Understanding the basics of content types in SharePoint

This article gives an executive summary of what content types in SharePoint are and how they relate to familiar terms such as document types and metadata in document management.

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Document types and metadata in SharePoint

Content types in SharePoint define document types in document management, while site columns in SharePoint define the metadata in document management.

Since document types consist of metadata, content types consist of site columns.

In SharePoint, a content type always inherits from a base content type. So when you create a content type, you must select a parent content type that it will derive from.

When a content type inherits from a parent content type, it also inherits the site columns of the parent content type. You can add additional site columns to the child content type if you wish without affecting the parent content type.

The scope of content types

Content types follow the same scoping rules of site columns, that is, scoping works down a SharePoint site hierarchy, and not upwards or sideways, which means that:

  1. A site content type is available to all child sites down the site hierarchy.
  2. A site content type that has been defined in the root site of a SharePoint site collection is available to all sites and child sites in that site collection, but not available to sites and subsites in a different site collection.
  3. A site content type that has been defined in a child site is not available in the parent site of that child site.
  4. A site content type that has been defined in a site is not available to a non-child site that is in the same site collection as the first site.

Benefits of using content types

A benefit of using content types is that you can define a document type and its metadata once, and then reuse this document type in all sites that are within the scope of the site where the content type lives.

Another benefit of using content types is that Windows SharePoint Services (WSS) 3.0 allows you to use more than one content type on one list, which means that you can store different types of documents within one document library.

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