Microsoft SharePoint - Getting Started With Document Libraries


What is a SharePoint Document Library?

A document library provides a secure place to store files where you and your co-workers can find them easily, work on them together, and access them from any device at any time. For example, you can use a document library on a site in SharePoint to store all files related to a specific project. Document libraries are like super folders. They are the container for storing regular folders and files but provide additional features that are useful for separating files and folders in a clean and organized manner.

The features that make document libraries unique over traditional folders stored on a network share include:

Version history - Version history is one of SharePoint’s best features. It automatically keeps a running track of all changes made to any files in your library. Version history does a lot, such as: 

  1. Removing the need to keep multiple copies of a file while it's being developed or reviewed;
  2. Providing an audit trail of who did what to your files so you can track its progress; and
  3. In extreme cases it can help you recover a corrupted file or revert to a previous version.

Permissions - Document libraries inherit the permissions from the site they live in, so when you create a library, the same people who can access the site can also access the library and its contents. This is called inherited permissions.

Libraries can have their own permissions, though. You can break inheritance, meaning only certain people have access to a library in a site. You or the Site Owner chose who gets access. The access list can be completely different from that of the parent site.

Folders, sub-folders, and files can also have their own individual permissions. This is called object-level permissions. Although it’s tempting to use special permissions for each library, folder, and even file, permissions get extremely complicated very quickly. It’s better to keep permissions the same within a library than falling into the trap of ad hoc permissions on files and folders.

Metadata - Folders seem natural, but they’re an arbitrary way for organizing information. Think about the folder structure in your favorite file share. Would you have set it up the same way? Does it make more sense to separate the folders by project? By year? By owner? By branch office?

Metadata in SharePoint document libraries lets you tag files and content with relevant keywords, which then gives you the ability to sort, filter, and group those files whichever way makes sense at the time. This takes a little time to set up, but it beats being stuck with a strategy based on the way one person liked it when they happened to start organizing the files. For much of the working files we store, folders and files are perfectly fine, but incorporating metadata into file management is a great way to create an organized, flexible way of finding and interacting with important documents. If you were setting up a project management file repository where it was important that all files could be associated to a project name, number, fiscal year, etc.; metadata would be a more flexible option for tagging documents with these attributes providing consistency, enhanced search and filtering, and multiple ways of grouping files.

Views - Document libraries can have different views configured based on grouping, sorting, and filtering of files. Views can be saved so that each time a visitor of the SharePoint site returns, those configurations are available. Views might be configured to show specific file types such as PowerPoint presentations, who created the file, or a metadata attribute such as files grouped by fiscal year.

Co-authoring - SharePoint Online support the ability to concurrently edit files in real time by multiple people. Microsoft calls it co-authoring. Word, OneNote, PowerPoint and Excel all support co-authoring.

Co-authoring works in most browsers and removes the need for Office to be installed on a computer, so you can still work on your documents even if you’re using an old computer at a hotel, for example.

Co-authoring eliminates the regular problem of one person locking a file by not closing it.

File Types - Document libraries support the storage of pretty much all file types. This has not always been the case, but as SharePoint has progressed, limitations on file types have dissolved. Document libraries can also be configured to only allow the storage of certain file types or content types. Content types might be a pre-configured Word document template that promotes a specific formatting when new documents are authored.

Workflows - Document libraries can be configured with common approval and notification workflows. With Power Automate, advanced workflows can be configured on SharePoint document libraries to automate things like where the file is stored, automatic metadata tagging, or notifications.

Alerts - SharePoint document libraries support alerts without any workflow configuration. Users can subscribe to alerts on a whole document library, a folder, or a single file when changes occur.

Additional Resources

There is a lot to learn about SharePoint document libraries to get the most out of the features described above. Click the link below, to get more information on working with files and folders in a document library.

What is a SharePoint Document Library


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