Document management with SharePoint - part 4

Written By: Knox Cameron -- 10/6/2011 -- join -- contribute -- (921) comments -- printer friendly version

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Categories: Configurations, Design, Document Management, Programming and Customizations, Search, SharePoint 2010, SharePoint Foundation 2010

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In parts 1 to 3, we looked at getting documents into SharePoint, adding metadata, using that metadata to create attractive and useful views of the documents, and using that metadata within documents. We also looked at a couple of techniques for leveraging information from other SharePoint lists.

So now your users can quickly and easily find their documents, and use information from SharePoint in their documents. But still, they complain... ;-) How do I find the right template I'm meant to use for this kind of document? How can I quickly see all these kinds of documents in all our sites?


I don't think we'll ever stop them complaining... but we can certainly address these issues with some of the fantastic capabilities in SharePoint 2010.

Content types are the way we can define a standard document type in SharePoint, including metadata columns and a template. The user just selects to create a new "bill of materials" for example, and SharePoint will download the template and open the correct application. Content types can also be used in conjunction with the Content Query web part to display summaries of documents across multiple sites.

Content types are a core component of SharePoint Foundation. However, content query web parts are only available in SharePoint Server.


The best way to understand SharePoint is often to work through an example scenario. Here, we will configure a solution for a team who work on product proposals for an organisation. Each proposal involves development of a number of documents, such as concept designs, bills of materials, sales forecasts, competitive analysis documents, and board presentations.

Content types overview

A content type defines a set of columns that will be associated with the content, in other words the metadata (see Document Management with SharePoint 2010 - Part 1). The columns it uses are "site columns". Both content types and site columns are defined at the site level, and will be available in that site and all its sub-sites. It's good practice to define them at the top level site of a site collection to make them available and consistent across the whole site collection.

Once you have defined a content type, you can assign it to a library. SharePoint will then add the site columns defined in the content type as columns in the library (if they're not already there). If you later add columns to the content type, these will automatically be added to all libraries where it's used. This is a great way of keeping metadata consistent across multiple sites and libraries.

Content types in SharePoint are always based on a "parent" content type. They inherit many characteristics from their parent, such as a base set of columns. This gives you a very powerful mechanism for organising content types and their metadata. For example, related content types can be defined based on a common parent content type. You can define the metadata they all use as columns on the parent content type, and just add unique columns to the individual content types.

To see a list of your content types, go into Site Actions > Site Settings. Under the Galleries heading, select Site content types.

Screenshot of site content type gallery

You can trace the hierarchy of the built-in content types. For example, "Document" is based on "Item". In turn, "Basic Page" is based on "Document", and "Web Part Page" is based on "Basic Page". Although this series of articles is about document management, note that content types are used, and useful, in all types of SharePoint items and lists, such as calendars, discussion boards, contacts lists and so on.

For document content types, you can associate a template that will be used when someone creates a new item of that content type. This could be a Word document, PowerPoint presentation or just about anything else that can be stored in SharePoint, although Office files work best because of the inherent SharePoint integration.

As well as defining metadata, content types are useful for organising content so that it can be found across multiple libraries and sites. The content query web part allows you to list items of a particular content type from multiple sites in a site collection, or even of that content type and its child content types. You can also use search to find items based on their content type across multiple site collections.

All of the above capabilities exist in SharePoint 2007. SharePoint 2010 adds the ability to define a content type "hub" where you can define site columns and content types that can be used in multiple site collections, or even multiple SharePoint farms. This is part of the new managed metadata service.

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