SharePoint Back To Basics: Common SharePoint Terms

This is the first in a series of posts meant to cover some of the SharePoint basics (as the title implies.) Specifically, this post will list out some of the more common SharePoint terms, which are naturally more than I am able/willing to write about in one sitting. I will start out with a few and continue adding to the list of as time allows. Feel free to make any suggestions.

  1. SharePoint Farm (SPFarm) – In its simplest form, a SharePoint farm refers to series of servers running SharePoint Services which share a common configuration database, combined with any other servers which play a critical role in the configuration; such as the configuration and content database server(s) and mail server(s).

  2. Web Application (SPWebApplication) – An IIS web site configured in SharePoint to provide content or services such as InfoPath Forms Services, Excel Calculation Services, and Workflows.

  3. Site Collection (SPSite) – Most people refer to a site collection as a top level site. From a programmers point of view, a site collection is not really a site at all, in that it doesn’t contain most of the methods or properties that you would typically find in the object that represents a site (SPWeb). The “top level site” also referred to as the “root site” is simply another site in the site collection. That being said a site collection is more than just a collection of sites, it contains a number of configuration settings that apply to all the sites in it; such as recycle bin settings, site collection features, quotas, locks, self service site creation settings, search settings, and many more.

    Note: There is an object in the SharePoint API, called SPSiteCollection. This object does not represent a site collection per se. It is actually a collection of “site collections” or SPSite objects, and generally used to retrieve the site collection that are available for any given web application.

  4. Site or Web (SPWeb) – In its simplest form a site is a collection of pages, lists, libraries and related settings. It is where the bulk of the action takes place. If you are a programmer, this is the object that you will interact with the most. If you are a user, basically everything you work with in SharePoint is contained in a site. Per the MSDN: A Web site hosted in a virtual URL. A SharePoint site is a place for collaboration, communication, or content storage. Depending on your business needs, you can create sites such as team sites, blog sites, wiki sites, and others. You can customize a site’s appearance, users, user permissions, galleries, and site administration by using the Site Settings administration pages.

  5. List (SPList) – In SharePoint a list is a container of information or data structure organized in 2 dimensions; rows and columns. In which each row represents an individual record (SPItem) and each column (SPField) represents a specific attribute value of that record.

  6. Features (SPFeatureDefinition)- SharePoint Features are a mechanism for defining and delivering functional elements within SharePoint. Features can be developed to enhance or extend functionality in sites, site collections, web applications, or even the farm as a whole. For more detailed information see (http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/magazine/cc163428.aspx)

  7. Site Definitions – A Site Definition consists of a series of files that define the components, including; lists, libraries, features, master pages, and page layouts that make up a site. Site Definitions may contain (and usually do contain) multiple configurations, these configurations are surfaced through the interface as site templates. For instance the Team Site, Blank Site, and Document Workspace templates are all configurations of the STS site definition. All site templates are based on a site definition.

  8. Site Templates – The term “Site Template” is used in many ways. Sometimes its erroneously used to refer to a site definition. While a site template is not a site definition, it can be used to refer to one of the configurations in a site definition. More commonly, in SharePoint development, it is used to refer to an actual site configuration (a site in SharePoint configured in a specific way) that has been saved as a template for reuse.

From MSDN:

  • Windows SharePoint Services 3.0. A set of services for collaboration and a foundation for building Web-based applications on Windows Server. Windows SharePoint Services 3.0 is included in Windows Server 2003 and in Windows Server 2008, and is also available separately as a download.

  • Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007. A single, integrated application that provides sites (locations) where employees can efficiently collaborate with team members, find organizational resources, search for experts and corporate information, manage content and workflow, and make use of business insight to reach better-informed decisions. Office SharePoint Server 2007 is part of the 2007 Microsoft Office system. For more information, see the Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007 frequently asked questions.

  • Microsoft Office SharePoint Designer 2007. A designer and developer tool that enables you to quickly build solutions that include both design and workflow.

  • Web Parts. Web Parts in Windows SharePoint Services provide developers with a way to create UI elements that support both customization and personalization. A site owner or a site member with the appropriate permissions can customize Web Part Pages by using a browser or Microsoft Office SharePoint Designer 2007 to add, reconfigure, or remove Web Parts. For more information, see the Windows SharePoint Services Web Parts Resource Center.

