SharePoint workflow development best practices

SharePoint 2013

Provides a collection of best practices for developers using Visual Studio to create workflows in SharePoint 2013.

Last modified: September 17, 2015

Applies to: SharePoint Server 2013

To develop error-free workflows for SharePoint, it is best to follow some general guidelines, or "best practices." This is the case whether you are using SharePoint Designer 2013 or Visual Studio 2012 for workflow development.

Apps for SharePoint that contain integrated workflows must edit a tag in the workflowmanifest.xml file

SharePoint Add-ins that contain integrated workflows (which can be associated with lists on the parent web) are differentiated from normal workflow apps by changing the following tag to true in the workflowmanifest.xml file in the app package:

<SPIntegratedWorkflow xmlns="">

When you use the Log To History List action, more information is better

The Log To History List action (or LogToHistoryListActivity class if you are using Visual Studio) lets you record information about what a workflow has done at a given point in the workflow's lifecycle. This makes it one of the most important troubleshooting tools you have. The more information you provide at important points in the workflow, the easier it is to troubleshoot unexpected events.

For more information, see the following:

Write the value of every string and variable that you construct to the history list

Debugging workflows that were created using SharePoint Designer is much easier if you write strings and variables to the history list by using the Log to History List action.

For more information, see the following:

Output a trace log before and after each step or important unit of work in the workflow

To assist with debugging workflows, it is important that you capture meaningful information prior to and following each significant unit of work; this information should be committed to trace logs. For more information, see the following:

Verify that variables are non-null and contain expected values

Before using variables in your workflows, ensure there are no null variables. Also, ensure that variables contain expected values and are of the correct data type. For more information, see Variables and Arguments.

Ensure that strings in workflow text fields do not exceed 255 characters

The maximum allowable length for strings in workflow text fields is 255 characters. If you set your text field to exceed this limit, its content will be truncated to 255 characters.

Use elevated permissions on a neutral account when using impersonation

When using impersonation steps in a workflow, you should author the workflow using a neutral account (that is, an account that is not tied to a specific user). This prevents your workflows from breaking if the author's account becomes obsolete for any reason.

For more information, see Create a workflow with elevated permissions by using the SharePoint 2013 Workflow platform.

In reusable workflows, use Association columns to ensure error-free list fields

If you create a reusable workflow that relies on its list having a specific field, you may either (1) restrict the workflow to a content type that has the specified field, or (2) make the field an association column. Option 2 is recommended because it's possible that a content type will change and cause the workflow to break.

Workflow design: Model a business process in a single workflow

Where possible, it is much better to model a business process in a single workflow than to break the workflow logic into several smaller workflows.

Workflow design: Using the Approval action effectively

Where possible, instead of creating multiple Approval actions, it is more effective to use the Stages feature within an Approval action.