10 Reasons the SharePoint Modern Library experience is better

Reading Time: 9 minutes

If you’re working with organizations in SharePoint Online and in a modernization effort to move from a classic to a modern list/library experience, you may receive some push-back from information workers making the transition. One thing I’ve learned over the years while working with SharePoint/Office 365 adoption is how hard some habits can be to break. Classic to Modern library experience is no different.

Note: For the remainder of this post, the term Library will refer to both List and Library.

To be clear, there are certain features or customizations that will ONLY work in the Classic Library experience in SharePoint. If those are required for your situation, switching to the Modern experience will not be an option. Search for “Features available only in the classic experience” in the Microsoft post Differences between the new and classic experiences for lists and libraries.

Many times I see information workers in SharePoint using the Classic experience or they quickly switch to it if they’re not already in it. Unless their library is using one of the legacy features described above, this is either out of habit or a lack of understanding on what the modern experience provides.

It’s incumbent upon us to ensure information workers know the advantages of the modern experience.

There are 2 administrative settings to control what shows as default for the list/library. The first is in the SharePoint Admin Center to control the default setting for lists and libraries in the tenant. The second is in the list/library Advanced settings where you can control the experience at a more granular level.

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[Update February 2019] Refer to this recent Microsoft Tech Community post titled Delivering SharePoint modern experiences where Microsoft shares an update to the above setting to remove the capability to restrict an entire tenant to the Classic experience.

Excerpt: Starting April 1, 2019, it will no longer be possible to restrict an entire organization (tenant) to classic mode for lists and libraries.   Lists and libraries may still use classic mode using the granular opt-out switches that we provide at the site collection, site, list, and library levels.  Additionally, lists that use certain features and customizations that are not supported by modern will still be automatically switched to classic mode.

Even on a newly provisioned modern Team Site, the option to revert to a Classic library experience still exists. Also, with any business users potentially being Site Owners, they will have the permission required to change this setting at their discretion. Due to this, it’s important to understand the key advantages of the Modern Library experience to showcase its improved feature set. You never know when you’ll have to defend the Modern library experience to a die-hard Classic fan.

I’ve started with a list of the key advantages I see having the biggest end-user impact while working in a library. This is not an exhaustive list – if you think I’ve missed a key one, let me know!

If you’re short on time (who isn’t by the way)… here’s the list in no particular order:

  1. Quicker editing of metadata with the information pane
  2. Quickly update multiple documents’ metadata at once
  3. Drag-and-drop from one group to another to update metadata
  4. Ability to pin documents, links, and filters
  5. Ability to move and copy documents and folders from the command bar
  6. Better handling of required metadata
  7. Creating and customizing views is easier
  8. Allows you to set a per-item retention label
  9. Custom column formatting only available in modern
  10. You can upload a folder

[Updated September 7, 2018] Added 2 as a result of community feedback!:

  1. Responsive across device channels
  2. Better handling of large lists/libraries
  3. Power User tools are embedded in the command bar of the modern experience (Power Apps, Microsoft Flow)

Bonus reason to use modern: all new investments will be in the modern experience, not classic!

Read on for more details on each of the above benefits. I also address some gaps I’ve run into between classic and modern at the end of this post.

#1 – Quicker editing of metadata with the information pane

The time to update a single document’s metadata is reduced and is far less disruptive than the classic experience. Select a document, click the information icon on the top right-hand corner to open up the information pane on the right. This will show a preview of the document, recent activity, document access, and metadata properties. When updating metadata on this pane, you don’t have to press the Enter key or a save button to save your changes. Awesome! You can’t do that in the classic experience.


Note: it is important to know that a new version of the document is created on every autosave done in the information pane. If you update 4 different metadata values, there will be 4 new versions created. (assuming you don’t have check-out required)

#2 – Quickly update multiple documents’ metadata at once

Although in both classic and modern library experiences you can quickly update metadata across multiple documents using the Bulk Edit or Quick Edit features while in an un-grouped view, the ability to select multiple documents in the UI and update metadata using the information pane is only possible in the modern experience and is very quick and convenient. This can be done regardless of the type of view being displayed (Grouped, un-grouped) simply be selecting multiple documents.


