Handling URLs in Lightning Data Tables

The <lightning:dataTable> component has built-in support for displaying links in table columns. The syntax looks something like this:

    label: 'Case Number', 
    fieldName: 'My_URL_Field__c',
    type: 'url', 
    typeAttributes: { 
        label: {
            fieldName: 'CaseNumber'
    sortable: true 

typeAttributes.label.fieldName identifies a field on each row to utilize as the title of the link, while fieldName at the top level specifies the URL field itself.

In many cases, though, what we have in our sObject data isn’t a fully-qualified URL: it’s a Salesforce Id, a lookup to this record or to some other record, and we’d really like to display it sensibly as a link with an appropriate title. Unfortunately, <lightning:dataTable> doesn’t have an Id column type, and the url type is not clever enough to realize it’s been handed a record Id and handle it.

Instead, we need to generate the URL ourselves and add it as a property of the line items in the source data. (This is a bewildering shift for seasoned Apex programmers: we can just add fields to our sObjects?!) In the callback from the Apex server method querying our sObjects, we generate one or more synthetic properties:

cases.forEach(function(item) {
    item['URL'] = '/lightning/r/Case/' + item['Id'] + '/view';

Our column entry will end up looking like this:

    label: 'Case Number', 
    fieldName: 'URL',
    type: 'url', 
    typeAttributes: { 
        label: {
            fieldName: 'CaseNumber'
        target: '_self'
    sortable: true 

Then, the result’s just what you might think:

Lightning Data Table

The Case Number column is hyperlinked to open the related Case record.

Note that we’re using the Lightning form of the record URL (/lightning/r/<sObject>/<id>/view), and we’ve added the target: '_self' attribute to the typeAttributes map. This results in the link opening in the current tab, in non-Console applications, and loading a new Console tab in Sales or Service Console. The default behavior, if target is not specified, is to open a new browser tab, even in Console applications, which will often not be the desired behavior.

Using the Classic form of the record URL (/<id>) does work, but redirects through a translation URL. For future compatibility, it’s best to just use the current-generation URL format.

This process of synthesizing new fields for <lightning:dataTable> can be repeated arbitrarily, both for URL fields and for other types of calculated data, like icon columns. It’s important to remember, of course, that these synthetic properties cannot be persisted to the server because they’re not real sObject fields. Input to server actions must be constructed appropriately.

The JavaScript’s loosey-goosey type system and object model can be confusing for Apex programmers, but it offers a lot of freedom in return - and the ability to do things with sObjects we’d need a wrapper class to handle in Visualforce.

What Can You `GROUP BY`?

The Salesforce documentation is notably terse in describing Considerations When Using GROUP BY. The guidance provided for determining which fields can be grouped is simply:

The Field object associated with DescribeSObjectResult has a groupable field that defines whether you can include the field in a GROUP BY clause.

This is a rather roundabout way to point to the method DescribeFieldResult.isGroupable(); for example, Account.Description.getDescribe().isGroupable() returns false.

Further, the document states that

You can’t use child relationship expressions that use the __r syntax in a query that uses a GROUP BY clause.

This gives us very little to go on, without examining the Describe information for every single field we might want to group on (doubly challenging in a Dynamic SOQL context). So which field types do, in fact, permit grouping? And does the final sentence prohibit the use of custom relationships in GROUP BY?

Failure to use a properly groupable field yields the error

field ‘FIELD_NAME__c’ can not be grouped in a query call

It turns out that groupability breaks down pretty cleanly along type lines, with a few interesting nuances. The underlying SOAP type appears to be the primary, but not the sole, determinant. Some fields within the same SOAP type differ in groupability based on other facets. Further, some formula fields can be used as groupings - but not the ones you might naively expect from other Salesforce Platform limitations!

Types are listed below by UI type, with the SOAP type in parentheses. This information was derived from inspection of numerous field describes via Workbench and the Tooling API.

Groupable Field Types

  • Checkbox (boolean)
  • Phone (string)
  • Picklist (string)
  • Email (string)
  • Text (string)
  • Text Area (string)
  • URL (string)
  • Number (int). Does not include custom fields, only standard Number fields with SOAP type int, like Account.NumberOfEmployees.
  • Lookup (id)
  • Id (id)
  • Date (date)
  • Direct cross-object references to groupable fields, up to 5 levels from the root object (SOQL limit), as in SELECT count(Id) FROM Contact GROUP BY Account.Parent.Parent.Parent.Parent.Name. Both custom and standard references are groupable.
  • Formulas of type Checkbox and Date, including cross-object formulas across standard and custom relationships.

