Troubleshoot workflow errors

Applies To: Office SharePoint Server 2007

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Topic Last Modified: 2008-06-13

Workflows are sensitive to any problem in the user environment, particularly the state of list items that a workflow operates upon and the server settings that govern workflows. When a problem is detected, workflows fail. The most common reasons for workflow failure are a defect in the workflow design, network issues, or restricted user permissions. Because of the high dependency on all of these factors and the complexity with which workflows are built, troubleshooting workflows can be challenging.

A number of reasons can cause a workflow to fail. For example, there may be a workflow that creates a new item in a library and this library might have been deleted, or user permissions may have been changed since the workflow was started, thus preventing a user from accessing the site to complete a workflow task. When a workflow fails to complete successfully, its final status appears in the column with that workflow's name, in the list with which the workflow is associated.

In addition to Completed, a final status you might see in this column is Error Occurred, Stopped, or Failed on start (retrying).

Clicking this status link takes you to the Workflow Status page, where a brief description of the error appears in the Workflow History section.

When the final status of a workflow is displayed as Error Occurred, the first step in troubleshooting the workflow is to determine the cause of the error. The troubleshooting method you use depends on the type of workflow in which the error occurred: a predefined workflow, a SharePoint Designer workflow, or a Visual Studio custom workflow.

For predefined workflows, the workflow history list is a good troubleshooting tool. The workflow history displays the current state and all the previous states for a running workflow. When an error occurs in a workflow, the last event in workflow history list is titled Error. The list provides information about when the error occurred and provides a brief description of what happened. The most common errors are caused by connectivity problems, incorrect e-mail settings, or restricted user permissions. For information about how to access the workflow history list, see View workflow reports.

For SharePoint Designer workflows, when you create the workflow, you can insert actions that write to the history list at any point in the workflow to allow you to see the status of the workflow. This will help you determine the last successful step completed by the workflow before the error occurred and also the step in which the error occurred.

For Visual Studio custom workflows, you can use all the debugging functionality available with Visual Studio, as well as the troubleshooting options for predefined workflows.

In-depth troubleshooting information will be provided at a future date.

If an error occurs while a workflow is running, the workflow cannot be resumed. To run the workflow, you must cancel or terminate the workflow and then start it again. For more information on how to cancel a workflow, see Cancel a workflow instance.

When you restart a workflow after troubleshooting, the recommended approach is to set the workflow to start manually. You can then test the workflow by starting it manually in the browser. This way, you do not have to create extra list items just to trigger a workflow that is configured to start when an item is created.