Customizing and Managing Your SharePoint Document Libraries

SharePoint Document Libraries offer many features, from security settings to document naming structures to searchability and naming conventions.

By Cathy Dew

(This post was originally published on June 28, 2016 and has been revised and updated.)

In the first blog post in this series, we looked at the basic building blocks of organizing documents within SharePoint document libraries. Specifically, the post discusses the different methods SharePoint provides for categorizing your documents within your document libraries by intelligently using folders, metadata, and content types. We explained the advantages and disadvantages of each organizational feature, how they could be utilized together to a sum greater than their parts, and talked about which types of users or groups might benefit most from each type. 

Now that you have good idea on how to start organizing your SharePoint document libraries, it's time to zoom in and take a closer look at a few of the other features that the document library offers. From security settings to document versioning to document naming, there are a lot of little details and nuances that go into using and customizing your SharePoint document libraries. Mastering these three elements will help you to organize your files and data in SharePoint with greater ease, efficiency, and peace of mind.

Looking for more complex SharePoint Document Management articles? Go here:

SharePoint is the Document Library expert. To learn the fundamentals, check out our topic page "SharePoint Document Libraries: The very heart of the SharePoint experience."

A Word on SharePoint Document Library Security

The first customization feature you will want to address with your SharePoint document library is security. SharePoint offers a relatively easy-to-configure permissions system for libraries. With it, you can dictate which users have access to different libraries, folders, lists, or items. You can also use permissions to designate certain documents as "View Only," to prevent unapproved updates. SharePoint makes this entire process fairly seamless, allowing site managers to view lists of users associated with different libraries, folders, or other "securable objects," as Microsoft calls them. In these lists, you can see who has access to the securable object in question, as well as what their permission level is. Click here to read Microsoft's guide on how to configure permissions.

The one very important element of SharePoint's document library permissions that many tend to find confusing is the idea of inheritance. The default settings of SharePoint's document library are configured so that "all sites, lists, and libraries in a site collection inherit permissions settings from the site that is directly above them in the site hierarchy." In other words, a folder featured in a library by default would have the same permissions settings as the library itself. The folder would "inherit" those settings. In turn, the library itself is likely inheriting settings from the site collection, site, or subsite of which it is a part.

If you have a folder in your library that you don't want everyone with access to the library to be able to see, you can break permissions. This action breaks the chain of inheritance and allows you to personalize permissions for different folders (and via inherence, their documents). However, breaking permissions repeatedly can create an administrative nightmare where no one knows what they have access to or why. Also, the process of breaking permissions itself takes time and work, so it's only worth doing for folders or libraries that demand the higher level of security.

Breaking permissions also comes with a cost of higher CPU utilization as SharePoint calculates permissions with each page or document request. On high traffic document libraries, you will see a very high performance hit the more times your break permissions within the parental chain.

This performance cost is even more important when building customized permissions within SharePoint Online. If SharePoint decides that calculating permissions is too costly, it will shunt the calculation to lower in the processing queue and performance / response time of your SharePoint Online site will degrade rapidly, frustrating your users and your SharePoint site owners.

Document Versioning

Unless you are providing read-only document libraries for your site members, the built-in document versioning is critical to supporting updates and modifications to your documents. At minimum you will want to turn on the Major Versioning. This will retain previous copies of each file as they are updated. Without Major versioning enabled, you have no recovery path for a document when a new copy of your document is uploaded replacing a prevision version.

If your documents are undergoing updates via multiple users, you should look into activating the Major/Minor versioning along with enabling Check-in/Check-out. These two features in combination will assist your collaborative development process by ensuring the integrity of your documents as they undergo multiple revisions from multiple people. Check-in/Check-out requires you to train your document managers how to effectively use the Check-in/Check-out process but you will see a large ROI with an increase in document quality and reduction in data loss. Lastly, when using the Major/Minor versioning the last Major version published will be available to your document library visitors while the current document is undergoing revisions. And as soon as the latest minor version is published the new Major version is immediately available to your user base.

