SharePoint 2010 Workflow Example – Custom Association and Initiation Forms

A year of so ago I wrote a couple of posts on MOSS 2007 workflows, specifically around the creation of custom Association and Initiation forms using InfoPath. While neither of these tasks are really very difficult (once you have figured out how), I think most would agree that the whole process is a great deal more messy that it should be.

Now that we are near the release of SharePoint 2010 (it went RTM last week and ships May 12, for those who have not seen the 2 million other posts letting you know), I thought I would revisit these same activities in SharePoint 2010 to demonstrate the fact that the process is whole lot less messy.

(Note that I have not had time to do screen captures as I did in my previous examples. If you have trouble following what I have done, leave a comment and I will add the pictures in).

The first couple of steps are identical to the previous version:

1) Create a new site.

2) Create a new document library (make sure you add at least one document to the library for testing later).

Now things get a little different.

3) Run SharePoint Designer 2010, and open your site.

4) In the Site Objects list on the left hand side, select Workflows. You will see the list of workflows defined on the site, which at this point will just be built in workflows. You can edit these workflows (though I wouldn’t) or you can create a copy of one of them to serve as a starting point. In this example, however, we will start from scratch.

5) In the Ribbon you will see three choices for creating a new workflow:

  • A List Workflow: Creates a workflow associated with a specific list. These workflows can only be associated to one list, and cannot be re-used
  • A Reusable Workflow: Creates a workflow which is not pre-associated with a particular list. These workflows can be later associated with one or more lists or content types. They can also be exported as WSP packages and reused across multiple sites.
  • Site Workflows: Site workflows are not associated with a list or content type. They are initiated from the Site Actions menu, and their instances are not connected to list items.

In this example, we will create a Reusable Workflow. Give your workflow a name, a description if you want, and leave the Content Type selection at “All”, and click Ok.

6) You will now see the workflow editor in SharePoint Designer. The main canvas is where you design the logic of your workflow. Make sure your insertion point is in Step 1, and from the Action gallery of the Insert section of the Ribbon, select “Log to History List”. Click on “this message” in the design area, and enter text to be logged. I used “My Workflow Started”.

7) Now for the point of this example – we will create an Association and Initiation parameter. In the Ribbon, click on Initiation Form Parameters.

Click Add…, and define a new parameter. Mine is called “MyParameter”, is of type “Single Line of Text”, and will be shown on both the Association and Initiation forms (you can also have a parameter which is only shown on Association, or only shown on Initiation). Once you have defined your parameter, click Ok.

8 ) Now you can add a reference to your parameter to you “Log to History List” activity. Open the message to be logged, and click the ellipses (…) to display the string builder tool. Click Add or Change Lookup, and select “Workflow Variables and Parameters” as the Data Source. Then select your parameter in the “Field from Source” drop down, and select String as the “Return Field As” selection. Click Ok, and then Ok again.

9) Now we should be ready to test things. In the Ribbon, click Publish. This will make the workflow available in your site.

10) Navigate to your site in the browser, and open the document library you created for this example. At the top of the page, under Library Tools, select Library. On the far right side of the Ribbon, select the Workflow Settings drop down, and select Add a Workflow. Select your custom workflow from the list, give your workflow association a name, and leave all the other settings at the default values. Click Ok.

11) A custom association form will now be displayed, asking for your parameter. Enter a default value for the parameter (I used “Default Value”). Click Save.

12) Now return to your document library, and select one of your documents. From the menu for the document, select Workflows. On the Workflows page that is displayed, select your workflow. A custom initiation form is now displayed, asking for the parameter you defined. Enter a value and click Start.

13) You will now be taken back to your document library. Notice that the document you used for the test now has a column named for your workflow, and has a value there of Completed. Click on Completed to view the workflow status page. You should now see the status for this workflow instance, and at the bottom you should see your logged message, with the value you entered for the parameter in your Initiation form.

While this procedure has almost as many steps as the previous examples for MOSS 2007, it is obviously a lot less messy to create and access Association and Initiation parameters in SharePoint 2010. From here, you can go back to SharePoint Designer, from which you can see the actual form (.XSN) used for your workflow, and you can open it up and customize it in InfoPath.