  • Workflow. Workflows implement custom business processes that you can attach to SharePoint documents and list items. You can use workflows to control almost any aspect of an item in Windows SharePoint Services, including the life cycle of that item. For more information, see the Workflow Resource Center.

  • Collaboration and social computing. Office SharePoint Server 2007 provides Web Parts that enable functionality for social computing, wikis, blogs, RSS feeds, e-mail integration, and task coordination. All of these components use information about your organization, communities, and electronic communications in Public My Site pages to help establish connections between colleagues with common interests. For more information, see Collaboration Help and How-to.

  • Portals. Office SharePoint Server 2007 is a world class enterprise portal platform that makes it easy to build and maintain portal sites for every aspect of your business. It provides built-in My Site personal sites, content syndication, user profiles and a profile store, audience targeting, mobile device support, portal site templates, document aggregation Web Parts, and more. For more information, see Developer-Oriented Videos on Building Portals.

  • Enterprise Search. Enterprise Search in Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007 provides extensive and extensible content gathering, indexing, and querying ability. This service supports full-text searching by using a Structured Query Language (SQL-based) query syntax, and provides a new keyword syntax to support keyword searches. For more information, see the Enterprise Search Information Center.

  • Enterprise content management. Enterprise content management (ECM) features provide ways to manage the content and metadata of business documents stored in Office SharePoint Server 2007 document libraries. ECM is a key infrastructure component that can help companies manage and organize high volumes of unstructured content such as forms, documents, records, e-mail messages, videos, instant messages (IMs), and Web pages. For more information, see the Enterprise Content Management Information Center.

  • Business process and forms. Office SharePoint Server 2007 provides built-in electronic forms and workflow templates. InfoPath Forms Services, included in Office SharePoint Server 2007, enables you to publish InfoPath form templates, designed in Microsoft Office InfoPath 2007, to Office SharePoint Server 2007 as ASP.NET Web applications. You can open these in your browser to provide a similar experience to filling out and editing a form in InfoPath. For more information, see the InfoPath Forms Services Resource Center. In addition, Office SharePoint Server 2007 provides built-in workflows for document approval, feedback collection, signature collection, and disposition approval, and three-state workflows and a translation management workflow. You can also write custom code to create, maintain, and analyze custom workflows, enabling you to streamline your business processes. For more information, see the Workflow Resource Center.

  • Business intelligence. Office SharePoint Server 2007 provides infrastructure to create dashboards that allows decision-makers to access information. Excel Services server technology, included in Office SharePoint Server 2007, is a shared service that enables you to load, calculate, and display Excel workbooks on Office SharePoint Server 2007. You can use the Excel Services programmability framework to extend Microsoft Office Excel 2007 and Excel Services functionalities to work with Office SharePoint Server 2007 lists, query tables on Excel Services, external workbook references, SQL write-back, and user-defined functions (UDFs). For more information, see the Excel Services Resource Center. Additionally, the Business Data Catalog functionality in Office SharePoint Server 2007 enables you to present LOB data within Office SharePoint Server. By using the Business Data Catalog, you can bring key data from different business applications to SharePoint lists, Web Parts, search, user profiles, and custom applications. The Business Data Catalog allows you to pull data from Microsoft SQL Server, Oracle, Microsoft Office Access, or other databases by using a connection string. It also allows you to pull business data from back-end server applications such as SAP, Siebel, or other LOB systems by using Web services. You can use the Business Data Catalog: Metadata Model to define an LOB entity and the How to: Get Started with Using the Administration Object Model to manage metadata programmatically. For more information, see the Business Data Catalog Information Center.

  • Microsoft Office SharePoint Designer. Microsoft Office SharePoint Designer 2007 is a developer tool specifically designed to enable you to build and customize SharePoint sites, workflow-enabled applications, and reporting tools. It provides a WYSIWYG design interface, developer environment, and easy-to-use development tools that help simplify the task of building sites and applications. ASP.NET developers can take advantage of their existing knowledge and use this tool to create, view, and modify ASP.NET pages. The WYSIWYG design interface provides precise rendering of Extensible Hypertext Markup Language (XHTML) code, cascading style sheets (CSSs), and ASP.NET technologies. This tool also provides Microsoft IntelliSense support, Web Parts, and ASP.NET controls.

