Google Apps Script

Later today I’ll be presenting at CiviCon London, the largest gathering in Europe of CiviCRM community. CiviCRM is a big part of my day job at the Association for Learning Technology and this event is the perfect opportunity to hear about the latest developments and get some inspiration for what we can do with our own Civi system.

The talk I’ll be giving is based around some earlier work I’ve already published about  Custom regular reporting from #CiviCRM with Google Sheets and Google Apps Script and Tips on emailing inline Google Charts from Sheets using Apps Script. These outline the method we use to trigger the sending of .csv data attached to an email sent from CiviReport using a Google Sheet: ...continue reading


Google recently announced a new Google Apps Script Service called Execution API. The pitch:

Have you ever wanted a server API that modifies cells in a Google Sheet, to execute a Google Apps Script app from outside of Google Apps, or a way to use Apps Script as an API platform? Today, we’re excited to announce you can do all that and more with the Google Apps Script Execution API. The Execution API allows developers to execute scripts from any client (browser, server, mobile, or any device). You provide the authorization, and the Execution API will run your script.

Getting data into Google Sheets from external sources has been a long held interest of mine. Whilst the Execution API can do much more than just this in this post I want to focus on how you can setup the Execution API to create an authenticated pipeline. Before I go into this it’s worth reminding ourselves of the other ways you can get data into Google Sheets, in particular, publishing a script as a web app. ...continue reading

Photo credit : Chris Bull CC-BY-NC-SA ALT week was #altc, once of the largest annual edtech events in the UK calendar. Each year we’ve seen a growth in the use of Twitter at the event and it makes sense for us to have the live Twitter stream displayed throughout the venue. In previous years we’ve relied on 3rd party services but this year I wanted to bring this in-house.  Having looked around I came across a nice example by Remy Sharp for a ‘A conference twitter wall with built in schedule & announcements’. This looked ideal as the schedule and announcements was a nice additional feature, plus it was coded in HTML/Javascript making it easier for me to modify. ...continue reading

Previously I’ve written about how we use Google Apps Script to extract data from one of the Association’s online systems. We use this technique to generate charts which give us some insight to our current standing. One limitation we had was to view the charts we had to open the Google Sheet with them in. There are various techniques for automatically distributing these using Apps Script and in this post I’m going to highlight one method for emailing inline charts. Below is what the result looks like, an email with an embedded chart, no need to download or preview attachments. ...continue reading

As of yesterday TED have uploaded 1,903 videos totaling 1,622,120 seconds of playtime which have been viewed 428,117,012 times and received 4,360,903 likes.

If you’d like to play with the data you can find it in this YouTube Channel Summary – TEDtalksDirector Google Sheet … and if you would like similar data for your or someone else's channel make a copy of this YouTube Channel Summary Google Sheet and follow the setup instructions. ...continue reading

Last year I wrote about how you can  use Google Apps Script to integrate with If you are not familiar with the service lets you:

transform any website into a table of data or an API in minutes without even writing any code

As part of my work at ALT we recently needed to extract data from our hosted Open Conference Systems (OCS). OCS has some data export options but none that fitted our exact need. As a hosted solution we don’t have access to the backend so I turned to to liberate our own data <sigh>. OCS uses a basic authentication but the great thing about is you can train it to enter your username and password and extract the data from the pages you need.  Getting data behind an authentication layer with the API is a two step process:

Make sure you check out the docs before integrating authenticated sources!
Every time you pass in credentials you will be logged in; pass in credentials once or via a login call and subsequently pass through cookies.

