Wherein I Profess My Love for Document Sets, My Hatred of the 5000 Item Limit, and Some Tips

I love Document Sets. There, I’ve said it. They help us solve so many important business needs, it’s crazy. Unfortunately, because telemetry tells Microsoft that not very many people use Document Sets, they haven’t gotten any love for a long time. On the other hand, I hate the 5000 item limit in lists and libraries because they prevent us from getting good work done for our end users.

With Document Sets, we essentially get folders on steroids. We have a canvas available to us in the form of the Welcome page, which is a Web Part Page we can customize to our heart’s content. That means we an add images, other Web Parts, script (using a CEWP or SEWP), whatever we need in order to make the Document Set sing for our users. We can even push specific metadata from the Document Set level down into the documents within it.

While on the one hand it’s great that Microsoft hasn’t given them any love for a long time (they haven’t broken anything), it will be great when they eventually get the “modern” sheen. (See my comment about not breaking anything – that’s key if the “modern” version is to get any use.)

Today’s episode comes courtesy of one of my clients where we’re using Document Sets to the max in SharePoint Online. It’s a life sciences R&D operation, and we’re tracking most of their significant research data in Document Sets, among other mechanisms. It’s a really cool project, and I often wish I could show more of what we’re doing.

When we first built one of the main libraries using Document Sets as the basis (with 14 different Content Type variants inheriting from Document Set and each other), we talked about how many items would ever be in the library. At the time, 5000 seemed like a huge and distant number. Even so, I added some indices to hedge against it, but clearly not enough indices. It’s been over two years using this system, and we’ve done a bunch of development on top that we couldn’t have predicted originally.

Recently, a couple of things stopped working the way they should. Even though we never expected to, we recently went over the 5000 item limit in the Document Library – 5099 is the current count. Here are summaries of the issues and how we fixed them. The ever wonderful and talented Julie Turner (@jfj1997) came to my rescue on some of it, as you’ll see.

Adjusting the Indices While Over 5000 Items

This has historically been a HUGE problem. Once you cross the 5000 item limit and actually NEED indices on some of your columns, you haven’t been able to create them. When you tried to do so, you’d get an error telling you that you had more than 5000 items, so you couldn’t add an index. Helpful. Off to Sharegate to move some content out, fix the indices,then Sharegate the content back in.

In our Document Set instances, we were getting some errors where we were making REST calls to retrieve items related to the current one. (The Document Sets connect together in pathways of experiments, and we store the ParentID for each item’s parent Document Set.) The REST call would only retrieve one item from the library, since there was a filter:

"&$filter=ParentID eq " + ID,

Unfortunately, ParentID wasn’t indexed, so we were getting 500 errors back from our REST calls. Sigh. I assumed I’d need to shuffle some content out to add the index.

Just on the off chance, I went to add the index anyway, even though we were over the 5000 item. Never hurts to try, right?

Miracle of miracles, I was able to add the index without SharePoint batting an eye. I haven’t had a chance to test this elsewhere, but in this tenant I was able to do what previously was impossible.

If this is indeed the new normal, our lives have indeed gotten a lot easier.

We can add indices to lists and libraries with over 5000 items!

In any case, it solved my immediate problem. Maybe I shouldn’t talk about it so loudly near the tenant in case it changes its mind.

Fixed the broken default view

No one – and I mean no one – likes to see this message on a SharePoint page:

This view cannot be displayed because it exceeds the list view threshold (5000 items) enforced by the administrator.

 

To view items, try selecting another view or creating a new view. If you do not have sufficient permissions to create views for this list, ask your administrator to modify the view so that it conforms to the list view threshold.

We were seeing this horrible messaged in the List View Web Part at the bottom of the Welcome Pages. Since I have code running in the page, I wasn’t 100% sure that it wasn’t my fault.

Since the List View Web Part is only showing documents for this Document Set, it should only want to show a handful for each Document Set; nowhere near 5000. I was starting to think the Document Set was fundamentally broken by design.

Luckily, Julie was online and I asked her to take a look. She had the answer, and probably saved me hours trying to figure out why this was happening.

Her suggestion was to make sure the view doesn’t have “Show all items without folders” set to true. Sure enough, when I checked the view we were using for the Document Sets List View Web Parts, that was the setting. Julie pointed me to the article Manage large lists and libraries in SharePoint, specifically:

If you choose the Show all items without folders option in the Folders section when you create or modify a view in this list or library, you must then use a filter that is based on a simple index to ensure you don’t reach the List View Threshold.

Aha! For whatever reason over the years, we had set that very setting, and that was the problem. By turning that off, everything was right as rain again.

Document Sets Can Have Unique Views

This leads me to a little known thing about Document Sets: we can have a different view at the root of the library than inside the Document Sets. In fact, since you can inherit from Document Sets, you can have a different view per Document Set-based Content Type!

In fact, I was just reminded this yesterday from reading a post from Cameron Dwyer. Sure, it’s a setting on the Document Set settings page, but frankly, I’ve rarely noticed it.

