Thursday, March 13, 2014

Using folders in SharePoint document libraries – some guidance and tips

The discussion about whether folders in SharePoint are a good or a bad idea comes up quite often – I already wrote a number of posts about this topic: Follow up – Folders in SharePoint document libraries – why??(October 2008)  as well as Folders and metadata – again (February 2010).

After some years of working with SharePoint and talking to a lot of users I have come to the following conclusions and I have re-written the original blog post to take into account the different enhancements of SharePoint 2013.

Sometimes users simply want to group documents in small groups since they are used to work this way, these groups of documents can be ad hoc and don’t necessarily translate into document metadata. So declaring folders in SharePoint to be evil is just one bridge too far – sometimes they have their use. But if possible and when the added value is clear you should indeed translate your folders into metadata especially when the naming of the folders contains a specific meaning.

Advantages of using folders in SharePoint document libraries:

  • It looks familiar to people used to work with file shares
  • Folders are required when you have a large number of documents in a document library – if you look at the Software boundaries and limits for SharePoint 2013 guidance on Technet – you will notice that the supported limit is 30 million documents in a single library but it also states that can use nested folders to store this amount of documents.
  • It is possible to define security on folders
  • Possible to define metadata on folders. Remark: the metadata is not replicated on the documents within the folder, if you want to do push down metadata from a folder level to the documents contained within you can use common default values or location-based metadata defaults (available in SharePoint 2010 and 2013) or document sets.
  • Possible to create an alert on a folder
  • SkyDrive Pro and Explorer View don’t really support metadata, by combining folders together with metadata you can still provide for some classification support.
  • If you really want to use folders, you can still create a “without folders” view in SharePoint.

Disadvantages of using folders in SharePoint document libraries:

  • Not possible to use it for filtering or to create views
  • Only allows for adding a single dimension of information, it also requires you to drill down into sub folders before you find the documents. All in all it is quite a rigid structure which leads to difficulty in finding content. It is especially annoying since you don’t see a count for the number of items contained in a folder so you click all the way down just to find that there is no document stored in the folder.
  • When you move a document to another folder (because you miscategorized it) - the url will change. This is not the case when you change a metadata field
  • Will increase the length of the URL - remember URL length for Docs in SharePoint is still at 260 characters
  • Contributors can change your carefully architected folder structure containing your classification.

Just keep in mind folders should be the exception in SharePoint and not the rule. Do not hesitate to leave a comment or your opinion.

1 comment:

Wedge said...

The disadvantages are really strong when you see them in a list like that. Yet, some of the advantages (like folder security and folder meta-data) are really attractive to non-experts who want to keep things simple. And some people will just always love folders. Will have to reflect before advising people; thanks for the list.