Make Your Cisco IP Phone Ring Using .NET

Applies To: C#, VB.NET, Cisco Phones

I often get interrupted during the day. This is irritating but a part of office life and you get used to it. What I can’t seem to get used to, however, is hearing the same 3 hour story about my coworker’s dog’s stranger anxiety and all the mundane solutions they tried in order to fix poor Rover and even though that veterinarian is a “sweetheart” they just don’t know what they’re talking about sometimes blah blah blah – EVERY SINGLE DAY OF MY LIFE. I often find myself in conversations I neither started nor encouraged to continue that have long since passed the polite listening timeout.

Generally a good strategy is to get a friendly coworker to come and rescue you. Unfortunately, they may not always be around or may not have noticed. Another option is to fake a call. If you’ve got a Cisco IP Phone sitting on your desk and don’t mind writing a little code, you can have a handy app in just a few minutes that can send disarm the Chatinators*. Even if you are able to fully function in society without the help of fake social cues, you might find it interesting what you can do with that phone on your desk.

Cisco IP Phones can accept a wide variety of commands and it’s worth taking a look at the documentation sometime. The basic idea, however, is to send the phone an HTTP Post with some XML. In this case we are going to use the ExecuteItem command with a URI. That URI will contain a Play command. Sound confusing? It is a little, but that’s why I’m going to provide the code for you to cut and paste.

To send a command using VB.NET, you can use this helper function:

    Private Function SendCommand(Address As String, Command As String, Username As String, Password As String) As String

        Dim ResponseXML As String = String.Empty

        Dim request As HttpWebRequest = WebRequest.Create(String.Format("http://{0}/CGI/Execute", Address))
        request.Timeout = 30 * 1000
        request.Method = "POST"
        request.Accept = "*/*"
        request.ContentType = "application/x-www-form-urlencoded"
        request.Credentials = New NetworkCredential(Username, Password)
        request.PreAuthenticate = True

        Dim bytes As Byte() = Encoding.UTF8.GetBytes(String.Format("XML={0}", HttpUtility.UrlEncode(Command)))
        Using outStream As Stream = request.GetRequestStream
            outStream.Write(bytes, 0, bytes.Length)
        End Using

        Using response As WebResponse = request.GetResponse
            Using responseStream As Stream = response.GetResponseStream
                Using reader As New StreamReader(responseStream)
                    If reader IsNot Nothing Then
                        ResponseXML = reader.ReadToEnd
                    End If
                End Using
            End Using
        End Using

        Return ResponseXML
    End Function

In line 5 we setup the HttpWebRequest object to send the POST to the phone. The URL that accepts the commands is either your phone’s IP Address or DNS entry followed by “/CGI/Execute“. To find your phone’s IP Address, press the settings button on the device. There should be a Phone Information section that will have your phone’s address. You may also see an entry for Host Name. This is the name of your phone and will often be the DNS entry for it. In my case it was the fully qualified version of this host name. So If you are unsure, just use the IP Address and look at the response in Fiddler or something similar.

Lines 6-11 setup all the required properties to make this POST acceptable to the phone. Depending on your network settings, you’ll need to provide a username and password. This means writing programs that cause other people’s phones to ring or display funny pictures is going to be extra hard. For our phones, our AD accounts were all that was needed to authenticate with the phones. If you were given a website to configure your phone’s address book or speed dials, it’s going to be the same login information. The PreAuthenticate setting is not required, but does reduce the number of 401 challenge responses when sending multiple commands in succession.

We write out the body of the response in lines 13-17 using UTF8 and a URL Encoded XML String that starts with XML=. Finally we close the request and capture the phone’s response as XML and return it in lines 19-32.

Okay, so now we can send a command, but what does the command look like? A basic play command looks like this:

<CiscoIPPhoneExecute><ExecuteItem Priority="2" URL="Play:Classic1.raw" /></CiscoIPPhoneExecute>

It’s pretty straightforward XML. The ExecuteItem element has 2 attributes, Priority and URL. The Priority attribute can be set from 0 to 2:

  • 0 = Execute Immediately (The command takes priority over anything else the phone might be doing)
  • 1 = Execute When Idle (The command waits until the phone isn’t busy before executing)
  • 2 = Execute If Idle (The command executes if the phone isn’t busy, otherwise it’s ignored)

For a fake ring program, priority 2 is best. That way you don’t get any extra ringing if someone actually is trying to call you.