Working with Association Data in MOSS Workflows

I received a couple of comments in response to me previous post on Custom Association and Custom Initiation forms regarding how to use the Association and Initiation data collected, from within the workflow code. I had answered in my responses that you just access the AssociationData and InitiationData members of the WorkflowProperties, which return the data as XML strings. You then just work with that XML as required.

Here I will present some sample code for actually working with the XML coming from the custom AssociationData.

First, I would like to step back though and look at designing the Association Data. Typically when working with any InfoPath form, I start from the data side, and develop an XML Schema for the data (ideally, this is done as part of the overall design of the solution being developed, and includes all of the data design for the solution). The code snippet below shows the schema I developed for this example.

<?xml version="1.0" encoding="utf-8"?>
<xs:schema targetNamespace=""
   <xs:element name="AssociationInitiationData" type="AssociationInitiationDataType" />
   <xs:complexType name="AssociationInitiationDataType">
         <xs:element name="TaskDescription" type="xs:string" />
         <xs:element name="AssignTo" type="xs:string" />

Note that this schema represents both the Association Data structure, as well as the Initiation Data. It is necessary for these two to share a schema and namespace, though the Association form need not populate all of the fields.

A Custom Association Form can then be developed in InfoPath based upon this schema, and deployed as described in my previous post.

Now, how do we access this Association Data from within our workflow?

I implemented a simple serializable class matching the schema, as shown below.

public class AssociationData
   private String _TaskDescription;
   private String _AssignTo;

   public String TaskDescription
         return this._TaskDescription;
         this._TaskDescription = value;

   public String AssignTo
         return this._AssignTo;

         this._AssignTo = value;

I also implemented a helper class (creatively named) to support loading the Association Data into this class (note that this helper handles both the Initiation and Association data):

public class Helper
   public static InitiationData DeserializeInitiationData(string xmlString)
      using (MemoryStream stream =
         new MemoryStream(Encoding.UTF8.GetBytes(xmlString)))
         XmlSerializer serializer =
            new XmlSerializer(typeof(InitiationData), "");
            InitiationData data = (InitiationData)serializer.Deserialize(stream);
            return data;

   public static AssociationData DeserializeAssociationData(string xmlString)
      using (MemoryStream stream =
         new MemoryStream(Encoding.UTF8.GetBytes(xmlString)))
         XmlSerializer serializer = new XmlSerializer(typeof(AssociationData), "");
         AssociationData data = (AssociationData)serializer.Deserialize(stream);
         return data;

Given these two classes, it is then simple to access the Association Data from within the workflow. For example, add a private member to the workflow class:

private AssociationData _associationData;

Then from within the onWorkflowActivated activity, add the following code:

String AssociationDataXml = workflowProperties.AssociationData;
_associationData = Helper.DeserializeAssociationData(AssociationDataXml);

The association data can then be accessed from within our _associationData object as required. The Schema, and the AssociationData class definition, can be modified as required to add additional fields.

I was considering another post about doing the same thing for InitiationData, but it works exactly the same way. So unless someone really insists, I will not bother.

First look at SharePoint 2010 for Developers

The past week has seen quite a bit of new information being published by Microsoft regarding Office 2010 and SharePoint 2010. This is just the start, I am sure, and by the time Office 2010 is released next year, we will probably all be getting sick of hearing about it (jk). A good place to start getting a feel for SharePoint 2010 is to look at SharePoint 2010 Sneak Peek videos recently posted by Microsoft.

I had a look late last week at the new features from a general perspective – see my column over at Legal IT Professionals. In this post I want to have a look at some of the new features for developers. I will give my take on what I saw in the videos, and also mention a few things that I was hoping to see but didn’t.

The Developer Sneak Peek Video covers a number of features of SharePoint 201 for developers:

  • Visual Studio 2010 SharePoint tools
  • Language Integrated Query (LINQ) for SharePoint
  • Developer Dashboard
  • Business Connectivity Services
  • Client Object Model (OM)
  • Silverlight Web Part

The Visual Studio SharePoint tools are intended to improve programmer productivity when developing for SharePoint. A major new feature is the Visual Web Part Designer. As the name implies, this tool lets you visually design your web part UI, rather than coding it or using something like SmartPart. While the demonstration in the video is extremely simple, this tool should greatly improve the process of developing Web Parts for SharePoint 2010.

