What You Need to Know about Modern SharePoint Document Libraries

The UI is the biggest change you’ll notice in the modern version of the SharePoint document library.

By Cathy Dew

In June 2016, Microsoft rolled out a new version of the SharePoint document library to all Office 365 and SharePoint Online customers. These so-called “modern” SharePoint libraries and lists tweak the user interface and experience in a few important ways. In this article, we’ll look at the key elements of the new SharePoint document libraries, as well as what they mean for your business.

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."

Through the Modern UI Lens

The user interface is the biggest change you’ll notice when you switch to the modern version of the SharePoint document library. Microsoft has replaced the old ribbon with a new command bar, which provides simple and actionable commands that you can use to open, share, link, download, delete, or otherwise manage different files stored in your SharePoint libraries. If you already customized the ribbon for your SharePoint library, though, those custom buttons will not directly transfer over to the new command bar.

There are also a few other features designed to make using SharePoint for document management that much easier. These UI features include a quick search function, a document “pinning” function (which lets you keep files of interest right at the top of your library), and a feature that allows you link to files in other libraries or sites without having to import and duplicate them entirely.

SharePoint lists have changed as well. The modern list UI includes a “Quick Edit” function, which allows for bulk editing of list data. It also allows for quicker adding of columns, in-place data filtering and grouping, integration of rich data types (such as images and managed metadata tags), and more. Modern lists are also designed to look and function better on mobile devices than classic lists do.

Activating the Modern UI

At this point, your SharePoint site should have automatically switched over to the new modern UI for libraries and lists. If you would like to go back to the classic UI for your lists and libraries (or if your list or library didn’t switch over to the modern UI and you want to give the new interface a try), switching the user experience is easy.

To change your library or list experience, just navigate to the SharePoint library or list in question, click “Library settings” (or “List settings”) and then click “Advanced settings.” Finally, scroll down to “List experience.” Here, you will be able to select either the “New experience” (for the modern UI) or the “Classic experience (to go back to the way things used to be).

Differences between Classic and Modern

Microsoft intends for the modern library and list interfaces to provide a wholesale improvement for anyone using SharePoint for document management. The company says the new UI is faster, simpler to navigate, and easy to use—especially on mobile devices. However, there are still some features in the classic interface that either haven't been added to the modern UI yet or are unlikely to make the transfer at all.

The biggest of these features is the ribbon. As we’ve already discussed above, the ribbon has been phased out in favor of a simple command bar. Some ribbon features—such as popularity trends, RSS feed, and the “Connect to Office” button—are gone. Microsoft has also phased out certain features for navigation (tree view), customization (SharePoint Server Publishing), and library viewing (certain custom styles). Microsoft has provided a full list of classic UI features that haven’t made the jump to the modern experience.

Adding Columns on the Fly

One of the coolest features of the modern SharePoint library and list interfaces is the ability to add columns on the fly. When viewing a list, all you need to do to add a new column is click the + button the right-hand side of the screen. From there, you’ll be able to configure a new column in seconds—much faster than was possible with the classic interface.

Changing Filters

Another thing you can do quickly with the modern UI is to activate filters to tweak your view of the library or list items. On-the-fly filtering lets you quickly filter out files or list items that don’t fit your search criteria, making it that much easier to navigate your SharePoint document library or list. 

To activate filtering, just click the funnel icon at the top right corner of your list or library. This action will bring up a window where you can filter items by date modified, people, or file type. 

Editing Properties

Quick Edit is bound to be one of the most useful features offered by SharePoint’s new modern user interface. Instead of having to assign or edit metadata manually for each SharePoint document, Quick Edit lets you pull up a grid or spreadsheet view of every document currently visible in a library. From there, you can do bulk metadata edits, which in conjunction with views, makes document management a lot easier. You will see the Quick Edit button on the command bar for your document library, to the right of the Sync button.

Built on SharePoint Framework

All of the Modern UI features are built on the new SharePoint Framework (SPFx) , which means that all of the tools MS has built and integrated with the Modern UI are available for your SharePoint Developer to leverage and extend. With SPFx, Microsoft has finally taken down the barrier between their internal development team and your developers, exposing all the APIs, end points, and JavaScript tools they use to design the Modern UI interface. 

Acquaint Yourself with the New Modern UI SharePoint Document Library Features

Discover which version of user interfaces best fits your prefernce. Explore our blog to see what both Modern and Classic UI can do for you.

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

If you need help switching your SharePoint libraries over to modern UI, or require some assistance getting a handle on the new interface and its features, 2Plus2 can lend a hand. Go online to schedule a free consultation with our team or call 510-652-7700 today.

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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