What is SharePoint? Complete Guide for Beginners

/ Andreas Glaser

Microsoft SharePoint is a collaboration and content management platform helping you to work better with teams across the globe.

For end users it's a website helping you to better work with information or to find a person you need to make better decisions.

For an administrator it's a set of multiple servers hosting the SharePoint environment aka intranet.

See below how it enhances your daily work and business processes.

What is SharePoint in simple terms?

SharePoint makes your work easier and more efficient by helping you with daily work problems like not finding required information, finding too much information or making bad decisions based on wrong information.

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What Is SharePoint Used For?

SharePoint is used for storing, managing and retrieving information. It's used to find a person who may have information you need and to access it from anywhere in the world. Microsoft SharePoint not only gets information you need it also prepares, visualizes or sorts it by relevance.

It's all about working smarter.

Here's an example:

The amount of available information and the rate in which it is created increased and the way people communicate changed. Within an intranet scenario information can be stored at:

  • File shares,

  • Local hard disks,

  • Personal folders,

  • Different applications,

  • E-Mails or

  • In the head of a person you don't know.

People may have problems to make decisions because they have too much information.

They may also have problems because they can't find the information they need.

You can imagine that storage is one of the problems: Files are stored in different folders or sub folders without Meta information or with strange file names.

Information may not be retrieved since people just don't know that certain information exists.

The access to information can be problematic because of remote or mobile access or due to granular security.

So how should you make a decision if you can't find or use the information you need? Even if you find all the information how should you make a decision in time if it takes you hours or days to search and rate them?

SharePoint solves all problems information worker have.

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Start learning SharePoint

What Are the Benefits of Using SharePoint?

There are tons of benefits and here are 5:

  1. Save costs by streamlining business processes.

  2. Higher productivity for information workers around the world.

  3. Secure information sharing and content management.

  4. One SharePoint platform for large and small businesses.

  5. Easy customization and high scalability.

How is SharePoint Useful for Collaboration?

SharePoint enables secure collaboration via a website with business users around the world. It offers right out-of-the-box easy document management including document sharing, metadata, approval, check-in / check-out, notifications, workflows and real-time co-authoring. SharePoint also comes with process automation using SharePoint workflows or custom workflows.

The web interface is intuitive to use and easily customizable.

How Can SharePoint Be Used for Content Management?

SharePoint comes with an enterprise content management system to easily store and retrieve information. It's highly customizable and scalable. It also includes enterprise search to easily find existing information so you don't have to do the same work again.

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How does Microsoft SharePoint Work?

As an end user, you open your browser to access your personal website showing you news, updates about documents or tasks and your latest work items. You can store personal files and access team sites or project sites to work with someone else.

As an administrator, you are responsible for operating one or more SharePoint Server. You can use a website called Central Administration and PowerShell for application and service management, monitoring, backup and restore or managing security. Usually, a company's SharePoint environment contains multiple SharePoint server. SharePoint data is stored in SQL Server databases.

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Start learning SharePoint

What is SharePoint Online?

SharePoint Online is the same powerful web-based collaboration and document management platform as described above. However, it is the cloud version of SharePoint where Microsoft is hosting the environment instead of an administrator on a server inside your company.

What are the Benefits of SharePoint Online?

As an administrator, you don't host a single SharePoint server. You don't need to worry about hardware, performance, backup and restore or product updates. Instead you can focus on application management, service management or security.

As an end user, you have the same benefits and experience as every other SharePoint user because it doesn't matter who runs the SharePoint server.

As a business owner, you can greatly reduce costs by streamlining processes by using SharePoint Online.

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What is SharePoint in Office 365?

SharePoint Online is a cloud service offered by Microsoft and is part of different subscriptions:

  1. A basic subscription for SharePoint Online can be purchased using 3 different plans including Microsoft Office, OneDrive, Exchange or Teams.

  2. Some of the Microsoft 365 Business subscriptions contain SharePoint.

  3. Both, the Office 365 Enterprise and the Microsoft 365 Enterprise subscription contain SharePoint.

  4. The Microsoft 365 Home subscription doesn't include SharePoint.

What are the subscription plans for SharePoint in Office 365?
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Do I need Office 365 to use SharePoint?

No, you don't need Office 365 because you can directly purchase a subscription for SharePoint Online.

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What is the difference between SharePoint and OneDrive?

OneDrive is like a folder where you can store your personal files and share documents.

SharePoint is a web-based collaboration and document management platform allowing teams world-wide to work together.

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What is the difference between SharePoint and OneDrive?
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Should I save files to OneDrive or SharePoint?

If you're working on a private file for yourself you can store it in OneDrive. If you're working with a team you should save it at a place where your team works together (e.g. SharePoint, Teams).

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What is the difference between SharePoint and Teams?

Microsoft Teams is about collaboration using chat, calls and meetings.

SharePoint is about collaboration using a platform for document management and information sharing across the organization.

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What is SharePoint Designer?

SharePoint Designer allows you as an advanced user or even as a developer to rapidly create solutions without code. Business needs are changing or new ones come up... instead of doing a huge specification and implementation phase which consumes a lot of resources you have the possibility to rapidly create solutions for your business needs.

How does it work? After installing SharePoint Designer you connect to existing SharePoint sites and modify them.

What is SharePoint Designer?
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Learn more about SharePoint Designer

What is the SharePoint Framework?

The SharePoint Framework (SPFx) is a model for building client-side SharePoint customizations and easy integration of SharePoint data.

This is for you if you want to learn SharePoint Development.

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Start learning SharePoint Development

What's New With SharePoint Server Subscription Edition?

SharePoint Server Subscription Edition comes with the following enhancements:

  • Support for Windows Server 2022 and Windows Server Core

  • Support for upgrade from SharePoint 2016 and SharePoint 2019

  • AppFabric Cache is now completely integrated in SharePoint

  • Easier AAM configuration for Central Administration

  • Support for client certificate authentication to SMTP servers

  • Support for OpenID Connect (OIDC) 1.0

  • SSL certificate management

  • Support for TLS 1.3

  • Strong TLS encryption by default

  • Search result page modernization

  • Support for returning list content in modern results page

  • Thumbnails in modern search result page

  • And many more enhancements...

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Start Installing SharePoint

What is a SharePoint Add-In?

A SharePoint Add-In is a small piece of functionality you can add to every SharePoint site. It's used to display and interact with all kinds of content and information. Add-ins allow you to customize a SharePoint site based on your needs and are downloaded via the SharePoint App store.

What is a SharePoint App?

A SharePoint App is a small, easy-to-use application you can add to a SharePoint site. It's used to display information and interact with information. They are now called SharePoint Add-Ins beginning with SharePoint 2016.

What are Web Parts?

Web parts were used to display and interact with information in every form you can imagine. They were called SharePoint Apps in SharePoint 2013 and are now called SharePoint Add-Ins..

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What is a SharePoint Farm?

A SharePoint farm is a collection of SharePoint server providing the SharePoint platform. This includes providing web applications, services, search querying and indexing as well as caching. A farm is easily scalable, can be highly available and needs a SQL Server to store content.

Central Administration or PowerShell is used to manage every SharePoint server in a farm.

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Learn SharePoint Administration


Information Workers these days have problems making decisions based on too much information or because of insufficient information. Information is usually stored at different places, can’t be found or accessed. The goal is to work more easily and more efficient and to securely store, manage and retrieve any information from anywhere.

Storing information at one place is required. Microsoft offers SharePoint as part of a solution where you can store information using items, documents, lists, sites and Site Collections. You can group them into logical units to represent teams, departments, partners or projects.

Retrieving information is also an important requirement. Even if you store information at one place you need to find them in time. SharePoint offers different functionality like search to find content and people with needed expertise and skills. Information and data is retrieved, used or visualized by Web Parts, Controls, Event Receivers, Workflows and Timer Jobs.

SharePoint is a business solution… it’s web-based and it works for small teams as well as the huge enterprises. Users can collaborate and they can enhance the way they do it. They have access to applications and its data within the same environment and they can recreate their processes inside SharePoint and streamline them. Everything is done using one infrastructure which can be scaled out or extended with new capabilities.

SharePoint is about working with information more effective.

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See how data is stored in SharePoint using items, lists, libraries, sites, site collections and web applications.

It's important to understand data structure since it's not visible in SharePoint. A lot of people get confused and don't understand how to use SharePoint sites, pages and lists.

(Although the video shows an older version of SharePoint all concepts still apply to the newer versions.)

Items & Documents

The most basic element in SharePoint is an item or a document.

An item can be a calendar entry, a task or a contact. An item can have metadata like location, start date and end date (calendar entry) or a telephone number, first name or last name (contact).

A document can be a Word document, PowerPoint presentation, some Excel file or a PDF. Video and music files are also seen as documents by SharePoint. A document can also have metadata like contributor, format, language or a scope (coverage).

So the most basic element is an item or document. Sometimes you also have folders you can use to store items or documents.

SharePoint Lists & Libraries

Items and documents have to be stored somewhere and therefore we have lists for items and libraries for documents.

As you can see data can be displayed in different views depending on how it makes sense to display the information.

On the left side there is a navigation pane you can use to switch between lists and libraries.

Items, Documents and Folders are part of a list or library where each list or library can have a different purpose: You can store tasks, events, links, discussions, announcements or a lot of different kinds of documents.


A list or library uses views to display information in rows and columns. If you have a calendar events will be displayed in a more appropriate way. Anyway the item or document itself is represented by a row and its metadata in different columns.

Content Types

And you can group metadata stored in columns into certain types of content called Content Types.

Different types of information have different metadata. For example:

  • Regarding a calendar entry its metadata may consist of a start time and end time as well as a location.
  • Regarding a document its metadata may consist of an author, a title and a modified date.
  • Additionally a report can have metadata like language or scope.
  • Additionally a whitepaper may have metadata like rights management information.

For example you can have the following Content Types:

  • Document with the columns author, title and modified date.
  • Report with the columns author, title, modified date, language and scope.
  • Whitepaper with the columns author, title, modified date, language, scope and rights management information.

In general you can add content types to lists or libraries. You can add the 3 content types mentioned above to a document library to store documents with different metadata. You can also create 3 libraries to store each type of document.

Quick summary:

  • Content is stored in lists
  • Described with metadata
  • Metadata is grouped to Content Types

SharePoint Sites

Next we have sites. Each list is part of a site. Also each library is also part of a site.

A site can be seen as a container which has a default page (Homepage) and which includes lists and libraries. A site is a container for data.

Sites are the elements in SharePoint which can be arranged in hierarchies. There are different types of sites:

  • A site can be a team site. Each team has lists and libraries to store contact information about team members, documents or events.
  • A site can also be a project site where each project has lists and libraries to store information about the project like its current state, presentations and calculations.
  • A site can be an Internet facing Website.

Sites can have sub sites to represent a logical hierarchy… but there are also pages. E.g. a site can show office locations where pages represent the different offices.

A page is part of a site and actually a document stored in a document library. In this case the document is called ‘Page’ and has metadata like title, content, author and the document library is called ‘Site Pages’ where the pages are stored. In this example there are 2 pages: ‘Home’ and ‘How To use This Library’. As you can see items and documents are everywhere and can have different appearances even as pages.

Site Collections

A site collection is basically a collection of sites with a root site at the top. The root site is almost a site like any other site below it. Additionally you can manage settings which apply to all sites in the site collection e.g.

  • The available functionality,
  • Common navigation,
  • Security settings or
  • Layouts.

Under site settings you can see settings for the Site Collection like ‘Workflows’ or the ‘Site Collection Administration’ if you have the right permission.

Web Applications

At this point you need a way to access your collection of sites and sub sites via a web browser. And therefore we have web applications. A web application is the logical component:

  • It has a Host Header (URL), e.g. http://intranet.
  • It stores data inside one or more associated content databases.

A web application can have several site collections:

  • http://intranet
  • http://intranet/sites/hr
  • http://intranet/sites/operations

A team site is usually used inside the company and has a different URL than an internet facing website. This is the part where the web server comes in...

Web Server

A web server is a server where a set of services are running to publish websites to the internet or intranet. Of course a web server can publish more than one web site.

If you have multiple SharePoint servers they are grouped to a SharePoint (server) farm. While the web server publishes information to the Internet or Intranet the database server is required to store configuration data and content.

The picture shows:

  • A web server hosting two web sites: One web site for the intranet and one for the extranet.
  • The intranet contains two site collections.
  • The first site collection contains a site for the ‘Sales Department’, a site for ‘HR’ and a project site.
  • The sub site ‘Sales Department’ contains lists and libraries with e.g. presentations, white paper as well as product descriptions.
  • The second site collection includes a site for the executive committee.
  • The third site collection realizes the extranet and is located in a different web application and database.


Information Workers these days have problems to make decisions based on too much information or because of insufficient information. Information is usually stored at different places, can’t be found or accessed. The goal is to work more easily and more efficient and to securely store, manage and retrieve any information from anywhere. Storing Information at one place is required.

Microsoft offers SharePoint as part of a solution where you can store information using items, documents, lists, sites and Site Collections. You can group them into logical units to represent teams, departments, partners or projects.

While this presentation gave you an overview how data is stored in SharePoint the next presentation will give an overview how to work with data stored in SharePoint.

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Next Steps - How to learn SharePoint

The following page has everything you need to get startet.

SharePoint Tutorials, Trainings and lots of videos for administrators, developers and end users.

Learn SharePoint

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