Flat Document Libraries vs Folders


We are in the process of migrating from local shared drives to the online SharePoint Document Libraries. A lot of discussions are about should we create folder structure in the Document Library or not. People are little bit not conformable with the idea of having all the files (~6000 files) within the same flat Document Library. I want to make an informed decision,  so please share your experience on this topic. Also really appreciate if you could share links to the resources were these question is discussed. Thanks.  

3 Replies

Jahongir...always use metadata where possible and NOT folders.  The only reason I use a folder is for specific use cases where I need that level of security.  Some strategies that I use are:


  1. People have been working with folders as a way to organize their information forever.  They can't find anything and duplicates are everywhere.  
  2. Setup a working example of how using metadata is more advantageous.  I use an invoice document library.  It demonstrates the possibilities of having multiple search scenarios.
  3. Make sure you setup your information architecture with content types so you can use Search and Refiners to further find information.
  4. When trying to define metadata, use the folder structure they have and file naming convention as a starting place.  Users will understand this because they created it, plus it demonstrates how to better find what they are looking for in ways they have never had in the past.

As I lead users requirements sessions always consider security and how they will find the information.  This will drive the metadata discussion.  You'll need to do a lot of hand holding initially until users understand it, but once they do they won't turn back.


Hopefully this helps.



It's all about balance but first off I want to mention that SharePoint has a default limit of 5000 view threshold.  This means that the entire view won't render if that view loads 5,000 items or more.  If you are on-premises you can raise this limit but if you are moving to SharePoint Online you can't.  If you are starting with 6,000 files, that will inevitably grow and you need to account for this.  


Yes, I certainly agree to use fewer folders and metadata, but its a balance.  Folders do have their place.  You can't sort and filter by a folder, but you can set permissions and views by a folder.  Think about the file lifecycle, are all 6,000 files ACTIVE, should there be an archive, etc.  Sometimes, you create additional document libraries due to security reasons or to separate an archive.  Folders are also used as an index in the library so this overcomes the 5,000 view limit and how a single library can support millions of files.  I try to limit subfolders to 2 levels deep where possible.


Also, a tip when you do use folders is to show the child items and child folders columns so users will know at a glance if that folder has anything in it.  This avoids the whole hunt and peck process. 

Sorry about being late to the party, by three years; but I am doing some research to explain to users why they need to not continually break inheritance on folders, within folders, within folders, just to allow a particular set of users access to a set of files. (ya, I'm not joking) The top level site has reached the point where it is reaching its list view max of 5000.

One site collection has 15 sub-sites within their top level site collection. This is inline with their department and team structure. Rather than continually breaking inheritance, I've encouraged them to create a new Library for documents that require specific permissions. One fear would be that they start creating multiple Libraries that get lost in the clutter - as you spoke to above.

These users think of SharePoint as they think of a file share. Can you advise a way to help the users organize their documents into more managed structure?

Our standard is to use AD groups assigned to SharePoint groups to assign permissions; however, this site was create over a decade ago when there was no standard. Users are assigned through out. I just migrated the farm from SP 2010 to SP2019 last summer. I plan to build them a new Site with sub-site with our current standard.