Defining document management metadata in SharePoint

This article introduces the use of site columns in SharePoint document management and explains how site columns are defined and used in sites throughout a SharePoint site collection.

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Introduction to SharePoint site columns

Site columns are at the core of document management in SharePoint. As mentioned in Defining document types and metadata in an EDRMS, you can use site columns in SharePoint to define metadata and content types to define the document types that make use of site columns.

Site columns provide a central and reusable model for defining columns: You can define a column once, store it in one place (a site), (re)use it in multiple SharePoint objects, and if required in the future, modify it and apply the changes to all of the SharePoint objects that use it, all from one location.

Where do you use SharePoint site columns?

You can add site columns to SharePoint lists and content types.

When you add a site column to a list or content type, SharePoint copies the site column locally onto the list or content type as a column. Site columns ensure that columns, which are added to lists or content types have the same attributes, at least to start with, wherever that column appears.

You can then make changes to the column you added to the list or content type. These changes will only apply to that particular list or content type, and will not affect any other list or content type that makes use of the original site column.

Where do you define SharePoint site columns?

You define a site column at the site level (site collection, site, or subsite), independent of any list or content type.

A site column that is defined within a site collection is available to all of the sites and subsites within that site collection.

A site column that is defined within a site is available to all of that site's subsites, but not to the sites above it. So a site column is available down the hierarchy of sites and subsites within a SharePoint site collection, not upwards.

The scope of site columns in a SharePoint site hierarchy

In Figure 1, the colored circles represent site columns and a colored circle with a red border represents a site column that was created within a particular site.

Site columns defined in sites and subsites of a SharePoint site collection.

Figure 1. Site columns defined in sites and subsites of a SharePoint site collection.

In Figure 1 you can see that a site column defined in the top-level site of the site collection is available in Site A, Site B, Site A1, and Site A2.

You can also see that a site column defined in Site A is only available in Site A, Site A1, and Site A2, and not in the top-level site of the site collection or Site B.

In addition, a site column that is defined in a site can only be modified in the site where it was defined. For example, the site column that was defined in Site A, can only be modified in Site A, and not in Site A1 or Site A2.

Conclusion

Site columns are a core component of document management in SharePoint in that they are used to define metadata for document types (content types in SharePoint).

Site columns provide consistency of metadata across sites, lists, and content types, in addition to ease of maintenance from one central location.

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