#3 – Drag-and-drop from one group to another to update metadata

If you’re in a grouped modern view of a library, you can drag and drop a document from one group into another. This will automatically update the metadata that is being grouped by. This feature is not available in the classic experience.

Note: this is only a benefit if the number of items in a library is relatively small since you need to have the group you want to drag it into visible on the same screen. I see a use-case for this in a library controlling a limited number of documents grouped by status, Corporate budgets for instance. Like the image shows below, when a budget is dragged into either the Approved or Declined status group, a Flow could start to initiate another process and move it to an Approved or Declined Budgets library with appropriate retention controls applied.


#4 – Ability to Pin documents, links, and filters

Pinning is a useful feature found across several areas of the modern library experience:

  • Pin a metadata property filter so it will always appear on the top of the filter pane. In the first image, the Region is now pinned to the top of the Filter pane,
  • Pin a document (or link) to the top of a library view. In the second image, I’ve pinned a word document to the top . It’s important to know this is a global view setting and not an individual setting.
Pin a filter
Pin a document

#5 – Ability to Move and Copy documents and folders from the command bar

Having the ability to move and copy documents (and folders!) between and among sites is a very important part of document management. Both the Move to and Copy to options are available on the Command bar when a document or folder is selected from the modern experience. This is not available in the classic experience.


Another helpful feature for the Move to functionality is the warning the end-user will receive when trying to move a document with metadata that doesn’t exist at the destination. This gives the opportunity to assess if the document is being moved to the correct location, however allows it be moved anyway. (image)


#6 – Better handling of Required metadata

With required metadata, it’s important for information workers to easily identify which documents need it. The classic experience leaves any document checked out if required metadata is not filled out. The modern experience does not leave the document checked out, and assists information workers in two ways:

  1. Automatically adds a new view to the library called Files that need attention. This view will show all documents with missing metadata
  2. Highlights the column in the view with a yellow background to visually highlight the missing metadata property


#7 – Creating and Customizing views is easier

Information workers have always been able to create their own personal views in the classic experience and, with sufficient permissions, public views, however there’s a quicker way to create a view in the modern experience without going thru Library Advanced Settings. 

Refer to this Microsoft post for specific steps: Creating a custom view in a document library

The modern experience provides a WYSIWYG approach. Simply click Add Column on the top right of any view to show/hide/add column(s), adjust the Group by options, apply filters. You can use the drag-and-drop functionality while on the Edit view column pane once you click the Show/hide columns. This is a really quick way to adjust column positioning within a view. When the view is ready, click Save view. 

The modern experience also allows for quick and persistent resizing of view column widths by dragging and dropping column dividers to adjust the widths. (image)

Note: You can continue to do more advanced view settings on the Library Advanced Settings page.

#8 – Allows you to set a per-item retention label

As easy as it is to update a piece of metadata on a library using the information pane, you can also update a retention label. You can add a retention label to a view and set a default retention label for a library in either classic or modern, however you won’t see the label property when editing properties in the classic experience. This feature is only available in the modern library experience.


#9 – Custom column formatting only available in Modern

In the example below, I’ve added column formatting to the OutageStatus column in a custom SharePoint list to show a red, yellow, or green indicator dependent on status. It only renders in the modern experience. The formula will not be executed on the classic experience and only the column value will show.

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#10 – You can upload a Folder

Ok, all you folder-hating people… go easy on me – sometimes this option is necessary. 🙂  Although not a common requirement, particularly if you’re wanting to minimize folders in your libraries, you can upload an entire folder into a SharePoint library by using the Upload option on the command bar. (can also do this in OneDrive for Business) This is not possible in the classic experience thru the SharePoint UI (although you can upload multiple files at a time)


#11 – Responsive across all device channels

The modern library experience is fully responsive across all device channels. This is particularly useful when viewing the library on a tablet or other mobile device.

#12 – Better handling of large lists/libraries

The end-user experience is much improved for large lists and libraries with the introduction of predictive indexing. These just-in-time indexes are created based on how the end-user is sorting/filtering the library. Also, partial results are returned as the end-user scrolls down the list of items rather than returning all results at once.

Although this topic alone deserves its own blog post, the overall end-user experience browsing a large library is much improved in the modern experience.


