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If I change a site definition for a SharePoint 2010 installation, for example by adding a web part, will this affect existing sites?

Or would I have to loop through the sites and update the existing sites?

I though that this had changed between SP 2007 and 2010, but maybe that was just for content definitions.

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The first thing to consider here is that changes to actual site definitions should not be made where the site definition is in use i.e. sites have been created from it. What this means in practice is that you need to use a technique such as feature stapling to add a web part to a site.

As I mention in that article, feature stapling itself won't help you with existing sites - you'll need to loop through and activate the feature on those separately. PowerShell (and careful planning) is typically used here these days.

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