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Columns and Properties of Gold
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The terms fields, columns, and properties are often used interchangeably, and they often refer to the same thing. All the terms refer to the storage device in which data about an item is actually stored. Examples of this are the Title, Author, Modified, Due Date, and Assigned to columns, as well as other similar pieces of information storage units. There are minute differences, however, between the three terms. Fields and columns, being the same thing, usually refer to columns in a site, list, or content type. Properties are often used on items or documents. So, your Quarterly Reports library may have a Department column, but the Quarterly report for Q1 2009.pdf file has a Department property. During the course of this book, I have tried to consistently use the term column when referring to list and content type columns and to use property when referring to item or document metadata. Because of the similarity of the terms field and field type, I have refrained from using the term field at all, but you should know that, in general, field refers to the same thing as column or property.
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CHAPTER 9 STROLLING THROUGH FIELDS OF GOLD
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Caution Throughout the CAML files, the term field is used for columns. For the duration of this chapter
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I will sometimes use the term field when referring to columns.
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Wait! What Are Field Types
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Ah, yes, field types are the type of data. If you are familiar with database terminology, think data types, such as integers, text, and so on. Unlike databases, however, SharePoint allows us to create our own data types. In fact, as with may other things, the default field types, such as single line of text, date/time, number, and person, are defined using regular CAML. This gives us a massive amount of power. If you need to improve on a text field perhaps to add autocomplete or you need to create a drop-down list that retrieves data from an external data source, you can accomplish that by creating a custom field type. A common scenario is to create cross-list, cross-site, and cross-site collection lookup fields. We will create our very own field type in 10.
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and Field Type Controls
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A field type has two elements, a storage element and a method of displaying the stored data. The field type control is responsible for handling the visual interface of a field type, such as an HTML text box for the text field type and a calendar for the date/time data type. You can change the existing field type controls as we briefly saw in 5, and if you decide to create your own field type, you can do pretty much anything you want.
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Note When I say if, I really mean when. Custom field types are incredibly powerful, and you would do
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wisely to learn how to create them. If nothing else, we will create custom field types in Part 3 of this book.
With those definitions out of the way, let s move on to see how columns are used.
Site Columns vs. List Columns
You can define columns on two levels, either on the site level or on the list level. Site columns are useful if you intend to use a column in multiple lists. Rather than having to define all the settings for every list, you can define a site column with all the settings and add that site column to the lists. Site columns are your only option if you intend to use your columns in content types. List columns are available only for a particular list. For lists, you can use either site columns or list columns. Or, actually, you can use list columns only. Or, actually, you can add site columns, but they become list columns. Let me explain.
CHAPTER 9 STROLLING THROUGH FIELDS OF GOLD
On the list or library settings page, you have the option to either create a new column or add an existing site column. If you choose the latter, a copy of the site column is made using the same field ID as the site column. The copy becomes a list column. The use of similar ID values for both the site column and the list column maintains the parent-child relationship. This relationship means you can make changes to the site column and optionally have all child columns inherit those changes. This is a good thing, because it means that the list column is detached from the site column when you want it to be, but it can still maintain its relationship to the parent site column. An example might clarify this. Let s say you have a site column named Recipient used to store who will receive reports from different departments. You add that field to a new list for a new department, but then the department head comes to you and says that the column needs to be named Target manager instead. In this situation, you can simply go to the list settings and change the name of the column on that list. Had you changed the site columns, every occurrence of the Recipient column would be changed, and other departments might not like that. What might spin your head a bit later is when we start to consider how content types work in this scenario. As I mentioned, content types use only site columns, so if we want to change a column for a content type on a list, we might be in trouble. And, if content types are so cool and we should use them as often as we can, how can we have such a limitation The answer is that content types also create list column copies of their respective site columns. When you add a content type to a list or library, all the site columns of that content type are copied into list columns on a list. Problem solved.
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