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Folders vs. Metadata in SharePoint

Posted By:Jean Paul       Posted Date: March 31, 2014    Points: 200    Category: SharePoint    URL: http://www.dotnetspark.com  

In this article we will explore the possible usage of folders in SharePoint and its limitations in Content Classification in SharePoint

Folders vs. Metadata

In SharePoint, we can classify content through:

  • Folders
  • Columns
  • Metadata

I have noticed that users are extensively using Folders for Content Classification.  Although this approach is providing a solution, there are some draw backs to it.  Let us analyze those in this article.

What is Folder?

The 'Folder' I am referring here is List / Library folder.  We can create a list/library & create folders inside it.  Folders allow classification of the underlying item/documents. 

Folders are represented by SPFolder server object model.

Sample Folder

You can have an Articles document library.  We can create multiple folders inside for each Technology classification.  Use the Library > New Folder toolbar item to create folder.


Your library looks like below:

You can store multiple documents in each folder respectively.  In this case the Folder provided a good way of Classifying documents.

Now let us see the challenge.


Challenge: How to create a document which has 2 technologies?

Let us say there is a document named SharePoint Programming in C# which will be of technology C-Sharp & SharePoint.  How you will classify it? Which folder to use?


This problem will happen in the Life Cycle of a SharePoint deployment. 

Solution: Use Metadata

Metadata allows assigning multiple attributes on a particular document or item.  This makes us tag C-Sharp & SharePoint on the above document. 

Additional to multiple attribute assignment, metadata are indexed so that the search result will be more accurate & faster.

Folders are Hierarchical so Complex Relationships are not possible.  But complex relationships are possible with Metadata.


Although Folders provides only Primitive Classification mechanism, they are good for Assigning Permissions.

Solution Implementation

Now let us implement the solution using Metadata.  Following are the steps involved:

Step 1: Ensure Managed Metadata Service (MMS) is running

Open Central Administration, Manage Service Applications & ensure the Managed Metadata Service is running.


Step 2: Create Terms

Open Site Actions > Site Settings > Term store management.


In the appearing page, create the Technology term set& terms SharePoint &C-Sharp.

Step 3: Create Metadata Column

Back to our Articles library > Library Settings > Create a column of type Managed Metadata.      


Choose the Allow Multiple Values for the column.


Plus, choose the Managed Term Set as Technology & click Ok.


Step 4: Add Document with Metadata

You can try uploading a new document into the Articles library.  Do not forget to enter the Metadata tags in the upload page.


Click the Save button to create document. 

You can see the new document with Metadata tags assigned.  Metadata terms are Indexed, so faster & prioritized results can be achieved through proper usage of Metadata.

In short Metadata provides better Classification, Search & Navigation.


Metadata is an Excellent Solution for Content Classification.  We can organize & search content easily once we apply Metadata to the document/item. 

Please note that Improper Metadata assigning can yield to improper data retrieval.




In this article we have explored the possible usage of folders in SharePoint & its limitations in Content Classification.  To summarize with:

1.Folders can be used for Classifications, but not the Best Solution

2.Folders are good for Permissions Assignment

3.Folders are good for Simple Hierarchy & Navigations

4.Metadata could be a right solution for Multiple Classification

5.Searching based on Metadata is better than Folders.

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