What Does `unpackagedMetadata` Do for a Second-Generation Package?

Second-generation packaging offers the opportunity to specify unpackaged metadata for package version creation tests. It’s always been a little unclear to me what this actually meant, and I took a very good question on Salesforce Stack Exchange as a chance to find out.

Put simply, the unpackagedMetadata directory specified for a second-generation package is deployed into the build scratch org after the package version is created, but before running Apex tests to validate the package version. Let’s unpack what that means.

Check out the unpackaged-apex-2gp-test repo on GitHub to follow along. The repo contains an unpackaged directory (unpackaged), which contains a field called Test__c on Account.

The package directory works demonstrates a package build that uses the unpackagedMetadata feature to allow the build to test cleanly. The package contains a single Apex unit test:

private with sharing class UnpackagedTest {
    private static void unpackagedTestWithDynamicReference() {
        Account a = new Account(Name = 'Foo');
        insert a;

        System.debug(Database.query('SELECT Test__c FROM Account'));

The critical facet of this code is that it establishes a runtime, but not a compile time, dependency on the field Account.Test__c (which we are not packaging). That’s the situation for which unpackagedMetadata is designed.

After we create a package

$ sfdx force:package:create --name UnpackagedTestWorks --nonamespace --packagetype Unlocked --path works

If we try right away to create a package version

$ sfdx force:package:version:create --package UnpackagedTestWorks --installationkeybypass --codecoverage --wait 100

it does not work, because the runtime dependency on the Test__c field is not satisfied and causes the Apex test to fail (although the dynamic SOQL allows the code to compile).

ERROR running force:package:version:create: Apex Test Failure: Class.UnpackagedTest.unpackagedTestWithDynamicReference: line 8, column 1 System.QueryException: No such column ‘Test__c’ on entity ‘Account’. If you are attempting to use a custom field, be sure to append the ‘__c’ after the custom field name. Please reference your WSDL or the describe call for the appropriate names.

By adding the unpackagedMetadata key to the package entry in our sfdx-project.json:

    "path": "works",
    "unpackagedMetadata": {
        "path": "unpackaged"
    // ...

we obtain a successful package version create:

Successfully created the package version [08c8c000000XXXXAAO]. Subscriber Package Version Id: 04t8c000000XXXXAAC Package Installation URL: https://login.salesforce.com/packaging/installPackage.apexp?p0=04t8c000000XXXXAAC

The sequence of events is

  1. Dependencies and objectSettings configuration (not used here) are deployed into the build org.
  2. Package source is deployed into the build org.
  3. Package version is created.
  4. unpackagedMetadata is deployed.
  5. Apex tests are executed.

Because the dependency only comes into play in step (5), unpackagedMetadata supports this use case.

If we use the does-not-work package, we can demonstrate that the unpackagedMetadata feature does not allow us to satisfy a compile-time dependency. Here’s the Apex test from that package:

private with sharing class UnpackagedTest {
    private static void unpackagedTestWithExplicitReference() {
        Account a = new Account(Name = 'Foo', Test__c = 1);
        insert a;

This package cannot be uploaded, with or without the use of unpackagedMetadata; either way, we get back an error:

$ sfdx force:package:create --name UnpackagedTestDoesNotWork --nonamespace --packagetype Unlocked --path does-not-work
$ sfdx force:package:version:create --package UnpackagedTestDoesNotWork --installationkeybypass --codecoverage --wait 100

ERROR running force:package:version:create: UnpackagedTest: Field does not exist: Test__c on Account

The unpackaged metadata is deployed too late to satisfy this compile-time dependency.

Packaging certain metadata types often creates references to components that cannot themselves be packaged. Picklist values are a very common source of this challenge: a package might include a Record Type and Business Process on a standard object, where the Business Process includes static references to picklist values added to a Standard Value Set.

Because those picklist changes aren’t packageable entities, and we have no way, as we found above, to run a deployment to create them before package creation, it’s not possible to build a second-generation managed package containing such a structure. A similar limitation applies where the references are to customized picklists located in another managed package.

There are three routes to ship a package that has this type of dependency on a component that cannot or should not be included within the package itself.

  1. Use an org-dependent Unlocked Package by adding --orgdependent to sfdx force:package:create. For these packages, metadata validation takes place at install time rather than build time, allowing the metadata dependency to be satisfied in the target org rather than in the build org.
  2. Create a Skip Validation 2GP beta by adding --skipvalidation to sfdx force:package:version:create. This also defers metadata validation to install time. However, Skip Validation packages cannot be promoted to Released state. As such, this strategy is only usable during development and testing, and cannot be used for delivering a package.
  3. Deliver a first-generation managed package. This is the only viable strategy to deliver a managed (as opposed to Unlocked) package that must build with static references to metadata that can’t be included in the package.

    In 1GP, the referenced unpackaged metadata can be present in the packaging org, but not included in the package itself. This structure results in the dependency being validated at install time.

Adopting strategy (1) or (3) for delivering a package to customer orgs may result in a more challenging user experience at install time. However, it does allow a package that must include this type of dependency to utilize all benefits of managed packaging, such as IP protection and AppExchange distribution, or of unlocked packaging.

Metadata ETL in CumulusCI is a strategy that can help address these challenges while delivering packages to customers. Metadata ETL makes it possible to define safe automation to perform updates on customer-owned, unpackaged metadata to allow these packages to install cleanly.

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