Workflows in SharePoint 2013

Author by John Adali

Introduction

This is the first in a series of posts that will describe the new features of SharePoint 2013 workflows. There are a number of enhancements as well as brand new functionality for workflows in SharePoint 2013, and I will be detailing the different areas (in future posts). This post is a high-level introduction to what has changed for SharePoint workflows, as well as what is new (Note: this article is based off the public beta of SharePoint 2013).

Two Platforms to Choose From

SharePoint 2013 now has two platforms for workflow to choose from. The first is the 2010 Workflow platform which should be familiar to SharePoint developers, as it provides a nearly identical workflow experience as what is provided in SharePoint 2010. Microsoft has provided this so any workflows created in 2010 will not be left behind, meaning they will work in SharePoint 2013 with little or no modifications. The 2010 Workflow platform is available when SharePoint 2013 is installed, without any additional configuration steps to perform.

The second platform is the 2013 Workflow platform, which is new to SharePoint 2013. This platform becomes available only when the new Workflow Manager service is installed and configured to communicate with a SharePoint Server 2013 farm. There are many different aspects to this new workflow platform, but the largest difference from 2010 workflows is that the workflow engine is no longer hosted inside of SharePoint (as 2010 is), and can be hosted by the Workflow Manager externally. This provides much needed flexibility in scaling workflows, while also relieving pressure on the SharePoint Server environment.

Workflow Changes in SharePoint Designer

SharePoint Designer 2013 includes new functionality to support the SharePoint 2013 workflow platform, as well as support for SharePoint 2010 workflows. Users now have the choice of creating workflows for either workflow platform in SharePoint, and will see the 2013 Workflow platform type selection in SharePoint Designer if the Workflow Platform has been connected to their farm.

Other notable enhancements are:

  • Visual workflow development experience using Visio 2013 add-in
  • New actions for creating a task, starting a task process, and calling web service calls from within a workflow (without writing code)
  • A new action that allows a 2013 workflow to start a workflow built on the 2010 Workflow platform
  • New development blocks such as Stage, Loop (yes!) and App Step

Workflow Manager

The Workflow Manager is a powerful new service provided with the SharePoint 2013 Workflow platform. This workflow engine is external to SharePoint 2013, and is utilized by SharePoint 2013 for providing support for 2013 workflows. Workflow Manager is built on top of Window Workflow Foundation, which is part of the .NET Framework 4.5.

There are a number of enterprise-level features that Workflow Manager provides to workflows in SharePoint 2013, such as:

  • High Density and Multi-Tenancy
  • Elastic Scale
  • Activity/Workflow Artifact Management
  • Tracking and Monitoring
  • Instance Management
  • Fully Declarative Authoring
  • REST and Service Bus Messaging
  • Managed Service Reliability

Future blog posts will address the details of these features of Workflow Manager.

Powershell Support for Workflows

Powershell is used exclusively to configure and monitor 2013 workflows in SharePoint 2013. Administrators will use Powershell to configure the communication of Workflow Manager with a SharePoint Server 2013 farm. Management and monitoring of 2013 workflows is also performed exclusively with Powershell in SharePoint 2013.

Conclusion

SharePoint 2013 brings a new experience for developing workflows, while maintaining the existing infrastructure for 2010 workflows. Issues in SharePoint 2010 such as scalability, managed service reliability, and authoring challenges have been addressed in SharePoint 2013, and provide administrators and developers additional options and capabilities for creating and managing workflows in SharePoint 2013. For details, please refer to the following URL: http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/jj163177(v=office.15).aspx

Author

John Adali

Senior Software Developer - Modern Applications