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SharePoint Workflow UserDefinedWorkflowMaximumComplexity

I’ve had a couple of questions about this in the last few months so I wanted to provide some information on what’s happening with Workflow 3.5 and what’s this silly limit for the maximum complexity – and worse yet, how did I hit it?

So making a long story short, Workflow 3.5 compiles the XOML that SharePoint Designer generates into a DLL. When that DLL is called there’s a method that creates the workflow object graph. When it’s doing this it pushes a bunch of “stuff” on to the stack. If it pushes too much on the stack we get a stack overflow. How much of the “stuff” does it take? It depends. However, at 10,000 items it gets tight. If we get a stack overflow it dumps the thread and aborts – which is, of course, a bad thing. So SharePoint put a limit in for the maximum number of items that can be in a workflow for SharePoint to ask for it to be compiled. That number is 7,000 by default but can be adjusted. (Caveat emptor)

Help Your SharePoint User

So what is this “stuff” of which I speak? Well according to a good source, it’s activities, bindings, variables, and rule-references. Note I said activities, not actions. If you’ve seen one of my workflow presentations you’re used to me creating a simple workflow with just an approval action and then importing it into Visual Studio to find 315 activities. All total, there’s roughly 1,000 activities, bindings, variables, and rule-references in a single “approval” action in SharePoint Designer. So clearly if you did eight different “approvals” in a single workflow you’d exceed the default limit. This also applies for custom task processes.

I’m assured that you can get multiple approvals to work inside of a single “approval” activity – but it’s not as easy as plunking down another activity task – so it’s not impossible to do eight-level approvals with SharePoint Designer, it’s just that it gets more challenging.

If you do “need” to change the value of UserDefinedWorkflowMaximumComplexity – it’s a property on the web application. (Have I encouraged you not to do it yet?)


  1. Good one. Thanks for enlightening me/

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