The second attribute, URL, can take an actual URL to more commands or a simple URI depending on what your phone accepts. More information can be found in that documentation I mentioned, but for what we’re doing a simple Play followed by a colon and the name of the ringtone file takes care of things.

So now you’ve got the command and a send command function. You can write whatever fancy code you want to wrap these things up. I’ve written a little taskbar app that listens for a global key press and sends rings in a configurable loop to the phone. This allows me to secretly reach for the keyboard while the talker is distracted. Most of that’s beyond this article, but I will show you my Ring method and let you fill in the blanks:

    Private Sub Ring()
        If String.IsNullOrEmpty(My.Settings.PhoneIP) Then
                For i As Integer = 0 To My.Settings.RingRepeat - 1
                    SendCommand(My.Settings.PhoneIP, String.Format("<CiscoIPPhoneExecute><ExecuteItem Priority=""2"" URL=""Play:{0}"" /></CiscoIPPhoneExecute>", My.Settings.RingTone), My.Settings.Username, My.Settings.Password)
                    If i < My.Settings.RingRepeat - 1 Then Threading.Thread.Sleep(3000)

            Catch wex As WebException
                MsgBox("Error when talking to the phone, please check your settings!" & vbCrLf & "(Probably your credentials)" & vbCrLf & vbCrLf & wex.ToString, MsgBoxStyle.Critical, "No Ring Ring :(")
            Catch ex As Exception
                MsgBox("Error when talking to the phone, please check your settings!" & vbCrLf & vbCrLf & ex.ToString, MsgBoxStyle.Critical, "No Ring Ring :(")
            End Try
        End If
    End Sub

The ShowSettings method is just a helper method that instantiates a Windows Form to allow some configuration. You can do something similar or just hardcode everything. Lines 6-9 are the important lines, everything else is just error handling with the assumption that the settings are wrong.

In a loop corresponding to the number of rings we want, I call line 7. This is just our SendCommand function from above. Then I wait 3 seconds and do it again.

That should get you started. Pretty soon you’ll be interrupting Talkaholics with ease. There are actually several really cool things you can do with your phone and the SendCommand function above should help you get going.

One last thing, I did a bunch of guess work with the names of the ringtones in my phone. These are configured by your administrator and may be totally different for you, but here are the ringtone filenames I found worked for me:

  • AreYouThere.raw
  • Analog1.raw
  • Analog2.raw
  • Bass.raw
  • Chime.raw
  • CiscoStandard.raw
  • CiscoSymphonic.raw
  • CiscoTechno.raw
  • Classic1.raw
  • Classic2.raw
  • ClockShop.raw
  • Drums1.raw
  • Drums2.raw
  • FilmScore.raw
  • HarpSynth.raw
  • Jamaica.raw
  • KotoEffect.raw
  • MusicBox.raw
  • Piano1.raw
  • Pop.raw
  • Pulse1.raw
  • Sax1.raw
  • Sax2.raw
  • Vibe.raw

I should note that for whatever reason sending Piano2.raw crashed my entire phone. Also, just for fun, you can take a screenshot of your phone by using the following address in your browser: http://YOURPHONEIP/CGI/Screenshot

*Chatinators © 2012 (and for all time), Chris Kent

Merging Data into a SharePoint list using SSIS

Applies To: SharePoint, SSIS, SQL

I was recently tasked with creating a one way sync between some data in SQL and a SharePoint list. This can be done through an External Content Type and External Content List and works pretty well. You can find instructions for setting this up all over Google. I found some and set it up pretty quickly. Unfortunately, it wasn’t quite what they or I wanted. The interface was kinda clunky and caused some complications in terms of using the list as a lookup (specifically in a site column).

So, I did some more searching and found the SSIS SharePoint List Source and Destination Adapters available on Codeplex. The install is super simple (Needs to be done on both your development machine and the SSIS Server) and following the readme included you can get up to speed pretty quick. Assuming you have Business Intelligence Studio installed, it’s a simple matter of right-clicking on the toolbox and selecting Choose Items. In the SSIS Data Flow Components tab scroll down and add the SharePoint Source and Destination components (again more details can be found in the readme).

