Guidance: Migrate from classic workflows to Power Automate flows in SharePoint

Current landscape

For business users building apps and process automations in SharePoint today and into the future, Microsoft Power Apps and flows within Microsoft Power Automate are your tools of choice. This natural transition is well underway as SharePoint evolves from InfoPath and SharePoint Designer workflows to the simplicity and versatility of Power Apps and flows within Power Automate.

Current landscape

Current landscape

This article specifically provides guidance about how to plan for transitioning from classic SharePoint Workflows to Power Automate flows.

Classic workflows in SharePoint

Classic workflows in SharePoint constitutes two workflow systems namely

  • SharePoint 2010 workflow
  • SharePoint 2013 workflow

While both workflow systems allow users to build and publish workflows in SharePoint, see the following key differences:

  • SharePoint 2010 workflows, released along with SharePoint Server 2010, are hosted, and executed in SharePoint workflow runtime.

  • SharePoint 2013 workflows, released along with SharePoint Server 2013, are hosted in SharePoint, and executed in Workflow Manager, that runs independently.

Users primarily use SharePoint Designer to author and publish workflows in SharePoint, while professional developers, looking to extend and build workflows, use Visual Studio to build and publish workflows in SharePoint.

Modern workflows with Power Automate flows

Since the release of classic workflows, SharePoint and Microsoft 365 apps have evolved to provide compelling, flexible and more performant experiences. Modern experiences in SharePoint integrate with rest of the Microsoft 365 apps and services driving security, productivity, and collaboration.

Power Automate helps users and businesses to create automated workflows between your favorite apps and services to get notifications, collect data, automate business policies and more.

Using Microsoft Power Automate, SharePoint users can use the SharePoint Connector to create automations for when data changes in a list or a library. Users can build simple to complex workflows such as, but not limited to:

  • Send an email when a new item is created in a list.

  • Start approval when a new file is added in a library.

To create and author flows, users primarily use Power Automate website while users can also create flows from within SharePoint or using the Power Automate mobile app.

To learn more about building workflows using Power Automate in SharePoint, start here: Business apps and Business process automation in SharePoint.

Pain points in moving between classic workflows in SharePoint and Power Automate flows

Many people feel there are significant gaps between SharePoint Designer (classic) workflows and Power Automate flows, but the list is not long. Of course, there are some workarounds you should consider in your planning as you move from classic workflows to Power Automate flows.

  • 30 day run limit for flows – SharePoint Designer workflows can run endlessly, but flows have a 30 day lifespan. Getting beyond this limitation means your flow will need to call itself in a re-entrant way to restart the clock ticking.
  • HTTP Connector – If you make calls to SharePoint's REST API, then you can use the 'Send HTTP Request to SharePoint' action available in the SharePoint connector. Flow also has a generic HTTP connector (as an action), but it is a Premium connector. If you use HTTP calls extensively, you may want to create a “service account” user with a Power Automate license and run these flows with that user account. This also will make it easier to manage the set of flows you consider "enterprise" flows.
  • Reusable Flows – Using some modular thinking, you can create a master flow which a flow per list or library can call to do the heavy lifting. (In some ways this is even preferable, as you can edit a flow which is used in many locations centrally.) Alternatively, you can use flow actions to discover all of the lists or libraries which match some criteria and run the flow on them all on a timer rather than based on events.
  • Workflow history storage – Flows maintain a history in the context of the flow itself in the Power Automate dashboard. If you need tracking in your sites, you can have the flow log information in a list you create.
  • Impersonation - In SharePoint 2010 workflows, you can add an impersonation step to act as a different user. This capability is not readily available in flows.

While these pain points do exist, you can see there are workarounds for each of them.

Modern approvals with Power Automate flows

Approvals are the most common workflow scenario when it comes to automating business processes in SharePoint. Transitioning to Power Automate flows, approvals can be streamlined for data in SharePoint, Dynamics 365, forms, SQL, and so on. You can create approvals in your workflow, and view sent and received requests in a unified Actions center. Power Automate approvals enable users to customize flows and create approvals for the following types:

SharePoint approvals such as page approvals, document approvals, and hub association approvals are all integrated and powered by Power Automate flows, providing users the flexibility to customize the business process for each of the approval scenarios.

Authoring classic workflows and flows

To fully understand the improvements of authoring workflows with flows in Power Automate and classic workflows using SharePoint Designer, users must first familiarize themselves with the workflow terminologies used by the workflow tools; that is, SharePoint Designer and Power Automate.

To author workflows, as outlined in the previous sections, users primarily use SharePoint Designer to author classic workflows and Power Automate website portal to author flows.

