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Designing Custom SharePoint Workflows with .NET

Owens Gollamandala | | March 30, 2015

Many Microsoft SharePoint uses aren’t aware of its power when coupled with .NET. This powerhouse duo is especially useful for creating workflows.

A workflow refers to the movement of documents or items relating to a business process through various actions or tasks. This can include creating applications or documents, tracking sales leads, or routing purchase orders. Any task requiring multiple approvals as well as the completion of a series of interrelated, complex tasks—namely, software development—can have a workflow created for it.

What makes workflows most useful is that they are .NET-based. This allows you to create custom workflows, which are especially helpful for processes or documents requiring iterative loops and complex tracking, neither of which is possible with the standard SharePoint workflows.

Datavail uses .NET, the programming framework on which SharePoint is built, because it’s supported by SharePoint and is easily upgraded, so you don’t have to go back to your vendor every time you need a change. Workflows built on .NET work with other technologies you already have, which can help make the customization process easier.

When you use .NET 4.5, these workflows are automatically hosted on the Windows Azure Worfkflow service. Developers don’t have to have an account and it automatically integrates with Office 365.

You can easily develop a workflow with still other Microsoft development tools you have, such as Visual Studio, Visio, and InfoPath. Using Visual Studio, for example, you can develop a custom workflow action that a developer could use in SharePoint Designer 2013.

Windows Workflow Foundation in .NET 4.5 offers new development models and other new features. One of these is the ability to invoke web services as well as adding stages and loops. It also is integrated with Microsoft Project, which means you can use workflows from that software.

New Features in .NET

There are several subsequent versions of the .NET Framework available starting with 4.5.1, released in October 2013. .NET 4.5.2, for example, includes some new workflow features. And, to complicate matters further, there is a preview version of .NET Framework 4.6 available.

There are new workflows versioning features that allow developers to host multiple versions of a workflow side by side. Other new features under the versioning umbrella allow for the use of persistent workflows.

Perhaps the biggest change is that you can now use the C# programming language to create expressions in workflows. Prior to the release of .NET Framework 4.5, all workflow expressions had to be written using Visual Basic

One caveat: these types of custom workflows need to be carefully maintained. The development process associated with them may take significant time and resources away from pressing projects. When there are changes or updates to SharePoint, the code may need to be reviewed or rewritten.

More About Custom Workflows

Check out Datavail’s blog for more great articles. For a detailed white paper on .NET Workflow Solutions for SharePoint, click here for download.

Otherwise, if you need help with this or other SharePoint or .NET development projects, please contact Datavail to discuss a custom solution designed for your enterprise.

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