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What you need to know about Flow Designer vs. Flow Builder

Salesforce Flow Designer is on the way out, Flow Builder is in -- sort of. The new update includes features that may not make a big difference for developers.

Salesforce launched a major update to its development platform this spring: Lightning Flow Builder, a workflow tool that is an upgrade to Cloud Flow Designer. Many developers welcome this upgrade, but it is incomplete.

The Cloud Flow Designer is a prominent component in Salesforce's no-code development platform technology. It is a convenient and inexpensive one-stop shop, enabling Salesforce users to create complex application processes via a rich point-and-click interface that is hard-wired to client data storage.

The issue with such a development environment is that it needs to include tools for every imaginable development contingency. All such environments fall short in one way or another, and Cloud Flow Designer is no exception. Flow Builder is an impressive -- though imperfect -- attempt to move things forward.

Torn between two products

Flow Builder represents unmistakable progress, and the biggest step is the retirement of Flash. Beyond that, Flow Builder is an amalgam of new features that are already in place and old features from Designer that are not yet available, making for an awkward interim transition for early adopters.

However, there's plenty of good news in terms of new features. Flow Builder is both faster and considerably more intuitive than its predecessor, and it is sufficiently similar to Lightning App Builder and Process Builder.

There's also a new Multiple Records option, enabling Builder to loop through a collection rapidly, applying the same action to each record.

Several features also have more prominent placement, including dependent picklists, phone, email and name -- formerly found in Cloud Flow Designer under Extensions.

However, basic functions such as undo, redo, copy, paste and a find function for resources in the flow canvas are all still missing. Salesforce plans to deliver these capabilities by summer.

To negotiate this capability gap, users have the option of continuing to use Cloud Flow Designer. Flow Builder is now the default when someone creates a new flow or opens an existing one, but users can override this in setup from the Process Automation Settings page by deselecting Disable Access to Cloud Flow Designer.

And there are additional features that seem too standard to have been left out of this release. For instance, Flow Builder does not contain a rich text editor, and when users create new resources in a flow element, those resources don't attach automatically.  

By any other name

There are a number of other familiar Flow Designer features that appear to be missing from the update, but still exist under slightly different names.

For example, the sObject data type is now referred to as the Record data type, the Dynamic record choice resource is now the Record choice set resource and the Picklist choice resource is the Picklist choice set resource.

The update also includes changes to variables. To generate a designer sObject variable in Builder, create a variable with the data type set to record, and Builder will generate the variable under record variables in the manager tab. To generate a collection variable, select allow multiple values. For an sObject collection variable, do both: Create the variable with data type set to record, and select allow multiple values.

The update includes similar variations for data elements, action elements and logic elements.

Getting up to speed

Flow Designer veterans who wish to be early Builder adopters will find that the relevant flow-building Trailhead modules for Cloud Flow Designer are all rewritten to refer to corresponding functionality in Flow Builder. The differences between Flow Designer and Flow Builder are substantial enough for Salesforce to recommend that even longtime users of Designer review the modules before making the transition.

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