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WfSpec and WfRun

In the LittleHorse API, there are two types of Objects:

  • Metadata objects, which are like blueprints.
  • Execution objects, which are instantiations of Metadata objects.

You will find several instances of duality between a Metadata Object and an Execution Object. The WfSpec/WfRun duality is the first such instance of this duality.


A WfSpec, short for Workflow Specification, is a metadata object that LittleHorse uses to define a blueprint for how a business process or technical process works. Essentially, the WfSpec contains business logic for a process. You can use the RunWf grpc call to instruct the LittleHorse server to run an instance of that WfSpec, thus creating a WfRun.

A WfSpec consists of one or more ThreadSpecs, which in turn contain a set of Nodes and a set of edges between those Nodes. A Node defines a unit of work (for example, "execute this computer task" or "wait for this callback to come in from an external system"), and the edges define the control flow in the ThreadRun.

In the programming analogy, you could think of a WfSpec as the actual source code for your program.

A WfSpec has a composite ID of a name and an integer version.

WfSpec Versioning

A WfSpec is a versioned resource. Each WfSpec is uniquely identified by its name (a String), its majorVersion (an auto-incremented number, managed by LittleHorse), and its revision (another auto-incremented number).

When you create a WfSpec with the same name as another previous WfSpec, LittleHorse will either increment the revision (if there are no "breaking changes") or increment the majorVersion and set revision to zero (if there are "breaking changes"). A "breaking change" in this regard is defined as changing either:

  • The set of required input variables to the WfSpec, or
  • The set of indexed searchable variables in the WfSpec.

When you run a WfSpec (thus creating a WfRun), you may optionally specify the version of the WfSpec that you wish to run. If you specify a specific version, then LittleHorse will run the WfSpec specified by the RunWf request. If no version number is provided, then LittleHorse will automatically run the latest version of the WfSpec with the provided name. For instructions on how this works in practice, please check out our Metadata Management docs.

This versioning scheme allows you to improve the business logic of your WfSpec without changing the client code that invokes the WfSpec: all your clients need to do is specify the name of their WfSpec, and the latest logic will be run transparently. Alternatively, you can "pin" your clients to run a specific version of your WfSpec.

Once a WfRun is launched with the WfSpec specified by (name "foo", version 123), the WfRun will always be associated with that specific version. In other words, deploying a new version of a WfSpec does not affect already-running WfRuns.

Future versions of LittleHorse will add an optional "on-the-fly" upgrade mechanism.


A WfRun, short for Workflow Run, is an instantiation of a WfSpec. Each WfRun consists of one or more ThreadRuns, which in turn contain multiple NodeRuns.

In the programming analogy, you could think of a WfRun as a process that is running your WfSpec program. A ThreadRun is a thread in that program.

Many simple WfRuns will have only one ThreadRun: the "entrypoint" thread. However, just as regular programs can spawn child threads to execute work in parallel, a LittleHorse WfRun might spawn child ThreadRuns.

A WfRun's ID is simply a string.

Threading Model

In LittleHorse, a ThreadSpec is a sub-structure of a WfSpec that defines one sequential thread of execution. A ThreadRun is a run of a ThreadSpec, and it is a sub-structure of a WfRun.

WfSpecs and WfRuns are API Objects, meaning that they have ID's and can be directly retrieved from the LittleHorse API. In contrast, ThreadSpecs and ThreadRuns are NOT API objects; rather, they are sub-structures that can be retrieved from the API by querying their parents.

ThreadSpecs and ThreadRuns exhibit the same Metadata/Execution duality seen with WfSpecs and WfRuns.

Every WfSpec has one special ThreadSpec called the Entrypoint ThreadSpec. When a WfSpec is run (thus creating a WfRun), the first thing that starts is a ThreadRun specified by the Entrypoint ThreadSpec. You can think of the Entrypoint ThreadSpec as the main() function in a generic programming language.

And just like a thread in a normal program, a ThreadRun in LittleHorse can spawn child ThreadRuns.


The status of a WfRun is determined by looking at the status of the Entrypoint ThreadRun. A ThreadRun, and by extension a WfRun, can have one of the following statuses;


A ThreadRun can be halted for any of the following reasons:

  • If a StopWfRun request is received (manual halt by system administrator).
  • When interrupted by an ExternalEvent which triggers an Interrupt Handler.
  • If the ThreadRun is a child thread, and the parent ThreadRun is HALTED.

Note that halting a parent ThreadRun causes all of the children of that ThreadRun to be halted as well.


When a ThreadRun is halted (for example, via the StopWfRun grpc or when Interrupted), it moves to either the HALTING or HALTED state. If the ThreadRun is interruptible, it moves immediately to the HALTED state. Otherwise, it moves to the HALTED state as soon as it is interruptible.

The criteria for interruptibility are as follows:

  • If the ThreadRun has any child threads, all children must be in the COMPLETED, ERROR, or HALTED state.
    • If this condition is not satisfied, then the runtime will halt all Children.
  • There can be no TaskRuns that have been dispatched to a Task Worker but not completed, failed, or timed out. In other words, no in-flight tasks.

If a WfRun is waiting at an EXTERNAL_EVENT, USER_TASK, or SLEEP Node, the second condition is automatically satisfied.