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Choosing Between Lists and Libraries in SharePoint Online

SharePoint Online is a powerful platform that enables organizations to collaborate and manage content efficiently.

Within SharePoint, two fundamental components for managing data and documents are SharePoint Lists and SharePoint Document Libraries.

While both serve essential roles, it’s crucial to understand their differences, applications, and when to use one over the other.

In this blog post I will clarify the distinctions between SharePoint Lists and SharePoint Document Libraries, helping you understand when to effectively utilize each of these tools.

SharePoint Lists

Let’s begin first with SharePoint Lists. They are versatile tools for storing and managing structured data. They are often used to create, manage, and organize information in a tabular format. When you encounter the term ‘library’ in SharePoint, it typically refers to a ‘document library.’

A document library is the designated place for storing your documents within SharePoint. Once you create a SharePoint site, the initial document library is automatically included.

You just have the option to create multiple document libraries within the site. Visualize it as a digital filing cabinet that offers you an efficient way to organize your files and folders.

sharepoint list

From a Teams standpoint, the process remains consistent. When you establish a Team in Microsoft Teams, it concurrently generates a SharePoint site complete with a document library (referred to as ‘Documents’) for storing the documents used within Teams.

When you access the ‘Files’ tab within Teams, you are essentially navigating within the channel folder located inside the document library associated with the site.

SharePoint Lists

Lists are designed for managing non-document data, similar to the kind of information often stored in Excel. This includes items like project lists, checklists, issue tracking, risk management, contact databases, client records, and more. If you’re curious about the advantages of using Lists over Excel, read on.

Much like Document Libraries is a part of a SharePoint site, so are lists. However, unlike document libraries, no default list is automatically generated when you create a site; you must create them manually.

Where should I store documents?

While the solutions might seem apparent – in a document library, it’s worth noting that lists also offer the option to store documents through the attachment feature on a list item. However, these attachments lack the usual document management features found in a document library, such as version history and check-in/check-out. If you require these capabilities, it’s advisable to store your documents within the document library.

OneDrive vs. Lists Applications

When working with lists and libraries, you’ll have a central portal for accessing each content type. OneDrive for Business provides access to personal documents and document libraries from different sites, while Lists allows you to access both personal lists and lists created across multiple sites.


In conclusion, SharePoint Lists and SharePoint Document Libraries are essential components of SharePoint Online, each with its unique set of features and applications.

The choice of whether to use Lists or Document Libraries depends on your specific needs and the type of content you’re managing. 

Additionally, OneDrive and Lists Applications can be integrated to create powerful solutions that make the most of both structured data and unstructured content, enhancing collaboration and document management in SharePoint Online.

Understanding the strengths and purposes of each component will help organizations make informed decisions about where to store their data and documents in SharePoint Online.

Happy Reading!