I took a while to get my head around the process because the two links in the support message just take you to the generic API docs. This is a better url to the queryLogin methods. It’s clear that have put a lot of work into the developer experience, but unfortunately I struggled testing the queryLogin method. Using a valid id and model schema for the input just gave an ‘UnexpectedErrorException’. So I then turned to’s own dataset tools. This was another dead end as I was struggling to get it to recognise my OCS login. Peeking under the hood I discovered:

Looking for another ‘in’ a quick search came up with this post on Using authenticated data sources with PHP and Go. Given I do a lot of coding in PHP translating to Javascript/Google Apps Script is relatively straight forward. I was still struggling however with the ‘shape’ of the login payload and the $connectorDomain. The breakthrough came remembering that looked like they were dog fooding their own API in their dataset tool.

Luke use the log

With this I could see what the $connectorDomain should have been and can now happily go off and liberate our data. Here’s my translation of the PHP example in Google Apps Script also available as a gist:

function getResults() {
  var connector = {'username':'YOUR_SITE_USERNAME',
  var creds = {};
  creds[connector.connectorDomain] = {
    "username": connector.username,
    "password": connector.password
  var additionalInput = {};
  additionalInput[connector.connectorGuid] = {'domainCredentials':creds};              
  //get cookies
  var login = query(connector.connectorGuid, false, connector.userGuid, connector.apiKey, additionalInput, false);
  additionalInput[connector.connectorGuid].cookies = login.cookies;  
  var result = query(connector.connectorGuid, {"webpage/url":""}, connector.userGuid, connector.apiKey, additionalInput, false);
  // do something with results like write to Google Sheet
function query(connectorGuid, input, userGuid, apiKey, additionalInput, login) {
  var url = "" + connectorGuid + "/_query?_user=" + userGuid + "&_apikey=" + apiKey;
  var data = {};
  if (input) {
    data["input"] = input;
  if (additionalInput) {
    data["additionalInput"] = additionalInput;
  if (login) {
    data["loginOnly"] = true;
  var ch = UrlFetchApp.fetch(url, {'method':'POST', 'payload': JSON.stringify(data)});
  var result = ch.getContentText();
  return JSON.parse(result);

At the Association for Learning Technology (ALT) one of the core tools we use for membership management is CiviCRM. CiviCRM has a number of ‘out-of-the-box’ reports you can use and run to summaries and analyse memberships and contributions. Given the flexibility of Civi you can also with a bit of know how create custom extensions and reporting options enabling so very sophisticated analytics. At ALT we are keen to make more use of the data we have on memberships but at the same time have limited resources and time to implement these. In this post I’ll highlight how using Google Sheets we’ve developed a framework that allows us to rapidly develop custom reporting.


If you are already a CiviCRM user you are probably already aware of CiviReports and the ability create basic custom reports which allow you to view and download data. As part of this you can also schedule reports to land in your inbox. This is great but has it’s limitations. In particular, additional setup is required if you don’t want to just report on a daily basis; you end up with tables of data, with no graphical summaries; and combining current and historic data isn’t possible.


Scheduling reports at custom intervals

CiviCRM provides an interface to schedule a mail_report. The issue many people discover is this will send reports on set intervals usually hourly or daily. You can schedule individual jobs to run a specific periods but you quickly find yourself in the world of command lines and CRON jobs. Crons are scheduled tasks run by a web server. If you have dedicated admin support this is a fairly standard task and the instructions are easy to follow. At ALT we have the option to open a support ticket with our host but this seems like a waste on time and money.

Our solution is to use a Google Sheet… well a Google Sheet with a bit of ‘juice’. The sheet is shared with our team and anyone can add a CiviReport id to Column A and choose how often it runs in Column B using a data validation list option.

