*** Updated 6/1/2009 — I’ve noticed that this post along with the contact selector demo are by far the most commonly viewed posts, therefore I added some “common things to look for” section towards the bottom***
What a lovely error this is. If you’ve been using SharePoint workflows you’ve probably come across this error; usually with a few tweaks an clicks, possibly a quick re-save of the workflow and voila, the error goes away. If you’ve searched the web for this error you will see that the most common cause usually arises from issues with permissions even more commonly these errors arise because SharePoint claims the document is already checked out (sometimes submitting a document from an Office client will keep the document checked out by the way). I’ve run across a very interesting edge-case that I thought I’d share.
You have a SharePoint list that provides critical path project based data in a centralized location. Instead of allowing your users the right to edit this record directly, you populate decision lists (tasks) that support the decision making process. You create a simple SharePoint Designer workflow that updates the critical path list when a decision is made.
Figure 1 – A workflow attached to the decision list updates the critical path list using a standard workflow lookup
Everything’s working fine until one day you decide that you want to use the handy Append Text feature of the rich text box, so you enable versioning for your critical path list.
Figure 1 – The Critical Path List
Well it turns out that there’s a very good chance that this versioning will cause your wokflow to fail. Keep in mind that the workflow is attached to a secondary decision list that’s not versioned.
Figure 2 – The dreaded “Error Updating a list item”
Disabling versioning on the critical path list (the target of the update) fixes the problem immediately. Overall this isn’t something you’d run into every day, but as we all begin to use SharePoint as replacement to Microsoft Access, we will continue to push the workflow capabilities of SharePoint.
Other things to look for
Do NOT run workflows while logged in as “System” account. If you attempt to run a workflow as the system account, ergo the one you used to install SharePoint or your app pool account, the workflow will either fail with this error or simply not run .
Verify your users have at least contributor rights to the list, users that aren’t contributors can’t run workflows.
Re-save any workflows after upgrade, many workflows fail after upgrade to Infrastructure.
Make sure that you are populating all required fields.
Verify that all fields support the data type of the data you are entering. I’ve noticed that you can change the data type of a field in SharePointand drum up this error if you don’t recompile the workflow. When you open the workflow and select each updated field individually you verify the data mapping that might have become out-of-synch when you updated said field.
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Ulysses Ludwig is a SharePoint architect with over 16 years in the IT and computer industry. Ulysses' primary focus is SharePoint but he dabbles in the latest web technologies and likes to develop software in his spare time.
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