Mastering File Naming Conventions in Microsoft SharePoint

When it comes to using SharePoint, being organised and finding documents easily is a big deal. It can be the difference between accessing the information you need in seconds, or spending hours trawling through document libraries looking for the file you need. The secret to achieving the former is having solid file naming conventions for all file types. It’s all about keeping document names consistent and logical. When you do that, you’ll be able to find the files you need in a jiffy, and that means more time saved and higher productivity levels. So, let’s dive into this blog post and uncover the magic of a well-thought-out file naming system in SharePoint and SharePoint Online!

Benefits of Establishing File Naming Conventions

Establishing file naming conventions in SharePoint brings several benefits to organisations: 

  1. Consistent File Management: Following the same naming structure ensures files are organised in a systematic and standardised manner across teams and departments. This consistency reduces confusion and makes it easier for team members to locate and access the files they need promptly. 
  2. Improved Searchability: Clear and descriptive file names make it simpler to find specific documents using search functionalities within SharePoint. This saves time and increases productivity, especially when dealing with a large number of files.
  3. Efficient Collaboration: Well-named files enable team members to quickly identify the latest versions, avoiding conflicts or duplication. This promotes seamless collaboration and prevents unnecessary delays or errors. 

When establishing naming conventions, consider the following tips: 

  • Prioritise Short and Descriptive Names: Concise names provide clarity and help users understand the contents of a file without needing to open it. 
  • Avoid Special Characters and Spaces: Eliminate any compatibility issues and ensure smooth file uploads and transfers by avoiding special characters and spaces in file names. 
Two women sit side by side, one points at a laptop to define the channels in Microsoft Teams

File Naming Convention: The Basics

A good file name should provide relevant information about the content type, purpose, and version of the file. Consider including important attributes, such as document types, client names, or significant dates, in the file name. 

For example: 

[PROJECT NAME] – [PROJECT STAGE] – [DOCUMENT NAME] would become “Microsoft Teams – Upgrade – Proposal”.  

This means that when you want to locate list items in a single category, you could search [PROJECT NAME] and find ALL documents relating to them, or [DOCUMENT TYPE] to see every version of that doc type your company has made/received. 

Here at Propelle, we name our files as CLIENT-PROJECT-DOCUMENT TYPE. We can easily search for anything relating to a client, or even pull up all of their contracts in a quick move. Bear in mind that if a client changes their name at any point, there’s no way to change the names in the files en masse – you’ll either have to update it file by file, or establish the connect in another way. This could tie into your document content management process. 

You should also be aware that in SharePoint the entire decoded file path, including the file name, cannot exceed 400 characters. This limitation ensures that file paths remain manageable and compatible within various systems. Moreover, there are restrictions on file upload size, with SharePoint Online having a maximum file size limit of 250 GB per file. It is important to note that the limit for sharing items may vary depending on the organisation’s settings. 

(We’re going to do a deep dive into the metadata filling process in SharePoint and its benefits in a future article – keep an eye out for that!) 

Special Characters in File Names

When establishing file naming conventions in SharePoint, there are only a few characters that are accepted as valid. 

Valid Characters

In SharePoint, valid characters that can be used in file names are limited to letters and numbers, as well as some special characters like hyphens, underscores, and a handful of others (though be aware that underscores can visually get lost in the underline that is typically present on hyperlinks). These characters are considered safe and will not cause conflicts or issues within the system. 

Invalid Special Characters 

In SharePoint, there are certain special characters that cannot be used in file names. These characters are: 

  1. \ (backslash)
  2. / (forward slash)
  3. : (colon)
  4. * (asterisk)
  5. ? (question mark)
  6. ” (double quotation marks)
  7. < (less than)
  8. > (greater than)
  9. | (vertical bar)
a screenshot showing invalid characters in file naming conventions

Document Library Names & Folder Names

Having consistent file naming conventions also applies to document library and folder names within your collection of libraries in SharePoint. Folder names should be short and descriptive, providing a clear indication of the contents within. Avoid lengthy or vague names that could lead to confusion. Using descriptive words related to the folder’s contents helps users quickly understand what is stored inside. E.g. MARKETING MINUTES, or CONTRACT TEMPLATES. Implementing good document library organisation now will help you in the long run.

Get the most out of Microsoft SharePoint

You don’t have to be a tech expert to make SharePoint work for you. Beginning with simple guidelines and naming conventions will help you start off on the right foot and improve user experience. And for those you want to dive a little deeper into how they can be making this versatile platform work for you, our Microsoft experts are here to help.

FAQs about file naming conventions in SharePoint and SharePoint Online

What are file naming conventions? 

File naming conventions are a set of rules and guidelines that help ensure consistent and organised collections of files. They help users quickly identify and locate the documents or content they need by providing a standardised naming structure. 

Why are consistent file names important? 

Consistent file names improve organisation and file discoverability. By following a naming convention, files can be easily categorised and searched for, saving time and reducing frustration when trying to locate specific documents. This should be part of your overall document content management strategy. Plus, you’ll thank yourself if you ever need to go through a file share migration – it’s a HUGE help when everything is named properly! 

Can I use special characters in file names? 

It is generally recommended to avoid using special characters in file names, as they can cause issues when accessing files across different platforms or systems. Stick to alphanumeric characters and common symbols like hyphens or underscores. 

Should I use metadata in SharePoint? 

You can use metadata in combination with file naming conventions, though we recommend establishing a metadata filling process to assign which fields people are required to fill in. When you go into the document library views, the metadata columns should display the same set of information across all of the files. We’ll be doing a deep-dive into using metadata in SharePoint in a future blog – stay tuned for that! 

Are there any specific guidelines for file naming conventions? 

While there are no one-size-fits-all rules, it is generally recommended to keep file names concise, descriptive, and meaningful. Including relevant keywords or metadata in the file name can further aid in document identification and classification.