You may want to rethink your column names…


Depositphotos_2506386_mWhen I started working with SharePoint in 2003, I used multi-word names for everything–my sites, my libraries and lists, even my column names. It didn’t take me long to realize that spaces wreak havoc on my URLs. Since each space in my name causes a %20 string to appear in my URL, my URLs quickly became long and unwieldy.

Creating a new SharePoint site named Help Desk, for example, results in the URL:

https://splibrarian.sharepoint.com/Help%20Desk/SitePages/Home.aspx

If I create a new document library on that site named Sarah Haase, my new library’s URL lengthens to:

https://splibrarian.sharepoint.com/Help%20Desk/Sarah%20Haase/Forms/AllItems.aspx

And when I add the nested folders Fiscal Year 2013 > Projects > Project X > Design Documents to my document library, my URL extends to:

https://splibrarian.sharepoint.com/Help%20Desk/Sarah%20Haase/Forms/AllItems.aspx?RootFolder=%2FHelp%20Desk%2FSarah%20Haase%2FFiscal%20Year%202013%2FProjects%2FProject%20X%2FDesign%20Documents

You can quickly see how a deep nested folder structure (complete with spaces in your library and folder names) can negatively impact your user’s URL experience. But this problem is easily circumvented. If you create your sites, document libraries and lists using names without spaces (e.g. HelpDesk), you’ll avoid adding %20 strings to your URLs. Once your sites, libraries and lists are created, you can go back and update their names to include spaces. This will add “friendly” spaces back into your site, library and list names without damaging your nice (short) URLs.

But what about column names?

I recently learned that spaces in your column names can also cause difficulties. When you create a new document library or list column, SharePoint automatically sets an “internal name” for the column. This internal name is the ID for your column. You may need to know and reference this internal name as you build out new SharePoint solutions or customize the look and feel of your Content Query Web Parts (CQWPs).

So how do you find out what the internal name is for your columns? Go into your document library settings or list settings page and click on the hyperlink for your column. When the column’s detail page appears, take a look at the URL that appears at the top of the page. Your column’s internal name will appear at the end of the URL after the string Field=

column-internal-names-02

SharePoint bases your column’s internal name off the “friendly name” you give your column when you first create it. If you create a new column named DocumentType, for example, your column’s internal name will be DocumentType.

If you include spaces in the name of your new column, SharePoint adds a string of additional characters to your column’s internal name. As the following screen shot illustrates, a new column named Category Type results in the internal name Category%5Fx0020%5FType

column-internal-names-03

The more words you add to your column’s initial name, the longer your column’s internal name will become. If you name your column:

What is your business justification for this change

Your column’s internal name will be:

What%5Fx0020%5Fis%5Fx0020%5Fyour%5Fx0020%5Fbusiness%5Fx0020%5Fjustification%5Fx0020%5Ffor%5Fx0020%5Fthis%5Fx0020%5Fchange%5Fx003f%5F

Once your column is created and the internal name is set, you cannot change it. Your only option is to delete your initial column and re-create it.

To limit the length and complexity of your internal column names, treat your columns like you treat your document libraries, lists and sites. Keep your column names short and do not include spaces. Once your column is created and your column’s internal name is defined, you can always go back in and edit your column name and add additional words or spaces. This will make your column name more “friendly” without lengthening your column’s internal name.

column-internal-names-06

And think carefully before you repurpose old columns in your lists and libraries. While you may change the name of your column an infinite number of times, the internal name for your column won’t change.

References

I first learned about internal column names during Peter Serzo’s CQWP session at SharePoint Saturday Twin Cities. For more information on the “limitless” CQWP, see Peter’s presentation.

Wes Preston recently published a blog post on internal columns and their impact on the client-side rendering functionality in SharePoint 2013.

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8 comments

  1. Yeah most people do not think of the over head of spaces in URLs. This is a great article. I am going to send the link around my company. Thanks for putting this together. Spaces drive me nuts.

  2. Great post.

    One thing I do when I name my columns is add the internal name to the description so that it is easier to find later (I don’t have to go back into the column settings screen to find it). For example, if I create a new column and name it “DueDate”. That becomes its internal name. Then I change it to “Due Date” because the space is more user friendly. I make the description something like this: “DueDate: This is the date that your stuff is due”. That may not always work if you are using the column descriptions for something. But I try to do it on sites that I maintain so that the internal name is easy to find.

    One other thing worth noting is that the “Created By” column that gets added to every list that inherits from the Item content type has an internal name of “Author”. That is one of those that is handy to remember.

  3. I wrote an event receiver that overrides the SPListEventReceiver.FieldAdding method (http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/microsoft.sharepoint.splisteventreceiver.fieldadding(v=office.12).aspx) to trim out any spaces that are entered by the user. This was specifically asked for by a client after they discovered this _x0020_ issue. It worked well, but of course didn’t solve all confusion surrounding column names. It did make my life a lot easier in SharePoint Designer, however.

    If a user creates a column called “Super Neato Column,” the event receiver would change the internal name to “SuperNeatoColumn” and leave the display name set to “Super Neato Column.”

    I may still have this solution somewhere and will look for it if anyone’s interested.

  4. Great post, Sarah… I’ve tried to get into the habit of camel-casing everything so that my field names are things like you show… BusinessJustificationDate and so on.

  5. Excellent post Sarah, as a developer I always despair when I see very long field names as it adds to complexity of code and reduces the readability significantly.

    One slight correct to your example which actually makes it worse, is how SharePoint handles very long field names. If you add a column called “This column has a long title”, SharePoint will truncate it at around 32 characters to “This_x0020_column_x0020_has_x002”

    If you then add another column called “This column has a long title too”, SharePoint will truncate this one to be the same with one additional character. “This_x0020_column_x0020_has_x0020” so you can see the problem the truncation adds to readability!

    Carry on highlighting this to end/power users please! You’ll make Devs much happier!

    Regards

    Paul.

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