SharePoint Knowledge Base

Mar 05
When to use a List or a Library?

In SharePoint 2013, the constructs of lists and document libraries have been merged into one unified name, known as Apps. At their heart, though, it is still possible to distinguish between library apps – which work with documents – and list apps which work with items. SharePoint's document apps have many features that are similar to list apps – particularly the capability to store additional metadata with the file. It can be confusing to decide whether you should be creating a list or a library app. There are certainly some limitations with creating a Library app – but there are extra features as well.

The key decision to make is the number of files that a given set of data may need. You can often structure the way you look at a problem several ways, but there is generally a way that is more natural than others. In that most natural way possible, do you have situations where you need metadata without an attachment – or a need to associate multiple files with a set of metadata? In either case you'll want to use a list app, since only a list can handle a situation which has data and no files – or more than one file. Library apps always store metadata with a single file.

Since SharePoint 2010 we've had a workaround for wanting zero or more than one attachment by thinking of the problem in terms of a document set. Consider that you have some sort of an approval process which needs some information and perhaps some supporting documentation. In this case, even though there may be zero or more than one attachment it may be possible to continue to use a library app – by leveraging the document set. A document set is really a folder that has properties – and the ability to have a customized start page to change the way the "folder" looks – different from the default metadata a list app has. Utilizing this approach it's possible to work around the idea of having zero or more than one attachment.

The next set of questions pertains to features that are only available on library apps. WebDAV, often referred to as Explorer view, is only available for library apps. Similarly, if you want major and minor versions – so that visitors can only see approved versions – you'll need to use a library app, since lists support only basic versioning. Similarly, library apps support folders, and while list apps can have folders, this is rarely done. If you need folders, you're likely going to want to create a library app.

The final considerations are related to the Office client and XML. SharePoint has the capability of promoting properties in a Word document or in an XML document to properties in SharePoint automatically. This process even allows you to edit the metadata in SharePoint and have that metadata pushed back into the document. This is a powerful set of features. These features only work with library apps. Also, the Office client applications like Word, are only able to open library apps and not lists – this is, of course, because there is no file to open on a list app. The exception to this is Outlook, which can open list apps.

Since InfoPath can now be used to modify list edit forms directly, there's little reason to create a library app for InfoPath forms. If you want to create an InfoPath form to use the rules, validation, and other features of InfoPath, you can try to create the form as a list edit form first, and if the capability isn't available as a list edit form, you can create a library app with a custom InfoPath form.



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