SharePoint Start Page vs Home Site vs Hub Site vs Root Site

SharePoint Start Page vs Home Site vs Hub Site vs Root Site

With SharePoint Online comes new and awesome features. Unfortunately, many users get lost and confused especially with some new terminologies being thrown around.

One of the most common questions is the difference between the start page, home site, hub site, and root site.

In this article, I will clear out the cloud of confusion regarding these four totally different things.

Let’s get started with the first one.

What is a SharePoint start page?

The start page is basically the place that users can go to easily find and access all the SharePoint sites and portals of the company.

A sample start page

It used to be called the “home page” (now a different thing) since it’s also the same place where people can find news from the sites they follow and visit regularly.

The easiest way to access it is when you click SharePoint from the app launcher. There is also a link on the Office 365 suite bar and on the home site.

Click the SharePoint button from the app launcher to get to the start page

Basically, what you will see on the start page include:

  • Search box
  • Create a site
  • Create a new post
  • Following
  • Recent
  • Featured links
  • News from sites
  • Frequent sites
  • Suggested sites
  • Save for later

Some users even call it the “Facebook for SharePoint sites” because it’s like seeing news from your friends and network — only you see news from companies and sites you follow.

Things to know about the SharePoint start page:

  • You can’t customize the page no matter what you do. You have no control over it — like how you have no control over how Facebook’s newsfeed looks like.
  • There’s no way to customize the SharePoint link on the app launcher to point on another page or site (and not to the start page). Microsoft is getting a lot of requests about this though.
  • The start page may look somewhat different for each user (although the basic layout is still the same) since the “feed” depends on the sites each user follows (and access).
  • Many users use it as an alternative to hub navigation to browse sites. Since some tenants do not have hubs, then the start page is the only way to browse sites.

What is a SharePoint home site?

This is one of the newer features and is intended to function as something like the main site for your intranet.

A sampe home site

Its main purpose is to serve as the landing page for all users in your organization or company.

Unlike the start page that comes out of the box, you need to set a home site for your organization first.

The process involves a little use of the SharePoint Online Management Shell. You must also be the admin of the site to run the code.

Things to know about the SharePoint home site:

  • For now, you can only have one home site per tenant, though this might change in the future as Microsoft is willing to listen to scenarios that need various top-level portals.
  • A home site can also be a hub as well. Think of a home site as the older brother of a hub site.
  • There is no template for a home site — although you can use an existing communication site and convert it to a home site.
  • Different things happen to the site when you make it a home site. For example, searching from the site will give you results from the entire intranet. The home icon you see on the mobile app will also link to the home site.

What is a hub site in SharePoint?

In SharePoint, you can group various sites together that have similar characteristics, themes, or branding into hubs.

A sample hub site

Of all the sites in the hub, the hub site is treated as something like the parent site of the hub.

Using hubs in SharePoint bring about a lot of benefits, including:

  • Having a common navigation
  • Automatically aggregate news and announcements from all the sites in the hub
  • Hub-wide search
  • Application of a common SharePoint theme
  • Roll-up content with HCWP web part (highlighted content web part) within in a hub

It’s also quite easy to register a hub site. Without expounding it too much, there is a button in the SharePoint admin center where you can register a site as a hub site.

You can also associate a site with a hub the same way.

Things to know about a SharePoint hub site:

  • You can have up to 2,000 hub sites, although a hub site can only be connected to one hub at a time.
  • Even though all the sites can be associated with a hub, you can’t nest a hub within a hub.
  • There are no templates for a hub site, although any site (preferably modern sites, not classic ones) can be registered as a hub site.
  • It’s also possible to have the same site as a hub site and the root site. However, you need to modernize your root site first.

What is a SharePoint root site?

The root site is the site that gets automatically created when you created your Microsoft 365 account.

The root site is literally the root domain of your tenant

It can be easily identifiable since it’s the SharePoint site in your tenant that has the shortest URL: domain.sharepoint.com

In addition, you must never delete the root since it’s the “root site”. Meaning, all your other sites will stop functioning without the root site.

On the other hand, you can always replace it with another.

If you’re with Office 365 before 2019, the root site may look different since it might be using the classic experience.

Fortunately, it’s quite easy. You can simply go to the SharePoint admin center and replace the root site with another modern site (required).

Replace the root site from the admin center

Since the root site can be the hub site as well, you need to unregister the root site as a hub site first before you can replace it with another modern site.

Things to know about the SharePoint root site:

  • The type of SharePoint site your root site largely depends on when your environment was created. Those that created their accounts in 2019 and later have the modern communication site.
  • You can always replace the root site with another modern site.
  • The root site can also be registered as a home site and a hub site.
  • Technically speaking, it’s possible to delete the root site. But this will make all your sites in the tenant inaccessible.

Still confused?

Well, if you’re still confused, here is a shorter version of what each site is all about:

  • Start page: Comes by default and functions more like a newsfeed and a place to browser sites in the tenant for your users.
  • Home site: The main landing page of your intranet.
  • Hub site: The parent site of a hub, which refers to a group of sites in your tenant.
  • Root site: This is literally the root site of your tenant and comes out of the box.

Hopefully, things are clearer now. If you’re still confused about something, feel free to comment your question below and we’ll talk about it.

For other concerns and inquiries, you can always shoot me a message through my contact page.

About Ryan

As the Principal Solutions Architect at Mr. SharePoint, I help companies of all sizes better leverage the Modern Workplace and Digital Process Automation investments.

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