deciding what reports run when

But how does this trigger our civi install to run the job? The juice is Google Apps Script, a cloud based scripting language native to Google Drive. Apps Script is a free service from Google and fortunately for us has the ability to run scripts on configured time intervals. It also has the ability to call specific urls using the build-in UrlFetchApp (similar to CURL). I’ll give you a link to this Sheet so you can setup your own later and when you do you’ll see the entire process is managed with a couple of lines of code included below:

function doTasks() {
  var doc = SpreadsheetApp.getActiveSpreadsheet(); // get spreadsheet
  var sheet = doc.getSheetByName("Tasks"); // get sheet
  var data = sheet.getRange(3, 1, sheet.getLastRow(),; // get values
  var now = new Date(); // time now
  // for each row of the sheet interate accross
  for (var i = 0; i < data.length; i++){
    if (data[i][COL.report_id] != ""){ // if there is instance id do something
      // collect row values
      var report_id = data[i][COL.report_id]
      var type = data[i][COL.type];
      var next_run = data[i][COL.next_run] || 0; 
      // check if it's time to run the report again
      if (next_run < now && type != "never"){
        // if it is ping the report trigger
        var new_next_run = callUrl(report_id, type, {format: data[i][COL.format], ss_id: data[i][COL.ss_id], ss_sht: data[i][COL.ss_sht]} );
        // ..and record when to run again
        sheet.getRange(parseInt(i)+3, 3, 1, 2).setValues([[now, new_next_run]]);

What this does is read the sheet data and then iterate across each row. If the report is overdue to be run again it calls a another custom function callUrl which will run the CiviReport and return/write when next to run.

Creating graphical summaries and combining data

By this point you may be sensing that I’m partial to solving problems with Google Sheets. With Sheets it’s fairly straight forward to manually export different reports from Civi and analyse using formula and Charts. The manual export of CiviReports can get tiresome so how can we automate this? Again we return to Google Apps Script. One of the options in CiviReports is to attach the data to the emailed report as a .csv file. From the previous example we can see it is possible to read and write data to a Google Sheet. So if we can get the .csv file from our emailed report we can write it to the Sheet … right?

This is actually more straight forward than you may think as another feature of Google Apps Script is to interact with the script owner’s Gmail.  As part of this we can search for messages and get associated attachments. Using this we can read the latest report from Civi, write the data to a sheet and with a bit of clever formula building automatically get the latest summary or custom chart. As Apps Script runs in a pre authenticated environment, no oAuth handshakes here, the code is relatively straight forward:

function processInbox(){
  var PS = PropertiesService.getScriptProperties();
  var data = PS.getProperties();
  for (var key in data) {
    if (key.substring(0, 10) == "search_str"){
      var param_raw = data[key];
      var param = JSON.parse(param_raw);
      // get last 20 message threads using serach term
      var threads =, 0, 20); 
      // assume last thread has our latest data
      var last_thread = threads.length-1;
      if (last_thread > -1){
        // get message in the last thread        
        var msg =  threads[last_thread].getMessages()[0];
        // get the attachments
        var attachments = msg.getAttachments();
        for (var k = 0; k < attachments.length; k++) {
          // get the attachment as a string
          var csv_str = attachments[k].getDataAsString();
          // parse string as csv
          var csv = Utilities.parseCsv(csv_str);
          // create destination object
          var doc = SpreadsheetApp.openById(param.ss_id);
          var sheet = doc.getSheetByName(param.ss_sht);
          // clear any old data
          // write new data
          sheet.getRange(1, 1,  csv.length, csv[0].length).setValues(csv);
          // mark message are read and archive (you could also label or delete)


Data protection

There are a couple of things worth noting here. Google Sheets are a fantastic collaborative environment and with this solution we can still share spreadsheets to selected people in our organisation and beyond. Something to remember though is this script runs as the sheet owner so when configuring the CiviReport it needs to go to the email address of the owner. At ALT we benefit from being a Google for Education user so our email and Drive access comes as part of the Google Apps suite. This solution could also be setup to run on a regular Google account but there are data protection issues to consider sending reports to a non-organisation contact. As such you might only want to re-use this solution as an easy way to schedule reports rather than schedule and process the data.

ARRAYFORMULA, FILTER, QUERY functions are your friends

As our solution dumps .csv data in a sheet, clearing any previous data, any formulas you have in the sheet will also be lost. We get around this by doing all data manipulations in a separate sheet which references the imported data. To save copy and pasting lots of formulas we make extensive use of the ARRAYFORMULA, FILTER, QUERY functions available in Google Sheets.

