Three of the six workflows that are on one of my site collections in SharePoint 2010 are resulting in "Failed on Start" as soon as a document is submitted to a document library. The other three workflows work perfectly fine. So far, I have been unable to resolve the issue, and I see nothing in the ULS logs, nor the Windows event logs.


  • All site collections are under the same web application (claims-enabled, HTTPS).
  • Only one site collection has this problem - all other site collections work fine.
  • All of the workflows are "out of the box" and are native to SharePoint.
  • Each workflow is applied to it's own document library: "My Docs (Approval)", "My Docs (Feedback)", "My Docs (Three-State)", etc to ensure that none of the workflows interfere with each other.
  • No SharePoint Designer workflows have been created.


  • At first, I followed this enter link, which said to turn on Content Approval at the site collection level, if that option was being used in the workflow. I did, removed my test list and test workflow, but the problem still occurred on lists/workflows created after this.
  • I created a 1-step workflow in SharePoint Designer 2010 ("Start Approval process on Current Item with [email protected]")...it WORKED.
  • I created a new subsite within this site collection to see if the SharePoint (not Designer) workflows would work correctly, and they did not. This is what each Workflow shows in my document libraries (I have a separate document library for each Workflow type).
  • I created a brand new site collection, used Backup-SPSite and Restore-SPSite to move all content into the new site collection, in the hopes that perhaps it was just "something" wrong at the old site collection...this did nothing, of course, other than provide me another area to test in.

Workflow Results:

  1. Disposition Workflow: Completed.
  2. Three-State Workflow: Completed.
  3. Signatures Workflow: Failed on Start ("Workflow was canceled by System Account").
  4. Feedback Workflow: Failed on Start ("Workflow was canceled by System Account").
  5. Approval Workflow: Failed on Start ("Workflow was canceled by System Account").
  6. Publishing Approval Workflow (tested on Wiki library): Approved (Completed).

The Workflow History List does not give any relevant data as to why it's failing, either. Workflow History List

The SharePoint Designer Approval workflow that I created (which is a simple 1 step workflow, the best that I can do without reading further into it) works fine.

Does anyone have any idea on why 3 out of 6 workflows with SharePoint work fine, but the ones that need signatures, feedback, or approval (not counting the Publishing Approval workflow) do not work?

Thank you in advance for any help that you can provide.


  • 6/27/2012 2:57PM

I downloaded a tool called ULS Viewer and proceeded to use that. I must admit, I do not understand 10% of the information flowing across the screen when looking at the logs, but at least I was able to filter the word "workflow" out of the message category. This is what resulted:

RunWorkflow: Microsoft.SharePoint.SPException: User cannot be found.    
 at Microsoft.SharePoint.SPUserCollection.get_Item(String loginName)    
 at Microsoft.SharePoint.Workflow.SPWorkflowNoCodeSupport.LoadWorkflowBytesElevated(SPFile file, Int32 fileVer, Int32& userid, DateTime& lastModified)    
 at Microsoft.SharePoint.Workflow.SPWorkflowNoCodeSupport.LoadWorkflowBytesElevated(SPWeb web, Guid docLibID, Int32 fileID, Int32 fileVer, Int32& userid, DateTime& lastModified)    
 at Microsoft.SharePoint.Workflow.SPWorkflowNoCodeSupport.<>c__DisplayClass1.<LoadWorkflowBytes>b__0(SPSite elevatedSite, SPWeb elevatedWeb)    
 at Microsoft.SharePoint.Workflow.SPWorkflowNoCodeSupport.LoadWorkflowBytes(SPWeb web, Guid docLibID, Int32 fileID, Int32 fileVer, Int32& userid)    
 at Microsoft.SharePoint.Workflow.SPNoCodeXomlCompiler.LoadXomlAssembly(SPWorkflowAssociation association, SPWeb web)    
 at Microsoft.SharePoint.Workflow.SPWinOeHostServices.LoadDeclarativeAssembly(SPWorkflowAssociation association)    
 at Microsoft.SharePoint.Workflow.SPWinOeHostServices.CreateInstance(SPWorkflow workflow)    
 at Microsoft.SharePoint.Workflow.SPWinOeEngine.RunWorkflow(SPWorkflowHostService host, SPWorkflow workflow, Collection`1 events, TimeSpan timeOut)    
 at Microsoft.SharePoint.Workflow.SPWorkflowManager.RunWorkflowElev(SPWorkflow workflow, Collection`1 events, SPWorkflowRunOptionsInternal runOptions)

