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SharePoint List vs. Database and Excel

Oktober 30th, 2009 Posted in SharePoint

Yesterday I had a discussion with my colleague about SharePoint lists. Some people use SharePoint to store documents and manage tasks. List data is often stored in Excel files within SharePoint like phone numbers or birthday lists.

We asked us: What would be the best place to store about five linked lists with a few hundred items. We didn’t come up with a final decision because of personal opinions so I tried to find some facts I can make my decision on.

SharePoint List Benefits

When you create a SharePoint List you get a couple of features a Database for example does not deliver:

  • User interface that allows you to edit, filter, sort, group the data
  • Ability to search
  • Security management on list level and item level
  • Integration with other lists and libraries
  • Recycle bin
  • Multiple users can edit data simultaneously
  • Rich text support
  • SharePoint alerts
  • RSS
  • Select data from other systems using BDC lookup columns

SharePoint List Limitations

Electronical processing of data

Automatic processing and modifying data within SharePoint lists using Event Receiver, Workflows oder Web Services is much more difficult and slower that using Excel or Databases.

Accessing the data from an external system

SharePoint lists cannot be accessed from systems outside of SharePoint very easily. You will have to fight security and the web services of SharePoint. If this is the case a dedicated database might be the best option even if you have to create a user interface for the data management. With SharePoint 2010 it looks like this will become veery easy without coding.

Complex relations between tables

Relations between SharePoint lists is something I try to avoid if there is some potential that things might grow.


I still am not sure where to store 5 linked lists with a few hundred items. But I do see lots of reasons to use SharePoint lists.

I will add more facts while the discussion goes on. If you have any suggestions, feel free to add your comments.

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