SharePoint Online – To content type or not to content type that is the question!

Quite a while ago when the modern libraries were introduced I already started to question the use of content types. In my post Are content types dead? I first questioned the use of content types. Looking at the latest changes in Document Libraries I’m starting the question if the end of the content types is near.

I created a new library within my SharePoint Online site and there are a few options that were introduced recently.

New option in document library showing Edit New menu and Add template options

The Edit New menu option gives us options that we can use to control which templates and content types are available within the library. The Add template option looks a bit like adding a new content type and attaching a document template to the content type. However this option does add a template it does not add a content type.

Edit New menu

You can new edit the options that appear in the new menu.

Compared to the New menu when you add content types and all the out of the box options disappear, this seems to be an improvement. Some of the big misses however are that we can hide and show templates but we can’t reorder the templates.

Add template

When I added a template I got an additional option added to my library. Depending on the type of document used for the template you get a word, excel or PowerPoint icon.

The additional option is now called after my document template.  One weird behaviour that I found here is that the document template cannot have the same name as a document in your library. You will have to make sure that documents and templates do not have the same name.

Ok, this is great we don’t need content types anymore.

Wait a second! Wehave been telling users for years to use content types and now it is ok to move away from that?

Well you don’t have to. In my case I enabled the content types in my library and I added another content type to the library. Then I found  the following set of

options in the New menu. This is great! Document was added as I enabled the content type. Picture was added as I added a content type. Well this is I guess better than how the classic libraries used to handle content types and all my out of the box templates were removed.

I would however need to clean up my New menu with the earlier mentioned Edit New menu option.

Templates vs Content types

Once I created a custom template I decided to add a custom content types with some custom columns. Then I made this custom content type the default content type and I was hoping that my custom template would pick up my custom content type. This is not the case.

The Content type used by the template is using the default content type when the document template was added to the library. So far I’m failing to find a way to update an existing template with a new content type.

I’m guessing that this makes it even more important to get your templates right straight form the beginning, but things do change over time.

I decided to replace my template by uploaded a template file with the same name.

This worked for the content, however the content type was not adjusted. There must be a way around this. As a template is not a content types you must be able to delete the template and then upload the template again. Ahum, there is no delete template option.

First of all a big warning!

DO NOT DO THIS IN YOUR PRODUCTION LIBRARIES!

Time to use my enemy, SharePoint Designer 2013!

I opened the site and then in All Files I found the Folder Forms which contains all my document templates.

The next step is to delete the template from here. Unfortunately the Document Template with the wrong content type connected to it still appeared in my new menu.

As I now have invalid template options appearing I added the template again with the same name and ended up with double templates (The templates with the name Document Template ). I managed to clean this up using the Edit New menu, however there is still the double options available within the Edit New menu configuration. Hence the strong warning!

My Thoughts!

I’ve got the feeling that the modern libraries are moving away further and further from the Content Type model as introduced in SharePoint all those years ago. By placing all fields on the list you might quite well be able to manage all you need to do. I am however coming from a traditional document management back ground and I like my metadata to be structured and where possible be reused across multiple libraries.

I like the idea of document templates, but I can’t see how we could do without content types. It looks like the empowering users and making it easy for users to change the information architecture is not always an improvement. One of the important uses of custom content types is that it is easy to reuse information architecture choices across different libraries.

On the other hand I’m interested to see where the content type based data architecture model is going over the next year. I still have to meet the first end user who actually understands the idea of content types. Therefore simplifying the  model might not be a bad thing.

 

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3 thoughts on “SharePoint Online – To content type or not to content type that is the question!

  1. I think you need to separate the 2 issues mentioned, one being content types and the other being use of templates. It’s true that managing templates via content types is painful and places unnecessary restrictions on template use and a solution to this needs to be provided. However, this should not mean that content types are no longer of any use. We use Content Types extensively in most cases without any requirement for templates as they are invaluable for enforcing consistency of structure across an organisation. Governance is critical when using self service tools like SharePoint and Content Types is one of the ways to reduce the chaos and improve the base level of functionality that can be created by self-service.

    We have adopted an alternative to template use where templates are sourced from a common library using a search view to filter and select giving much greater control and a better user experience. Not quite using OOTB features but a significant improvement.

    1. Hi David, Thank you for your comment. I agree that content type have been important. But I am not sure if you can separate the templates and content types. They appear in the same place. When you select a template from the new menu do you know which content type you use? Well, users will definitely not. At the moment it looks like Microsoft are moving away from the content type idea.


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      1. That is why separating the issues of Content Types and Templates is important. Content Types are important for specifying fields/metadata to capture so for Lists Items, Documents, and Document Sets they are very important. In the case of a Controlled Document library for storing forms and templates it is not practical nor required for differing content types to be defined as a single metadata field like “document Type” does the trick.

        What you are really talking about is how to provide a simple means for an end user to select a template from a list of many. Our experience shows that tying the choice of a template into a simple dropdown list is not practical using either content type template file definition or the other method you demonstrated above which is why we popup a form to select a template document from a search view of a template library for simple selection. This removes the shackles of having to limit the templates to a small list and you do not have to abuse content types to do so.

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