Another exception just below that one had the same detailed information, but the first line was different:

RunWorkflow: Microsoft.SharePoint.SPException: User cannot be found.
  • anything in the ULS logs ?
    – Steve B
    Jun 27, 2012 at 20:16
  • 1
    Have you tried a different account? The "User cannot be found" error I feel like I have seen when I am (improperly) testing things as the farm / app pool account. Jun 28, 2012 at 2:29
  • 1
    That's correct - so while it doesn't seem to be the root cause of the problem I would at least make sure the account you test with is a normal account so that you don't get any false negatives. The next thing I would try is to deactivate and reactivate the workflow features. (Might only be one, can't remember off the top of my head) Jun 28, 2012 at 13:41
  • 1
    Feel free to join me in chat - chat.stackexchange.com/rooms/411/sharepoint Jun 28, 2012 at 15:59
  • 1
    Thanks Tylerrrr07! For those viewing this later, we're not quite sure what the cause was, but between de/activating all Workflow processes, removing an unknown Feature ID from the site collection, running Test-SPContentDatabase, and a few other troubleshooting steps...it now works for all user accounts (for now). Job well done ;-) Jun 28, 2012 at 22:05

3 Answers 3


I am able to resolve the issue using below steps:

Check whether the workflow files like *.xoml, *.wfconfig, *.rules etc, are in check out state.

a. Open site in the SharePoint designer

b. Click All files and open the Workflow folder.

c. Navigate to your SPD workflow and you can see the below files.

d. If the above are in “checked-out” state, try to check them in.

  1. If you encounter the error “Cannot perform this operation. The file is no longer checked out or has been deleted” when you check in, then Your Workflow Hidden library might contain some extra columns (that are in required state)

a. There will be a hidden “workflow library” associated to every site. To navigate to the hidden library, follow the KB http://support.microsoft.com/kb/2273439

i. Go to Properties of the Workflow library and get the List Id.

ii. Navigate to http://yourSite/_layouts/listedit.aspx?List=ListID

b. The only permitted columns are

i. Created By

ii. Modified By

iii. Checked Out To

c. If you have any other columns, then those should be “optional”. So make the other columns as optional.

  1. Now try to check-in the Workflow files (as per Step 1).

Now your Workflow should run successfully.

  • To get the Workflow List ID with SPD 2010. Open the site in SPD, click All Files. Right Click on the 'Workflows' folder (small folder icon with an arrow circling it), click Properties. Copy the List ID including curly brackets. Continue at step 2.a.ii
    – Jack
    Aug 4, 2016 at 12:35
  • at step C3, back to the workflow folders and now you should see them clearly checked and they will check back in successfully. return to the workflow and publish again. it will notify you that a more recent file has been saved. Unsure if it makes a difference if you overwrite or not. Workflows now complete successfully. ty Amay!
    – Jack
    Aug 4, 2016 at 12:52
  • Boom! Worked great getting my 2010 workflows working on my 2016 premise site. I do not know if an anomaly, but had to do a little more digging for an old Survey workflow to find two columns to turn off required setting in order to check in files. Thanks! Apr 24, 2018 at 19:49

Something within the following set of troubleshooting steps resolved the problem. Thanks to Tylerrr07 for helping out and giving advice. My best experience on SE to date!

Steps taken:

  • Deactivated and Reactivated all "Workflow" features in the site collection.
  • Attempted to use accounts with less permissions rather than an admin account given "Full Control" on the Web Application by User Policy.
  • Test-SPContentDatabase to see if there were errors: 3 references to old MOSS 2007 features ("Fab 40" leftovers), but uncertain if this actually had an impact on the workflows, as it does not identify the feature by display name, only by ID.

I had a similar problem, tried all the fixes in several blogs, even tuned the servers, but still sometimes 'failed on start'

My sp workflow was quite large, probably a few hundred lines, I noticed it failing at certain places, which were usually deep within the wf code within several else if statements.

I removed the majority of else if and else statements and re-coded the wf to mainly straightforward if statements.

The workflow has worked ever since.

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