How SharePoint views work

Matt Wade
Matt Wade
Nov 29, 2019 · 6 min read

Now that we’ve talked about metadata, we can get into the next step, which is one of the best features SharePoint has to offer: views.

SharePoint document libraries and lists give you the ability to filter, sort, and group files and items so you only see the stuff you want to see, how you want to see it.

What makes it all significantly better is the ability to save the way you filtered, sorted, and/or grouped your info into what’s called a view.

Views require metadata. You can use the metadata that comes with a library/list and you can use custom categories and tags that you implement in your library/list. The latter is basically categories relevant to your organization; branch office, department, document type, review status, and similar concepts are common uses.

Although you can create views in lists just as easily as in libraries, I’m going to stick with libraries for this post since that’s usually the most relevant to the everyday SharePointer.

Playing with the default view

A brand-new document library will automatically sort its files alphanumerically by the Name field (note: not the Title), 1–0 and then A-Z. You don’t have to do anything for that to happen.

But if you want to sort by, say, the modified date — placing the most recently edited files nearest the top since they’re likely more relevant than other files — you can do that with two clicks, as shown below.

So, if you sorted the files like shown above, congrats! You basically made a view! But… it’s only temporary. The next time you load the page, it will once again display the files alphanumerically by the Name field.

Let’s say you want the library to always load with the files sorted with the most recently edited on top. Or, let’s say you made lots of sorting and filtering options that take time to reproduce every time you go to the library.

You can do that by saving the setup as a new view. Call it, say, “Recently edited”. Let’s try that.

Create a view with “Save this view”

The simplest way to make a view is to sort and filter the available columns in the library the way you want them. You’ll notice once you make any change in how the files are displayed, you’ll gain the option to “save this view” or “save view” depending on which document library experience you’re using. Click that link.

If you’re a Site Owner, you have the option to make this view a public view or personal view.

If you’re not a Site Owner, you’re not able to make it a public view. The difference:

  • Public view: Everyone who has access to the library can bring up a public view. This is useful if your team likes to have quick access to files based on various views. Making these views easy to find as opposed to making your colleagues sort and filter makes their lives easier. Consider asking your team mates if they have views they prefer and give a couple example views to show them how it works and spark some creativity. They’ll probably like the option and ask for others. Public views can only be created by a Site Owner.
  • Personal view: Only the person who creates the personal view will be able to see it (hence the name). This is handy when you have specific views that are applicable to you, but nobody else. You want quick access to the view, but you don’t want to add extraneous views that get in everyone else’s way. These are especially useful when you create a “My documents” view. Personal views can be created by anyone with read access to a library, but are only visible to the person who created that view.

Creating a complex view

The downside to a brand-new library is the lack of columns it shows you in the default “All Documents” view. Libraries actually come with some 20+ columns that SharePoint records information about (and you can take advantage of). But it only shows you four to start.

There are a bunch of other ones that you can be using to sort, filter, and group by. And that doesn’t even count any custom columns that you’ve created (tags, metadata, whatever you’d like to call them).

Using these columns can make for significantly faster and more efficient use of your library when trying to find the right files.

Accessing views

Views are easy to find, though they kind of hide in plain sight. All of the views available in a library can be seen in either of the two places shown below for SharePoint 2013, 2016, and the classic document library view in SharePoint Online; and you can see views in one place in the modern document library experience. Screen shots are below.

The two locations in the classic document library experience are:

  1. In the library: Right below the library name, above the first file that gets displayed is a listing of the most recently accessed views. The library usually only displays three views, max, and you have to click the ellipses (⋯) to see the complete list.
  2. In the ribbon: When in doubt, check the ribbon. If you select the Library tab and point to the “Views” section, there’s a drop-down menu that will let you switch between the available views.

While it can be tempting to have a lot of views, you’re probably already seeing the potential for this list to get long. As the list gets longer, it’s harder to find the right view. And that kind of defeats the point of views saving time.

Sometimes it’s quicker to sort/filter an already-existing view than to add another view to the list, just to minimize the clutter.

Sharing views

Views are useful because they not only help organize information, but they’re easy to reference. Each view is actually its own page representing the library or list in its own way.

Continuing the example of a new document library, the default view is called “All Documents” and the URL for this view always ends with …/[Library Name]/Forms/AllItems.aspx. However, if you went with the view called “Recently edited”, it would likely have a URL that looks like …/[Library Name]/Forms/RecentlyEdited.aspx.

You can easily grab the URL from the address bar, copy it, then paste it in an email or Teams message to point a colleague to that view of the library so they only see the files you want to show them. You can also make this a tab in Teams using the Website or SharePoint connector, which means one-click access from your favorite Channel to your favorite view of this SharePoint list.

Conclusion

Views are probably one of the most powerful aspects of SharePoint. They make your content findable. Maybe not searchable (accessed through a search engine), but findable using skimming methods.

They’re also approachable: anyone can create them as long as they have access to the library, and you can create many different variations, both public and private.

Views are a topic on their own and this post is the first in a series on how to use them, how to create them, and the business cases for why you should consider them.

Next up, try creating a My Documents view to filter out files that aren’t relevant to the person who’s looking at the library. This simple view removes files not edited or created by the viewer and packs a punch in efficiency.

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