SharePoint Workflow History Data and Logs Tips – P2

We have talked in part one that the workflow logs can be classified as Audit Logs or Debug Logs. Audit logs have long retention and are used by auditors and security teams as a proof of a controlled process, while Debug logs have low retention and are used by the people maintaining the workflow for troubleshooting purposes and to track the execution state of the workflow at different execution times.

SharePoint Workflow Designer gives you a built-in way to through some log data to a history list using an action (Log to History List). I am not fan at all of using this way of logging for different reason.

Let us talk a little bit about the Log to History List and about the History list itself. By default, there is a hidden list that get created by default when you first create your first workflow in a site called History List. You can use this history list for different workflows or you can choose or create different history list for each workflow.

One of things I do not like in such history lists is that it accept only single string at a time. There is no other columns in that history list that you can benefit from. Not that this is a big limitation, but I do not like to be restricted with only sending a string at a time. It makes it hard to filter and analyze the log data as I will described later because of the lack of other columns.

Second thing is that a workflow can be associated with only one history list to be used for logging. Take this example: You have a workflow that calls a web service, and you want to log the status code or perhaps the returned value from that web service call. The only option you have here is to use the Log to History List. You also want to log other events during the workflow execution. Now, someone came to you and ask you to give a report of all web service calls and their return code for analysis. You have to go and open that hidden history list from SharePoint designer, and then what you will see? You will see a lot of lines without any ability to filter the logs related to the web service calls and to track them back to the list item that cause the service to start. My point is it is very hard to look at the history list and track certain events, or do any kind of filtering.

Also we talked about two types of logs, audit and debug logs. Your only option here is to use the Log to History List and through logs related to auditing and other log entries (debug data) for you to troubleshoot the workflow. Now when the auditors ask you to extract a report for a certain item, the logs are mixed between audit and debug. Also, you may want to keep log entries used for auditing for longer time than those used for debugging, which you cannot do in this case because both are saved in the same history list.

Things become more interesting when you read about the “Workflow Auto Cleanup“. It is not best practice to disable this job or change its duration by the way. This job will remove the association of the workflow tasks and history data after 60 days by default. You can read more about this here. But what about the need to keep audit data for one year for example?. What will do then? People will disable this timer job, but Microsoft keep saying it will affect the performance of the product or something. If Microsoft implemented this timer job then there is a reason.

I think for a professional workflows, especially those that requires auditing, you should not use the built in way (Log to History List). I will describe the way I prefer in the next part.

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