Introduction to The Workflow Framework

Blogs Entries, Journal Articles, and Forms Entries are just a few Assets supporting workflow. There’s nothing stopping you from likewise enabling workflow for your custom Assets. Discover here how the workflow framework works, and find the steps and code samples for enabling your custom entities to use the workflow capabilities in subsequent articles.

A workflow process is a set of steps that an Asset must proceed through before it’s marked with the workflow status Approved. The steps are defined in an XML file called a workflow definition. Each Asset is configured to run through a specific workflow definition via the Control Panel.

Figure 1: Enable workflow on your custom Asset, and it can be sent through a workflow process just like a native Asset.

Figure 1: Enable workflow on your custom Asset, and it can be sent through a workflow process just like a native Asset.

The workflow status is a database field that must be present for an entity to support workflow. If a database has the status field, but no workflow code has been written, it’s auto-marked Approved by Liferay’s Service Builder infrastructure, to assure that everything works smoothly by default.

Supporting Workflow in the Database

There are several database fields that must be present for an Asset to support workflow:

int status represents the workflow status of each Asset.

long statusByUserId is the ID of the user that set the status (for example, the initial User that hit the Submit for Publication button to add a new Asset.

String statusByUserName is the User Name of the User that set the status of the Asset.

Date statusDate is the date/time when the status was set.

For Service Builder applications, add these as entity columns in the service.xml file, run Service Builder, and you’re good to go.

Setting the Status Fields

Once the database table has the proper status fields, set them in your Entity’s addEntity service method. Initially, set the status as a DRAFT. It’s what the workflow framework expects of an entity as it enters the workflow process. The status is an int, but you don’t have to remember which number corresponds to the DRAFT status. Instead, use the WorkflowConstants in portal-kernel. For a draft, pass in


If you’re curious, the int represented by this constant is 2. Another important status, APPROVED, is represented by the int value 0 and the constant


The User fields (statusByUserID and statusByUserName) are easy, since the userId of the User making the addEntity request is part of the request itself, and passed into the addEntity method for most assets. Use the ID directly as the statusByUserId, and get the full name associated with the User by using the ID to retrieve the User object.


The statusDate is usually best set as the date the entity was modified, and is part of the Service Context in the request:


Once the status dates are set, the entity is ready to be sent into the workflow framework.

Sending the Entity to the Workflow Framework

When an entity is added to the database, the application must detect whether workflow is enabled. If not, it automatically marks the entity as approved so it appears in the UI. Otherwise, it’s left in draft status and the workflow back-end handles it. Thankfully, this whole process is easily done with a call to WorkflowHandlerRegistryUtil.startWorkflowInstance in your persistence code.

Allowing the Workflow Framework to Handle the Entity

Once the entity is sent to the Workflow Framework, much of the process is automated, and you need not worry about the details. Write one class that gives the framework some information on how to process the entity. It’s called a workflow handler (WorkflowHandler<T>), and you can create it by extending the handy abstract implementation, BaseWorkflowHandler<T>.

The workflow handler usually goes in the module containing service implementations. It’s nice to keep your back-end code separate from your view layer and controller (ala the MVC pattern).

Make your workflow handler a Component class so it can be registered properly with OSGi runtime. It requires one Component property,, which is the fully qualified class name for class you pass as the type parameter in the class declaration.

In addition to the property, declare the type of service you’re providing in the Component: WorkflowHandler.class.

Workflow handlers extending the BaseWorkflowHandler must override three methods:

getClassName returns the model class’s fully qualified class name (, for example).

getType returns the model resource name (, for example).

updateStatus does most of the heavy lifting here. It returns a call to a local service method of the same name (for example, FooEntityLocalService.updateStatus), so the status returned from the workflow back-end can be persisted to the entity table in the database. The updateStatus method needs a user ID, the primary key for the class (for example, fooEntityId), the workflow status, the service context, and the workflow context. The status and the workflow context can be obtained from the workflow back-end. The other parameters can be obtained from the workflow context.

Supporting Workflow in the Service Layer

The service layer must update the status of the entity when it returns from the Workflow Framework. Make an updateStatus method for this purpose, and make sure, at a minimum, to set the status fields again as the Asset comes out of the Workflow Framework, and call the persistence layer’s update method.

After that, provide any additional logic you might want, like checking the status and updating the Asset’s visibility (using the assetEntryLocalService) based on the condition (visible if Approved, not visible is any other status).

Return the entry once you’re through here.

When you send an entity to the workflow framework via the startWorkflowInstance call, it creates an entry in the workflowinstancelink database table. In your service layer’s deletion logic, you must delete the workflow instance links. This delete call ensures there are no orphaned entries in the workflowinstancelinks table.

To get the WorkflowInstanceLocalService injected into your *LocalServiceBaseImpl so you can call its methods in the LocalServiceImpl, add a reference entity to your entity declaration in service.xml, specifying WorkflowInstancelink.

Updating the User Interface

After you finish all the backend work, update your UI. Some common tasks here include:

  • In any public facing portion of the application (accessible to guest Users), don’t display the entity if the status is anything except Approved. This task requires the creation of an additional finder method that accounts for workflow status, and a corresponding getter to expose it in the service layer.

  • In administrative portions of the application, display the entities, but also display their workflow status. There’s a tag library for this.

See the next article for more concrete steps and code snippets.

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