Folders in SharePoint? I Will Pass!

What's wrong with folders in SharePoint and what you can do instead

Jasper Oosterveld

by Jasper Oosterveld on 9/23/2014

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Article Details

Date Revised:

Applies to:
folder navigation, Managed Metadata, SharePoint folders

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You might have guessed that I'm not a fan of folders, and I have four main reasons why: unfriendly navigation, duplication of documents, poor search results, and the amount of time it takes to switch to metadata. Let me tell you about each of these reasons, and then I'll give you a way to solve the problem.

Unfriendly navigation

No matter how well you think it through, navigation through a folder structure is not user friendly. For example, a Sales document library might have the following structure:

  • Customers
    • Presentations
    • Statement of Work
  • Proposals
  • Presentations
    • The New Digital Workplace
      • SharePoint 2013
      • Exchange 2013
      • Yammer
      • Lync 2013

If you browse to the Lync 2013 folder, you completely lose sight of the overall folder structure, as you see in Figure 1.


Figure 1: No sign of the folder structure

Duplication of documents

Where is the latest sales presentation about Lync for the Enterprise? In the New Digital Workplace folder? Or in the Customer Presentations folder? SharePoint won’t alert you when the same document is uploaded in different locations. This results in a duplication of many documents.

Poor search results

When you search folders, you are limited. Metadata is extremely powerful in combination with Search. You can enhance the Search refinement panel with custom metadata. This is not possible with folders.

Switching to metadata takes too much time

Switching from a complex and deep folder structure to metadata is a very time-consuming process. You need to find someone like a poor intern to do it, or buy a third-party tool. But there is another way.

The solution

Managed metadata can be the solution to replace your folder structure. With managed metadata, you can implement a taxonomy in your SharePoint portal. Let's take a look at an example of taxonomy, as shown in Figure 2.


Figure 2: Sample taxonomy

Normally you would have to use folders to apply such a taxonomy! With SharePoint 2013, you don't have to do this because you can use managed metadata. I've received a question about how end users can navigate through the documents when managed metadata is applied. Let's take a look! Figure 3 illustrates.


Figure 3: Using managed metadata

The managed metadata column named Category is available in the quick launch. Users can select a term from the taxonomy to filter through the documents. Before you can use this filter, you have to enable it by activating the site feature, shown in Figure 4:


Figure 4: Enable the filter

After you enable the feature, you have to open the Document library settings and then click on Metadata Navigation Settings, as you can see in Figure 5.


Figure 5: Configure managed metadata

Select Category and add it as Hierarchy Field. Then remove Folders from the Hierarchy Field and click Remove. The managed metadata column gets added to the quick launch and is ready to be used!

Unfortunately, there are issues

Although managed metadata navigation is a pretty cool feature, there is a downside. The filter is added beneath all of your quick launch hyperlinks. This results in a scroll bar. If you have a very large quick launch, this can become an issue. An alternative would be to filter the documents by using the column filter, shown in Figure 6.


Figure 6: Filter documents by using the column filter

However, this approach also has a downside. For some reason, the filter doesn't start at Human Resources, but at the highest level. That's a bug in SharePoint. Figure 7 shows how the Category column is configured.


Figure 7: How the Category column is configured

I attached the Category column at the Human Resources level of the Term Set. For some reason, the column filtering doesn't accept this starting point, but the quick launch filter does! If this really annoys your end users, you have to create a separate term set for Human Resources.

What if you want to stop using the managed metadata filter in the quick launch? Just disable the feature and the default settings are restored.

I hope this information is useful and you can start using the benefits of managed metadata.

Topic: Content Management

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  • You could use the Content Organizer to provide permissions (with folders) but show the View as being 'flat' (without folders). You could also use a workflow to assign permissions at an item level.
  • Great article...thank you! What about security? Aren't folders your main opportunity to control permissions under a library? We're using folders b/c of security reqs Open to your thoughts!