Learn to create a “Flow” from scratch, step by step

Microsoft Flow is a trigger-based system for creating automated workflows. There are many templates available, but if they do not fit your needs, here we explain how to create a new flow from scratch.

You will need a free or paid plan to use Flow, so sign up for one if you have not already done so. Go to the Office 365 application launcher (the nine points in the upper left corner) and click on Flow to launch it.

Step one: Create a new flow

The first page launches you directly into the templates, but we're going to create a flow from scratch, so click on "My Flows" in the menu on the left.

If you have never created a stream before, this page will be blank; otherwise, it will contain any flow that you have previously created. Click on New> Create from white to start a new flow from scratch.

You will be given the option to start from a popular trigger, but we are going to start from scratch, so click on the "Create from empty" button.

Step two: Select a trigger

At this point, you will have to select a trigger to start the flow. You can search for a particular service or choose one from the list. Click on the down arrow below the two rows of icons to see all available services.

We're going to set up a simple flow that sends an email when any file in a specific OneDrive folder is modified. This is useful if you have shared a folder with someone and want to know when something changes in the folder.

To configure this flow, we need to select a trigger action, which is a OneDrive file modification. Start by clicking on the OneDrive service.

Make sure you have clicked on the correct OneDrive: «OneDrive» (which is included with free and personal subscriptions to Office 365) and «OneDrive for Business» (which is included with the business plans). When you click on the OneDrive service, you'll have to sign in to Office 365 again to make sure it's still you.

Once you have logged in, a list of OneDrive triggers will be displayed. We are looking for the trigger "When a file is modified", which is at the bottom.

Click on "When a file is modified" to open the options for this trigger. The only option required is to select the folder that contains the files you want to monitor, so click on the folder icon.

A dialog box will show the file structure of OneDrive, starting with "Root". You can select this option if you want to be notified each time any OneDrive file is modified, or you can click the arrow next to Root to examine the OneDrive folder structure and select the folder you want to monitor.

Step three: Select an action to perform

That is the ordered trigger, so now we have to select an action to perform. Click on «New step» to open the options again.

There are many services to choose from (and annoying, they are not in alphabetical order) so put "Outlook" as the filter term and choose the Outlook.com service.

Select the action «Send an email».

The options "Send an email" will appear. You can start to see how the flow is taking shape, with a trigger at the top and actions at the bottom.

Add the email address to which you want to send the message in the "To" field. When you click on the "Subject" box, you will see that a "Dynamic Content" panel appears on the right. This gives you the option to add a subject line to the email based on the file that has been modified.

We want the subject line to say "(file name) has been modified," where "(file name)" is replaced by the name of the file. To do this, click on «File name» in the «Dynamic content» panel.

"File name" appears in the "Subject" line. Add in the text "has been modified" (without forgetting to put a space before the word "has").

We want it easy to find the file too, so in the "Body" line go back to the "Dynamic content" panel and click on "File path" to add it to the body. The flow is now complete, so click Save.

Step Four: Test the flow

The next step is to test the flow. Click on the Test option in the upper right corner.

In the "Test Flow" panel that slides out, click on "I'll perform the trigger action" and click on "Save & Test".

Now, leaving the tab with the flow open, go to the folder you are monitoring in OneDrive and make a change to a file (you can do it in the OneDrive web application or in OneDrive on your computer). Save the change and return to the tab where Flow is open. You will see a message that tells you that the flow was successful.

When you check your email, you will see that an email alert has been sent to you, with the subject line showing the name of the file and the text you have added, and the body showing the path of the file.

It's a simple flow, of course, but you can add multiple triggers and actions across a wide range of services, as well as usage variables, set approval criteria, route data to specific security groups in Office 365 and much, much more.

Microsoft adds new features regularly, and although many of these features are aimed at business users (and are only available in business plans), many of them are available and useful to the home user as well.