The setting isn’t visible in the Document Set settings page when you create the Content Type, because you aren’t yet in the context of a list. Once you have enabled the Content Type on a list, you’ll see the additional settings.

Here’s the bottom of the Document Set settings in the Content Type definition:


and here’s the bottom of the page in a list context:

Note that the options are slightly different. In the list context we can choose a unique view for the Document Set-based Content Type. That means in my library, I could have 14 different views of the Document Set contents, one per Content Type, should I choose to do so.

Summary

Document sets are awesome. The 5000 item limit is not.

References

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Want to Get a Look at the New Communication Sites? Here’s a Trick!

If you’re like me, words can be confusing. When Andy Haon (@AndyHaon) tweeted that Communication sites were starting to roll out, I wanted to get a look. However, I didn’t see the option in my First Release tenant. I wondered what “Select Users” meant and whether I wasn’t one somehow.

Luckily for me, Twitter is really useful for stuff like this. Rick de Vries (@RickdeVries) pointed out that there a two “flavors” of First Release – First release for everyone and First release for selected users.

By switching my tenant so that Julie (@jfj1997) and I are “selected users” instead of just having the tenant-wide setting, we can now see the option to create Communication sites.

Here’s how you do this, assuming you have administrative permissions.

Got to the Admin center and click on Settings / Organizational profile / Release preferences. There you’ll see the two different First Release options:

For more information, check out Set up the Standard or First Release options in Office 365. I couldn’t figure out how to get the UI to add individual users to work, so I ended up uploading a csv file with our two email addresses. #YMMV Note that it took at least a few hours (possibly overnight) for me to see the Communication site option.

Et voila! We can now create Communication sites from the SharePoint home page.

SharePoint and Office 365: The New Beautiful Cookbook Series

Most of us are “meat and potatoes” people when it comes to the technology we use. We like what we know and we know what we like. (Yes, there are vegan “seitan and potatoes” people, vegetarian “sprouts and potatoes” people, pescatarian “cod and potatoes” people, etc. I’m not trying to leave anyone out.)

Every once in a while, though, someone hands us a new ingredient – something we’ve never seen before, something we’ve never cooked with.

Image from the Netflix show Chef’s Table S3E6 – Virgilio Martinez

That new ingredient becomes a part of our pantry, and we want to try to cook with it. We’ve probably heard how delicious it is or how it can make an ordinary dish taste amazing.

Sometimes, we get a whole new palette of ingredients. (Many of us love to watch cooking shows for just this reason: we see novel dishes and decide if we’d like to try them at home.)

Image from the Netflix show Chef’s Table S3E6 – Virgilio Martinez

We need to take a ton of time to figure out what the new ingredients are, how we can work with them, and what we can cook. If we don’t cook with the ingredients pretty often, then we lose the knowledge of how to use them, what ripeness is best.

Writing off something because it tastes bad in one context means we may miss a great use of the ingredient later – a ripe plum tastes so much better than an unripe one. Once someone has eaten an unripe plum, they may decide they hate plums.

But if we can overcome these hurdles and learn about the new ingredients, we can make some incredible dishes.

Image from the Netflix show Chef’s Table S3E6 – Virgilio Martinez

This is what I think we are going through with SharePoint and Office 365 right now. Microsoft is offering us an entirely new set of ingredients with which to make our stew.

Let me give you an example…

In my “meat and potatoes” way of looking at the world, which has been pretty consistent for the last ten years or so, even though SharePoint and my approaches have evolved, I might use this set of ingredients:

  • A Single Page Application (SPA) written with AngularJS or KnockoutJS – or even just plain old JavaScript
  • A dollop of values passed on the query string to a…
  • Standard list form, with a little JavaScript mixed in to pre-populate some columns in the form
  • A SharePoint Designer workflow to add notifications on top (Substitute Alerts if your local market doesn’t carry SharePoint Designer)

But there are new ingredients now. Instead we could whip something up with these:

  • A SharePoint Framework Web Part (still maybe written with AngularJS or KnockoutJS)
  • Creating list items using REST based on the values in our SPFx Web Part
  • Microsoft Flow to add in the notifications and any process
  • Stir in a pinch of PowerApps – until they are ready

That’s quite a shift. We’re being asked to think about cooking in a very different way. We’ve been through stages of evolution before – new cooking techniques like sous vide (Sandbox Solutions), gelification (Add-In Model, nee App Model), etc. – but this time it’s really different. We’re not even sure if we’re supposed to like everything we taste. Is it just the next wave of kale frenzy or is it an ingredient that will last?

At this point, Microsoft is asking us to dream big, and reach for the previously unimaginable. I think we need to try to do it.

Image from the Netflix show Chef’s Table S3E6 – Virgilio Martinez

Some of us will be able to cook up truly amazing solutions on the “modern” platform. Don’t be afraid to give it a taste.

Image from the Netflix show Chef’s Table S3E6 – Virgilio Martinez

In case you didn’t figure it out, this post was inspired by the Netflix show Chef’s Table S3E6, which profiles the Peruvian chef Virgilio Martinez. It’s an outstanding series, and this particular episode was stellar.

Also see any volume in the Beautiful Cookbook series.