  • Application page. Allows the use of inline custom code. Application pages or “_layout” pages are stored on the SharePoint Web server and made available via a Microsoft Internet Information Services (IIS) virtual directory. Though application pages behave much like other ASPX pages and allow the use of inline custom code, they differ from content pages in that they cannot be used to host SharePoint features such as dynamic Web Parts and Web Part zones. For more information, see Creating an Application Page in Windows SharePoint Services 3.0.

  • Content type. A reusable collection of settings to apply to a certain category of content such as documents and folders. Content types are designed to help users organize their SharePoint content in a more meaningful way. For more information, see Introduction to Content Types.

  • Custom action. Represents a link, toolbar button, menu item, or any control that can be added to a toolbar or menu that appears in the UI. You define custom actions by using a custom action element within a feature definition file. You can bind custom actions to a list type, content type, file type, or programmatic identifier (ProgID). For more information, see Custom Action Definitions.

  • Event receiver. Evaluator of an event and definer of the behavior of an application. Windows SharePoint Services 3.0 allows you to define event handlers within libraries, lists, and sites. Event receivers can be defined by using a receiver element within a feature definition file. For more information, see Event Registrations.

  • Feature. A package of Windows SharePoint Services elements that can be activated for a specific scope and that helps users accomplish a particular goal or task. Windows SharePoint Services 3.0 introduces this inherently portable and modular functionality, which simplifies modification of sites through site definitions. For more information, see Working with Features.

  • Master page. Pages that provide a consistent layout and appearance (look and feel) for SharePoint sites. They allow you to factor out layout, structure, and interface elements such as headers, footers, navigation bars, and content placeholders. Master pages in ASP.NET 2.0 and master pages in Windows SharePoint Services work in the same way. For more information, see Building Simple Master Pages for Windows SharePoint Services 3.0.

  • Module. A file or collection of file instances that define the location where the files are installed during site creation. Modules are frequently used to implement a Web Part Page in the site. You can define modules by using a module element within a feature definition file. For more information, see Modules.

  • SharePoint site collection: A collection of SharePoint sites that share common administration pages and site settings. Site collections allow you to share content types, site columns, templates, and Web Parts within a group of SharePoint sites.

  • SharePoint Web farm: A group of Office SharePoint 2007 servers that share the same configuration database. All site content and all configuration data is shared for all front-end Web servers in a server farm.

  • Site definition. A set of files that includes a master XML configuration file that is stored on all front-end Web servers. A site definition provides the basic blueprint for how sites look, what lists they include, their default navigational structures, and so on. For more information, see Working with Site Templates and Definitions.

  • Site template. A package containing a set of differences and changes from a base site definition that is created through the UI or through implementation of the object model. The site template package is stored as a .cab-based file that can be downloaded or uploaded to site collections by users with the appropriate rights. Site templates offer a measure of portability to SharePoint applications. For more information, see Working with Site Templates and Definitions.

  • Solution. A file that is a bundling of all the components for extending Windows SharePoint Services in a particular way. A solution file has a .cab-based format with a .wsp extension. A solution is a deployable, reusable package that can contain a set of Features, site definitions, and assemblies that apply to sites, and that you can enable or disable individually. You can use the solution file to deploy the contents of a Web Part package, including assemblies, class resources, and other package components. For more information see, Solution Overview.

  • Theme. A group of files (CSS, images) that allow you to define the appearance (look and feel) of Web pages. Themes in ASP.NET 2.0 and themes in SharePoint Products and Technologies work in the same way. Themes are used to help organizations to brand their portals and team sites. Office SharePoint Server 2007 includes a set of predefined themes. However, as a developer, you can create custom themes for your company. For more information, see How to: Customize Themes.

The following post from the MSDN Blogs also covers some of the common terms:
http://blogs.msdn.com/skelley/archive/2007/06/24/sharepoint-terminology-defined.aspx

The following post does a good job defining and covering some of the key differences between Columns, Fields, and Properties:
http://blogs.msdn.com/andrew_may/archive/2006/06/14/SharePointTermsColumnsFieldsProperties.aspx

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