SharePoint’s Parent-Child Relationship

Posted by: Joy T. Apple on September 22,2017

If you’ve been working with SharePoint for very long you’re already familiar with the fact that SharePoint site collections are hierarchical. Let’s take a closer look at how inheritance plays a large role in that hierarchy.

First, let’s consider the basic structure of a site collection. A site collection consists of a top-level site and one or more subsites. Each subsite contains various lists, libraries, and pages. When a top-level, or parent site, is created there are certain elements created on that site that subsites don’t have. These include the List Template, Web part and Solutions galleries, among a few others. Also, when a top-level site is provisioned permissions are put in place when create the basis for the permissions boundaries of the entire site collection.

Whatever is in place for the parent site can be inherited by the child sites. For example, when you create a subsite one of the first things we’re asked to decide is if it will inherit permissions from the parent.

inheritance 1.png

In this image, we have a parent site and 4 child sites. Two of the child sites are using permissions they are inheriting from the parent. The other two have gone to college and are no longer living by the parent’s rules.


Management of the content contained in our SharePoint sites is one of the, if not the most important things we do in SharePoint. Understanding and working with the concept of inheritance will streamline that process.

SharePoint gives us a lot of stuff to help us start wrangling content. A lot. If you’ve never browsed through the Site Column gallery I encourage you to do so. I’ll confess, I’m guilty of preferring my own custom columns to the ones in SharePoint. That’s not a bad thing, unless I just ad hoc add them to lists and libraries and never stop to think of the other people who could benefit from them in their lists too.

“What does this have to do with inheritance?”

I’m so glad you asked! If I build a custom column in a library on a site, there’s no way for other libraries to use it. But, If I build that column in the Site Column library, any list, library in the same site and subsites can now use it! They’ll inherit it from their parent.inheritance 2.png

Now, I’m sure we all remember from Jr. High biology class that inheritance never goes backwards. I have blue eyes because my dad had blue eyes, not the other way around. Same goes in SharePoint. Your parent site won’t get a custom column (or content type, or list template, for that matter) from a child site. Inheritance doesn’t work that way.  I need to place objects such as custom columns and list templates as high up in the structure as I possibly can, so they can be used throughout the site collection. At the very least, build them in the current site’s gallery so sibling lists and libraries can benefit from them.

If you don’t have access to the Web Designer galleries in your site or site collection, I encourage you to find out who does and talk with them about any custom columns, list templates or content types that might be cubby holed in lower site structures. Consistency in metadata throughout the environment drives and provides powerful search. It also keeps us from having to “reinvent the wheel” every time we create new lists and libraries. Efficiency in process and in finding our content adds to the overall efficiency of our team.


Topics: Microsoft Office 365, SharePoint Online

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