I'm looking for some advice on whether to implement a custom site column as a lookup to a custom list, or a simple drop down? What are the pros and cons of each? Which method better serves for data integration and reporting purposes? I would imagine configuring a custom list and then setting up the site column as a lookup to that list would... but I am not the expert (hence reaching out to you all).

Thank you!

3 Answers 3


The most important questions are:

  1. Will choices change often (e.g. more than once a year)? (if yes, a lookup field may be better).
  2. Who will update the choices? Only one "skilled" SharePoint power-user who will have "Manage" permissions on the list? Or many users, who should not have elevated permissions (in the latter case, a lookup field may be better).
  3. Is there a chance these options are used in another list (for instance the list of products may be used elsewhere). If yes, a lookup may be a good option.

For the records, another good option is the "Managed metadata" fields.

  • Thank you for this very detailed explanation! I assumed the lookup field would be the easier way to go (making assumptions about the underlying database implementation). My biggest concern is, if there are a significant number of these types of lookups (versus just plain drop down lists), how does that overhead affect the performance... but at this point I don't really concern myself overly with it, as we are the first site on the new 2013. :) Thank you!
    – Alexx
    Feb 10, 2016 at 16:33
  • 1
    In all cases, have in mind following "limits" in SharePoint: 1. no more than 5000 items per view (see for instance sharepoint.stackexchange.com/a/163427/35604); 2. no more than 8 lookup fields by list. If you're below these limits, you should not notice any performance problem at all. Even when above, there's a lot of chances you're still OK (but for the 5000 items, you'd have to configure the list so it can handle it).
    – Evariste
    Feb 10, 2016 at 17:04

The advantage of creating it as a lookup column versus a static column is you can delegate the maintenance of the column to other users who might not be site admins. You give them the ability to Contribute to the underlying list to add/remove values as necessary versus having to elevate permissions for them to site columns.

  • Thank you for this! It is much like Salesforce. I definitely want my users to have access to change the values.
    – Alexx
    Feb 10, 2016 at 16:31

What If I want to look up from another list, Employee Names from X actively working in Y Department ?

The lookup doesn't seem to allow to give me that, or does it?

  • I am afraid this is not an answer. please consider asking ur own question.
    – Asad Refai
    Feb 21, 2016 at 13:00

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