See the following tables that compare the workflow terminologies, triggers, and actions for most common workflow concepts and support.

While the following lists show some of the most common workflow capabilities, Power Automate offers many more features, and is actively updated with new features. We highly recommend visiting the following Power Automate websites for guided learning:

Workflow concepts

Workflow concept SharePoint workflow Power Automate
A condition that causes the workflow to run or execute Start options and events Trigger
Building blocks that allow users to customize workflow with business logic Actions Actions
Apply and perform conditional business logic in workflows Conditions Conditions (available under Actions)
Get additional input from users when running manual workflows Initiation form Trigger Inputs

Workflow types

Workflow type SharePoint workflow Power Automate flow
List workflows Yes Yes
Library workflows Yes Yes
Reusable workflows Yes Not available
Site workflows Yes Not available

SharePoint integrations

SharePoint integration SharePoint workflow Power Automate flow
Create a custom workflow from a list or library Yes Yes, only in Modern Experiences
Run or start a custom workflow for an item or a file or a folder Yes Yes, only in Modern Experiences
Create and respond to standard approval for an item or a file Yes Yes
Create and respond to classic publishing page approvals Yes Not available
Create and respond to modern page approvals Not available Yes
Create and manage Hub Site association approval requests Not available Yes

List triggers

List trigger SharePoint workflow Power Automate flow
When an item is created Yes Yes
When an item is modified Yes Yes, using ‘When an item is created or modified’ trigger
When an item is created or modified Not available Yes
Site workflows Yes Not available
When an item is deleted Not available Yes
For a selected item Yes Yes

List actions

List action SharePoint workflow Power Automate flow
Get items Not available Yes
Create an item Yes Yes
Update an item Yes Yes
Delete an item Yes Yes
Copy a list item Yes Yes, by reusing ‘Create an item' action
Get attachments Not available Yes
Get attachment content Not available Yes
Add attachment Not available Yes
Delete attachment Not available Yes
Set field value in current item Yes Yes, using ‘Update an item’ action

File triggers

List action SharePoint workflow Power Automate flow
When a file is created Yes, using List triggers Yes
When a file is created in a folder Not available Yes
When a file is modified Yes, using List triggers Yes, using ‘When a file is created or modified’ trigger
When a file is created or modified Not available Yes
When a file is created or modified in a folder Not available Yes
When a file is deleted Not available Yes
For a selected file Yes, using List triggers Yes

File actions

File action SharePoint workflow Power Automate flow
Get files Not available Yes
Create file content Not available Yes
Get file properties Not available Yes
Create a file Not available Yes
Create new folder Not available Yes
Update file properties Yes, using List triggers Yes
Delete a file Yes, using List triggers Yes
Copy file Not available Yes
Copy folder Not available Yes
Move file Not available Yes

Document management actions

Document management action SharePoint workflow Power Automate flow
Check in file Yes Yes
Check out file Yes Yes
Discard checkout Yes Yes
Delete drafts Yes Not available
Wait for change in document check out status Yes Not available

Permissions management actions

Permissions management action SharePoint workflow Power Automate flow
Grant access to an item or a folder Yes Yes
Stop sharing an item or a file Yes Yes
Create sharing link for a file or folder Not available Yes

Approval actions

Approval action SharePoint workflow Power Automate flow
Set content approval status of an item or a file or a page Yes Yes
Create and wait for approval for an item or a file Yes Yes
Include attachments in approval requests Not available Yes
Respond to approvals Yes Yes
Create sequential approvals Yes Yes
Create parallel approvals Yes Yes
Cancel approvals Yes Yes
Reassign approvals Yes Yes
Custom approval buttons Yes Yes
Unified approval center Not available Yes

Workflow controls capabilities

Workflow controls capability SharePoint workflow Power Automate flow
Workflow primitives: Loops, do until, switch-case, parallels Yes Yes
Workflow stage Yes Yes, works only with Modern Permissions
Schedule-based flows Yes Yes
Variables Yes Yes
Email designer and rich text editor Not available Yes
Versioning of workflows Not available Not available
Copy/paste actions Yes Yes

Workflow administration

Workflow administration SharePoint workflow Power Automate flow
Central location to view all workflows Yes, only available to view for a given list or library Yes, 'My flows' lists user flows
Share workflows with list or library users Yes Yes
Share workflows with users Not available Yes
Save a copy of workflow to create a copy of the workflow Not available Yes
Workflow versioning Not available No
Create a workflow with elevated permissions Yes, by granting permissions to workflow app and then using App Step action and SharePoint Add-ins Not available