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Expressions can be used to access variables and calculate values dynamically.

This is particularly useful when automating a process using BPMN and orchestrating human tasks.

The following attributes of BPMN elements require an expression:

Additionally, the following attributes of BPMN elements can define an expression optionally, instead of a static value:

Expressions vs. static values

Some attributes of BPMN elements—like the timer definition of a timer catch event—can be defined in one of two ways:

  • As an expression (e.g. = remainingTime)
  • As a static value (e.g. PT2H)

Expressions always start with an equals sign (=). For example, = order.amount > 100. The text following the equal sign is the actual expression. For example, order.amount > 100 checks if the amount of the order is greater than 100.

If the element does not start with the prefix, it is used as a static value. A static value is used either as a string (e.g. job type) or as a number (e.g. job retries). A string value must not be enclosed in quotes.


An expression can also define a static value by using literals (e.g. = "foo", = 21, = true, = [1,2,3], = {x: 22}, etc.)

The expression language

An expression is written in FEEL (Friendly Enough Expression Language). FEEL is part of the OMG's DMN (Decision Model and Notation) specification. It is designed to have the following properties:

  • Free of side effects
  • Simple data model with JSON-like object types: numbers, dates, strings, lists, and contexts
  • Simple syntax designed for business professionals and developers
  • Three-valued logic (true, false, null)

Camunda 8 integrates the FEEL Scala engine to evaluate FEEL expressions. The following sections cover common use cases in Zeebe. A complete list of supported expressions can be found in FEEL expressions.

Access variables

A variable can be accessed by its name:

// "Paul"

// 21.2

// ["item-1", "item-2", "item-3"]

If a variable is a JSON document/object, it is handled as a FEEL context. A property of the context (e.g. nested variable property) can be accessed by a period (.) and the property name:
// "order-123"
// "Paul"

Boolean expressions

Values can be compared using the following operators:

= (only one equals sign)equal toowner = "Paul"
!=not equal toowner != "Paul"
<less thantotalPrice < 25
<=less than or equal tototalPrice <= 25
>greater thantotalPrice > 25
>=greater than or equal tototalPrice >= 25
between [X] and [Y]same as (v >= [X] and v <= [Y]])totalPrice between 10 and 25

Multiple boolean values can be combined as disjunction (and) or conjunction (or):

orderCount >= 5 and orderCount < 15

orderCount > 15 or totalPrice > 50

Null checks

If a variable or nested property can be null, it can be compared to the null value. Comparing null to a value different from null results in false.

order = null
// true - if "order" is null or doesn't exist = null
// true - if "order" is null, "order" doesn't exist,
// "id" is null, or "order" has no property "id"

In addition to the comparison with null, the built-in function is defined() can be used to differentiate between a value that is null and a value that doesn’t exist.

is defined(order)
// true - if "order" has any value or is null

is defined(
// false - if "order" doesn't exist or it has no property "id"

String expressions

A string value must be enclosed in double quotes. Multiple string values can be concatenated using the + operator.

"foo" + "bar"
// "foobar"

Any value can be transformed into a string value using the string() function.

"order-" + string(orderId)
// "order-123"

More functions for string values are available as built-in string functions (e.g. contains, matches, etc.)

Temporal expressions

The current date and date-time can be accessed using the built-in functions today() and now(). To store the current date or date-time in a variable, convert it to a string using the built-in function string().

// date and time("2020-04-06T15:30:00@UTC")

// date("2020-04-06")

// "2020-04-06"

The following operators can be applied on temporal values:

Temporal TypeExamplesOperators
  • date + duration
  • date - date
  • date - duration
  • timetime("15:30:00"),
  • time + duration
  • time - time
  • time - duration
  • date-timedate and time("2020-04-06T15:30:00"),
    date and time("2020-04-06T15:30:00+02:00"),
    date and time("2020-04-06T15:30:00@UTC")
  • date-time + duration
  • date-time - date-time
  • date-time - duration
  • durationduration("PT12H"),
  • duration + duration
  • duration + date
  • duration + time
  • duration + date-time
  • duration - duration
  • date - duration
  • time - duration
  • date-time - duration
  • duration * number
  • duration / duration
  • duration / number
  • cyclecycle(3, duration("PT1H")),

    A temporal value can be compared in a boolean expression with another temporal value of the same type.

    The cycle type is different from the other temporal types because it is not supported in the FEEL type system.

    Instead, the cycle type is defined as a function that returns the definition of the cycle as a string in the ISO 8601 format of a recurring time interval.

    The function expects two arguments: the number of repetitions, and the recurring interval as duration. If the first argument is null or not passed in, the interval is unbounded (i.e. infinitely repeated).

    cycle(3, duration("PT1H"))
    // "R3/PT1H"

    // "R/P7D"

    List expressions

    An element of a list can be accessed by its index. The index starts at 1 with the first element (not at 0).

    A negative index starts at the end by -1. If the index is out of the range of the list,null is returned instead:

    // "a"

    // "b"

    // "c"

    A list value can be filtered using a boolean expression; the result is a list of elements that fulfill the condition.

    The current element in the condition is assigned to the variable item:

    [1,2,3,4][item > 2]
    // [3,4]

    The operators every and some can be used to test if all elements or at least one element of a list fulfill a given condition:

    every x in [1,2,3] satisfies x >= 2
    // false

    some x in [1,2,3] satisfies x > 2
    // true

    Invoke functions

    A function can be invoked by its name followed by the arguments. The arguments can be assigned to the function parameters either by their position or by defining the parameter names:

    // 1

    // 3

    append(["a","b"], "c")
    // ["a","b","c"]

    contains(string: "foobar", match: "foo")
    // true

    FEEL defines several built-in functions:

    Next steps