Ultimate guide to SharePoint size and usage limitations

Courtesy of Matt Wade on Jul 6, 2016 12:35:16 PM

If there’s one thing all SharePointer’s have to keep in mind, it’s the limits of the tool you’re using.

I’ve put together a useful infographic, available below, that you should consider consulting to remind yourself what limitations you could hit in SharePoint if you’re not careful. And below that is a written explanation of the infographic, including links to all of my sources. These limits are specific to SharePoint 2013 and SharePoint Online. Microsoft hasn’t yet released all documentation relating to SharePoint 2016 yet. I will update the infographic and post when they do.

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Some of these can be annoying, though most of them won’t bother you… for the most part. That is until you discover their existence, seemingly right when you’re trying to finish a project, get it shared, or need to submit work. Knowing these limitations ahead of time can really keep you out of a jam in the future. And if you get hit with one of these limits when it matters, you’ll remember it forever. Instead, why not just remember the golden rule: check before you do it. SharePoint isn’t infinite.

Allow me to repeat that:

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Different systems have different limits, but defaults are generally similar or the same. Your IT department may change some of these values, so you always want to be sure you know what’s been put in place in your environment, lest you find out—again, too late in the game—that the limits I mention here aren’t actually what have been put in place for you.

(Most of the limits can be restricted further by your IT group—i.e., not expanded—so if they make changes, it’s usually not in your favor.)

Microsoft provides a ridiculously in-depth list of their limits, but it’s a very overwhelming resource and almost the entire article is irrelevant to the everyday user. So I went through and cherry-picked the ones that really could have an impact on you day-to-day.

Or at least on that day when you might hit the limit, but, in fact, do not, because you remembered a good nugget you saw in this post. Because you’re a good, conscientious SharePointer, of course!

One final, friendly reminder:

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Types of limits
Microsoft defines three types of limits within SharePoint 2013 and SharePoint Online:

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I disagree (respectfully, I guess) that three definitions are required, because thresholds and supported limits are roughly the same thing. Here’s how I interpret these definitions:

  • Boundaries: These are hard limits that cannot be changed by you, your site owner, or your IT organization. Just how hard of a limit depends on which type of SharePoint system your IT department has implemented:
    • On-premises SharePoint 2013: If your company uses SharePoint 2013 on their own servers, patches and updates to SharePoint may support improvements in these limits, but a full version upgrade of your system (e.g., SP2010 to SP2013) is usually required to gain most of the major limit improvements.
    • SharePoint Online: If you’re using SharePoint Online in Office 365, improvements on these limits can come about whenever Microsoft decides to take action on them. Kind of like if you have a Gmail account, your quota is sometimes increased because Google wants to stay competitive in the amount of space they provide their users. So smile, you could come to work some Monday morning with a lot more space.
  • Thresholds and supported limits: Both are suggested limits that can be changed or surpassed, but values put in place are recommended based on Microsoft testing. You want to break the limit? Take your chances on performance. The limits are based on the ability for SharePoint to perform a given action (e.g., you can upload a 2-GB file—SharePoint’s cool with it—but it takes a long time and you could experience a browser timeout error during it, making the limit a practical one, and not even one that SharePoint can always control) or limit performance issues on the user side of things (e.g., having tens of millions of files in one document library will affect how quickly that library loads whenever you open it).

Sometimes I think the recommendation provided by Microsoft isn’t so much about their testing as their ability to cover their own… well, you know what. Redmond prefers to be safe rather than sorry. It likely protects them from legal action from customers. Not that anyone would ever sue Microsoft, of course.

SharePoint 2013 versus SharePoint Online
First, if you’re not clear on the difference between SharePoint and Office 365, kindly review my primer here. It will help you to understand how these limits impact you.

If your employer uses SharePoint 2013 on its own server system, the limits you’ll experience are likely going to be static throughout much of its lifespan, until the system is upgraded to SharePoint 2016 or you migrate to SharePoint Online as a part of an Office 365 migration/upgrade. SharePoint requires routine updates, usually every quarter, and your IT department likely installs them behind the scenes without your knowledge. Unfortunately those step increases usually do not support improvements like you get with a full-on version upgrade.

However, SharePoint Online—because it’s run and operated by Microsoft and updates can be quickly rolled out—will sometimes benefit from performance and feature upgrades as Microsoft improves the product and rolls out smaller, more targeted releases than what we’ve been used to with the every-three-year release of SharePoint on-premises (SharePoint 2007, 2010, 2013, 2016… see the pattern?).

That means if you have Office 365 with SharePoint Online and OneDrive for Business, you can really see a benefit when it comes to feature upgrades occurring in a timelier manner than having to wait for your IT department to upgrade SharePoint, which, although every three years sounds good, sometimes takes as long as two release cycles to actually happen depending on your IT department. For example, your company may be on SharePoint 2007 so long that they skip SharePoint 2010 and go straight to SharePoint 2013, which can be a welcomed relief for power users, but means you’re stuck with 2007 features for far too long.

SharePoint Online is a better option when it comes to getting feature upgrades, but it also means you have to stay on top of the changes by following the Microsoft and SharePoint blogs so you know about these improvements and, unfortunately, feature degradation or removal, which can seem to happen right under your feet.

Site collections and sites
All SharePoint sites are part of a family of sites called a site collection. A site collection is usually created by your IT department. Child, grandchild, great-grandchild, etc. sites within that site collection (think of them like branches on a single tree) are sometimes created by IT and sometimes by any user that needs one. It depends entirely on the rules your IT department setup.

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