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Content Type Settings and Site Columns

Windows SharePoint Services 3

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Windows SharePoint Services 3.0 provides two new tools to help you organize and standardize your data: content types and site columns.

Content types—a core concept used throughout the functionality and services offered in Windows SharePoint Services 3.0—are designed to help users organize their SharePoint content in a more meaningful way. A content type is a reusable collection of settings you want to apply to a certain category of content. Content types enable you to manage the metadata and behaviors of a document or item type in a centralized, reusable way.

For example, consider the following two types of documents: software specifications and legal contracts. It is reasonable that you might want to store documents of those two types in the same document library. However, the metadata you would want to gather and store about each of these document types would be very different. In addition, you would most likely want to assign very different workflows to the two types of documents.

Content types enable you to store multiple, different types of content in the same document library or list. In the preceding example, you could define two content types named Specification and Contract. Each content type could include different columns for gathering and storing item metadata, as well as have different workflows assigned to it. Yet items of both content types could be stored in the same document library.

You can further extend content type functionality by using content types to assign additional settings, such as workflows or even custom attributes, to your items.

Because you can define content types independently of any specific list or document library, you can make a given content type available for the lists on multiple SharePoint sites. This enables you to centrally define and manage the types of content you store in your site collection. For example, you could use your Specification content type to ensure that all software specifications track the same metadata, even if those specifications are stored across multiple sites.

Content types are independent of file formats. For document libraries, you can specify a document template; when the user requests a new document of this content type, Windows SharePoint Services creates a document based on the template. However, users can still upload a document based on a different template, or even of a completely different file type.

Site columns provide a central, reusable model for column definition. When you create a site column, each list that uses this column has the same definition, and you do not have to do the tedious work of reproducing the column in each list.

A site column is a reusable column definition, or template, that you can assign to multiple lists across multiple SharePoint sites. Site columns decrease rework and help you ensure consistency of metadata across sites and lists. For example, suppose you define a site column named Customer. Users can add that column to their lists and reference it in their content types. This ensures that the column has the same attributes, at least to start with, wherever it appears.

Additionally, site columns provide you with the simplicity of a single maintenance point. For example, you can create a status site column, which might contain multiple choices of an enterprise's specific statuses, and implement the column in dozens of project master lists across the site collection. If you add a new status, you can modify the site column instead of having to modify each list that contains a status column.

Much like site content types, you define a site column at the site level, independent of any actual list or content type.

When you add a column to a list, Windows SharePoint Services copies the site column locally onto the list as a list column. You can then make changes to the list column; these changes apply to the column only as it behaves on that list.

In certain situations, you may want to modify the column for a specific list. For this reason, you still have the option of one-off customization of columns at the list level. For example, suppose all projects within your company's Information Technology department have an additional status of On Hold—Waiting for Hardware. You could add this status to the column within the IT department's master project list.

You can also create your own list columns, directly on a list. Either way, list columns apply only to the list to which you add them; they cannot be added to multiple lists.

You can reference a site or list column in a content type.

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