Those who follow my blogs closely might tell me, after reading the title of the post: “Greg, hold on a second, didn’t you tell us the opposite on July 21, 2016.” Yes, I did. But, that was four years ago, which in SharePoint Online/Office 365 terms is like an eternity, considering how fast things change in SharePoint these days. As the great Stephen Hawking once said: “Intelligence is the ability to adapt to change.” File naming convention in SharePoint is no exception, and to march in sync with the technology, we must adapt the new rules of the land. So with this post, I would like to provide the reasons for the latest best practice and provide the arguments on why file naming convention in SharePoint no longer makes sense.
With that being said, the specific issue described in that 2016 article still exists if you use metadata in a document library and some sort of naming convention is necessary for that specific use case. However, this new article highlights the reasons on why the naming convention in general in SharePoint is not necessary.
SharePoint file naming convention is useless, just like having pants on during your next Teams or Zoom meeting
Reason 1: You can’t enforce the naming convention
Here is a good one for you. You can’t enforce a naming convention in SharePoint. At least out of the box. Yeah, you might create some custom add-on, but that would be weird, considering the many points of entry for a user. Other than that, you might have some policies and documents in place spelling out the naming convention users must adhere to, but nothing will force them to stick to it.
Reason 2: Metadata
If you want to institute some naming convention – why not use metadata? This will allow you to assign tags to the file without burying this information in the file name. For example, instead of MeetingNotes_Project-ABC_20191230.docx file, you can create three metadata columns: Project Name (drop-down), Document Type (drop-down), Meeting Date (Date field). Then you can name your file whatever you want, and you can also filter and group by any of the properties above.
Reason 3: Modern Search
Another reason for saying “NO” to the naming convention is modern search. It got much more relevant and precise now. In addition to the file name and metadata columns, the modern search also searches for content (text/keywords) within a file, producing more relevant results.
Reason 4: Flat Information Architecture
Another reason for loose naming convention philosophy is the flat Information Architecture we now enjoy in SharePoint Online. The times of a single site collection where you could enforce some rules and guidelines are over. We now have tens, hundreds, or thousands of Team Site and Communication Sites floating around with users accessing them from SharePoint sites, MS Teams, OneDrive, Windows Explorer, and mobile devices.
Reason 5: Illegal characters
In the past, many special characters were not allowed in SharePoint. Having a naming convention helped get past this. Again, this is just another thing that got improved, and there are only a few illegal characters that are not allowed – so the chances of encountering this issue are smaller now.