SharePoint Content types are a powerful way to ensure data and document consistency within a site collection. However, their purpose, configuration, and use are frequently misunderstood by SharePoint administrators.
Latest posts by Timothy Warner (see all)

Microsoft SharePoint 2013 is, among other things, an enterprise content management (ECM) Web platform. If your business is under industry and/or governmental compliance regulations, then it crucial for you to accurately classify data and apply appropriate security and document lifecycle policies.

It’s one thing for your users to create their content on their own computers and upload their documents to a SharePoint document library. A more efficient choice for both on-premises SharePoint and Office 365/SharePoint Online is the use of content types.

By the end of this article, you’ll understand exactly what content types are in SharePoint as well as the basics of their creation and use.

Understanding the SharePoint Content Types

Let’s say that our Human Resources (HR) department needs a better way to handle employee expense reports. At the moment employees may or may not use the most recent version of the standard expense form, and they submit the completed forms directly to their managers via e-mail, resulting in documents and messages that slip through the proverbial cracks.

Imagine how cool it would be for employees to visit a central location in their company’s SharePoint portal to gain access to all corporate HR forms. The employees can fill out the standard expense report directly in the Web browser, and all of their input is validated based upon metadata rules that exist in SharePoint.

Finally, the document’s addition to the document library kicks off an approval workflow that routes the new document to the employee’s manager and keeps all interested parties in the loop via e-mail messages.

Does this sound like an unattainable dream? Not at all. SharePoint content types represent how we can standardize content (document or list item) creation in SharePoint.

Specifically, a content type consists of some or all of the following elements:

  • A template
  • Metadata columns, including access to Managed Metadata Service (MMS) term sets
  • Workflow(s)
  • Information Management Policy (auditing, retention, barcodes)

Creating a new Content Type

Site collection administrators can create a new content type by visiting the site content type gallery within the top-level site in a site collection. Go to Site Settings, and click Site content types from the Web Designer Galleries section.

The Site Content Types page displays all the content types that are built into your site template. Click Create to build a brand-new content type.

As you can see in Figure 1, we need to provide a name and a description for the new content type. Be descriptive here, because these fields are what users see when they open the New Item menu in a list or document library.

Creating a new content type in SharePoint Server 2013

Creating a new content type in SharePoint Server 2013

The other important point here is that new content types are always inherited from an existing content type. When I build document content types like the expense report example I told you about earlier, I inherit from the native Document type.

By default, new content types (and metadata columns, for that matter) are placed in a Custom Types container, which makes it easier to see your new stuff in the future.

Now the fun stuff beings. In the resultant Site Content Type dialog, you can perform the following core actions to “dress up” your new content type:

  • Upload a document template
  • Create new metadata columns, or upload existing ones (you can customize their order, too)
  • Associate a workflow with the content type
  • Link an Information Management Policy

Once your content type exists in the site collection’s gallery, it is available for use in any list or library throughout that site collection. We’ll cover how to make your content types available to other site collections in your farm later on in this article.

Our next step is to add the new content type to a target list or library. Open the target (in my case it’s a document library), open the Ribbon, navigate to the Library tab, and click Library Settings from the Settings group.

By default, content type customization is disabled in SharePoint lists and libraries. To correct this, open Advanced Settings and enable the option Allow management of content types.

You’ll now see the Content Types section in the list or library’s Settings page. Click Add from existing site content types, browse to find your new content type, and add it in.

Customizing a new content type

Customizing a new content type

Before you close the list or library Settings dialog, make sure to tweak up the available metadata columns and the default view.

At this point your new content type is ready for use!

Using the new Content Type

As shown in below, a user can access a custom content type by clicking the Files Ribbon tab and opening the New Document menu.

Using a content type in a SharePoint 2013 document library

Using a content type in a SharePoint 2013 document library

Depending upon the metadata requirements in force both in the content type as well as the underlying list or library, the user may be prompted to fill out those fields.

Item metadata is a strong ECM feature in Microsoft SharePoint

Item metadata is a strong ECM feature in Microsoft SharePoint

As you can see in the screenshot below, if you are fortunate enough to have Office Web Apps available (built into Office 365, but a separate license for SharePoint 2013 on premises), the user can complete and submit the document directly from their Web browser.

Office Web Apps gives us browser-based access to Microsoft Office documents

Office Web Apps gives us browser-based access to Microsoft Office documents; this comes in especially handy when dealing with SharePoint content types.

Publishing Content Types

As I said earlier, your custom content types will be “trapped” within a single site collection unless and until you (a) deploy the Managed Metadata Service (MMS) service application; and (b) enable the content type hub. Here’s the general workflow:

  1. Nominate a site collection to serve as the content type hub in the MMS service application properties; this is the site collection that contains your custom content types.
  2. Enable the Content Type Syndication Hub feature in hub site collection settings.
  3. From the hub site collection, open the properties of each custom content type that you want to publish and Click Manage publishing for this content type. Ensure that the content type publishing setting is Publish.
  4. From each additional site collection from which you want to consume hub content types, make sure that (a) the parent Web application is linked to the appropriate MMS service application instance; and (b) the site collection settings list the content type hub on the Content Type Publishing Hubs page.

You should now see the published custom content types in the content type galleries in the farm’s additional site collections.

None of this stuff is easy, I’m afraid. Sure, once you’ve done it a dozen or more times, the process makes sense. That said, learning SharePoint is blistering difficult for most Windows administrators because there are so many “moving parts.”

  1. Matthew 9 years ago

    I have to say this is a fantastic write up. For anyone that hasn’t done this before, it’ll be invaluable.

    One minor critique:
    “Enable the Content Type Syndication Hub feature in hub site collection
    settings.” ~ this is done via Central Admin and it’s a part of the web application settings. One suggestion I have would be to add screenshots of the configuration for this piece because it is a bit convoluted to find.


  2. Hi Matthew, thanks for the compliment! I will put in a correction to this article ASAP. Thanks for your sharp eyes. One of the many reasons why I prefer online material to print books is that content can be corrected instantly. Thanks, Tim

  3. Whoops–on further reflection, I don’t think we need a correction here. If you (1) go to Site Settings in the top-level site in your site collection, and (2) click Site Collection Features, then you’ll see the Content Type Hub feature.

    Of course, you do have to have this feature available to the SC in the first place, which is done in Central Administration.


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