The support for Feature and Solution packaging seems to be greatly improved as well, and actually looks like it is a real Visual Studio tool rather than an afterthought.

Microsoft has also added a SharePoint node to the Server Explorer in Visual Studio. This allows you to look at the structure and content of the SharePoint site you are targeting without having to bounce back and forth between IE and Visual Studio.

Another big feature is the Business Connectivity Services design tools for Visual Studio. This is a set of tools for implementing BCS entities from within Visual Studio, allowing a developer to do more sophisticated BCS development than is possible from SharePoint Designer.

Moving beyond Visual Studio, there are a number of other important enhancements for developers.

One of these enhancements is the Developer Dashboard. This is a component which is enabled by a sight administrator, and can be added to any SharePoint page to support development and debugging. It provides diagnostic information regarding including the detailed page request, timing information, information on Stored procedures called, as well as details regarding resource usage, authenticated user, web part timings, etc. This should be a big help in troubleshooting issues.

Another addition is the addition of the Client Object Model, a client-side API for interacting with data on the SharePoint server using JavaScript, .NET code, or Silverlight.

Speaking of Silverlight, there is now a built-in Silverlight Web Part to facilitate deployment of rich UI components. The video shows a nice demonstration using Silverlight, the Silverlight Web Part, and the Client Object Model.  

While I definitely like what I see for developers in SharePoint 2010, there are a number of things I want to see but didn’t:

  1. The Visual Web Part Designer is great. I am curious, though, whether this tool will have any support for developing connectable web parts more easily? Creating the visual part of the Web Part is wonderful, but most useful web parts need to provide or consume connections.
  2. Another thought on the Web Part Designer – does it have support for developing async behaviours, or does it still have to be duck-taped together?
  3. Is there better support for development of Site Definitions, List Definitions, Content Types, etc.? This has remained a manual, tedious, and hence error-prone process. Similarly, is there support for editing of CAML for queries, etc.?
  4. SharePoint Workflow development support. The tools for workflow development in SharePoint 2007 are “ok” as far as they go, but there remain a fair number of very manual, very “cludgey” steps that make it non-trivial to implement real-world workflows, including the mechanisms for developing and using custom ASP.NET association, initiation, and task forms.
  5. Speaking of workflow, the execution environment for workflow in SharePoint is missing some pieces, most notably the tracking service. What has been added?
  6. Rumour has it that SharePoint 2010 will be running over .NET 3.5, not .NET 4.0. Say it ain’t so! So SharePoint Workflow will not take advantage of the performance improvements in .NET 4.0 – what’s the point?
  7. Does the Silverlight Web Part support connections? Or must any data flow into or out of the web part be done from within the Silverlight?

Well, those are my first thoughts on SharePoint 2010 for developers. I can’t wait to see/learn more over the coming months.

MOSS Workflow Examples – Custom Initiation/Instantiation Form (using InfoPath)

