What is AppFabric and What is it Doing in SharePoint 2016?

Mobile Man / Thursday, July 23, 2015

AppFabric is a feature of Windows Server and consists of AppFabric Hosting and AppFabric Caching. AppFabric Hosting provides a way of deploying and maintaining Windows Workflow Foundation (WWF) workflows, hosted in Windows Communication Foundation (WCF). It essentially provides extensions for Internet Information Services (IIS) to allow administrators to monitor and analyze the performance and statuses of workflows.

AppFabric Caching solves one of the issues that local cache services in Windows used to have: every server had to cache its own data. AppFabric instead provides a distributed cache, such that data could be cached and used between servers. It is an in-memory distributed cache mechanism and provides higher performing ASP.NET web applications.

For SharePoint, a modified version of AppFabric has been implemented as part of SharePoint 2013 - only AppFabric Caching is currently being leveraged. Several SharePoint features require AppFabric Caching to run. For example, the Newsfeed will only work with AppFabric Caching enabled. See this blog post for an overview of how AppFabric has been modified for SharePoint 2013.

However, AppFabric as a Windows feature has now been deprecated (mainstream support will end in 2017). So what does this mean for SharePoint, as several of its features depend on AppFabric? Furthermore, will AppFabric be removed from SharePoint 2016?

Despite some people’s fears, it looks like AppFabric is here to stay - even in SharePoint 2016 - and Microsoft will continue to support AppFabric for SharePoint for the foreseeable future.

Deprecated doesn’t mean it’s not working

First of all, when Microsoft deprecates a piece of software, they are not saying that it’s not working. Instead, it means that they are going to stop supporting it in the near future, meaning you should look for alternatives. Support for AppFabric (outside SharePoint) will stop in 2017, but even after that date your application using AppFabric will still continue to work. That said, you would be wise to have your applications leveraging an alternative solution by then.

For SharePoint pros however, you don’t need to worry about AppFabric being deprecated. Microsoft has assured customers that they will continue to support AppFabric as part of SharePoint. Bill Baer, Senior Product Manager for SharePoint at Microsoft, explained in a May 2015 QA session:

“Our partner team that develops AppFabric is committed to continued support of AppFabric embedded in server products such as SharePoint, as such AppFabric remains supported with SharePoint 2013 and SharePoint 2016 through their respective lifecycles. This announcement is specific to standalone AppFabric scenarios.”

What does AppFabric do in SharePoint?

As outlined above, AppFabric provides caching services in SharePoint. For example, the Newsfeed (shown in MySites) heavily depends on AppFabric. It’s is a distributed service and thus runs on multiple servers. Without AppFabric, were one server in the farm to fail, the Newsfeed could stop working and data may be lost too.

Besides this, AppFabric is new in SharePoint 2013, and so adds to the list of Windows services that must be maintained when administering the platform. The following diagram from this article shows every component of AppFabric in SharePoint:

As part of installation and configuration of SharePoint, an administrator must perform steps to configure AppFabric. This excellent blog post goes into detail of configuration and deployment of AppFabric, and is a must-read for SharePoint 2013 / 2016 administrators.

SharePoint 2013 depends on AppFabric 1.1, and so does SharePoint 2016. As a result, there will not be any major changes in this area, and the features in SharePoint 2016 relating to AppFabric will be the same as those in SharePoint 2013.

AppFabric is not the only deprecated software SharePoint 2016 relies on

AppFabric as a Windows feature has been deprecated by Microsoft, but the next version of SharePoint (SharePoint 2016) will continue to depend on AppFabric. Microsoft has assured the community that they will support AppFabric as part of SharePoint as long as they’re committed to support each particular SharePoint version. So, put simply, there’s really no need to worry about the future of AppFabric in SharePoint.

Bear in mind that AppFabric is not the only deprecated feature SharePoint 2016 will rely on: InfoPath is also deprecated, but SharePoint 2016 will continue to use it. For a while Microsoft was planning to replace InfoPath by “Forms on SharePoint Lists”, or to use another Office product instead, yet this has been cancelled by Microsoft. As outlined in the Office Blog Post in 2014, InfoPath will also still be a feature in SharePoint 2016.

Microsoft is dedicated to support SharePoint, as it is one of their most successful products. So you can be confident that they’ll do whatever is necessary to keep providing support, even when this depends on deprecated features.

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