Connection references – Manage connections in a flow with Power Automate

Do you develop applications with Power Platform? Do you know how to optimize the creation and management of connections in a flow with Power Automate? Our expert Julien Miquel interviewed our expert Nicolas Bastien, in order to teach us about connection references. Interview.

As a kick-off for the series of Tips and tricks videos, Julien Miquel, functional architect and MVP, welcomed his first guest Nicolas Bastien, technical analyst. For the occasion, Nicolas sheds light on a new feature in Power Platform: connection references. As you will see, this solution component will allow you to save a lot of time by optimizing your flow management. Here is how.

Julien Miquel’s interview with Nicolas Bastien

JULIEN MIQUEL – First, what are reference connections? I have to say that I am not quite familiar with the references yet, but connections have to do with flows in Power Automate, right?

NICOLAS BASTIEN – You’re on the right track. I'll show you a bit of what the reference connections look like right away. Currently, when we import a solution from one environment to another, all the flows that have actions that connect to other places will have this kind of diagram.

Common Model (without reference connections)
Common model of connections in a flow with Power Automate

So all connections that go from an action to connection A or B will vanish during import-export. So, for each import-export, you must go through each flow to update the connections for each action. But with reference connections, it's a revolution.

J. M. – Yes, these are things that we’re currently doing and that we’re doing endlessly. We can have clients who have up to fifty flows with 70 shares and we have to go through them all. Is that the context?

N. B. – Yes, I have worked on projects that had hundreds of flows and, really, it takes a huge amount of time. In the new version, with reference connections as an entity, it's different. It’s now possible to integrate it into your solution so that it’s transferred with the solution from one import to another. And the actions, instead of pointing directly to the connection, will point to the connection references.

Model with connection references
Model with connection references

So we add a level of abstraction between the two. This allows the connection reference to exist all the time. Thus, the links between all the flows and the reference will remain, but the reference will have to be updated to have the new connection. The advantage is that the reference connections can have more than a single flow, more than a single action connecting to it. So, rather than having to update every action in every flow, we can simply update the connection reference. Then, all the flows linked to this reference will be updated at the same time.

J. M. So it saves a lot of time with each deployment if I understand correctly. Do you have an example to show us in Power Platform?

N. B. – Yes, it saves quite a lot of time. Take, for example, Power Platform's Power Automate tool. In the connection options, by going to "data", you can see all the connections. For example, we can see the reference connections that exist in my environment, which is in TANDEM now. So each of these connections is connected to one or more than one stream. And when we do the import, it is simply here that we will need to change. So, if I open one, we can see in the details that we can change the connection, then change where it points. You can also easily see each stream that uses this connection reference. So, we won't have to change any of these streams when we change the reference.

Watch this interview on video (with English subtitles):

J. M. So, what you’re telling us is that even for an administrator, with regard to governance, if something breaks or if he wants to go and see where the connection is being used, he can very well go and see in the reference connections. We see that for the TANDEM solution, which XRM Vision is developing, we have a lot of flow, because everything is almost automated. It's very interesting, because it will allow us to go directly to the essential, to repair and extend the repair of a connection to several streams at the same time, which is going to be super convenient. Today, we have a limit on the number of reference connections.

N. B. – That's exactly what I was about to say. We have the impression that this is excessive, but since it’s still a preview feature, we have a limit of 16 connections per reference connection, and as you say, we have more than a hundred streams on TANDEM. Therefore, several reference connections had to be created to overcome this problem, but eventually, when it becomes available to the public, there will no longer be any limit on the number of connections. In other words, we’ll be using a single reference connection for all of these connections, basically.

J. M. You said that it takes place in the deployment. Does that mean that it is an object delivered in the solution?

N. B. – That's exactly it. It's like an entity. You can create the connection reference and then include it in the solution. Subsequently, it can be simply transported with imports-exports.

‘’An investment of time today for a huge benefit tomorrow.’’

J. M. This reminds me of a personal experience. When I had to deploy the Center of Excellence for a presentation, before the reference connections existed, there were more steps. I had to estimate the deployment time of the solution, which included ten 4-hour flows to make all the connections, and more. By updating and using reference connections, it would have taken me between half an hour and an hour redoing everything on a new environment.

So, the time saving is quite significant. I think that you can also validate it on your side, because you said to me that it was perhaps necessary to take an already existing flow, is that it? The already existing flows, you have to go through them one by one, to activate them? It doesn't necessarily happen automatically, does it?

N. B. – That's exactly it. Right now, not all of the feeds that exist will update on their own. We must go flow by flow, which is the first part. But connection references are an investment of time now, with a huge benefit later. First, we have to go flow by flow, turn them off, edit them, and then the new pop-up will show. Then, with the new pop-up, this is where there is the option to easily create a new reference connection. You can create them all the time from the page itself. But if you want to go faster, in this situation you can just go through it. Once everything is going to be updated in your solution, it's done. Then in the future you will just have to update one place.

J. M. – Great! Finally, what would you tell us to conclude and sum it all up?

N. B. -The most important thing is the time you will save by transferring normal connections to reference connections. This is something that cannot be stressed enough, I think. Especially for solution transfers, for updates, it is a tool that will become essential quickly.

J. M. Thank you, Nicolas!

This article was made possible thanks to the initiative of our experts Nicolas Bastien and Julien Miquel .

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