There are a few usability gaps I’ve noticed between Classic and Modern. Here is a list of my top-hitters with a link to their UserVoice. If you have a vote or two to spare, and the status isn’t already Working on it, why not vote them up?

  • Bulk check-in/check-out – currently not available in the modern experience
  • Different views when inside a folder – used when you have a top-level folder and want to have a different view at the top-level folder and within the folder. This was available in the classic experience
  • Document Set modernization – currently the document set content type displays in a classic experience only. Functionality still works, but requires modernization.

Do you have a gap you would like to see addressed? Let me know and I’ll add it to the list above.

In summary

Microsoft will continue to make investments in the modern experience which will only add to the advantages over time. I can only assume the classic experience will eventually go away so the sooner the transition can be made to modern, the better off information workers will be.

The next time, you see someone flip to the classic library experience, share some of the benefits in this post to make them pause for a moment and reconsider their choice.

Thanks for reading.


Credit: Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash


  1. Compelling – I agree modern is best. But what about document sets? Are these supported in modern or do you have an alternative approach to using them, say default column values or avoid?

    1. Hi Keith,
      Document sets are completely supported, however the UI isn’t modern yet. That’s on Microsoft’s roadmap so it will be coming soon. I’m not crazy about the ‘column default value’ option as once the initial value is set and you change it, it doesn’t propagate the change down to all items in the folder. I often build current solutions using Document Sets with the knowledge that they will *eventually* get the modern UI.

      Thanks for the question – I think I’ll add it as a current “Gap”.

      Hope that helps.

  2. Hello Joanne, an issue with the information pane is that it generates a new version each time you update one metadata in the form. This generates confusion when you see your document version going from 2.0 to 6.0 after updating 4 columns of your document form (ISO responsible will probably not like this…Could use draft but it requires more end user training..)… Also I guess it generates an update events for each column update… Not very efficient for workflow/flow being called on every update. The other issue with metadata updates is when you use the “Edit All” option. If you start entering information and click outside the panel by mistake, it will close and you will loose your data updates. Not good if end user was typing a long description… These issues are not really helping for user adoption…

    Your articles are very useful. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Hi Martin, great points. To your first point, it’s definitely a trade-off the product team has made on the update event of an item. Both have advantages/disadvantages. (i.e. forcing the end user to select save when all changes are made versus background save). It’s similar behavior to the autosave feature in the Office clients. I’ll add this to my post for clarity! To your second point, this sounds like a bug – have you logged this with Microsoft? It should likely come up with a warning dialog imo.
      Thanks for your support!

      1. Hello Joanne,

        Regarding the “Edit All” form being closed without prompting if you click outside the form, this has been discussed in techcommunity but I will definitly log this to MS support. https://techcommunity.microsoft.com/t5/SharePoint/Modern-List-Item-UI-Causes-Data-Loss/m-p/168466#M15001

        For version generated on each column update in the information pane, If I’m not mistaken, this is the only place it will occurs as Office autosave feature will increment the version number only on the first save and not on subsequent one.


      2. Thanks Martin – I’ve not done extensive monitoring of that. I was thinking more in a co-authoring scenario where multiple people are in the document – the version history can be confusing to track in that case. Thanks for the clarification.

  3. Thank you Joanne for the great article. I have a question about #8 – per item retention label: do you need to be in modern to use the labels functionality?

    1. Hi Isabelle,
      Although you can certainly set a default label at a document library level if it’s in classic mode, you will not be able to individually apply a label at the document/item level. It just won’t show in the edit properties panel. You need to be in the modern experience to see the label. Note: you will be able to see the label in either classic or modern views though.
      Hope that clarifies it.

  4. Hello Joanne,

    Here are other gaps:

    – Bulk Approve/Reject
    – Change New Order Button on Folder to set default and other content types available in a specific folder

    Also a precision for #2 – Quickly update multiple documents’ metadata at once: If using a view not showing folders, it will apply the update only on selected items in the same folder (the first selected element defines which folder). Items in other folders will not be updated. A great thing about this option is you can now do Content Type batch update.


    1. Hi Pieter,
      I thought about that one long and hard and decided not to put it in but I know it’s a big improvement for large lists and libraries. I think I’ll add it. Thanks for the nudge.

