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Using SharePoint as a file share? Limitations you need to be aware about

SharePoint Online Document Library can hold as many as 30 million items, which is a lot. While I do not recommend that you ever approach this limit in a single document library, having a single document library with tens and hundreds of thousands of files and folders seems like a more realistic scenario. Ideally, you would want to break the content up into multiple sites/document libraries. However, should you decide to utilize SharePoint as file share / DropBox, you and your users would need to be aware of and live with certain limitations they did not have before. In this blog post, I would like to summarize these limitations.

Using SharePoint as a file share

Most of these limitations apply to libraries that exceed the infamous 5000 item limit. Since most file shares easily exceed this limit (both files and folders count as items), I am making the assumption that so does your file share/network drive, hence – the list of limitations below.

Limitation # 1: You would need to use a migration tool to migrate your file shares to SharePoint

It is not just the volume, but also the fact that once you go above 5000, you might encounter all sorts of issues if you try to move files and folders using other Out of the Box methods, like Windows Explorer. This is not necessarily a bad thing since with the 3rd party migration tool you would be able to preserve metadata properties/permissions of your files and folders

Limitation # 2: Users might not be able to open the Document Library using Windows Explorer

When you have a small document library, users can open the library using Windows Explorer and drag files and folders as if they are moving files in Windows Explorer on their computer. Once you go above 5000 items, your Windows Explorer window might act up. Any one of these can occur:

  • Windows Explorer can randomly hang/freeze
  • If you store more than 5000 items in any given folder, Windows Explorer will open up empty, though there are files appearing in SharePoint
  • Your users need to use Internet Explorer Browser (can’t open with Explorer from Google Chrome, the option is grayed out over there)

Limitation # 3: You might not be able to map to this document library

This is kind of related to Limitation # 2 above. When you map your drive, you essentially open up a Windows Explorer window on your computer that points to SharePoint Document Library URL. So any of the issues above will be true for mapped drives.

Limitation # 4: None of your folders can contain more than 5000 files

To clarify, your document library can contain way more than 5000 files, but they need to be broken up into subfolders. You can’t have more than 5000 files inside of the folder, sitting on the same level. Otherwise, you will not be able to view your files without further filtering (on indexed columns). Hope it makes sense.

Limitation # 5: Document Library will not display the whole breadcrumb

This limitation is just how SharePoint Document Library works, does not really depend on a number of items. Unlike Windows Explorer, where you get to see the whole folder path, SharePoint Document Library just displays the last two folders the user is in currently.


Limitation # 6: Search will not work the way your users are used to

There are a couple of scenarios that might occur. First off,  you might not get your keyword search to display any or accurate results based on the size of your library. You might also encounter the following message: “Some files might be hidden. Include these in your search”.


Once you click Include, you might get results displayed, but it is a Russian roulette at this point.

Limitation #7: Sync of SharePoint Document Library to desktop OneDrive will stop working

Once you go above 5,000 items in your document library, you will see the following message when you try to sync your SharePoint Document Library

Large Library Sync

You should not really be syncing SharePoint document library anyway, but in case you wanted to – you would be technically prevented from doing so.

About Me

I’m Greg Zelfond, a U.S. based SharePoint consultant, and I provide affordable out-of-the-box SharePoint consulting, training, and configuration assistance to small and medium-sized businesses all over the world.

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