What’s new in SharePoint 2013 workflows?

One of the much improved features of SharePoint 2013 is the workflow engine. SharePoint 2010 used ‘Windows Workflow Foundation 3.5’ to power workflows. SharePoint 2013 changes this and uses ‘Windows Azure Workflows.'

Woman checking her phone for the latest SharePoint 2013 updates.

This means quite a big change to how things work behind the scenes.  Workflows now run as a separate service to SharePoint itself and can be hosted on-premise or externally (in much the same way as the new ‘Apps’ model works).

The new workflow platform, dubbed ‘Workflow Manager,’ brings with it many new enterprise class capabilities. Tec​hnet lists these capabilities 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

SharePoint Designer 2013 now includes everything you need to build these new workflows with some nice improvements over the previous version:

  • Visual development tools using a Visio 2013 add-in
  • Ability to call ‘web services’ without writing any code
  • New building blocks like ‘Stage’, ‘Loop’, and ‘App step’

SharePoint Designer - with no Design Mode

Somewhat controversially this new version of Designer has done away with ‘Design mode.’ This has caused great concern with some users. There is a detailed discussion on TechNet about the pros and cons of this change and Asif Rehmani has written a good post describing exactly what has happened.

Developers and more experienced ​users can of course still use Visual Studio to build workflows.

Backwards Compatibility of SharePoint Workflows

Microsoft has also maintained support for SP2010 workflows, so they will work as they did previously on SharePoint 2010 without any reworking. This backwards compatibility is a nice touch, though you will very much want to build anything new using the new engine. Workflows in SP2010 were good, but not a huge leap on from SharePoint 2007. SharePoint 2013 has really moved things on and workflows are now a hugely powerful area of the platform. It will be very interesting to see how the community gets on with the features and seeing what is possible.​​

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