How to fix SharePoint workflow files that are checked out

I recently ran into an issue where I was getting the dreaded “failed on start” error for some of the workflows in a SharePoint 2010 environment. At first I was concerned that some sort of Microsoft KB had killed workflows again as described here and here.

However, that didn’t appear to be the case. After some investigation I noticed that the files that make up a particular list/ library workflow were checked out!

The problem(s)

This first issue was the “failed on start” error message in the workflow field within the list. It was a pretty niche edge case though as it appeared to only affect newer workflows that contained a send email action.

Another interesting issue was that when creating brand new workflows to test if the error persists brought its own set of problems. Once published, the new workflow would appear as normal to be ran manually for a new list item and would proceed to fail on start.

Workflows failing on start from within SharePoint 2010.

However, any new list items would not have the workflow listed to be ran against. Jumping back into SharePoint Designer proved equally useless as clicking on the workflow within the list just brought you to a SharePoint error.

Then I found that digging deeper into the workflow files within SharePoint Designer showed that some of the files that make up a workflow were in a checked out state – what?

You are unable to check these files in, as when you try you receive a message stating:

“Server error: you cannot discard check out because there is no checked in version of the document. please delete this document instead”.

After googling this, as I’d never seen this before led me to this brilliant post on SharePoint stack exchange which brought me to a resolution. Specifically, this comment:

I also would like to thank TashasEv for his answer. It provided the key clue I needed for troubleshooting a similar problem. In my case, it was not the Document content type which had the title set to Required, but the User Workflow Document content type.

This is one of two content types that are shown listed when (in SPD) you right-click on the Workflows folder in the left Navigation panel (the other being Folder). I used the Administration Web Page (it’s a button in SPD when on the Properties tab for the Workflows folder). Changing the Title property of this content type to Optional solved the issue.


So as described in the above post, here are the steps involved:

1. Find the hidden properties menu

  • Open SharePoint Designer 2010 and open the site where you workflow is running
  • Press All Files > Workflows
Open Workflows from with All Files in SharePoint Designer.
In Workflows, after clicking on the affected workflow you will see all the files associated that are in a checked out state.
  • Right-click on any workflow (I selected the affected one) > press Properties
“Hidden” properties button can be found by right-clicking on a workflow.

2. Set the title of the user workflow document content type to optional

  • Within Properties, under Content Types > select User Workflow Document
  • Under Customization > press Edit content type columns
Within the User Workflow Document, press the edit content type columns button.
  • Select the Title column > then press Administration Web Page
  • This will open a browser window, under column settings set the column to Optional
Make the hidden title column optional from the administration web page.

3. Re-publish the affected workflow(s)

  • Navigate to the affected workflow(s) via the Lists and Libraries section
  • Open your workflow, make a small amend > Save and Publish

Now, when you run the workflow(s) affected they should complete as normal, and if you check the files within the All Files > Workflows section in SharePoint Designer they should be checked in and all OK.


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