TL;DR: Want to see file type extensions (.docx, .pdf, .mp4) in a SharePoint 2013/Online document library? Add the “Name (for use in forms)” column to your default view. Must be a site owner to perform this action.
See the video below for explicit how-to and read this post for even more info.
An annoying thing about SharePoint 2013 and SharePoint Online (Office 365) is the fact that a document library hides the file type extension from its document libraries. That means if you have a bunch of different file types hosted in a library, maybe with similar names, the only way to distinguish them is the small icon to the left of the clickable names.
That’s all well and good if your document library consists mainly of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote files, which get their own cute little icons, but it’s not great if you branch off into many other file types outside of pdf, jpeg, and png.
For example, the screen shot below shows a standard document library in SharePoint Online (Office 365) with some files in it. The files are mostly multimedia, and some of them don’t have designated file type icons, so it get the barebones, white page icon. So, there’s no way for me to tell which file type I’m looking at without doing a little playing.
There’s no good solution to this, but there is this workaround that will likely meet your needs. But if you’re like me, it will leave you shaking your head. Because it’s pretty much a cop out.
Basically, you can add one or two more columns to your view to make the file type more obvious. The first option is to add the file size column to the view, which can be handy if you have video or other file types that typically fall in a higher size range. But that doesn’t actually get you the file type.
The other option is to add the “Name (for use in forms)” column to the view. Unfortunately, this column type does not and cannot link to the file, so it can’t replace the “Name” column (which would be a more elegant solution). However, displaying both the “Name” column—providing access to the file and ellipses for more options—and the “Name (for use in forms)” column—providing the file type—you basically have what you want in the end. Albeit in a very clunky way.
Step-by-step instructions are listed below. You must be a site owner to perform this action. If you’re not the site owner, ping that person and let them know your pain point and explain this solution. It takes all of 14 seconds.
- From the library, go to the ribbon and click Library > Modify View.
- Under the “Columns” section, check the box next to “File Size” and/or “Name (for use in forms)” based on your preference. Choose where you want the column to show up in the library using the numbered options in the right column. In my case, this is important information, so I want “Name (for use in forms)” to show up right after “Name (linked to document with edit menu)” (basically, just “Name”) and “File Size” to appear to the right of that. In my case, Modified and Modified By are less important to me.
- Click the “Save” button.
My document library now looks like this. Major improvement. Not perfect, but it’ll do I guess.
Thoughts on this
This kind of logic is a pet peeve for me. File types are useful information, though Microsoft has decided to hide it by default in its most recent user interfaces. The icons are helpful, but only to an extent, and only on certain file types.
The most typical image files, png and jpeg, have icons, though I don’t know how I should know the difference. I guess the “landscape” look of the jpeg icon goes along with photographs, which are almost always saved as jpegs. The gear icon for png is pushing it, and you’d have to know image manipulation well enough to understand that diagrams are usually created as vectors and saved in the png format because it supports transparent backgrounds (jpeg does not).
That is not information I expect the typical office employee to know. It’s just not.
And yes, I use Keynote on a Mac for presentations. So the .key file seen above would understandably not have an icon. But mp4? That doesn’t have an icon in 2016? Seems baffling.
So, why did Microsoft decide to do this? I think they believe it’s smart to remove extraneous information as a design perogative. And big picture-wise, I support that. But file types outside of png, jpeg, pdf, and Office documents are regularly used by many people. Not knowing what you’re looking at can be really challenging.
There’s a good discussion forum question I came across while researching this topic and a Redmond rep chimed in with suggestions. Unfortunately the first suggestion was to toggle a switch in the SharePoint Central Admin page. Only your IT gods have access to that. And that was only for SharePoint 2013, not SharePoint Online (O365). The other option was a code-based solution.
Both solutions were completely unreasonable expectations of a typical user or site owner.
Eventually, the suggestion of providing additional columns (as described above) seemed to meet the needs of the original poster (OP); although the solution didn’t come from the Microsoft rep, but rather another user.
OP did get in a very valid back-and-forth with both the Microsoft rep and another power admin over the intention of hiding file extensions. I strongly disagree with their viewpoints, though. Frankly, OP is completely right when he says:
I want to like it, I really do. But right now we’re struggling against what seem to be arbitrary rules and restrictions that are making my job harder.
The Microsoft support rep indicated the comment would be fed to the SharePoint product team in Redmond. This discussion took place in April 2013. It’s early 2016 now. It appears this fell off their radar or was deemed unnecessary during internal discussions. Which is a shame.
Arbitrary rules need to be clearly vetted before Redmond rolls them out. And if it changes fundamental aspects of the experience (which I believe this does), there needs to be a simple, easy way for us to revert back. And one that can be set across an entire site, not just by document library.
And there’s my 2¢ for the day. Even if you didn’t request it, you got it.