A Complete Guide to SharePoint Lists and Libraries

By Joshua White, 27/01/2021

We regularly update our content to keep you posted on the latest changes.
Last updated: 22/12/2022

Table of Contents
  • Introduction
  • What is a SharePoint List?
  • What is a SharePoint Library?
  • Main Differences Between SharePoint Lists and Libraries
  • FAQ
    • Should I use a SharePoint List or a SharePoint Library?
    • Can you display SharePoint Lists and Libraries across different Site Collections?

Introduction

Perhaps two of the most widely used features of SharePoint are lists and libraries. If you’re a SharePoint user, you are likely familiar with the terms. But do you know how their full capabilities and how they can help you be more efficient? In this article we will cover an in-depth guide to SharePoint lists and libraries.

What is a SharePoint list?

A SharePoint list is a collection of data that you can share within your organisation. It can also be used within various web parts. It consists of row and columns, like an Excel spreadsheet. In fact, you can actually use Excel as source data for your list.

Some examples of SharePoint lists are calendars, contact lists and task lists. But SharePoint lists are also much more versatile. You can create a SharePoint list from scratch or a data source. Or you can choose one of the list templates Microsoft offers:

Once you create a list, you can add or remove columns and upload document attachments. If you don't like the default view, you can adjust it to display the information the way you want. This makes content organisation much easier. You and your teammates can collaborate efficiently, even if working remotely.

SharePoint lists are also easily accessible on any device. They provide a very responsive and fast experience. And if you want to automate your processes, creating a PowerApp from a list has never been easier.

What is a SharePoint Library?

SharePoint libraries are commonly referred to as document libraries. Document libraries are used to store files and various kinds of documents. As the name library suggests, you can manage and organise your data. If you are collaborating with your team, you can track changes easily with versioning.

The most important thing about SharePoint libraries is the metadata. Metadata is additional information about your documents. When you upload a document to a SharePoint library, you will see the essential metadata about it. This tells you who uploaded it and when. You can expand on this by adding whatever information might be relevant to you. The process is the same as adding columns to a SharePoint list.

Metadata can be edited at any point, even on existing files. Metadata can even be pulled from SharePoint lists. If you have repetitive information, you don't have to insert it again every time you upload a new document.

You can organise your data across SharePoint libraries any way you prefer. However, we recommend using specific permissions. That way everyone has appropriate access, else it may get convoluted.]

What is the difference between SharePoint Lists and SharePoint Libraries?

  • Collaboration. SharePoint Lists can be edited directly. SharePoint Libraries are more advanced and allow you to check in and check out file versions. This makes tracking changes easy.
  • Search results. Documents stored in SharePoint Lists will not show in Search Results. They are not indexed because they are only attachments. Main documents in SharePoint Libraries will always show.
  • Versioning. SharePoint Libraries have both minor and major versions, while SharePoint Lists only have major versions.

Tip: While very useful, SharePoint Lists and Libraries don’t come without limitations. They are not very customisable so you may lose out on some custom edits that you would want to make. This includes having a custom menu, editing specific view permissions, and so on. On the plus side, you can store up to 30 million items in each. Try not to do that, though, as you don’t want to be stuck on infinite loading!

Frequently Asked Questions about SharePoint Lists and SharePoint Libraries

Should I use a SharePoint List or a SharePoint Library?

If you’re still unclear on which feature to use for your needs, then consider the following. A SharePoint List is used to store information. A SharePoint Library is used for file storage. Files can still be attached to lists, and lists can be used as document library metadata.

Can you display SharePoint Lists/Libraries across different Site Collections?

The short answer is yes, but with some complications.

Say you have a SharePoint list or a library in a site that you want to show in a webpart. This is simple if the list is in the same site, or the document library is in a child site. But not if the SharePoint list/library is in a separate site collection.

To be able to see libraries across multiple site collections, there are a few options. One is to create a SharePoint web part in Visual Studio. In VS, establish a connection to the library that you want as your source. Then iterate through the library object writing some code to the page. This is to show file names and other properties.

This can become a quite long-winded process. Fortunately, there are some solutions available both for modern and classic SharePoint sites.

For a classic templated SharePoint site, you could add a page viewer web part. Point it to a page with the list/library web part on it. Alternatively, you can enable cross site searching and use a Content Query web part. – We no longer recommend this method as Classic SharePoint is obsolete.

On a modern SharePoint site you will need to incorporate a hub site. Then you can use the highlighted content web part. Roll up documents from a SharePoint library (or all libraries) across your hub. This web part allows for advanced filtering and different ways to view your items. While not ideal, it does solve the original problem.

We have experience creating a range of bespoke web parts to roll up SharePoint Lists & Libraries on a page. If you have more questions, reach out to our SharePoint experts.

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