File Naming: Versioning Has Changed the Rules

June 21, 2016

Names identify, categorize, define. A single name such as Aristotle or Napoleon reminds us of stories from history books. Using the word requirement or notes in a file name leaves no second guessing the type of information stored in that file.


For years, best practice indicated organizations should adopt a file naming convention, making content identifiable and accessible to all. Often, naming conventions addressed versioning. To version a file might require including a date, a major/minor version numbering scheme, a reviewer’s initials, etc. in the file name. Many organizations implemented naming convention requirements and many of us learned to work within these guidelines.


Then, along came content management tools such as SharePoint. SharePoint stores information (metadata) about who modified the file, what date it was modified, and the version number. If versioning is enabled, we can see what changed within each version of the file and can use minor and major versioning along with workflows to enhance file tracking during the edit process. And, the most recent version of a file is always visible. The need for a file naming convention still exists, with the versioning part now handled by the technology.


But, we have trouble breaking old habits. Just as our first instinct was to create folders to be used to store files in document libraries, we also instinctively add versioning information to the file name before we upload it into the library. In doing so, we usurp SharePoint’s capability to track and store versions for us. The end result is a document library that is cluttered with multiple versions of files, requires great scrutiny to identify the most current file, might contain out-of-date files that are linked to another SharePoint site, and is no better than the file share we left behind when we moved to SharePoint.

Following are suggested best practices for managing files using SharePoint:

  • Companies should standardize file naming conventions to clearly indicate the file contents.

  • File names should not include dates (unless it’s tied to the content, ex: Nov2010 Sales Report), reviewer names or initials, or version numbers.

  • File reviewers should never modify the file name during the edit process.

  • When the document library is created, file versioning should be enabled.

  • File reviewers should always check out files prior to making edits and include meaningful review comments when checking the file back in.

Does this scenario sound familiar? How are you managing files using SharePoint?

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