Mass File Manipulation in SharePoint 2010

Written By: Knox Cameron -- 3/16/2011 -- join -- contribute -- (1587) comments -- printer friendly version

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Categories: Document Management, Features, SharePoint 2010, SharePoint Foundation 2010

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SharePoint gives you a friendly, easy-to-use, web interface for uploading files, editing their properties and content, and so on. However, sometimes you need to perform "bulk" operations like moving a group of files to a different folder or library, or a mass rename or selective delete. SharePoint does provide the "manage content and structure" interface, but this can be slow and somewhat unreliable, and is not available in a SharePoint Foundation / WSS-only environment.


SharePoint provides a way to access the content of folders and document libraries in a site as if they were stored on the disk of your computer. You have probably used the simplest form of this, "explorer view" in a document library, to manipulate files using Windows Explorer. But did you know that you can also access files using the command line, and even write batch files, to perform operations that would be time consuming or even impossible in the web interface?

This tip will look at how to set this access up, including some of the common issues that can stop it working. It will also provide some examples of how you can use this capability to save time.

The starting point: Explorer view

In SharePoint 2007, if you browse to a document library, Explorer View will normally be available from the Views drop-down at the top right.

2007 document library screenshot showing Views drop-down

SharePoint will attempt to open the Explorer View within the browser window, in the same space as the normal documents view.

Explorer view in Windows XP

However, this is not possible in Windows Vista or 7 when protected mode is enabled. In that case you will see this message in the browser (note "Protected Mode: On" in the status bar):

SharePoint message to please wait while Explorer view opens

You may then see a security warning:

Windows security warning about launching Explorer

If you click Allow, you will (finally) see a Windows Explorer open showing the document library:

Windows Explorer showing 2007 document library

In SharePoint 2010, the views drop-down does not include an Explorer View option.

2010 document library screenshot showing Views drop-down

The option is still there but you have to dig further to find it:

  • Select the Library tab on the ribbon
  • Find the Open with Explorer button in the Connect & Export button group, circled in the screenshot below

2010 Open with Explorer option

Depending on your setup, you may be prompted to login again, as you are now using a different program on your computer to access SharePoint. You will then see a Windows Explorer window showing the documents and folders in the library, as if they were on a file share.

Windows Explorer window showing SharePoint documents and folders

Notice that there is an extra folder called "Forms" which was not visible in the web page view. This folder is hidden, so it should only show up if you have configured Windows Explorer to show hidden files and folders. SharePoint (both 2007 and 2010) uses this folder to store the web pages which show views of the library and other "internal" information. The best advice is: leave it alone!

Now you have a Windows Explorer window into the document library, you can use many standard functions to manipulate the files. For example, you can:

  • Highlight files in another Windows Explorer window and drag and drop to copy them into the document library (or hold down the shift key to move instead of copying the files)
  • Highlight files in this window and drag and drop to copy them out of the library
  • Click on a file name to rename it (or select it and press F2)

However, there are significant limitations. Although it looks like Windows Explorer, the documents are in SharePoint not on your hard disk or a file share. For example, SharePoint has tighter restrictions on file names and you will get an error if you attempt to copy a document into SharePoint with a name that is too long or includes a character like "&":

Warning for invalid file name

If you right click a file, you will see typical Windows Explorer options like move and copy, but no SharePoint functions like check in or publish. SharePoint 2001 included client software to let you do functions like that in Windows Explorer, but these days you have to go back to the web browser or SharePoint Designer. So if you have a set of files to import, you can drag and drop them into Explorer View, but you will need to go back to the browser to enter metadata, and check the files in if that is required by the document library.

Also, SharePoint does not support multi-user access to files like a file server does. Don't expect to be able to store an Access database in a document library and use it as a network database.

You can copy or move files between different document libraries or sites by opening two explorer windows and dragging and dropping. However, note that the files will be downloaded from the first library to your computer then uploaded to the other library, not copied directly between them, so performance may be slow. Also, SharePoint metadata will not be preserved unless it is saved in the file (as it may be with Office documents for example) and only the current version will be copied.

So, be cautious about using Explorer View when you are using SharePoint's document management functionality. If it is available, a better option in that case would be to use SharePoint's "Manage Content and Structure" interface.

Under the covers

Explorer view has been around for many years and multiple generations of SharePoint and desktop software. A feature called "Web Folder Behaviors" ("WebFolders") was originally released with Internet Explorer 5. WebFolders uses the FrontPage RPC protocol, also used by Office applications and SharePoint Designer to work with files in SharePoint.

When Windows XP was released some years later, Microsoft provided the WebClient service. This uses the WebDAV (web distributed authoring and versioning) protocol, an open and more general purpose protocol than FP RPC. However, WebFolders continued to be used in parallel. With Windows Vista, the WebClient service was enhanced. For example, it now supports connections over SSL (https). 

Microsoft's web server software (IIS) has a WebDAV server feature, but SharePoint has its own WebDAV server function built in and you should not enable IIS WebDAV support on a SharePoint server.

With SharePoint 2010, Microsoft has completed the move away from WebFolders to the more general purpose WebClient. This support is built into all modern Windows versions (XP and above) but is typically not enabled by default on servers (see below for how to do this). The advantage of the WebClient service is that it sits in the network stack on the computer and allows applications to access files as if they were on a file server. For example, even a simple application like Notepad can open a text file in a SharePoint document library through the WebClient service.

Because the WebClient service sends the WebDAV commands are sent over standard http or https connections to the SharePoint server, you can work with files on SharePoint servers through the same proxy servers and connections you use with the web browser, without requiring additional ports open on a firewall, or VPN access.

If you have transparent authentication configured, which logs you in automatically to SharePoint using network credentials, then Explorer view will also be able to log in automatically. If you log into SharePoint using a login form, Explorer view may be able to use the credentials so you don't have to login again. Otherwise, you may be prompted to login, or may even be unable to use Explorer view.

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