Getting started with SharePoint Server 2013 workflow


Applies to: SharePoint Server 2013

Topic Last Modified: 2016-12-16

Summary: Learn about the two workflow platforms available in SharePoint Server 2013 and the tools for working with them.

SharePoint Server 2013 brings several changes to workflow. This guide gets you started with the SharePoint 2013 Workflow platform.

In this article:

  • A high-level view of the SharePoint 2013 Workflow platform

  • The process to install and configure the SharePoint 2013 Workflow platform

  • Workflow development tools

Watch an overview video of Workflow in SharePoint Server 2013

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The SharePoint 2013 Workflow platform uses the new Workflow Manager service. Workflow Manager is built on top of Windows Workflow Foundation. Windows Workflow Foundation is part of the .NET Framework 4.5.

The figure below illustrates the SharePoint 2013 Workflow platform technology stack.

Figure: SharePoint 2013 Workflow platform diagram

SharePoint 2013 Workflow platform diagram

Workflow Manager is a powerful new workflow service that can be used by many different applications. SharePoint Server 2013 uses Workflow Manager for its workflow engine.

Workflow Manager is a separate download and must be configured to communicate with the SharePoint Server 2013 farm.

In addition to the SharePoint 2013 Workflow platform, the SharePoint 2010 Workflow platform that came with SharePoint Server 2010 is still available in SharePoint Server 2013. The SharePoint 2010 Workflow platform installs with SharePoint Server 2013 just as it did with SharePoint Server 2010. The end result is that there are two platforms to choose from when you build a workflow in SharePoint Server 2013.

To learn more about the new features of workflow in SharePoint Server 2013, see What's new in workflow in SharePoint Server 2013.

At a high level, there are only three steps required to get the SharePoint 2013 Workflow platform installed and configured. Of course, this is a simplification, because each of these steps includes its own due diligence and set of best practices. Nevertheless, it is a straightforward process to getting up and running and exploring the technology in a test environment should be straightforward.

For example, you could:

  1. Install and configure SharePoint Server 2013 by using the "stand-alone" installation that also installs SQL Server.

  2. Install and configure Workflow Manager on the same virtual machine by using the SQL Server instance that was installed in step 1.

  3. Configure the SharePoint Server 2013 farm to use Workflow Manager.

The SharePoint 2013 Workflow platform does not support the use of Delegated Admins to run workflows.

For detailed instructions on getting SharePoint Server 2013 and Workflow Manager installed and configured, see Configure workflow in SharePoint Server 2013.

There are several tools that come together to provide a rich workflow development experience. These include the following:

  • SharePoint Designer 2013

  • Visual Studio 2012

  • Visio 2013

  • InfoPath 2013

  • A supported web browser such as Internet Explorer, Firefox, or Chrome

SharePoint Designer 2013   

The primary development tool for a SharePoint Server 2013 workflow is called SharePoint Designer 2013. SharePoint Designer 2013 provides a rich set of features specifically designed for workflow development against both the SharePoint 2010 Workflow platform and the SharePoint 2013 Workflow platform. You work with SharePoint Designer 2013 by opening it on your local computer and then connecting it to a SharePoint Server 2013 site.

SharePoint Designer 2013 can connect to any SharePoint Server 2013 site as long as you have permissions to that site and can access it over a network. For example, you might have SharePoint Designer 2013 installed on a computer in your home office and SharePoint Server 2013 might be installed on a server at your corporate data center. As long as you can connect to your site, you can use SharePoint Designer 2013 to develop workflows for it.

Visual Studio 2012   

Visual Studio 2012 is used in many types of Microsoft development. You can use Visual Studio 2012 to develop workflows similar to SharePoint Designer 2013. However it can also be used to develop custom actions and tasks such as a workflow action that interacts with a custom application.

SharePoint Server 2013 ships with a rich assortment of actions and tasks. If you need a very specific action, you can use Visual Studio 2012 to develop it. The custom action can then be used in SharePoint Designer 2013 by a workflow developer.

Visio 2013  

Visio 2013 is an Office application that is used to build diagrams by using shapes and connectors. You can use Visio 2013 to build workflows based on the SharePoint 2013 Workflow platform. You can import workflows from Visio 2013 into SharePoint Designer 2013, and vice versa.

To learn more about building workflows by using the Visual Designer in SharePoint Designer 2013, see Getting familiar with Visual Designer for workflow in SharePoint Designer 2013.

InfoPath 2013   

InfoPath 2013 is a tool designed for form development. Using InfoPath 2013 you can customize the forms that a workflow uses as users interact with it.

Web browser   

A web browser, such as Internet Explorer, Firefox, or Chrome, is what you use to interact with SharePoint Server 2013 sites. For example, you can create lists and libraries, associate a workflow with a list and library, add items to a list or library, start a workflow on an item, and check the status of a workflow.