I’ve been working a little here and there on getting a workflow extension together. I still have a bit to do, but the skeleton is shaping up and passing some simple tests.

The plan right now is for workflows to act like grammars in that they augment a library instead of standing alone. Workflow definitions will attach themselves to the namespace of a library and have a name that can be used (when qualified by the library’s namespace) to reference the workflow definition.

Workflows are very similar to applications in that they are a collection of states and state transitions. The important differences are that you can add data over time to the workflow and test which transitions (actions) can be taken at any given time without automatically following a transition.

This allows an application to add data to a workflow and give feedback to the user as to which actions can be taken on the workflow. For example, I’m considering building a workflow that can manage the process from proposal submission to final approval. Such a system would allow anyone to upload a project proposal to a queue (resulting in a workflow in the ‘pending’ state), allow the advisory committee to review pending proposals and possibly approve them (moving them to the ‘approved’ state) or request more information (moving them to the ‘more-info-needed’ state).

The resulting workflow might look something like the following:

We still need ways to manage authentication and authorization. The final version of this will also require some framework-specific code to manage workflow storage. There’s a lot still to be figured out to try and get this close to right, but we’re getting there.

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James is a software developer and self-published author. He received his B.S. in Math and Physics and his M.A. in English from Texas A&M University. After spending almost two decades in academia, he now works in the Washington, DC, start up world.