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Triggers are responsible for starting job runs automatically. They come in 4 types. The most common are "message filter" triggers, but there are also "cron" triggers, "flow" triggers, and "fail" triggers.

Trigger types

Message Filter Triggers

Message Filter triggers watch for inbound messages and check to see if the data in those messages meet their inclusion criteria and don't meet their exclusion criteria. If they pass these tests and if there are active jobs configured to use that trigger, a run will be started for each message/job combination.

You, the user, specify the inclusion and exclusion criteria which determines which inbound messages should trigger job runs. Broadly speaking, if part of a message body matches the JSON you provide as the inclusion filter, and doesn't match the JSON you provided as the exclusion filter, a job will run (assuming you created one with autoprocess turned on).

The filter criteria takes the form of a string of valid JSON like this: {"Name":"Aleksa Iwobi"}. In an SQL query, this string will be used in the WHERE clause and make use of special jsonb operators like this:

SELECT * FROM messages
WHERE body::jsonb @> '{"Name":"Nicholas Pépé"}'::jsonb;

If you provide a exclusion criteria like {"type": "fake-data"} the resulting query will look something like this:

SELECT * FROM messages
WHERE body::jsonb @> '{"Name":"Nicholas Pépé"}'::jsonb
AND NOT (body::jsonb @> '{"type":"fake-data"}'::jsonb);

There is a more detailed explanation of filter matching below.

Cron Triggers (formerly timers)

Cron triggers run jobs based on a cron schedule. They can run as frequently as once every minutes, or as infrequently as you desire and can be scheuled on very specific dates or times. Each time a timed job succeeds, its final_state will be saved and used as the initial_state for its next run. See "Managing state" and "Keeping a cursor" below for implementation help.

The best way to learn about cron, if you're not already familiar, is through the OpenFn interface or

Flow Triggers

Flow triggers will execute a job after another specified job finishes successfully. E.g., a flow trigger which specifies the succesful run of Job A can be used by Job B. Each time Job A succeeds, Job B will start to run with the final_state of Job A as its initial_state.

Fail Triggers

Fail, or "catch", triggers work just like flow triggers, except that they watch for the failure, rather than the success, of a specified job. (E.g., Job A pays a CHW via MPESA. If Job A fails we should initiate Job B, which sends an SMS to the district manager instructing them to manually pay the CHW.)

Processing cron jobs

On-demand processing for cron jobs. If you’re leveraging cron triggers to run jobs at specific times, you can also run that cron triggered job on demand. This way you don’t have to wait for the timer to expire before testing! Simply click the process/ “play” button now available via the Job, Run, and Activity History pages.

Runs list run time trigger button

Run history time trigger button

Keeping a cursor in state for timer Jobs

Because many timer jobs require keeping some sort of record of their previous run to modify their later actions, state is passed between the runs. One example might be keeping a "cursor" to select only new records from a database. We'd expect the following logic:

  1. job-1 fetches patients from the database
  2. job-1 does something important with those patient records
  3. job-1 saves the id of the last successfully processed patient to final_state
  4. when job-1 runs again, it fetches patients whose id is greater than the id of the last successfully processed patient.

To achieve this you might write:

fetchPatient({ type: 'referral', offset: state.lastId }, state => {
// Assuming the system returned an array of patients in the "data" key.
state.lastId =, b) => -[0];
return state;

The initial offset will be null, but the subsequent runs will automatically only fetch "new" patients.

Managing the size of state for Timer Jobs

Since state is passed between each run of a timer job, if your job adds something new to state each time it runs, it may quickly become too large to be practically handled. Imagine if a server response were adding, via array.push(...), to state.references each time the job ran. OpenFn supports up to 50,000 bytes (via Erlang's byte_size), though most final_state byte sizes are between 100 and 1000.

If the size of your final_state exceeds 10,000 bytes, OpenFn will send project collaborators a warning email. If it exceeds 50,000 bytes, your run will still succeed but its final_state will not be saved and the next time that job runs it will inherit the previous, un-updated final state. (I.e., the last state that was < 50,000 bytes.)

A quick fix for final state bloat

Most often, final state bloat is due to improper handling of state.references or This can be fixed by adding the following lines either to the callback of your language-package's operation (if it allows for one) or by appending an alterState(...) operation after your operation.

alterState(state => {
state.custom = somethingIntentional; = {};
state.references = [];
return state;

Filter Matching in Detail

To illustrate filter matching, refer to the filters and message samples below.

  • Message "a" will match filter 1, but message "b" will not.
  • Message "c" will match filter 2, but message "d" will not.

Filter 1, simple inclusion

The inclusion criteria is { "formID": "patient_registration_v7" } and the exclusion criteria is left blank.

Message "a" will match

"submissionDate": "2016-01-15",
"formID": "patient_registration_v7",
"name": "Jack Wilshere",
"dob": "1986-05-16",
"medications": ["anaphlene", "zaradood", "morphofast"]

Message "b" will NOT match

"submissionDate": "2016-01-16",
"formID": "patient_registration_v8",
"name": "Larry Bird",
"dob": "1982-03-21",
"medications": ["anaphlene", "zaradood", "morphofast"]

Message 'b' does not include "formID":"patient_registration_v7" and will not match filter '1'.

Filter 2, inclusion and exclusion

The inclusion criteria is { "name": "john doe" } and the exclusion criteria is {"allowedToShare": false}.

Message "c" will match

"submissionDate": "2016-01-15",
"name": "john doe",
"dob": "1986-05-16"

Message "d" will NOT match

"submissionDate": "2016-01-15",
"name": "john doe",
"dob": "1986-05-16",
"allowedToShare": false

More filter samples

Match messages WHERE the formId is "Robot_Photo_21.04.2015"

{ "formId": "Robot_Photo_21.04.2015" }

Match a message with two fragments inside an array called data

(This is useful when gathering data via ODK)

{ "data": [{ "outlet_call": "TRUE", "new_existing": "Existing" }] }

Match a message WHERE this AND that are both included

{ "formId": "Robot_Photo_21.04.2015", "secret_number": 8 }

Match a message using exclusion

{ "formId": "Robot_Photo_21.04.2015" }{ "safeToProcess": false }

Match a message with a fragment inside another object called form

{"form": {"@xmlns": ""}}

An exclusion demo

Imagine that we had a filter which included messages with form == 'bns_survey' but we then want to start excluding those that have body.survey_type == 'practice'. Our filter trigger would look need to like this:

{ "form": "bns_survey" }{"body": {"survey_type": "practice"}}

We'd set it up from the trigger form like this:


And verify the result on the inbox: