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Working with SharePoint’s 5000 item threshold in a document library or list

Susan CarlowIn this post I want to cover working with the SharePoint 5000 item threshold in a document library or list.

A few of my clients have come across this; they suddenly encounter problems syncing their document library, or a list stops displaying the views properly.

In these* cases the issue is due to a lack of understanding of Microsoft’s 5000 item limit. Unfortunately, Microsoft’s warning about the threshold reaching its limit is often missed by users and administrators alike. And with the amount of information, data and files we all work with today, many companies very quickly get to 5000+ items in a list or library.

What is it?

Microsoft have a threshold on SharePoint lists and libraries, that limit is 5000 items.

Why is it there?

Microsoft describe it here:

SharePoint has resource throttles and limits that govern the amount of data and throughput that can be managed. The List View Threshold is by default, approximately 5000 items, and is set to allow users to work with large lists, but keep good performance.

So, it’s there to help ensure your SharePoint performs at its optimal best.

Why does it happen?

There’s several reasons why the threshold is commonly exceeded:

  1. Lists and libraries let you save more than 5000 items or documents
  2. There is no warning to notify you that you are getting close to reaching the 5000 item limit
  3. Many organisations just use the out of the box (OOB) functionality in SharePoint, where they save to just one single document library

Reason #1 is a tad cruel eh?  Whilst the limit is in place, you can save more than 5000 items to a list or library, this is because it is in actuality a threshold and not a defined boundary.  Therefore, there’s nothing in place to stop you from continuing to add to a list or library even when you’ve passed the 5000 item mark.  So, here you are, a company that’s successfully using SharePoint; your trained users are doing the right thing saving all docs to the SharePoint doc library, and your staff are rocking it by creating items in lists just like they were taught to.  Everything is going swimmingly … until one day, it’s not.

Reason #2 just adds fuel to the fire.  Not only was there no warning that your list or library was getting close to the limit.  The warning that it’s already at (or over) the limit is quite discreet.  If they see it, do your users even know what it means?  Most users don’t care about the other 4999 items in the list, they just want to find the 1 item they’re interested in.

It’s no wonder so many organisations go way over the 5000 item limit before they realise it, and by then some strange things can be happening with your SharePoint that could possibly be mistaken as other issues, therefore sending your IT techies a bit barmy.

I’m a bit more forgiving to Microsoft with reason #3, because they give you a basic SharePoint OOB with the expectation that you won’t work in the OOB solution for long.  At some stage (the earlier the better), you should be hiring someone like me to develop your SharePoint further, setting you up a variety of sites, subsites, lists and document libraries which all help you to reduce the impact of the 5000 item threshold.

The crux of it is if you’re working on an OOB SharePoint and saving all of your documents to the one single document library that was there when you first started using it, you’re going to come across the 5000 item limit sooner or later.

What happens?

This question is difficult to answer, as any variety of consequences can happen once you exceed the limit in a library or list. Firstly, you may not notice anything happening.  You may be able to work for a reasonable length of time before you even realise that something isn’t working as you expect.

Some of my clients working on SharePoint Online in Office 365 notice sync issues, where their doc library no longer syncs properly.  Another client who works on extremely large lists from a SharePoint Server** only encounters the issue when specific users attempt to filter or search for items in a list and the view doesn’t display an item that they know for definite is in the list – they then realise that the filtered view isn’t working.  If you use lookup fields, sum/total fields or grouped views, these can also break once the threshold is reached.

Some of the error messages look like this:

SharePoint 5000 item limit

Or this:

 

SharePoint 5000 item limit

Another ugly consequence of the issue is that your IT team could quite easily spend many hours trying to resolve the issue without realising that the symptoms they’re trying to fix are actually due to the 5000 item threshold.

 

How do I know if a list or library has reached the limit?

Your Administrator or Developer (or Site Owner) can check the number of items in a list by going to Site Contents.  The number of items are displayed clearly, so can be monitored and actioned before you reach the threshold.

SharePoint 5000 item limit

 

 

How do I overcome the 5000 item limit?

The easiest way is to set up multiple document libraries or lists, and keep an eye on the number of items.  Have a retention policy and a plan to regularly check, clear down and archive items.  You can also create indexed columns and ensure your list or library doesn’t have the views or fields that break when you pass 5000 items. Your SharePoint Administrator can help manage this process.

How do I fix a library or list that has already exceeded the limit?

The best way to fix it is to move files or items to a new library or list.  Hire a skilled specialist to create new lists and libraries and help you reduce the total items in your large list or library to less than 5000 items.

I recommend to my clients that we perform an archive, but enable users to still get to the archived list or library. I also suggest using quality meta data to help categorise the items, making it easier to locate files and items once archived.  You can also strip your list of any groups, filters, sums and totals and manually filter the list – this is a workaround, but at least allows you to work with the large list.

Your SharePoint Administrator can help manage this process.  For more reading, see this article from Microsoft on managing large lists and libraries in SharePoint.

* Be aware that not every issue (particularly sync issues) will be caused by the item threshold being exceeded, but I’ve come across this several times recently, so it’s a good one to investigate and eliminate straight away.

** In SharePoint Server, your Administrator can increase the limit.  Whether they ought to or not is another story, as the threshold is there to ensure optimal performance, so it’s a risky option.

 

If you need help with the 5000 item limit for your libraries or lists, or for more information on how we can help you with SharePoint training and intranet development please contact me.  We also offer training in Office 365.

 

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