Understand Content Types in SharePoint 2010
What are content types?
There is something called a content type in SharePoint and you will care about these but you may not know that yet. In fact, you already care about the situation this is designed to fix. Let's say your colleague walks over to you and says, hey I just e-mailed you a Word document. Your first thought is okay, what is it? And if your colleague says to you "well, I just told you it's a Word document," you're liable to get a little annoyed. "I know it's a document. I heard you. What kind of document, what actually is it?" Now SharePoint has the same problem when you're uploading things into SharePoint what you are you uploading. I am uploading documents, and yes here's the deal.
At the simplest most abstract level SharePoint is a place to put your stuff. Its list and its libraries hold that information and they hold your documents, easy enough, but you don't think about your stuff this way. You don't deal with documents. You deal with resumes, specifications, and business plans, and expense forms, even simple things like menus. Now you can fix the situation of going from a generic to the specific by defining content types in the SharePoint. Now the question might be well why would you? Well, because you can treat them differently.
You can control workflow on content types, auditing, expiration, all of these behind-the-scenes great capabilities of SharePoint can be based on the content type, because after all if you have a document representing the menu for Friday at the canteen, the lifetime of that document and the way it should be treated is completely different from how you would deal with a document representing your company's tax records for last year. So we define content types. Now, content types are not the same as file types.
In fact one file type could be multiple content types. You could have a Word document that represents a resume or a legal contract or a business plan or policy document or patient record, so one file type could be multiple content types. But that's not the only relationship. In fact the other way around is also true. Yes a Word document could be a business plan but if you have business plan documents they don't have to be Word documents. After all, a business plan document could be a Word document. It could be in Excel representing projections.
It could be in PowerPoint. It could be OneNote information. So really the relationship between a file type and a content type is different. Your content type is all about the extra information you need to know. Now you might be thinking "well, this all sounds a little bit vague and abstract, so maybe I'll just avoid them, maybe I won't work with them." Well, you can't. You're already using content types. If you've ever uploaded anything into SharePoint, you're using a content type. Now unless you say otherwise, everything that you upload into a document library is the content type of document. Very generic.
It really means an attached file with a title on it. You can add a little bit of extra information in a particular library, but it's much more powerful to define a content type. So rather than just having generic documents, with a little bit of work what you can have is content types that represent resumes or content types that represent products or content types to represent expense claims or even articles and press releases, so that these documents can be treated differently and can have extra information.
Okay, but how do you do this? Well, really a content type is not all that complex. It's all about the metadata. It's all about the extra information that you need. So instead of just uploading a document, you still upload the document but if you're uploading, say, product information, you want to also have a product sku and category and a price and an image, or if you're uploading a legal document, it might have a status code and a date received and an attached lawyer, and defining that extra information it's almost like taking your Word documents or Excel spreadsheets and attaching labels to them, attaching that extra information, so you can track them as you move through your system.
Content types should be done as early as possible. They are one of the things that really reward you during this early in the lifetime of SharePoint as early as you can. But as we go on into more advanced features of SharePoint, they all become more and more useful, and we are going to see exactly how to create them.
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