Non-Groupable Field Types

  • Address Compound Fields
    • Components of Address compound fields are groupable if their types otherwise allow it.
  • Geolocations, both custom and standard, and whether or not defined as having decimal places, including the compound field and components (location/double)
  • Long Text (string)
  • Rich Text (string)
  • Auto Number (string)
  • Multi-Select Picklist (string)
  • Number (double), including custom Number fields with or without decimal and regardless of scale.
  • Percent (double), including custom Percent fields with or without decimal and regardless of scale.
  • Currency (double), including custom Currency fields with or without decimal and regardless of scale.
  • Roll-Up Summary Fields (double), including COUNT rollups.
  • Encrypted Text Fields (Classic Encryption; string)
  • Date/Time (dateTime)
  • Time (time)
  • Formulas of types other than Checkbox and Date, including the otherwise-groupable String type.

This post grew out of an interesting question on Salesforce Stack Exchange. I was intrigued by the lack of definition to this facet of SOQL and spent some time putting together a community wiki answer, which revealed that my original answer was mistaken: GROUP BY is stranger than I thought.

Dreamforce '18 Retrospective

Dreamforce ‘18 featured some truly outstanding sessions on the next generation of Salesforce technologies and development practices. Standouts included the excellent sessions showing how technologies like Platform Events, Change Data Capture, Unlocked Packages, and Force-DI lead to modular, loosely-coupled, and event driven Salesforce applications.

My session, Continuous Integration and Salesforce DX: Concepts and Connections, had over 350 registrants and yielded some excellent and important questions about moving to Salesforce DX practice. It was a great experience, and the talk is now available on YouTube.

Dreamforce Session Information

I successfully completed the Salesforce Data Architecture and Management Designer certification, which means I’ve reached the Certified Application Architect level. This was my primary goal for 2018 and I’m thrilled to complete one half of the Architect pyramid. On to System Architect, and Dreamforce 2019!

Application Architect

Continuous Integration and Salesforce DX at Dreamforce '18

I’m thrilled to be returning to Dreamforce next week as a speaker for the second time.

Dreamforce Session Information

If you’re interested in adding continuous integration with Salesforce DX to your development lifecycle, join me for a technical, conceptual dive into CI architecture and practice.

Bookmark the session here.

Templating with `String.format()` and `String.join()` for Better Dynamic SOQL

Dynamic SOQL with complex queries and filters can easily become an unreadable mess. Consider a query like this one:

String query = 'SELECT Id ' +
    'FROM ' + objectName +
    'WHERE ' + contactLookupName + '.Title = :title ' +
    'AND ' + filterField + ' = \'' + filterValue + '\'' +
    'AND ' + startDateField + ' <= ' + dateValue
    'AND ' + endDateField + ' >= ' + dateValue;

return query;

What it’s trying to do is query a dynamically-determined child object of Contact for records associated to Contacts with a specific title, and which are valid for a specific date.

This query also exhibits (at least) five common issues with Dynamic SOQL, in no particular order:

  1. Issues with spacing. A missing space after objectName results in a parse error at runtime, since Dynamic SOQL syntax cannot be checked at compile time. These errors are very easy to make in Dynamic SOQL and aren’t always apparent upon inspection.
  2. Hanging Apex variable binds. The :title bind will be evaluated against the local scope at the time this query string is passed to Database.query(), not at the time of its creation. This makes storing and passing query strings as parameters fraught with risk: either you must construct and use all query strings within a single scope, or you must not use Apex binding (for which see more below), or you must risk evaluating binds in a different scope and introduce a non-compiler-checkable dependency in your code.
  3. SOQL injection vulnerabilities. Presumably user-supplied values (filterField, filterValue) aren’t escaped with String.escapeSingleQuotes() to mitigate potential injection attacks.
  4. Incorrect Date format conversion. While it’s legal and compiles, implicit Date-to-String conversion by doing myString + myDate results in the wrong Date format for SOQL and will yield runtime errors. It’s critical to convert Dates to SOQL format with String.valueOf(myDate), or to use Apex binding instead (resurfacing issue 2).
  5. Lack of readability and maintainability. The query is hard to read. It’s hard to format the code well. It’s hard to parse out what is user input and what’s not, and to get a sense of what the query’s overall structure looks like.

