SharePoint 2010 : SharePoint Fundamentals (part 1) - Sites and Site Collections

10/9/2012 9:09:21 PM
There are fundamental concepts in SharePoint that are key to truly understanding the platform. Every portal, team site, workspace, Internet page, and extranet site is based upon these building blocks:
  • Web applications. In IIS, a Web application is comprised of an Internet Information Services (IIS) site with a unique application pool. While not a technically perfect definition, you can think of a Web application as a URL like or

  • Sites. A site consists of a data repository, visual elements, administration, and almost every other core element of the functionality and experience for the user. Visually, a site is represented as one or more Web pages, lists, and Web Parts.

  • Site Collections. A Site Collection consists of a top-level site and its subsites. It is a logical unit for administration: There are settings that can only be configured at the Site Collection level (in other words, at the top-level site). Each Web application can host many Site Collections.

  • Lists. A list is a data repository that can hold columns of data and/or documents. The objects stored in a list are called items. Visually, a list is represented by views or a Web Part. It is analogous to a database table or Excel worksheet.

  • Items. Items are the fundamental data objects that are stored within a list. An example of an item might be a contact, a task, or a document. Items are analogous to rows within a database.

  • Site templates. A template defines what the site will look like, what lists comprise the site initially, how publishing will work on the site, and a number of other settings. It enables a site to be created via self-service using a precreated definition. You can think of a site as a cookie (that you eat) and a template as the cookie cutter.

  • Service applications. Each service application provides a set of capabilities to one or more Web applications.

Sites and Site Collections

Sites are the cornerstone of SharePoint’s infrastructure, which allow individuals or teams to store, share, and alter structured and unstructured content in a single environment. Sites also enable organizations to quickly share information across organizations as well—for example, a regular communication with suppliers, partners, or customers.

Sites are not a new concept to SharePoint users. WSS 3.0 and Office SharePoint Server 2007 both had site templates to support a number of business scenarios, including virtual teams, custom applications, and aggregation portals. SharePoint 2010 has extended the use of sites by introducing added features and functionality to enhance the experience for site members.

For those not familiar with the previous version of SharePoint, sites are containers that allow you to store lists and libraries of information. These lists and libraries can store documents, lists of data, and other information. Think of a site almost like a file share combined with a database, but with lots of additional features such as a Web-based user interface (UI). The content that you store may include documents, hyperlinks, customized lists, contacts, and lots of other types of information. The value of a site is measured at three levels:

  • Individual. An individual can leverage a team site as a single repository for all team-related material. It is the place to go to get up to speed if the individual joins the team mid-project, and it is the one place to go to add or access the content generated by the team. An individual can be a contributor to all, some, or none of the content. Security associated with the site, from the page down to the content group (or Web Part), is managed by the Site Administrator.

  • Team. Teams can leverage a team site as a means of sharing without using e-mail or other methods. Document libraries have version control to monitor changes as well as check-in/check-out to ensure there is always only one active version of a document. Geographically dispersed teams don’t have to struggle with how to share their work.

  • Organization. All members of an organization can leverage the information within a team site by allowing direct access to all exposed team content. Because sites are template-driven, organizations can ensure that all project or product sites are organized in the same manner; thus giving users a consistent look and feel and a quicker path to finding relevant content.

In SharePoint Foundation 2010 and SharePoint Server 2010, everything starts with a site. To explore the concepts of SharePoint, let’s start with a simple example comprised of a single Web server and its logical elements (see Figure 1). At the highest level, you have a physical server running Internet Information Server (IIS). Within IIS, you have a Web application, which maps to a URL (such as http://myportal), a port (such as 80), and an IP address (such as Once a Web application is extended with SharePoint functionality, one or more top-level sites can be created. Each top-level site can contain one or more child sites. The collection of sites that includes a top-level site and all of its decedents down to the leaf site(s) is called a Site Collection. This is important, given that much of SharePoint administration (quotas, backup and restore, permissions, Web Part access, and so on) is based on the Site Collection concept.

Figure 1. In SharePoint, a top-level site and its descendants are collectively referred to as a Site Collection

After you determine which sites your solution requires, the next step is to plan how these sites and portals are implemented across Site Collections. A Site Collection is a hierarchical set of sites that can be managed together. Sites within a Site Collection have common features, such as shared permissions, galleries for templates, Content Types, and Web Parts, and they often share a common navigation. All sites in a Site Collection are stored together in the same SQL database. A portal site is often implemented as a Site Collection with the top-level Web site as the home page of the portal.

In general, we recommend that you put each of the following types of sites in separate Site Collections right from the start. This will help you manage Site Collections and content databases better in the long run.

  • Intranet portal sites

  • Extranet sites

  • Team sites related to a portal site or Internet site

  • My Sites (by default, each my site is a Site Collection)

  • Internet sites (staging)

  • Internet sites (production)

  • Lines of business within a conglomerate

  • Document Center sites

  • Records Center sites

So for example, if you were to deploy a company intranet, a corporate Internet-facing site, and a records management repository, you’d want to create three Site Collections from the beginning. This enables you to manage the Site Collections individually, provide separate content databases, and more easily accommodate growth over time.

The downside of multiple Site Collections is that there are some features that do not work across Site Collections. This is important because a large deployment of SharePoint will dictate multiple Site Collections. The following features do not work across Site Collections:

  • Content Types. How common documents, forms, and other content is normalized in your organization. (Note: In SharePoint 2010 there is the notion of Enterprise Content Types that can be syndicated across Site Collections.)