Comparing CiviEvent registrations

One scenario we have is monitoring the number of registrations to an annual conference. It’s easy for us to export registrations for previous years as static data into a spreadsheet. For the analysis we want to group the number of registrations by week number. To get a week number for the live data we create a second sheet that references it. Using the ARRAYFORMULA you can enter the reference once which is then applied to all the values in the range. For example, we get all the registration dates in column A using =ArrayFormula('2015LiveData'!B:B) in cell A1 and then extract the week numbers in column C by using the formula =ARRAYFORMULA(IF(ISBLANK(A2:A),"",WEEKNUM(A2:A))) in cell C2.

ArrayFormula is your friend

Setting up your own copy of Schedule CiviCRM Reports

If this is a project you’d like to use and/or build upon you can copy a blank version of our template below:

Schedule CiviCRM Reports
[While signed in File > Make a copy]

Once you have a copy open Tools > Script editor to see all of the project code and instructions for setting up.

I’ve hopefully given you enough to go on to setup but feel free to leave a comment if you get stuck or have any questions.


Example of pdf version from altc 2014At ALT we use Google Sheets as an easy way to share and collaborate on draft event timetables. Recent examples are the ALT Annual Conference 2014  and the OER15 timetables. One of the reasons for publishing draft timetables using Google Sheets is  we can get a static url for people to download it as PDFs but the contents can be dynamically updated (see recent post on doing this). The template we use for conferences is continually evolving which isn’t an issue as it’s easy to copy the last version. One headache is that our theme colour usually changes. This can be a bit fiddly change as we use empty cells to create a thicker grid:

Thicker borders

Faced with another cell background switch it made sense to actually do this with code rather than clicks and thanks to Google Apps Script possible in 19 lines of code and a couple of minutes:

function colorReplace() {
  var doc = SpreadsheetApp.getActiveSheet();
  // get all the existing active sheet background colours
  var cells = doc.getRange(1, 1, doc.getLastRow(), doc.getLastColumn()).getBackgrounds();
  var rows = cells.length;
  var cols = cells[0].length;
  // iterate accross
  for (var i = 0; i < rows; i++){
    for (var j = 0; j < cols; j++){
      if (cells[i][j] == '#feeff8'){ // first color to change
        cells[i][j] = '#f3f3f3'; // first color change to
      } else if (cells[i][j] == '#bf0875'){ // second color to change
        cells[i][j] = '#079948'; // second color to change
  // update backgound colours
  doc.getRange(1, 1, doc.getLastRow(), doc.getLastColumn()).setBackgrounds(cells);


To get the existing cell background colour I used the debugger setting a breakpoint before the loop to see the existing cell colour HEX codes:

debugger to inspect cell colours


My old colleague at Cetis, David Sherlock, posted a nice little  ‘Twitter Question/Revision Bot’. This uses a .csv file of questions and multiple choice answers which get randomly tweeted out using a Python script. David designed the project with a Raspberry Pi in mind but also highlights it can be easily run on any Unix like environment such as Mac OS X or Linux. As not everyone is going to have easy access to this here’s how you can do something similar with Google Sheets (if you don’t want to play copy and paste coding make a copy of this sheet).

1. Setting up a Google Sheets environment to handle it

  1. Start with a new Google Sheet and like David have six columns in each row with question, answer, three options (one of which the correct one) and an extra row to record if the question has been asked.
  2. In your spreadsheet open Tools > Script editor and when asked start a ‘Blank Project’
  3. In the new editor window select Resources > Libraries (this will first prompt you to give your project a name, I called mine TwitBot.
  4. In the ‘Find a Library’ box enter MarIlVOhstkJA6QjPgCWAHIq9hSqx7jwh and click Select
  5. You should now see ‘TwtrService’ listed as one of the libraries. In the ‘Version’ dropdown select the latest version (at time of writing 14), and click Save

TwtrService is a library I’ve written so interact with the Twitter API. You can read more about it here.