So… How do you make these work? I’m certainly no expert, but I have gotten them to work and it’s solved my problem. I ran into some issues that you can hopefully avoid by following my small example.

My goal was to take a table from SQL (could also be a view or a simple SELECT statement) and to have that be written to a SharePoint list on a daily basis. However, I am using the SharePoint list for lookups. This means that I want to be able to add any new rows, update existing rows and delete missing rows without changing the SharePoint IDs. This can be done, but it’s not as straightforward as you might hope.

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Intermittent “Unable to display this Web Part” messages

Applies To: SharePoint 2010

I few months ago I customized a view in SharePoint designer to turn the due date red for any past due items in the list. The end users really liked this but an obnoxious problem started turning up. Seemingly randomly we would get:

Unable to display this Web Part. To troubleshoot the problem, open this Web page in a Microsoft SharePoint Foundation-compatible HTML editor such as Microsoft SharePoint Designer. If the problem persists, contact your Web server administrator.

Correlation ID: Some GUID

Taking a look through our logs didn’t reveal anything and often a refresh or two would solve the problem. So it wasn’t really stopping business but it was pretty annoying. Adjusting the logging settings we finally saw some messages corresponding to the provided Correlation ID and found the issue was Value did not fall into expected range often followed by Stack Overflow exceptions.

Unfortunately the above error message is so generic it was pretty difficult to find anyone else even having the same problem, let alone the solution. Finally I came across this thread on MSDN discussing the exact issue. Instructions for fixing the problem and the background of this issue can be found on this article on Englando’s Blog. The solution presented was to get a hotfix from Microsoft. Fortunately, that is no longer necessary and the fix is provided in the February 2012 Cumulative Update from Microsoft.

The problem was introduced in the June 2011 Cumulative Update when Microsoft reduced the timeout for XSLT transformation (used whenever you customize a view in SharePoint Designer) from 5 seconds to 1 second. This is a good idea for public facing farms to help mitigate Denial of Service attacks but pretty unnecessary for internal farms like the one I was working on.

The timeout causes modified XSLTListView Web Parts and XSLTDataView Web Parts to sometimes show the “Unable to display this Web Part” errors. This is especially true if you have several columns (more transformation) or are doing anything of even mild complexity. The issue was “fixed” in the August 2011 Cumulative Update but broken again in the December 2011 Cumulative Update.

To fix this issue we installed the February 2012 Cumulative Update on our farm (More about our experiences with this update to follow). Keep in mind, however, that the update does not change the XsltTransformTimeOut but merely provides you the ability to do so using PowerShell.

To check your current timeout settings, simply use the following PowerShell:

$myfarm = Get-SPFarm

If you’re experiencing the above problem, you probably got a 1 back from the above command indicating that the timeout is currently set to 1 second. To set it to a more reasonable value (we choose the original 5 seconds) just do this (assuming you set the $myfarm object using the above powershell):

$myfarm.XsltTransformTimeOut = 5

That’s it, things are happy again.

Using Powershell to Document SharePoint 2010 Farm Configuration

Applies To: SharePoint 2010

Business continuity (Disaster Recovery) is an important topic for SharePoint 2010 and Microsoft has provided a helpful book available online here: Business Continuity Management for Microsoft SharePoint Server 2010. The book is full of steps and options for backing up and restoring your farm.

There is an interesting powershell script starting on page 132 that takes advantage of the Export-Clixml powershell cmdlet to cycle through your farm’s configuration and write everything to XML files. The resulting XML isn’t super user friendly, but it is human readable. Even cooler is that you can use the Import-Clixml cmdlet to instantiate those objects back in powershell later.

Obviously an actual Farm backup (configuration-only) is more helpful for restoration of your settings, but these XML files can be very useful. For instance, if you don’t want to restore all your configuration but just want to document it somewhere so you can either reference it in whole or in part, this is a great solution. Even better is using it as a guide to pick and choose the various commands when you’re trying to find some information on the fly.

Unfortunately, the script is all jumbled together and split across multiple pages making the included suggestion of copying and pasting into a text document more complicated than needed. The newlines are all in the wrong places, the comments run together and overwrite commands, page numbers show up, etc. So, I went through the resulting file and formatted it correctly. You can use the copy toolbar to get it directly:

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