The flat file is on a par with death and taxes in terms of
its inevitability. BizTalk Server
orchestrations are no exception; though the XML-driven elegance of
Microsoft’s highly-integrated message transport world might seem tainted
somewhat by the inclusion of flat file messaging, there’s no escaping it.
Fortunately, BizTalk can accommodate flat file messages, both coming and going,
without too much pain.

The reason systems integrators start BizTalking to begin
with is to bring applications together into larger extended systems—and that,
often by definition, means incorporating legacy system components. Many
developers have learned the conveniences of using XML for intrasystem
data transport, but the flat file will still pop up in the front, back, and
middle of extended systems.

Pipelining flat files into an application

One of the key BizTalk rules of thumb is this: if a pipeline
can do the job, then let it do the job. Pipelines basically get work done while
data is being moved from one logical point to another. A message starts a
journey as an EDI-formatted text file, and arrives at its destination as parsed
XML. While this is by no means the only way to achieve the re-mapping of a
message, it is certainly the most convenient.

Handling flat files in this way, whether inbound or
outbound, requires two components: a schema defining the XML message that will
either receive from or pass to the flat file, and a send or receive pipeline to
implement it. (For simplicity’s sake, we’ll forego multipart messages for now
and address them another time.)

Other BizTalk Server 2004 Resources:

Flat file formats

BizTalk can handle any kind of flat file you’re likely to
throw at it: CSV, positional, even electronic data interchange (EDI).
Again, for simplicity’s sake, we’ll stay with a very familiar example. View the
file below as a handful of vendor master records:

1234567890, Acme Explosives, 123 Main Street, Anywhere, AZ
2468024680, Dangerous Toys, 456 Maple Ave, Nowhere, CA
1357913579, Coyote Medical Supplies, 789 Elm Street, NV

The first field is the vendor number; the rest are obvious.
Note that we use delimiters to distinguish each field excepting the last one,
where our end-of-line also denotes end-of-field (BizTalk doesn’t require that
it be this way, however, as we’ll see below).

We want to turn this simple structure into a schema that
generates an XML document, which the pipeline will then populate with data from
an inbound flat file and which will then carry that data to an orchestration
(where business logic can then go to work on it) or to some other application. Figure A shows what the schema would
look like.

Figure A


Here’s how to generate it:

  1. Create
    a new project in BizTalk Explorer.
  2. Right-click
    on that project header in the Solution Explorer window; choose Add New
    Item | Schema and rename it (Vendors, for instance).
  3. Add
    elements per above; then select the Schema node and see the Properties
  4. There
    is a Schema Editor Extensions
    property under Advanced; select it, click on the ellipses; this gives you
    a window of extensions to choose, typically including EDI Schema Editor
    Extension, Flat File Extension, and Hws Extension; check the box to the
    left of Flat File Extension.
  5. Select
    the Vendors node; see the Properties window.
  6. Set
    Min Occurs to 1; set Max Occurs to Unbounded.
  7. Make
    certain the Structure property for the record is set to Delimited.

Now the delimiters must be set. In the Properties window,
enter the following settings:

  • Child
    delimiter – ,
  • Child
    delimiter type – Character
  • Child
    order – Infix (This specifies that in-line field delimiters, commas,
    between fields, but not after the last field in the line; Prefix specifies
    a leading delimiter/comma, and Postfix says that there will be a trailing
    comma delimiter after the last field in the line in addition to CR/LF.)

Finally, you need to define end-of-line for the root node;
select the root element (Schema) and in the Properties window, enter the
following settings:

  • Child
    delimiter – 0x0D 0x0A (defines CR/LF)
  • Child
    delimiter type – Hexadecimal
  • Child
    order – Infix

After saving the schema, it’s a good idea to validate it
against the sample data above (or something similar) as a native instance (To
configure and execute this validation, just right-click on the *.xsd file you’ve made of this schema in
Solution Explorer, select Properties, and fill in the blanks—then right-click
on the *.xsd file again to validate.)

Installing the pipeline

Now that there’s a schema defined to map the data from the
“vendors” flat file, a receive pipeline is needed execute it. To
create this pipeline, right-click on your project in Solution Explorer and
select Add New Item | Receive Pipeline. Name your pipeline and click Open to
get a drag-and-drop configuration window as shown in Figure B.

Figure B


You’ll see a toolbox of pipeline components to the left. Drag
and drop Flat File Disassemble from the toolbox into the Disassemble section of
the configuration window. Now select Flat File Disassemble and see the
Properties window. Under Pipeline Component Properties, enter the name of the
schema created above under Document Schema.

Deploying your receive pipeline

Now we have a schema that creates XML to contain our flat
file data, and a pipeline to use it. It remains to deploy that pipeline

There are two ways to do it, and it depends upon the
application that is going to make use of the populated XML documents that carry
the data that originated in the flat file. Either that data is going to be
piped into an orchestration (where business logic resides in BizTalk
applications) or it will forwarded to some application beyond the one where it
is being imported (in which case, the receive pipeline will be used in BizTalk
Explorer only, not in an orchestration).

To incorporate the pipeline in BizTalk Explorer, you need to
define a receive location:

  1. Expand
    the BizTalk Explorer tree; right-click on Receive Ports.
  2. Add
    Receive Port (specify One-Way Port or Request-Response Port) and click OK
    (name the port in the resulting window).
  3. Open
    the new port under Receive Ports; right-click on Receive Locations.
  4. Add
    Receive Location | Receive Pipeline (specify your new Receive Pipeline

To incorporate the pipeline in a BizTalk orchestration,
double-click the orchestration name under your project in Solution Explorer:

  • If a
    Receive shape and Port are already deployed, click on the Port shape
    (otherwise drag-and-drop them into the orchestration).
  • If
    the Port already exists, click on it and see the Properties window; enter
    the name of your pipeline under Receive Pipeline.
  • If
    the Port is new, the Port Configuration Wizard will appear, and under Port
    Binding, entering Specify Now will give you a prompt to select your
    Receive Pipeline.

This should get you underway, working with flat files. We’ll
look at positional flat files and multi-part messaging from flat files in a
future article.