In the code window add the following code and click save:

function setup() {
  if (TwtrService.isUserConnectedToTwitter()){
   var result = Browser.msgBox("Twitter Authorisation",
                   "You appear to already be connected to Twitter.\\n\\nWould you like to run the setup again?",
    // Process the user's response.
    if (result == 'yes') {
      // User clicked "Yes".
  } else {

The above code uses the TwtrService to help you set up Twitter access if required

Your script window should look like this:

script editor

2. Create a Twitter App

If you’ve used my other TAGS templates you can reuse your details for this. To see if Twitter App details are required from the script window select Run > setup (if setup isn’t listed you need to first save your code). Running setup will start the first part of the authentication process. Click continue and review the authentication required and ‘Accept’ if you are happy.

Auth required

Going back to the spreadsheet you started there should now be a dialog window asking you to do something. If you haven’t setup a Twitter App before it should look like this:

Twitter app creation

Follow the instructions onscreen to create your app.

Important: The Twitter account you use to authorise access is the one that will send out the tweets

3. Write a Python Google Apps Script

Add the code below to your existing script project and save:

var doc = SpreadsheetApp.getActiveSpreadsheet();
var sheet = doc.getSheetByName('Sheet1');

function tweetQuestion(){
  var ran = Math.floor(Math.random() * (sheet.getLastRow()-1)) + 2;
  var row = sheet.getRange(ran, 1, 1, sheet.getLastColumn()).getValues()[0];
  if (row[5] !== ""){
    tweetQuestion(); // if already asked pulls another random row
  } else {
    var tweet =  "Q: " + row[0];
    var tweet2 =  row[2];
    var tweet3 =  row[3];
    var tweet4 =  row[4];'statuses/update', {status: tweet});
    var options = [tweet2,tweet3,tweet4];
    shuffle(options);'statuses/update', {status: "A: " + options[0]);'statuses/update', {status: "B: " + options[1]);'statuses/update', {status: "C: " + options[2]);
    sheet.getRange(ran, 6).setValue(new Date());

function shuffle(a,b,c,d){//array,placeholder,placeholder,placeholder

4. Time the script to run every hour or so

In the script editor select Resources > Current project’s triggers and click ‘No triggers set up. Click here to add one now.’. Select to run tweetQuestion every hour (or your preference), and also click ‘notification’ so you can get an email if the script fails. Finally click ‘Save’

Timed triggers

What will happen now is the function even if you don’t  have the spreadsheet or script editor open or even your browser.

Important: when this script runs out of questions it will go into an infinite loop. You can go back into the trigger window to remove the function at any point. If you don’t you’ll end up using all of your script runtime quota. You homework is to figure a way to get the script to bail if there are no questions left.

My homework...

function tweetQuestion(){
  var asked_col = sheet.getRange(2, 6, sheet.getLastRow()-1).getValues();
  // get unasked q's
  var unasked = [];
  for(var i=0; i < asked_col.length; i++) {
    if(asked_col[i][0] == "") {
  // randomly pick one
  var ran = Math.floor(Math.random() * unasked.length);
  if (unasked[ran]){
    var row = sheet.getRange(unasked[ran], 1, 1, sheet.getLastColumn()).getValues()[0];
    var tweet =  "Q: " + row[0];
    var tweet2 =  row[2];
    var tweet3 =  row[3];
    var tweet4 =  row[4];'statuses/update', {status: tweet});
    var options = [tweet2,tweet3,tweet4];
    shuffle(options);'statuses/update', {status: "A: " + options[0]});'statuses/update', {status: "B: " + options[1]});'statuses/update', {status: "C: " + options[2]});
    sheet.getRange(unasked[ran], 6).setValue(new Date());
  } else {
    // no questions left - do something else