Document Sets 101 (Part 1 of 2)

What is a document set?

Document sets are a great way to group files that are related to each other in a way that gives you much more power and versatility than a simple folder structure. For those who have never worked with document sets before, here is a brief explanation in Microsoft's own words:

A Document Set is a group of related documents that you can manage as a single entity. You can create a Document Set in a single step, and then define its characteristics and metadata. You can then manage the set as a single entity.

Contrary to popular belief, a document set is not a special type of document library! It is, in fact, a content type that you set up that inherits from the type folder. However, it is important to bare in mind that there are a few key differences between document sets and folders within a document library. With a document set, you get to create as many columns as you see fit, (any of which can be managed metadata) letting you build each document set in a way that really suits that particular area of your business.

A document set gives you many more options in terms of metadata, allowing you to sort, filter and manipulate your documents in a way that a folder never could! The document library containing your document sets can be configured with multiple views of your data, making them more interesting than a flat folder structure.

Furthermore, you also get something unique to document sets called a welcome page! It's similar to other site pages, in that you can add web-parts, an image, some descriptive text and a place to display properties right front and center. However, this is something that really sets it apart from just a simple folder.

When Should I use it?

Like our friends at Microsoft put so succinctly, a document set allows you to group related documents and manage them as a single entity. If you have a business processes that requires multiple documents that are related to each other and want to store them together, the most common approach would be to put each of the related documents into a folder. This would meet the most basic business needs, in that you would have all of your documents grouped together, but with a document set, you get so much more! If the same documents where grouped together as a document set you could also use:

  • Custom Columns
  • Custom views based on who is consuming the data
  • Shared properties
  • A customizable Welcome page
  • The document content type you make is reusable across your tenant

Folders greatly limit what you can do with your files. If you set up a complex folder structure for one document library, you would have to manually repeat the process anywhere you would like it reused. Because a document set is a content type, you only need to set it up once then simply add it to any other document library you wish.

Furthermore, you can create views for different types of consumers to view the document sets in the library. With a folder structure, you get no such thing. Finally, a document set gives you shared properties! When you set up your content type, you can select certain properties that all documents that are added to the document will be tagged with. This is especially useful because it saves users the hassle of tagging different items themselves. By being sure that all the documents have the right metadata, you have already greatly increased the overall findability of your files!

But, like the old saying goes, a demo is worth a thousand words! Stay tuned for part 2 and I'll walk you through a demo of how to implement a document set!


James is a consultant and junior developer that is extremely motivated and excited to deliver real business value to clients through both coded and “Out of the Box” solutions.

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Document Sets 101 (Part 1 of 2)
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