On the surface, you might find it similar to Zapier or Workato—except it's self-hostable and designed to handle complex workflows that are often difficult or impossible to build in those low-code only tools.
Since our beta announcement, thousands of developers—including teams at Rippling, Stripe, and Taco Bell—have used Workflows to automate processes for everything from employee experience to launching new product lines.
We’ve been hard at work at refining the developer experience, adding more powerful building blocks, and deeper integrations with the rest of the Retool product to support more complex, production-grade task orchestration.
Today, we’re excited to announce that Workflows is now generally available. Read on to learn more about the product and how customers are using Workflows today. Or, start building for free.
Making visual graph-based interfaces work
Graph-based programming interfaces are great for sketching out, visualizing, and implementing simple automations. However, more complex use cases often result in difficult to understand spaghetti-code monstrosities. The problem is that purely visual abstractions can’t capture all of the edge cases with the same level of precision that code can.
When we asked our customers how they automated their processes, many were opting to use a combination of scripts and cron jobs. While this worked, it required a lot of investment in observability, testing, and infrastructure that took more time and energy to build and maintain than they wanted.
In contrast, Retool Workflows is an opinionated, code-first take on what a graph-based workflow tool could look like if it was designed for engineers. We’ve combined the speed and simplicity of visual graph-based interfaces with the power of code to deliver the best of both worlds.
Primitives that are easily extended with code
Purely visual if/then/else and loop blocks can only get you so far. Rather than adding countless knobs and dials to control edge-cases like exponential backoffs and retries, we made every visual primitive editable and extendable.
Developer-grade debugging, code editing, and iterating experiences
Building a big, multi-step workflow is an iterative process. It needs to be easy to decompose problems, iterate on small pieces, and debug running workflows.
In Workflows, we’ve designed every block to work like a mini-REPL that lets you isolate, run, and test individual steps as you build. This allows you to focus on building your workflow step by step with fast feedback cycles.
Workflows are also composable—you can call a workflow from another workflow and build more complex workflows from simpler ones.
We’ve also built time-traveling debugging: step through past runs, see the logs and data, and overlay them with historical code to pinpoint bugs.
Support long-running, production-grade jobs
Under the hood, Workflows runs on Temporal, a highly scalable, durable, and reliable execution engine which supports jobs that can run as long as you want—whether that’s hours, days, or even months. We give you the option to self-host the product or to use our managed service. With either, you get standard security features out of the box—full audit logs, source control, dev and prod environments, per-user and per-workflow permissions to control who can run and edit each automation, and more.
Workflows also makes it easy to set up alerts you when/if your automations fail so you can keep tabs on your automations. Logs can also be piped to centralized providers like Datadog, where you can get full observability of your workflows.
Augment workflows with UIs
Workflows now also seamlessly integrate with the rest of the Retool product. Workflows are callable from within the Retool app builder and can also return data—which means Workflows is both a useful automation tool, and an easy way to refactor chains of queries and data transformations into a single flow.
Soon, we’ll also be adding a human input step to Workflows—think of these as blocks that let you query an actual human to take an action. These “human-in-the-loop” steps will make it easy for you or your team to provide human oversight to edge cases. This is particularly useful for workflows that make use of AI—you’ll soon be able to add a step for employees to approve things like email drafts before sending them.
Ways to use Workflows
Workflows can be used for a number of use cases like building custom alerts, creating data integration and ETL tasks, automating manual processes, and serving as a backend API.
→ RE/MAX Holdings Inc., the global franchisor of real estate firm RE/MAX, needed an efficient way to alert their product and marketing teams of changes in core metrics. They leveraged Retool Workflows to combine data from multiple sources including their data warehouse and send out alerts via Slack. Workflows enabled them to easily configure resources in a single place and focus on writing their unique business logic, saving time in the process.
→ Construction technology solutions company EquipmentShare uses Workflows to automate their internal approval processes when setting up new business branches. Their move beyond messy spreadsheets toward a streamlined solution has ultimately helped them achieve a faster time to market. By using Workflows, they were able to minimize manual input errors and automatically notify the team of milestones so they can kick off next steps and keep the processes moving quickly.
Getting started with Retool Workflows
Workflows is now available for all cloud-hosted and on-prem instances. Start building for free and scale up depending on the number of workflow runs you use.
We’re just getting started and we’ll be adding lots more features. If you have any feedback that would help you build faster in Workflows, we’d love to hear from you!