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I need to create a managed package for our customers to install it in their salesforce org. When our customers install this package, they need to get a few custom objects and a batch class that will automatically insert/update records (of these installed objects) on a nightly basis. This is my first project on building components for customer orgs and I'm stuck with the following questions before completing the design phase.

1) Some of our customers would need to get two custom objects (A and B) and the remaining customers would need to get three custom objects (A, B, and C) from the package. We are thinking of displaying a visualforce page to let our customers choose if they want to get two objects or three objects and the controller class should create the objects based on the given response. Is it possible to implement this solution?

2) Objects A and B must be related to the objects (Y and Z) that are already existing in the customer org. Here Y and Z are the parent objects, A and B are the child objects (related via master-detail relationship). We are thinking of displaying a visualforce page that will have two picklist fields with the list of all objects in customer org as options (we will get this list using Schema class in the controller class). The admin of customer org will select the parent objects and the controller class should create the master-detail relationship fields in A and B based on the given inputs. Is it possible to implement this solution?

Any help is appreciated. Thanks in advance!

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NOTE: I know you may not be able to divulge what your package does, which increases the answers usefulness generally, but also abstracted from your intended goal. It also significant increased the length of the answer for the sake of clarity. Feel free to comment at me or we can have a chat sometime if you'd like more details specific to your use case.

Part I

Two or Three Custom Objects?

Are the clients allowed to "monkey" with the objects? If you create the objects by Apex Code, they will be unmanaged, meaning the users could just delete the object or make a breaking change to the object, causing your code to fail. Instead, consider including all three objects in the package (the administrator could just turn off C if they don't need it), or you can create two to five (or more?) managed packages.

Here's how you might lay out multiple packages to work together.

Two Packages

Package 1 contains A and B, and all the relevant code to make A and B work. Package 2 contains C, and all the relevant code to make C work. Package 1 may need to detect if Package 2 is also present, in which case it can use Dynamic Apex Code to call the hooks in Package 2 appropriately; if it is strictly trigger based, this may be unnecessary, since Package 2 could contain a trigger that executes on A or B.

Three Packages

Package 1 contains the objects A and B, and any triggers for A and B that C does not need. Package 2 contains C, and any triggers specific to additional functionality of C. Package 3 contains all of the code common to A, B, and C, and uses dynamic Apex Code to avoid a hard-link to C, which would make Package 2 required.

Four Packages

Package 1 contains the objects A and B, and no code. Package 2 contains the object C, and no code. Package 3 contains all the code that leverages only A and B. Package 4 contains all the code that leverages A, B, and C (basically, the code from Package 3 with modifications to support C).

Five Packages

Package 1 contains the objects A and B, and no code. Package 2 contains the object C, and no code. Package 3 contains A and B specific code. Package 4 contains C specific code. Package 5 installs last and essentially links package 3 and 4 together dynamically.

Benefits

Each design has some benefits and drawbacks. More packages means that more initial setup work must be done, but eases the burden of keeping things in line. If you have the time, I would personally recommend the three or five package approach; the former offers flexibility at the small expense of time, and the latter offers deeper separation of the packages, but is most likely overkill in all but the largest projects.

Drawbacks

Multiple packages means more work keeping them all aligned, and version alignment would be a nightmare. The five package version suffers from this the most, while the two package version would be easier to maintain. This "version problem" is especially true for the five package version, because, unless they were upgraded in order and consistently, it would be hard without a spreadsheet to keep track of which versions are compatible with each other, since salesforce.com requires that the minimum version be the minimum version of the source organization at the time of the upload.

Part 2

Custom Lookups

You could create a bunch of code for this, but it is probably unnecessary (and I have yet to see a single product that does this!). Normally, creating the fields are done post-installation anyways, and is usually included in the "installation guide" for the app. Administrators expect to have to visit setup and spend a few minutes creating fields, adjusting layouts, etc, so it would probably not be worth the man hours to automate this when it would take just a few minutes of each administrator's time to do it manually.

That said, if you do want to implement this, keep in mind that those fields will be editable by any administrator and could break at any time if an administrator makes a mistake. Your code must be prepared for the possibility that this may happen. Also, you won't be able to package any reports for A, B, or C, because they will automatically break when the sharing model changes from "master" mode to "detail" mode (because master-detail fields alter the object's underlying properties, and so salesforce.com will deem those reports "obsolete").

Your Visualforce page would use Metadata Apex Code (see other answers on this forum for ideas on accessing the metadata API through Visualforce) if you decided to create the page. It is not difficult, precisely, but you will find that a proper implementation will probably be relatively time consuming as opposed to simply giving the administrator the responsibility of creating the fields.

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  • Thanks for your detailed answer. We don't need to add any triggers on the A, B, C objects. All we need to add is the batch apex that upserts A, B, C records every night. I'm thinking of going with the option of two packages. Package 1 will have A and B objects and the batch apex class that upserts A and B records, Package 2 will have C object and the batch apex class that upserts C records. – ynl124 Dec 26 '13 at 22:39
  • To piggy back off of @sfdcfox, you can create what is called an "Extension package" An extension package is merely a package that has dependencies on a parent package. So in other words, you could create a main package with A and B objects, and an extension with C objects that a subset of your users would install. More info and links here: help.salesforce.com/… – James Loghry Dec 27 '13 at 16:42
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Another option, although much trickier, is to use the Metadata API to create the sobject at install time. To do this, you would need to call out to the meta data api (See this utility: https://github.com/financialforcedev/apex-mdapi) in an InstallHandler class (http://www.salesforce.com/us/developer/docs/apexcode/Content/apex_install_handler.htm) to create the object and its fields.

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