The Check-in/Check-out process is also very important when you decide to utilize the Record Declaration features of SharePoint. If your user base is comfortable with the Check-in/Check-out procedures, stepping up to actual Records Management will be much simpler.

Document Naming Conventions

If you are using metadata to organize the files within your library, the actual names of your documents may seem less important. However, choosing a smart and consistent naming structure can still drastically simplify the process of finding or using documents within your SharePoint library.

File naming conventions can generate a ton of digital ink and start File Management Religious wars, so we’ll just cover a few rules to remember when you go about designing a naming system for your documents.

Stay tuned for the third and final part of our blog series about managing your SharePoint document library. The final part of the series will include details about how to set up custom views for your library, how to create workflows for archiving older documents, and the pros and cons of both manual and automated workflows.


In the meantime, get an intro to organizing your SharePoint Document Library with folders and metadata.

  • Don't Use Long Names: Long filenames might seem more descriptive, but they are harder to remember for a search. Worse, SharePoint creates URLs for documents based on filenames, so longer files mean comically long links. SharePoint will also fill in spaces with %20, the encoded symbol for space (since there spaces are not allowed in URLs), so long filenames can yield URLs that are extremely and irritatingly difficult to read. More importantly, SharePoint has a limit to the URL constructed for linked to documents. Using long file names in combination with long folder names will hit this limit sooner and create frustrations with your user base. (OneDrive Sync also will not copy down files with URLs that are even shorter than the max SharePoint URL length, so it behooves you to keep the URL as short as possible.)
  • Don't use special characters in your file names: Like spaces, special characters like parentheses, square brackets, hashtag, etc. need to be converted in order to be utilized in the browser URL. Usage of special characters will impact the final URL length constructed by SharePoint and also potentially break access to the file. While SharePoint does a good job of protecting you from entering special characters that might be dangerous, it's best to avoid all special characters when possible.
  • Use Acronyms, Abbreviations, and Numbers: To keep things short with your file names, you aren't going to be able to be as descriptive as you might like—at least not with words. That's why it's good to use acronyms, abbreviations, and numbers to keep things descriptive. Look at the information you included in the file metadata. You likely tagged the document based on file category ("Invoice," "Article," etc.), client name, and/or date. Start by including shortened versions of those details in your filename. "Invoice" and "article" can abbreviate to INV or ART while the client name can either be a last name, part of the brand name, or an acronym of the company name. Finally, you can cut dates down easily, either using a hybrid of letters and numbers or a completely numerical code. (November 20, 2017, can become 20Nov17 or 20171120.) Finally, you could separate each part of the name (document type, client, and date) with dashes or underscores.
  • Be Consistent: The naming conventions discussed in the previous bullet point might seem somewhat obtuse, but they provide each document with a unique filename that is easy to translate if you are familiar with the format. As such, it is essential that you be consistent with the format across the board. Know that the document category comes first, followed by the client name and then the date (or whatever convention and order you choose). The goal is to create short filenames that anyone in your organization can use to derive several points of meaning. Having those multiple points of meaning is especially important if you ever need to import documents out of SharePoint and away from their corresponding metadata.
  • Use Title: There is a file name, and a document title. By default, the document title is blank when you upload a new document. Use this field to put in a more verbose document name information. Like the document name, the document title is an auto indexed and searchable field. It’s a cost-free location to put more searchable information about a document that will be displayed to the user when viewing Document Lists from your library and via search. But again, follow bullet #4, be consistent.
  • As always, your comments and contributions are appreciated. Please scroll down to Comments below and share your comments with us. Should you have a question please schedule a free consultation or call us at (510) 652-7700.


Cathy Dew
Cathy Dew – CEO + Information Architect
Cathy focuses the company on our mission – Real results. Every time. Information architect and strategist, Cathy is passionate about making software work well – the function, the feel, the result.
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