What is a SharePoint List?

Mobile Man / Tuesday, October 27, 2015

The list is potentially one of the oldest forms of personal organization. Before the days when nearly a third of humanity had smartphones, a list would consist of a few hand-written lines on a piece of scrap paper: groceries, things-to-do etc. Nowadays, a ‘list’ can take on any number of different digital forms. SharePoint, back in 2001, was ahead of the curve and made lists one of its key data structures when building sites.

In Microsoft's words, “Organizations use SharePoint to create sites.”

More specifically, ‘Team Sites’ are a key means for people to work, find information and communicate together. ‘Team Site’ was in fact the original name for the first ever version of SharePoint that Microsoft introduced. The name is rather self-explanatory. Once you create a site, you can invite other members of your team to work on it with you. This common workspace naturally becomes a place for collaboration and communication. Team Sites are a private web space, with access only permitted to those who are invited to join. Think of it as a (really) big container for all your teams work.

Lists and Libraries

SharePoint is formed of a number of building blocks that constitute the primary components that make up a Team Site. Of these blocks, list apps (previously known as Web Parts) are used to customize the interface and edit the content of your site. Lists and libraries are the backbone to Team Sites, and to SharePoint as a whole. If you think of anything that would earn a place on a company intranet - contacts, departments, documents, announcements - it can be displayed as either a list or a library.

Users of pre-2013 SharePoint iterations may find some confusion between the terms Web Parts, apps, list apps, lists and all the rest. Before 2013, lists and apps were self-titled. Now, however, anything inserted into a site takes the name of an app, and these apps are categorized into list apps, libraries etc.

Although very similar, there are a few differences between lists and libraries. The easiest way to distinguish between the two is that in a list, each row is a record of information. In a library, each row is a document.

A-list organization

When you add an app in SharePoint, there are a number of pre-set list apps to choose from, as well as the option to create your own custom list:

  • Links list
  • Announcements list
  • Contacts list (can sync to Microsoft Outlook)
  • Discussion Board list
  • External list
  • Survey

List apps, like much of SharePoint, are easily customizable. You can instantly edit a list in your browser just like an Excel spreadsheet in the ‘quick edit’ view, and you can access the ‘list’ tab to adjust the settings for the entire list. Switch, modify and create new views, email links, view who the list is shared with and modifying workflows are some of the settings you can use. You can even edit or customize the form that exists for every list that’s created (something that wasn’t really possible without custom work in pre-2013 SharePoint, but is getting even easier in the latest versions of SharePoint Online).

When there isn’t a template which does exactly what you want, you can create a Custom list much the same way as above. As the name suggests, a custom list gives you the basics - the ‘Title’ column and little else - and lets you customize it as much or as little as you want. With a Custom list, you also have the ability to import lists from Excel, or publish them straight into SharePoint.

Lets Re-view

If you or your company make extensive use of SharePoint, then your site is understandably going to be filled with a lot of content.

For all your documents, SharePoint provides a default view in every library: ‘All Documents’, which includes the default columns that are present in every library: ‘document type’, ‘document title’, ‘date modified’ and ‘modified by’. Whilst this is a competent solution when dealing with a small number of documents, companies with a lot of content may need more precise ways of finding what they need.

Sorting, Filtering and Grouping are three of the features available to create refined views for your document library. It’s an incredibly simple process: if you were to sort a column by ascending alphabetical order, SharePoint will give you the option to ‘save view as’ - storing this view for further use whenever you want it.

This of course is the same for all your list items. You can give your customized view a title, make it public or private, and then sort through any view, default or custom created, for a filing system that is as efficient as you want to make it.

Data limits increased in SharePoint 2016

As well-equipped as SharePoint is to deal with large amounts of data, there are always limits that end-users run into. In SharePoint 2013, there are two categories that define the varying limits of SharePoint:

Thresholds and Boundaries on list numbers:

  • List View: 5,000 items per view.
  • Admin View: 5,000 items per view.
  • Co-Author Limits: 10 concurrent editors per document (Boundary is 99).


Files in libraries:

  • File Size: 2GB per item.
  • Document Count: 30,000,000 per library.
  • Bulk Operations: 100 items per bulk upload.

In SharePoint 2016, Microsoft will be expanding the content database size, list threshold size, maximum file size and more:

Content Database Size

Site Collections per Content Database

List Threshold

MaxFile Size

Indexed Items

Content database sizing into TB’s

100,000 site collections per content database

Increased List Threshold >5000

MaxFile Size increased to 10GB and removed character restrictions

2x increase in Search scale to 500,000,000 items

Increases to boundaries in SharePoint 2016 will make the platform even more useful for business users. The humble list has served them well so far and it doesn’t look like going anywhere yet.

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