Previously, I posted a guide to creating and deploying a very simple custom Association form for a MOSS workflow. This time, I will walk through the steps to create a custom Initiation form, and also a bit of detail on consuming the data from the Initiation form from your workflow code. To reiterate what I said in the Association form walkthrough, what I am creating here is not a form you would use in a real workflow – the intent is to demonstrate the process with as much noise and detail stripped away as possible.
As I describe in my other post, the Association form is displayed when you connect your Workflow Template to a document/form library, list, or content type (the action known as creating an association). The Initiation form is displayed when the user actual starts or instantiates the workflow on an item in a list or document library. The intent is to collect startup information for the workflow. The information collected by the Instantiation form may be the same as on the Association form (allowing the user to override the defaults) or it may be completely different information. Have a look at if you would like to see Microsoft’s definitions.
Before we start, have a look at my previous post describing my base environment for creating these examples.
1) Create a new site
I used a new web application, and a new site collection created using the Team Site template. I named my site InitiationFormDemo;
2) Create Form Library
On this new site, create a Form Library (which I named Workflow Form Library);
3) Create Task List
Also create a new Task List. I called mine Workflow Tasks. At this point, your site home page should look something like the picture below.
Initiation Form Demo Site
4) Create Workflow Project
Launch Visual Studio 2008. Create a new project. Expand the C# project tree, select Workflow, and select the SharePoint 2007 Sequential Workflow. Name the project “MyWorkflow”. The create project dialog should look like the picture below.
Create Workflow Project
5) Set the properties for the project as shown below
Workflow Project Settings 1
Workflow Project Settings 2
Workflow Project Settings 3
6) Finish Creating Workflow Project
Click finish. Normally, we would change the workflow name in the project, add some activities, some code, etc., but this is not necessary for this example. The project should look something like this.
Workflow Project
7) Create Custom Initiation Form in InfoPath
Now we will create the InfoPath Initiation Form. Launch InfoPath and select Design a Form Template. Select the settings as shown below (Form Template, Blank, Enable browser-compatible features only).
InfoPath 1
8 ) Design the Custom Initiation Form – Create Data Source for Submission
In the InfoPath Designer, select Tools | Data Connections… and click the Add button. Create the new data connection as shown in the following pictures.
InfoPath 2
InfoPath 3
InfoPath 4
Click Finish and Close to get back to the main InfoPath window.
9) Create a Custom Field for the Form
In the Task Pane, under Design Tasks, click on Data Source. Right click on myFields, and select Add to add a new field to the schema. Create a new field as shown below, and click Ok.
InfoPath 5
10) Add the Custom Field to the Form
Drag and drop the My Setting field onto the design surface, to create label and text box for it. Also add a Button control, and change its label to “Submit”. Your form should look something like the picture below.
InfoPath 6
11) Add Logic to the Submit Button
Double click on your Submit button to display the Button Properties dialog. Click on the Rules… button, and click Add and then Add Action. Select options as shown below, and click Ok.
InfoPath 7
Click Add Action again, and set the options as shown below, and click Ok.
InfoPath 8
You should now have two actions, as shown below.
InfoPath 9
12) Set Form Security Level
Finally, we must set the form trust to Domain. Select Tools | Form Options…, and select Security and Trust. Unselect the checkbox Automatically determine security level (recommended), and click the Domain radio button, as shown below, and click Ok.
InfoPath 10
13) Save the Form Template
Save the form to disk (File | Save). You can save it anywhere you want, as long as it is not your Visual Studio project folder. I just save mine to a Forms folder in My Documents. Name the form MyInitiationForm.xsn for this example (in practice you can name it whatever makes sense).
14) Publish the Form Template
Now we want to publish the form. This did not entirely make sense to me, but when you select File | Publish…, on the first page of the publish dialog we will select To a Network Location even though we will actually publish it to our Visual Studio workflow project folder.
Publish 1
Click Next, and then browse to the location where you will publish the form. In this case, we want to publish to your workflow project folder, as shown.
Publish 2
Type a name for your form (I used MyInitiationForm.xsn), click Ok, and Next. On the next form, clear the text box and click Next (this is important, the form will not work if you do not clear that text box!)
Publish 3
When you click Next, a warning will pop up, as shown below. Click Ok to continue.
Publish 4
Click Publish and Close, and then exit InfoPath.
15) Retrieve Form ID to Use in Workflow Project
In Windows Explorer, navigate to your workflow project folder, right click on the InfoPath form you just published there, and select Design. When the form opens in design mode, select File | Properties… to display the properties dialog shown below.
Get Form ID
Select the ID as shown, and copy it to the clipboard. Click Ok and exit InfoPath.
16) Modify Workflow Project to Reference Custom Initiation Form
Go back to Visual Studio 2008, and open you workflow project if it is not still open. Open the workflow.xml file. The default file looks like this:
<?xml version="1.0" encoding="utf-8" ?>

<!-- Customize the text in square brackets.
     Remove brackets when filling in, e.g.
     Name="[NAME]" ==> Name="MyWorkflow"

<Elements xmlns="">
   <Workflow Name="MyWorkflow"
             Description="My SharePoint Workflow"
             CodeBesideAssembly="MyWorkflow, Version=, Culture=neutral, PublicKeyToken=96c40524715e44e9">