I strongly prefer to use a query template string with Dynamic SOQL, coupled with String.format(). This structure helps maintain a clean separation between the static core and dynamic parameters of the query, and can help mitigate issues 1 and 5, while making it easier to see and address issues 2, 3, and 4. Here’s what the query above might look like in that form:

final String queryTemplate;

queryTemplate = 'SELECT Id FROM {0} WHERE {1}.Title = ''{2}'' AND {3} = ''{4}'' AND {5} <= {6} AND {7} >= {6}';

return Database.query(
        new List<String> {

By making this switch, we increase the readability of the query, clearly showing which elements are dynamic and which are the static core. We eliminate spacing issues. The compile-time type checking on the List<String> ensures that we cannot (unless we have additional logic in the parameters to new List<String>{}) perform implicit Date conversion, or other implicit type conversions.

While we’re still vulnerable to SOQL injection, explicitly listing out our parameters helps make clear which user-controlled values might need to be escaped. (Note that we’re escaping every user-supplied parameter here, even those for which a rogue quote doesn’t pose an injection risk; this keeps the static analyzer happy!)

String.format() isn’t a silver bullet: you still have to remain aware of Dynamic SOQL issues.

While this structure encourages us to use string substitution in lieu of Apex binds, we can still use binds and still encounter dangling bind issues. We’d typically want to retain use of binds anywhere a collection is used with IN. It’s best to keep those binds within a single method, rather than returning a query string that contains bind values, to avoid those dangling references.

It’s easier to show that user input is correctly escaped in this format, but it’s still not enforced by the compiler. A good static analyzer is needed to locate such issues.

Lastly, String.format() comes with a few interesting wrinkles due to its inheritance of the format used by Java’s MessageFormat. The most obvious consequence of this is the need to repeat all single quotes in the template string, as above (''{0}''). See the Java documentation for more nuances involved in this approach.

Dynamic SELECT Clauses

Dynamic SOQL templating doesn’t do anything whatsoever for enforcement of field-level security, which we need to handle in our code. Building SELECT clauses dynamically is another common source of string errors, too. Luckily, we can build on String.format() templating to handle dynamic SELECT clauses cleanly by using collections and String.join().

It’s tempting to build a dynamic SELECT query by just performing string concatenation, but this approach is inelegant and error-prone.

String query = 'SELECT Id'; // base query
// Add fields the user picked
for (String fieldNameOne : userSelectedFields) {
    query = query + ', ' + fieldNameOne;
// Add other fields from a field set or Custom Metadata
for (String fieldNameTwo : someObject.fieldSetA) {
    if (!query.contains(fieldNameTwo)) {
        query = query + ', ' + fieldNameTwo;
// Do more work to build the query...

is about as clean as this approach gets, and I’ve seen far worse. It’s easy to make simple mistakes that cause hard-to-debug syntax errors, field deduplication to avoid QueryExceptions is messy (note that the above example doesn’t actually work in all cases!), and it’s hard to handle FLS properly.

Much better is to build the SELECT clause by constructing a List<String> whose contents are the API names of the desired fields. This offers three benefits:

  1. Easy production of a final, valid SELECT clause by applying String.join(), and templating in with String.format().
  2. Easy deduplication of the list with List.contains().
  3. Easy enforcement of FLS.

One natural pattern for accumulating and querying a list of fields with FLS enforcement goes like this (note that this assumes none of the selected fields include relationship paths):

List<String> fieldList = new List<String> { 'id', 'name' };
List<String> userSuppliedFields = getUserSuppliedFields();
String sobjectName = 'Contact';

// Build a single deduplicated list of fields.
for (String s : userSuppliedFields) {
    if (!fieldList.contains(s)) {
        // List.contains() is a case-sensitive comparison.

// Iterate over fieldList and check accessibility for the object we're using
Schema.DescribeSObjectResult dsr = Schema.getGlobalDescribe().get(sobjectName).getDescribe();

for (String f : fieldList) {
    if (!dsr.fields.getMap().get(f).getDescribe().isAccessible()) {
        // We don't have read permission on this field.
        // Perform some validation action - remove this field,
        // display a PageMessage or Toast, etc.

        // Note that we omit an important check - validating
        // that user input is a real field! `NullPointerException` 
        // can result from the above `if` if `getUserSuppliedFields() 
        // doesn't implement this.

// then query:

String query = String.format(
    'SELECT {0} FROM {1}',
    new List<String> {
        String.join(fieldList, ', '),

So there we are: clean, secure, testable Dynamic SOQL with just a touch of the Standard Library.