Flowviz: Workflow Visualization for ElectricCommander

One of the marquee features of the ElectricCommander 3.8 release is a powerful workflow automation engine. It’s pretty slick, but once you get past a handful of states and transitions, it’s hard to keep track of what’s going on. So over the weekend I decided to see if I could write a visualization tool for Commander workflows. The result is Flowviz 1.0, a Commander plugin for graphically displaying workflow definitions and active workflows.

Installing Flowviz

Flowviz is packaged as a standard ElectricCommander plugin, flowviz.jar. Installation is simple: just use the Plugin Manager to install flowviz.jar.

In addition to the Flowviz plugin, you will need to install Graphviz on your Commander server. Packages are available for Linux and Windows, so installation should be relatively painless.

Once you have the pieces installed, you’ll have to set up a Commander view that incorporates Flowviz. I used this view definition:


Viewing active workflows

To view an active workflow with Flowviz, first go the Flowviz tab. There you’ll be able to specify the workflow to view, by giving the name of the project and the name of the workflow. Make sure the “Workflow” option is selected, then click the “Show workflow” button:

You’ll be rewarded with an image of your running workflow. The active state will be highlighted, as will any available manual transitions from that state:

Clicking on an available transition will cause the workflow to follow that transition, and then you’ll be returned to the Flowviz visualization:

Viewing workflow definitions

To view a workflow definition with Flowviz, first go to the Flowviz tab. This time, enter the name of a project and the name of a workflow definition. Make sure the “Workflow definition” option is selected, then click the “Show workflow” button:

Flowviz will present a visualization of the specified workflow:

From here, you can add new states by clicking the “Create State Definition” link. Clicking on a node in the graph will take you to the “State Definition Details” page for that state.

Caveats and limitations

There are a few limitations to Flowviz 1.0:

  1. The active workflow view does not support manual transitions with parameters.
  2. The workflow definition view does not provide a way to directly add transitions; to do so, you must first bring up the “State Definition Details” for a state, and then add transitions via that interface.
  3. Flowviz uses SVG to display the graph. Firefox and Chrome both support SVG natively, but IE requires a client-side plugin.
  4. The server-side components of Flowviz have only been tested on Linux. Although I believe they should work (with minor modifications) on Windows, your mileage may vary.

UPDATE (Jan 25): thanks to some feedback from Electric Cloud engineering, I have restructured the plugin to avoid the need for the additional external CGI; the text above has been updated to reflect the new installation instructions.


Top posts for December 2010

The following articles generated the most traffic in November. Unfortunately I don’t have stats for my articles on the Electric Cloud Blog this month, but here’s the data for the top five posts on

  1. Makefile hacks: print the value of any variable: 89% of page views
  2. Shell commands in GNU make: 4% of page views
  3. HOWTO: install kernel debuginfo packages on SUSE Linux Enterprise Server 11: 2% of page views
  4. Cloud computing for traditional dev/test: 1% of page views
  5. Public versus private clouds for dev/test: 1% of page views

The top article, Makefile hacks: print the value of any variable was wildly popular, which is great, but also skewed the numbers pretty heavily. The price of (small) success, I suppose.

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