[Comparison] SharePoint List vs Library: The Differences

[Comparison] SharePoint List vs Library: The Differences

Are you wondering about the differences between SharePoint lists and libraries?

You’re not alone. Most new users get confused between these two. After all, they’re not really that much different.

In this article, I’ll go into detail regarding the differences between SharePoint list and library so you can choose better which one to use.

Let’s get started.

What is a SharePoint list?

Think of a SharePoint list as a table in Excel or some database. It’s basically composed of rows (data) and columns (metadata).

The truth is, you can consider any web part in SharePoint a list when it holds some kind of information.

This includes common lists being used like:

  • Calendars
  • Contacts
  • Tasks

To illustrate, here’s what a contacts list look like:

SharePoint lists contain rows and columns

With a list, you can dynamically organize data quite easily.

It’s also easy to create a list since there are templates available (via the modern experience). You can also start from scratch if you prefer.

Like an Excel table, a SharePoint list also has a format, filter, and sort functionalities. These help in displaying the most important data right away.

By the way, the main reason why some people confuse SharePoint lists and libraries is because you can also attach a file or document to a list.

For example, in the sample contacts list, you will find an attachments column and when you edit an entry, you can add a file or a document to it.

Attachments functionality on a list

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    What is a SharePoint library?

    SharePoint libraries are technically lists — but are designed to handle documents (which allows you to preview a document, do check-in and check-out, and many more).

    In SharePoint, these special lists are also called document libraries.

    Here’s an example:

    SharePoint sample library with files, rows, and columns

    As you can see, a SharePoint document library still has rows (documents) and columns (metadata).

    If you right-click on a file, you will also see various options that will enable you to open, preview, share the file, and a lot more.

    Open, preview, share, copy link, manage access on a file

    What are the differences between SharePoint lists and libraries?

    Now, let’s get a little deeper and talk about the actual difference between lists and libraries in SharePoint.

    Here are some points:

    • SharePoint lists are similar to server databases with rows and columns. You can also attach documents or files into it as “metadata”. In SharePoint libraries, documents and files are treated as the main item instead.
    • Although lists technically allow you to store files, you won’t be able to check in and check out a file.
    • In a document library, you can publish a file or document either as a major version or a minor version. In a list, attachments are treated as major versions right away.
    • Since files and documents are the main items in a library, you can’t create an item with a file or document. But in SharePoint lists, you can create an item without the need to attach any files or documents.
    • For indexing and search, attachments in a list are not indexed. That means whenever you search for a word that’s inside a document, the system will return to you the list item instead. On the other hand, if the document or file is in a SharePoint library, the search will give you the document or file right away.

    SharePoint list or document library?

    A document library has one purpose — to store your documents and files. While it’s technically a list, it’s the right one to use for document storage.

    Both are more or less the same with so many common functionalities. But if you need to choose one, check the type of information you want to store.

    For example, if all you need is similar to a database (like keeping track of customers), then a SharePoint list is the right one to use.

    But if you need something to manage your documents, then obviously, a document library is the best one for the job.

    If you have any questions regarding lists and libraries in SharePoint, feel free to ask me in the comment section below.

    For inquiries and concerns, send me a message through my contact page and I’ll get back to you as soon as possible.

    About Ryan Clark

    As the Principal Solutions Architect at Mr. SharePoint, I help companies of all sizes better leverage Modern Workplace and Digital Process Automation investments. I am also a Microsoft Most Valued Professional (MVP) for Office Apps & Services.

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