FactSet, ImageSet.
  2. Controls – used to present actual content. These are: TextBlock, RichTextBlock, Media, Image.
  3. Inputs – used to display form fields, so that user can not only consume information, but also provide their own. There are for example: Text, Toggle, Date, ChoiceSet, etc…

Important! All media (videos, music, images) that are provided as the source of a control has to be available via a secure URL (https). Also, make sure that if you have a multiline text, all new lines are replaced by \n character, to avoid errors in JSON format.

Speaking about Actions. They must be put inside an ActionSet building block, or not. There are four types of possible actions:

  1. OpenURL (aka GET)
  2. ShowCard
  3. Submit
  4. ToggleVisibility

A very specific type of actions, that are not triggered when user clicks a button, is available for an event when a card is tapped or selected:

  1. OpenURL (aka GET)
  2. Submit
  3. ToggleVisibility

Important! Whereas OpenURL action and ToggleVisibility are done entirely effortless: OpenURL simply directly open the provided URL, Toggle just shows/ hides what is meant to toggle, meanwhile Submit and ShowCard  (only if ShowCardActionMode is set to popup) are more complex. Why? Because the action is not directly executed. It is first sent to the source (SDK, Bot) and then the source is responsible for handling that action.

The SDK

SDK is the engine that takes JSON code and using it renders nice looking Adaptive Card. There are already SDKs prepared for the most common platforms, but developers can use SDK to create their own instances of renderers.

Today you can use Adaptive Cards on the following platforms (https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/adaptive-cards/rendering-cards/getting-started#adaptive-cards-sdks):

Where SDK is implemented today and therefore can be used?

Where Adaptive Cards can be used today?
Where Adaptive Cards can be used today?
  • Microsoft Teams (SDK is in Bot Framework)
  • Bots (in general :))
  • Speech (Bot Framework again)
  • Windows Timeline (SDK from Windows UWP)
  • Cortana Skills (SDK in Windows WPF)
  • Email (Outlook Actionable Messages, SDK built in)
  • Mobile email (Outlook Actionable Messages, SDK built in, currently only iOS)
  • Skype (SDK in Bot Framework)
  • Custom solutions (custom implementation of SDK)

Important! Bear in mind, that although Matt’s team is working hard on developing new versions and functionalities of Adaptive Cards, the SDK implementation and updates in existing platforms is up to teams supporting them. Therefore in all existing, Microsoft platforms, the only version of Adaptive Cards you can use is 1.0 (https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/adaptive-cards/resources/partners#live).

Tools to help you

Today Adaptive Card can be build using various tools, that helps designer to visualy compose their cards, then copy the generated JSON code and then further automize, digitize it in their solutions.

AdaptiveCards Designer

That one is the most common – available under the link: https://adaptivecards.io/designer/ allows visually design the card. Also, it is always refering to the most up-to-date published version of the SDK, which now is 1.2.

App Studio in Microsoft Teams

Authors can add a new app to their Microsoft Teams where they can author cards and use them right away. Simply go to “More added apps” in your desktop client, then click “More apps” type “app studio” in the search box and add what is found:

App Studio in Microsoft Teams
App Studio in Microsoft Teams

Adaptive Card Viewer extension in Visual Studio Code

You can add it as an add-in to your VS Code (https://marketplace.visualstudio.com/items?itemName=tomlm.vscode-adaptivecards). Next, if you edit a JSON file that has a valid adaptive card $schema property ("$schema": "http://adaptivecards.io/schemas/adaptive-card.json"), you can view it by using Ctrl+Shift+V A.

WPF Visualizer

You are also able to use another type of the visualiser dedicated for creating adaptive cards that later can be used inside your Windows solutions: https://github.com/Microsoft/AdaptiveCards/tree/master/source/dotnet/Samples/WPFVisualizer

Actionable Messages Debugger for Outlook

That is an add-in for the Outlook Desktop and Online versions, that allows authors to simply debug their cards to see what is going on under the hood. Get your from here: https://appsource.microsoft.com/en-us/product/office/WA104381686

Where else?

Basically since the Adaptive Cards designer is also an open-source javascript solution, you can easily embedd it in your own application. Just get the package from npm: https://www.npmjs.com/package/adaptivecards-designer

How to start?

First you need to prepare the JSON code of your card.

Adaptive Cards Designer
Adaptive Cards Designer

Next, you need to create an app/ bot/ solution that will display it or send it where it will be displayed (e.g. Microsoft Teams displays cards posted by Bot Framework, or Windows Notifications displays cards posted by apps, like Mail).

Since I am not a developer, the easiest way I can utilize Adpative Cards is to use tools, that already have the SDK in-place and will render a card using the provided JSON for me. Here I am thinking about Microsoft Flow and Teams of course.

Microsoft Flow crafting an Adaptive Card
Microsoft Flow crafting an Adaptive Card

Then you have to replace all those fixed values defined inside the JSON with dynamic ones taken from the user/ external database – related to the process in which card is used.

Posting Adaptive Card from Microsoft Flow to Teams
Posting Adaptive Card from Microsoft Flow to Teams

Finally, card has to be sent by your solution.

Sending Adaptive Card to Microsoft Teams
Sending Adaptive Card to Microsoft Teams

And that’s it! It is that simple. In my next post I will show you how to build such solution that can leverage business approvals in your organization. Stay tuned!

Thank you for reaching that far! This post is a third one in series in which you can learn about:

  1. Introduction to Adaptive Cards
  2. Message Cards – case study and how-to
  3. Adaptive Cards – case study and how-to
  4. What’s ahead in 2.0

Would you like to learn more about Adaptive Cards? Contact me or leave a comment.