      1. I had recently where my client was hesitating to move to modern and they had large libraries. Then with the predictive indexing things just suddenly started to work. It felt a bit like magic.

  5. Great article! Like you say a number of folks are reluctant to part with classic but as the advantages of modern pile up, they will be easier to convince.

    Something to add to bolster your point about copying (#5). In my experience it’s not the placement that makes this valuable but rather how this process differs from classic. For one thing the copy function in classic is so clunky and challenging for beginner users to understand. In modern, the interface is much more intuitive. Most importantly, the copy actually does what it says it will do. Try copying a page configured with a pile of web parts. In classic, web parts are left behind and previously the only easy way to copy such pages was via a third party tool (often reserved to administrators). The fact they improved this in modern is huge and it comes in handy nearly every day.

    Unfortunately for me the mass check out and check in is still a major gap and requires me to move back and forth between modern and classic to get tasks done. It is frankly shocking they have not resolved this yet.


    1. Thanks for the feedback David! Great point about copying site pages – MUCH improved with Modern. Agreed – bulk check-in/check-out is a big gap.


  6. +1 on Martin’s comment on bulk approval. Loading in many documents at a time and not having the ability to bulk check in and bulk approve, makes the process very tedious to the point of being unusable. BTW, MS removed the Content and Structure function in the online version of SharePoint. That is where I used to do my bulk CheckIns and Approvals. If there is are workarounds for these bulk processing omissions, I would love to hear them.

    1. Hi Mark,
      I’m not aware of a workaround. *Perhaps* you could temporarily build a Microsoft Flow to do it (until native functionality for bulk check-in/check-out was introduced) but I don’t love that solution as it wouldn’t be scalable across multiple libraries. If you had 1 library in particular that really needed it and you wanted to use Modern, I would consider it.


  7. Unfortunately, in my opinion, the modern experience for custom lists is just not ready to replace the classic experience. The biggest issues are:

    – column totals feature does not exist: This feature is critical for many reasons, and the most basic is knowing item count
    – column grouping has data integrity bugs: It will periodically display inaccurate counts for the group of items in scope
    – column grouping has performance issues
    – initial page loading performance is not as smooth as classic experience
    – horizontal scrolling performance is not as smooth as classic experience
    – vertical scrolling performance is inconsistent and additional items can take more than 3 seconds to load into view

    I tried using the modern experience for 6 months and finally had to abandon because of the above issues. The site I run is used as a CMDB for App info, which means it’s critical for data to work, and the above issues caused a poor user experience.

  8. No support for calendars, no column totals, etc. = handicapped experience. We will switch to Modern if and when MS gets around to finishing it. Currently switching to Modern breaks a great deal of functionality. Given the difficulties MS seems to be having in meeting the promised release dates for these features I anticipate running in Classic only experience for the foreseeable future.

  9. Hi.
    The following functionalities (for EDM) are missing in the modern experience:
    – it is not possible to send a document to a content organizer
    – it is not easy to customize menus
    – most important : it is not possible to open the document library in Windows explorer. And that is very very useful for migrating content, for user adoption, for people using SharePoint as a back office to other products.

    So, in my opinion: for new contents I use the modern experience; for current content I keep the classic experience.

    1. Hi Barafort, thanks for the feedback! Have you tried using the OneDrive Sync Client to view your libraries in File Explorer? Most clients I work with are using that’s

      1. Hi Joanne! Thank you very much for your answer.

        You are right, this is a nice solution. However in my opinion it is not exactly the same use:
        – synchronize is mainly used by traveling people, to get files needed offline
        – open in Windows explorer is mainly for initial loading, bulk copy… and can help people understand how to navigate and how the SharePoint is built. In fact Webdav access is a great SharePoint asset, and I think Microsoft may use that advantage in migration scenarios for example…

        I agree with you that modern experience is nice if you start a project, but it is not always easy to migrate existing SharePoint to modern (most of all if people have already been trained 🙂 )


