I have copied a site in order to create a test environment of it in a different web application. The process has finalized without no issues and all the lists, documents, and items are there.

However, the workflows are not working. With SharePoint Designer, I can see they are there, but they have no associated list.

Is there anyway to reassign the list of a workflow? I see this affects both 2010 and 2013 workflows. The SharePoint platform I am working on is 2013.

2010 workflows can be exported and imported (while assigning the list on import), but 2013 workflows when exported they become a Visio file, and after importing I cannot edit the workflow anymore since what I am opening is a visual diagram of the workflow.

Has anybody been able to export and import 2013 workflows successfully with Designer?

  • what method you use to copy the site collection?
    – Waqas Sarwar MVP
    Commented Apr 15, 2016 at 13:28
  • Sorry, I copied a site of a site collection. Export-SPWeb - Import-SPWeb Commented Apr 15, 2016 at 13:36

3 Answers 3


This is the kind of limitation of export / import process:

A major drawback of this operation is that it does not preserves workflows instances, associations, history and tasks. Every workflow association must be recreated and there is no way to restore the running instances from original site.http://www.learningsharepoint.com/2014/03/10/sharepoint-stsadm-backuprestore-vs-importexport-3/

But instead, if you User the Site collection backup and restore, it will preserve everything in it.

You can read this blog, it give you in depth of all backup options( DB abckup, Site collection backup and Site export/import)


  • Excellent, this worked. Full site collection back up worked like a charm. Commented Apr 15, 2016 at 14:56
  • great, happy to help you....i think you can upvote as well.
    – Waqas Sarwar MVP
    Commented Apr 15, 2016 at 14:58

From SharePoint designer you can navigate to a list, and on the top left you will see 'Associate Existing Workflow' under the Workflows tab. From here, it will launch you to the 'Settings -> Add Workflow' page in a web browser so that you can create a new association, or in your case re-associate your existing workflows.

  • My workflows don't appear as selectable following this solutions. I can only select "Disposition Approval" and "Three-state" Commented Apr 15, 2016 at 13:48
  • Load the workflow in SharePoint Designer and click 'Publish'. Then re-try the above. Commented Apr 15, 2016 at 13:49

Just to clarify a few points:

How to migrate WFs?

SharePoint Migration (STSADM or Powershell)


Because the Export/Import process consists in "download files and recreate them into new destination". So, lets consider that some list have an internal id (GUID) "1234-1234-1234-1234". When you export/import, you will NOT have the same ID into your new location.

Almost everthing in SharePoint is related by their internal IDs/GUID. So, if you change this IDs, everything will get lost. The same goes for WFs.

So, why the Backup/Restore works?

The backup/restore process is done directly with sharepoint content databases... and they WILL preserve your GUIDs. So, the Workflow Definitions, Associations, running instances... and everything else will still related by their perfectly working GUIDs.

I hope this brief explanation helped to understand this point!

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