Folders? No Way! Way!!!

Today, Joris Poelmans (of JOPX on SharePoint) wrote a post against the use of folders in SharePoint. Now don’t get me wrong, I too spend a good deal of my time explaining to customers why folders should be avoided in SharePoint. As Joris says: “NOOOOO …. metadata is the way to go in SharePoint”.

However, there are some cases where folders are absolutely the way to go and I want to tell you about my favourite example.

My customer has a team-site used for collaboration by the Human Resources teams in Toronto, Hong Kong, and Los Angeles. Most of the content on the site is shared among all groups, but there are some documents under the control of the VP of HR that are specific for each location. These documents should not be seen by anyone other than the targeted groups.

We already know that audience targeting is not an answer when security matters.

The solution is to create three folders, one for each location, and secure each folder so that only members of the appropriate groups can see them. This means that only members of the Hong Kong group can see the Hong Kong Folder. The VP of HR of course has access to all three folders, so that he can add/edit/delete documents from any folder.
The final step that makes this really work, and avoids an extra click for the user, is to create a default view that is a “no-folders view”. With a no folders view, all the documents are displayed in “flat” format, with no folders in the way. However, the security that you’ve applied to the folder is still in effect, so you will only see files that you have the rights to see.

When you create the view, expand the “Folders” section and select “Show all items without folders”.


The bottom line is: Never use folders in SharePoint, except where they simplify or enhance functionality.

About Ruven Gotz

Ruven Gotz is a Director with Avanade, Microsoft’s Global Partner. As a Microsoft SharePoint MVP with over 20 years of IT industry experience, Ruven has spent the past nine years delivering award-winning SharePoint solutions for a wide range of clients. Working as a Business Analyst and Information Architect, Ruven is able to apply his eclectic education and varied experience in Psychology, Computer Science, Economics, Software Development and Training to get to the heart of complex problems. Ruven is a great communicator who is able to discuss technology concepts in language that is relevant to his audience, whether they are from IT or business. He has become a leader in the use of visual tools to help his clients and team members achieve shared understanding of problems and goals and shared commitment towards implementing a successful solution. Ruven recently authored “Practical SharePoint 2010 Information Architecture” (Apress) Ruven lives in Toronto, Canada. On Tuesday nights in the summer, you’ll find him racing his 24’ sailboat ‘In the Groove’ (NOTE: Ideas and opinions on this blog are my own: I am not representing my employer.)
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4 Responses to Folders? No Way! Way!!!

  1. Andrew says:

    I have a very similar set-up for a customer. However, we have many layers of folders (roughly 40 at the root with multiple sub folders under each) – all the top level sub folders have unique permissions.

    The flat view worked great in web parts of the doc lib for a while, but now it is all the sudden broken. No results are returned in web parts from the sub folders. Everything works fine if you go to the flat view inside the Document Library itself. But web parts of the doc lib on web part pages – no results.

    I’ve tried so many things I’ve lost track. It seems like there is some folder or level limit (bug) that the web part view query is hitting. It is also affected by permissions. Site Collection administrators see all results in the flat view from all folders no matter what the Item Limit is set to in the web part view settings.

    Any ideas? Thanks!

  2. Mike Bunyan says:

    I find use of metadata very difficult to put into practice. Lets take the simple case of accounts where separation by year and regions. Additional metadata and/or columns in a library appears the way to go. However, if the same file name is used, it will over write the previous version. So the file name would have to be different, and why not include year and region in the file name.

    Examples, from experts, do not seem to remark on this trap. While I agree the metadata assists in Views and filtering, it is not the full answer.

    Any good ideas on how to deal with the scenario I have suggested?

    Mike B

  3. artykul8 says:

    never use folders sounds like a great idea, until you hit 2,000 items per container performance restriction for document libraries, then you have no other choice but to start splitting them up into those evil folders 🙂

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