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Key Concepts for Microsoft Dynamics 365: Entities and Attributes

Types of Dynamics Entities
To understand Microsoft Dynamics 365 (formerly Dynamics CRM and Dynamics 365 Customer Engagement), you need to learn some new terms and concepts that may be a bit different from what you know from databases and solutions that are hosted on premises. This is the second post in a series, and covers entities and attributes.

Entities are the most fundamental part of Dynamics 365 in terms of storing your business data.  They are similar in concept to database tables, and the relate to one another like tables in a relational database. For instance, Dynamics 365 has an entity called Contacts that stores data such as name, address, and email address of people that you track.   Accounts is a related entity that describes the organizations to which Contacts may belong.

Although they are similar to database tables, Dynamics entities allow you to do some customizations that are not possible in a standard database table.  Field labels, for instance, are part of an entity, and they may differ from the field (attribute) names.  Here is the PowerApps menu showing objects related to an entity:


Dynamics 365 has three types of entities:
  • Business entities. Entities that are included in apps such as Dynamics 365 Sales, Marketing, or Customer Service. These may be set to allow or prevent customization. 
  • Custom entities. Similar to business entities, custom entities are defined by the owner of the solution in order to extend Dynamics to meet business requirements which are not fulfilled by standard apps.  Purchasing third party apps will also add custom entities to your solution. 
  • System entities. Entities provided by Microsoft that may be edited based on the managed properties set for each entity.  You cannot customize system entities. 
Attributes are analogous to fields in a database table.  The data contained in an attribute is often entered by a user in a form which is associated with an entity.  For instance, the Contacts entity contains attributes such as first name, last name, city, state, postal code and email address.  Attributes have properties that you can configure such as the data type, field length, derivation and requiredness. 

Adding attributes to an entity is one of the most common customizations in Dynamics 365.   From the entity in PowerApps you can click the menu item to add a new field which shows this form:


Field properties contain advanced options which can be used for lookups, field help, derivations, and other functions, as shown in the Territory field of the Accounts entity.


All attributes are associated with entities. Field types such as text, option set, currency and date determine what data is allowed in each field. Your Dynamics solution is likely to have dozens of entities and hundreds of attributes. 

Understanding Dynamics 365 concepts will help you get the most from your software investment. 

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