Fundamentally, what is the difference between the two? I'm in the really early stages of working out what's what with sharepoint and I can't seem to tell the difference between the two.

  • 2
    Hardcode in mind : A Library is a List, but all lists are not libraries.
    – Nikhil J
    Commented Apr 1, 2014 at 1:48
  • 3
    A library stores your data; a list IS your data
    – user25474
    Commented Apr 29, 2014 at 19:20
  • The answer doesn't really help to understand the difference. Maybe you can improve the answer by providing links to MSDN that explain the difference between document libraries and lists. Commented Apr 29, 2014 at 23:49

7 Answers 7


Although in most of the UI and API they can be manipulated the same way, there are some significant differences between Lists and Libraries. The latter is a specialized type of the former.


  • Can have attachments
  • Have major versions only
  • Do not have Check-in/Check-out features


  • Cannot have attachments (files are directly in the library)
  • Have both minor (draft) and major (published) versioning
  • Have Check-in/Check-Out
  • Publishing Libraries can use Page Layouts
  • Have Unique Document Ids out of the box

In code, you can always obtain an SPList from a SPDocumentLibrary but not the other way around.

  • The Have major versions only point is incorrect. If you enable content approval on a list, then you can have minor versions, aka drafts.
    – Mihail
    Commented Jan 31, 2019 at 11:28

A library is "just" a special type of list where the focus is on the File linked to the listitem

Anything you can do with a list you can do with a library and then some


Search acts very differently with documents in a library than it does with documents stored as attachments in a list.

In A library, search indexes 'reads' every word of the document and utilizes that information in search. Attachments in a List are not indexed.


Great Info! In an attempt to make a more exhaustive comparison (because none exist!) here are a couple of things left out:


  1. list attachments are not indexed. This has a lot of implications. When searching, you cannot use the refiners to narrow down the doc type
  2. List attachments will not work with the eDiscovery feature
  3. No location based default column value settings
  4. Cannot have a document set
  5. No "Send to" functionality. Similarly, transfer to another location does not seem to work with a list content type, but I have not actually tried it
  6. No Open with explorer (which is obvious)


  1. Does not have the "Read Access" setting (list settings-advanced settings)

Really they are quite a bit different. Libraries are for documents. It is a good idea to disable adding attachments on your list so that your lists are purely for tabular data, otherwise you may come across ECM features that do not work.

Please add more if you find them

  • 1
    In ref to 1. list attachments are not indexed, it looks like list attachments actually are indexed in SharePoint search, but the search results point to the list items they're attached to instead of the attachments themselves (a bit confusing for items with multiple attachments).
    – rob3c
    Commented Apr 11, 2017 at 18:14

A SharePoint List is essentially a web part that holds/stores content in SharePoint and is represented via table format (rows and columns). A SharePoint Document Library is a "special list" for documents. While it is also represented as a table list (rows for documents, columns for metadata), a SharePoint library has very specific document management features lists do not have like:

  1. Check in/Check Out
  2. Document Preview
  3. Ability to share
  4. Document version history
  5. Ability to open/edit in browser (SharePoint Online only)

The list goes on and on. As others eluded to already - you should not use lists to store documents as attachments. Attachments in SharePoint lists shall be used as secondary type information. For example, you might use SharePoint list (Issue Tracking) to track Help Desk tickets in SharePoint. The primary purpose of the list is to store ticket info and you might use attachments for screenshots, etc. That's fine.

On another hand, if you want to store company policies or project documentation, document library is the way to go. You can still "dress up" your library with metadata, but documents will serve as the primary objective/source of information. And of course, you will get all the wonderful document management features outlined above and by others in the thread. Here is also a quick blog post on the same topic. http://sharepointmaven.com/sharepoint-lists-vs-libraries/

Hope this helps.


Lists can have a document attachment AND the benefit of many associated preset and/or unique metadata fields. Libraries have a document but only a limited number of only preset metadata fields.


Here in this article we have discussed in details about what is the difference between list and document library. http://www.sharepointdotnet.com/2011/12/what-are-basic-difference-between-list_06.html follow the article it will help you.

SharePoint List:

1- SharePoint lists are web based editable tables.It gives us the ability to work with structured data.

2- List is going to store the same sorts of data that you would normally place into a spreadsheet.

3- A list contains items that are collections of fields/properties/columns.optionally can have one or more attachment.

4- SharePoint list doesnot support check in and check out options.

5- When the user searches for a keyword in a document , if the document is in a list then search returns the list item as the result.

6- Example of SharePoint lists are Contact lists,Task lists etc.

SharePoint Document Library:

1- SharePoint libraries are a list of files.

2- Library is used to store documents.

3- A library is a list ,but have one and exactly one file associated with each item .A library item also has fields/properties/columns.

4- SharePoint Library supports check in and check out options.

5- When the user searches for a keyword in a document , if the document is in a library then they find the document listed in the search results.

6- Examples of DocumentLibraries are PictureLibrary, FormLibrary etc.

  • While link may answer the question but its still necessary to include some essential part of the link into the answer. Once the link is broken or unreachable then the answer becomes unuseful. Thanks :-) Commented Jun 21, 2017 at 4:41
  • Added summary from the website
    – user43832
    Commented Sep 25, 2018 at 13:50

At the simplest level:

A library stores documents. A list is like on online spreadsheet or database, rows and columns of data.

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