         <!-- Tags to specify InfoPath forms for the workflow; delete tags for forms that you do not have -->
         <!--<Association_FormURN>[URN FOR ASSOCIATION FORM]</Association_FormURN>
         <Instantiation_FormURN>[URN FOR INSTANTIATION FORM]</Instantiation_FormURN>
         <Task0_FormURN>[URN FOR TASK (type 0) FORM]</Task0_FormURN>
         <Task1_FormURN>[URN FOR TASK (type 1) FORM]</Task1_FormURN>-->
         <!-- Modification forms: create a unique guid for each modification form -->
         <Modification_[UNIQUE GUID]_FormURN>[URN FOR MODIFICATION FORM]</Modification_[UNIQUE GUID]_FormURN>
Paste the ID from your InfoPath form properties into the <Instantiation_FormURN> element, and uncomment the element (be careful that the other commented out elements stay that way – or delete the ones you are not using as I did):
Of course, your actual URN will be different than mine.
Add the following new attribute to the <Workflow> element:
Your workflow.xml file should now look something like this:
<?xml version="1.0" encoding="utf-8" ?>
<!-- Customize the text in square brackets.
     Remove brackets when filling in, e.g.
     Name="[NAME]" ==> Name="MyWorkflow"
<Elements xmlns="">
   <Workflow Name="MyWorkflow"
             Description="My SharePoint Workflow"
             CodeBesideAssembly="MyWorkflow, Version=, Culture=neutral, PublicKeyToken=96c40524715e44e9"
         <!-- Tags to specify InfoPath forms for the workflow; delete tags for forms that you do not have -->
Save the file and close it.
17) Make Sure the Custom Initiation Form will get Copied With the Workflow Feature
Next, open the feature.xml file. It will look something like
<?xml version="1.0" encoding="utf-8" ?>
<Feature Id="15fdd97f-db32-44c1-96cc-cab49acecd36"
         Title="MyWorkflow feature"
         Description="My SharePoint Workflow Feature"
         ReceiverAssembly="Microsoft.Office.Workflow.Feature, Version=, Culture=neutral, PublicKeyToken=71e9bce111e9429c"
      <ElementManifest Location="workflow.xml" />
      <Property Key="GloballyAvailable" Value="true" />
      <!-- Value for RegisterForms key indicates the path to the forms relative to feature file location -->
      <!-- if you don't have forms, use *.xsn -->
      <Property Key="RegisterForms" Value="*.xsn" />
Find the <ElementManifests> tag, and under that, add a new <ElementFile> element inside it as shown:
   <ElementManifest Location="workflow.xml" />
   <ElementFile Location="MyInitiationForm.xsn"/>
Save the file and close it.
18 ) Rebuild your workflow solution, and deploy it.
19) Test it Out
Back in IE, navigate to your form library. Since I’ve not created a custom association form in this example, you can create the association using the default form (if you have set up your project to auto-associate, you will not need to do this manually).
Since we want to initiate a workflow, first we need to add a document to the library. I just clicked upload and selected a random file from my desktop. Hover over the file you uploaded and left-click to bring up the context menu. Select Workflow from the menu. Then click on MyWorkflow to start the workflow. This should bring up your custom instantiation form as shown below.
Start Workflow
Enter some text, and click Submit. You will see an animation showing that MOSS is working, and then you will be brought back to the Form Library page. The status of your workflow should show as complete, since the workflow does not actually do anything.
20) Accessing the Initiation Form data in your workflow
I will now quickly show how to access your initiation data from your workflow. We will simple pull out the string entered and log it.
Open your workflow project in Visual Studio, and open your workflow in design view. Add a new logToHistoryListActivity as shown below, and set the HistoryDescription property as shown (set it to a String Field named HistoryDescription in your workflow).
Add LogToHistoryList LogToHistoryList Properties
Right click your logToHistoryListActivity and select Generate Handlers. In the event handler, add code as show below:
public String HistoryDescription;
private void logToHistoryListActivity1_MethodInvoking(object sender, EventArgs e)
      String MySettingValue = workflowProperties.InitiationData;
      HistoryDescription = "Initiation String Entered: " + MySettingValue;
Rebuild and deploy your workflow, and execute it as in Step 19. Click on the Completed link as shown below.
In the Workflow Status you will now see a history event as shown below, and the initiation string is shown as an XML string, with a <MySetting> element and the string I entered. To use this data in a workflow, you would parse the XML and go from there (or generate a class from the schema and load the XML into that).
Workflow Status
Well, there it is. A custom Initiation form using InfoPath.
Next time – custom Task forms!
%d bloggers like this: