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SharePoint 2010 List Types

SharePoint 2010 provides many kinds of lists that you can use to track information. A list is similar to an Excel spreadsheet or a table in Access database. Unlike a spreadsheet that is blank when you first create it, SharePoint provides several predefined lists. These lists have columns and forms that make it possible for you to track everything from contacts to tasks.

SharePoint provides three basic kinds of lists:

  • Communications lists are used to track announcements, contacts, and discussion boards.

  • Tracking lists are used to track information such as links, calendars, tasks, issues, and surveys.

  • Custom lists provide a starting template that you can build on to create a list with the exact columns you need.

The types of lists you can create with SharePoint 2010 depend on the product edition that your company has installed. You may have more or fewer options.

Libraries are a special kind of SharePoint list. They’re a list that is used to store files in addition to tracking items. The items that you track in a library are the files themselves. Everything you know about lists also applies to libraries.

Determining which type of SharePoint list to use can be confusing at first. Do you need a Contact list or a custom list? Although all lists perform the same basic function of tracking information, some lists offer additional columns or menu commands that are unique to that kind of list.

Some people always start with a custom list because they figure they know exactly what they want their list to look like. However, with that approach, you never get an understanding of the features and limitations of the other list types. Don’t be afraid to create lists, use them for a while, and then discard them. This process is prototyping, and professionals do it all the time. There’s no one “right” list.

All the lists in SharePoint 2010 use the Ribbon to display access to all list commands.

The following table is a comparison of some of the SharePoint list types. This is by no means an exhaustive list. The list types in the table appear in the same order they are shown when you create a new list.

Comparison of SharePoint’s List Types
Type of List When to Use It What Makes It Special
Announcements To display brief announcements on your site’s home page. You can enter expiration dates for announcements.
Contacts To track contacts, especially if you want to use Outlook for data entry. You can remove columns that you don’t need.
Discussion Board To create a discussion forum where people can post messages and reply to them. Evaluate third-party add-ons if you want a robust discussion forum.
Links To track hyperlinks. Uses a Hyperlink column that automatically formats entered text as HTML anchor links.
Calendar To track calendar items. Can synchronize with Outlook and knows how to handle recurring events.
Tasks To track tasks. Can synchronize with Outlook; Tasks lists can be grouped with summary tasks.
Project Tasks To track work items for a project. Can display as a Gantt chart. Many people consider this SharePoint’s Project Lite offering.
Issue Tracking To track trouble tickets. Works well with issues that have three states — open, closed, and resolved.
Survey To take a poll. Allows you to create a set of questions that users must walk through.
Custom To create a list with columns that you define. Allows you to create a list specific to your content and can for example act on certain content in special ways.
KPI (Key Performance Indicator) To display graphical status indicators. Lets you evaluate selected business data against specified goals and display that information in various formats such as scorecards and dashboards.
Import Spreadsheet To create a list based on an existing spreadsheet. Lets you use an existing Excel spreadsheet as the basis of the list; can help avoid rework and repeated effort entering data.
External To create a list based on a data source outside SharePoint. Lets you display data from other (non-SharePoint) databases or web services.

The lists are intended primarily for tracking information for a team, such as a department calendar or a project issues log. The lists here just scratch the surface of what you can do with lists in SharePoint. Lists can be used similar to how tables are used in databases to store the data for an application.

Although lists have columns and rows like a database table, they aren’t database tables. In fact, the lists from your team site are stored in a single table in SharePoint’s content database.

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