​Understanding Content Types

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You will hear this word repeatedly while working in SharePoint. Everything revolves around Content Types, in fact you have been using them since you started. Content Types are basically a way of grouping Site Columns together into a reusable group that represents some kind of content to us. For example I could group the Site Columns Invoice #, Customer and Related Product together into an "Invoice Content Type". This way every time I go to a document library that would need to use these I would just assign the Invoice Content Type to it.

By default when you create a Content Type, just like Site Columns, it is pushed to all sub sites of the designated site where it was created. A Content Type can only exist within a Site Collection, if you want to reuse it in another site collection, you will have to recreate it in the other site collection.

What did I mean by you have been using them since you started with SharePoint? Well, how do you think your "Announcement list" or "Task list" got their columns? Magic? Simple, someone at Microsoft created a few Site Columns that make sense for each of them like "Task Name", "Start Date" and "Due Date" and grouped them together calling it a "Task" Content Type. When you create a Task list, it simply creates an empty list and associates the Task Content Type to it.

Still don't understand? Take any list or library in SharePoint and do the following....

Go to List or Library settings


By default, SharePoint hides the use of Content Types to the general User and Power User so that it doesn't confuse them by giving them too many options.

Allow the management of content types


By clicking on OK and returning to that list or libraries settings you will see a new section below the General Settings. You will notice all the associated Content Types to the list and the necessary options to manage them.



When you're first starting to learn SharePoint and Content Types, it takes a while to realize that when you associate a Content Type to a list or library, it is copied to it. This means that if you edit the Content Type from the List or Library settings menu, it will only affect that List or Library. The original Content Type will stay untouched in the Content Type Gallery of the site it was created in. In most cases, this happens to be the top site. So if I follow the steps above for our Task list with the Task Content Type and "Remove" the Assigned To column from the Task Content Type, it will only affect this specific Task List.

Much more

Content Types can be much more than just a way of grouping together Site Columns, it also offers some basic settings to be attached to that grouping. For example, you can associate a document template to your Content Type. Taking the previous example, you could associate a blank invoice template to your Invoice Content Type so that each library using that Content Type would also have the template. Many other settings can be configured per Content Types.



They follow a hierarchy

You can't just create a Content Type anywhere to be used with anything, there are no "wildcard" Content Types in SharePoint. Some of these come with SharePoint and are at the top of the tree like "Item" and "Document". It's not for no reason that SharePoint asks you create a New "Item" when you are in a list and to Upload "Document" in a library. These are not just words they have written in the page, those are the names of the Content Types used.

When you create your Content Type, you have to choose under which Parent Content Type you will want to create it. This will make it inherit the Site Columns associated with the Parent Content Type as well.

For example, if I create an Invoice Content Type that inherits from the Document Content Type, It will automatically have the column "Title" with your Invoice Content Type. And this is only because "Document" inherits himself from "Item" as a Content Type.

To create a new content type, go to Site Settings > Site Content Types


Click Create


Here are the questions you are asked when creating a Content Type:



 If you create your Content Type under the “Item” Content Type, then it will be available to all SharePoint lists but no Libraries. And Vice Versa if you create it under “Document” then it will not be available for any Lists.


Above is a quick view of the Hierarchy of some of the Content Types you may recognize in SharePoint 2013.

Advantages of Content Types:

  • Necessary to organize reusable content and configurations within SharePoint. (Making sure all Invoices have the same metadata and document templates for example).
  • Helps you centralize all of these configurations in one place, the site where the Content Type is created.

Disadvantages of Content Types:

  • Not so easy to understand at first for beginners in SharePoint. They are also very powerful and can be misused or help destroy SharePoint solutions very quickly in the wrong hands.
  • Have a very large impact on your SharePoint Architecture and should not be created without having seriously considered the impacts on other SharePoint features or sites.


With SharePoint, there are not necessarily any "golden rules" to follow. It always depends on a few factors, some may be more important to you than others given the situation.

It may be easier to show Users how to create regular list or library columns to increase User Adoption in the project. End Users might feel like they have more control over their site. They will probably be a lot faster into creating their own lists and libraries to manage their content. However, when the time comes to update a configuration or migrate information in a column it could be a challenge and cost just as much time as you saved at first.

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Creating Content Type and attaching multiple content types to a List or Library

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First create your list (let's call it 'Employee List')

If you don't know how to create a list, click here

1.JPGYou can see that if you were going to create a new item, you only have a choice of one type of generic item:


And if you click on that New Item:


For this example, let's say you have different TYPES of Employees…Hourly Employees and Salary Employees.

To create a new content type

Go to List Settings


> Advanced Settings > Allow management of Content Types



6.JPGName your type of Employee and choose List Content Types > Item (for a list)


Now you need to add some site columns to your content type.  You can choose from already existing site columns


Add from existing site columns:


Add new site column:


Then add the rest of your site columns11.JPG

Next you'll need to associate this new content type with this list.  Go to List Settings.  In the Content Types Section, click Add from existing site content types


And find the content type you just created and click OK


Now when you go to your list and click New Item, you have 2 different types to choose from


If you choose the regular/basic 'Item':


But if you choose your new Hourly Employee:


So, now you need to create your Salaried Employee Content Type.

Site Settings > Site content types > Create


Add your columns




Then associate the Salary Employee with the Employee List. 

Employee List > List Settings > Add from existing content types


Now when you create a new item, you have 3 types to choose from


Currently the default is still set to 'Item'


So if you click on + new item


It will open up the basic item type


But that can be changed in the List settings.  For this example, we just want the two types of employees, so we're going to 'get rid of' the basic Item type.

Go to List Settings.  Under Content Types, click on Change new button order and default content type


Make Item not visible and you can change the order.  Then click OK



To hide the 'Title' field

The 'Title' field doesn't really fit in this example.  You can't DELETE the title field, but you can HIDE it. 

Site Settings > Site Content Types.  Click on the 'HourlyEmployee Content Type


And choose the ‘Hidden’ option and click OK


Then do the same for the SalaryEmployee.  Now when you click on a New Hourly Employee or a new Salary Employee, the Title field does not show


So,  if you were to add some employees (a few of each different type), it would look like this:


You could create a view for each of the different types:

List Settings > Create View


So, then you could see the information based on what you want to see.

All Employees:


Hourly Employees:


Salary Employees:



Name the page and click Create


Add a web part to the page (Insert > Web Part > Employee List Web Part > Add


On the far right, click Edit Web Part



Now you’ll have to add another web part and do the same as above except for Hourly Employees

When complete, push Save to save the page



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