  • Content by Query Web Part. This Web Part aggregates information from across sites but does not work across Site Collections.

  • Workflow. When you deploy workflow, it is only accessible within the Site Collection it is deployed in.

  • Information management and retention policies. Records management policies are set at the Site Collection level, forcing organizations to deploy the same policy multiple times for large enterprises.

  • Quotas. You should absolutely define quotas so that users are used to limited storage from day one; also configured at the Site Collection level, which means that you will need to configure quotas separately at each top-level site.

Let’s say you decided to create two Site Collections for project workspaces: one Site Collection for IT and one Site Collection for finance. Due to the Site Collection limitations just described, if you wanted consistent document metadata properties on a particular document type, you’d have to deploy the Content Type twice—once for each Site Collection.

So far, all of this is true for both SharePoint Foundation 2010 and SharePoint Server 2010 deployments. When you install SharePoint Server 2010 over and above SharePoint Foundation 2010, several additional capabilities are added to all sites—additional Web Parts, additional templates, and more features, some enabled by service applications.

There are several ways to create new sites. You may want users to ask IT to create sites on their behalf. Or, you may want to let users create their own top-level sites directly. Either way, you’ll want to configure self-service site creation in Central Administration appropriately. Simply go to Application Management → Configure Self-Service Site Creation and select either On or Off (see Figure 2).

Figure 2. Enable Self-Service Site Creation from Central Administration if you want users to create new top-level sites directly

For users to create top-level sites, they need to go to http://your-Web-application/_layouts/scsignup.aspx (see Figure 3). This page works in both SharePoint Foundation 2010 and SharePoint Server 2010, enabling users to create top-level sites and only works for users if you’ve enabled self-service site creation.

Figure 3. Users can create new top-level sites directly via the site creation page


For those of you familiar with SharePoint 2007’s site directory template, this template is hidden in SharePoint Server 2010.

As a user, if you have Silverlight installed, you’ll get a fancier menu than if you don’t. With Silverlight installed, you see a section for template selection that contains multiple categories: Blank & Custom, Collaboration, Content & Data, Search, Tracking, and Web Databases. The most popular group is the list of Collaboration templates. The last item in the list is Team Site, while most of the others are Workspaces. Team sites and workspaces are very similar, with the concept that team sites are long-lived and used by teams, while workspaces are shorter-lived and geared toward a specific work task. But in the end they are pretty much the same because they are based on the same underlying site definition. Figure 4 shows the site creation page, where you can simply supply a site title and URL name to complete the creation process. By selecting More Options, you can add a description, set a specific security permissions model, and specify navigation options (see Figure 5).

Figure 4. SharePoint 2010 enables you to select from a number of new site templates via a Silverlight-based menu

Figure 5. To create a site, provide a title and URL, and optionally, description, security, and navigation information


SharePoint sites may not include the following characters:

\ / : * ? ” < > | # { } % & <TAB>.

The following characters cannot be used in the naming of files to be uploaded to SharePoint:

“ # % & * : < > ? \ { } | ~ _

SharePoint file names cannot exceed 128 characters in length.

Figure 6 shows the newly created team site. By default, the site contains no underlying data within its lists and libraries and hosts a few default Web Parts on the home page. If the site inherited security from the parent (this is the default), the list of site users matches the parent, and the site creator is the Site Administrator and the only person who can access the site.

Figure 6. A site contains lists and libraries that hold the site’s information, combined with pages that contain Web Parts that enable you to display information to users. The default starting page is called either home.aspx or default.aspx.

Sites vs. Pages

What’s the difference between a site and a page? A site is a SharePoint container that holds lists, libraries, permissions, and some settings. A page, on the other hand, represents a single item (a Web page, actually) that enables a user to see one or more visual elements such as a collection of Web Parts. For example, a site may contain a document library and a discussion list. A page, on the other hand, is a single .aspx file (such as default.aspx or home.aspx) that lives within the site, typically in the pages library, which lets you visually see the information from the lists within the site. For each site, you can create as many pages as you’d like (although many sites just have one page).

To add additional users to the site, use the Site Actions context menu and select Site Settings. The first Column is Users and Permissions. Click Users and Groups to add more members.

Let’s look at how the default presentation of a team site is organized. The left-side navigation gives users quick access to specific lists (things like document libraries, custom lists, and calendars). The main body of the page contains Web Part zones (or placeholders for Web Parts). Additional Web Parts can be added by using the context menu associated with Site Actions and selecting Edit Page. Note that you will need specific permissions on the site to do so. Figure 7 shows a team site in Edit mode. There are boxes around Web Parts that allow for drag and drop into other Web Part zones. You can also choose a Web Part by selecting Insert → Web Part from the ribbon, which allows you to introduce a new Web Part from the Web Part gallery.

Figure 7. If you have permissions, clicking Site Actions → Edit Page enables you to make changes to the shared version of the page, which means everyone will see your changes. The Insert tab on the ribbon lets you add Web Parts, links, images, and videos to your page.

A team site is an effective way to organize content and people around a specific objective. The value is measured not just during the life cycle of the site, but for some time after as other virtual teams can leverage the information captured in the environment to better accomplish their goals.

If additional containers of information below existing sites are needed, users can create subsites (or sites that are contained within a parent site) by choosing Site Actions → New Site. This will create a site hierarchy.

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