      2. Hi Damien,
        It isn’t the exact same use, but it might be the closest you’re going to get with native capabilities. 😊 In my experience and observation working with clients heavily into Office 365, information workers (IWs) use the ODSC File Explorer experience far more than when they’re just traveling – mostly because it’s a familiar experience for them. There are limitations with it to be aware of (required metadata) as opposed to working in SharePoint directly, but overall it’s a solid modern File Explorer solution. It has an improved experience over Mapped Network drives or Quick Access (which IWs were also used to) since those solutions require the authentication token to be periodically refreshed. I don’t know your particular loading/bulk copy scenario, and I’ve no doubt ‘Open in Windows Explorer’ would work for that, however you can also use ODSC for some initial loading and bulk-copy as well, although I usually use a 3rd-party tool for large/complex migration jobs. (Our training/adoption team will teach IWs how to do bulk copy and move right thru the modern UI from SP to SP which is usually well-received)
        I agree, training is and always will be a factor for successful adoption. Even if you’ve moved to modern, it continues to evolve and change and will always require a training touch-up for some. I’m on a Team that tackles this daily.
        Thanks for engaging.

  10. Hi Joanne,I was reading your article once again because of the comment e-mails I received, and I do not agree with the reason ” better handling of missing data”. In fact, in the classic interface, I had required columns plus a validation so that users had to fill out correctly. The moment we switched to modern experience I had to remove validation rules or no document could be uploaded anymore. While uploading, all required fields are simply ignored – and all missing information needs to be added afterwards, either by the user uploading the file(s) or by the admin, who simply lacks knowledge about the documents. This in my opinion is not an improvement as it turns the document management into a very unreliable solution where documents are missing from.predefined views because of fields not being filled out.
    kind regards, Gabriel

    1. Hi Gabriel,
      Thanks for the feedback. If you were using those Classic features (column/list validation on required fields), then I can see why you find the “after-the-fact” reminder a step back. Kudos to you, I haven’t seen many of my clients use those features to be honest, particularly in collaboration sites.

      I believe there are pros and cons to both the classic and modern “required” column experience and I could defend both sides in different circumstances. One big benefit I see with the modern required columns is being able to upload many documents to SP at once that has required metadata and not leaving them all checked out because the metadata isn’t filled in (something that would happen in Classic and has caused my clients a lot of confusion). The modern ‘Files that need attention’ view, the tag-question-mark icon beside each file reminding you to fill it out, and ‘Required info’ column highlighting helps a lot with the “after-the-fact” reminder on required metadata particularly with users not familiar with SharePoint. This has been my experience.

      One drawback of modern is anytime there’s a required column, and if you are also syncing that library using OneDrive Sync client, the synced files will have a lock icon on them (due to the ‘Required’ column) and you won’t be able to edit them thru File Explorer. I’m hoping the product teams will work together to resolve that one.

  11. Hi!
    Really great thread! Thanks Joanne to take time to answer to all of us; moreover the arguments have all great values, best thread about classic vs modern in my opinion. The mandatory columns debate is the cherry on top 🙂

    I would like to share a use case of a customer: years ago all of the projects documents were created automatically using vba in excel files, a macro was copying files, updating Word and excel files with data (header, footer, first page); dynamic cross tables automatically updated… They decided to move all of that in SharePoint online. Best and fastest solution found:
    – modifying adresses in vba macros by Webdav adresses; all the vba code continued to work
    – calling a SharePoint page containing javascript to improve the process : metadata added on documents, security deployment…

    – only solution to update Word and Excel files easily : with macros (or OpenXML server code but on SharePoint server only)
    – only solution for code inside SharePoint : javascript into classic pages (not available in modern, excepting if you have unlimited budget, learn SpFx, deploy a modern webpart… 🙂 )

    Like old times 🙂 May be Flow may help in some situations, but if Flow is just to call Rest API I am faster at using it with javascript 🙂

    Have a nice day! And thanks for this great web site!

  12. Hello,
    With old version there seems quicker possibility to add files with possibility to mark that you dont want files with same names overwritten. What are possibilities in new version?

    With thanks,

    1. If you upload a file with the same name, it will prompt you if you want to overwrite. If you copy a file into the library with the same name, it will automatically make it unique by putting a ‘1’ at the end. I haven’t done more extensive testing than that.

  13. Hi Joanne, I know this is an old discussion, but I would like to point out the following issue people need to be aware:
    Now that copying/moving is so easy in modern, if you copy/move documents between document sets with shared columns propagation, it will not update/propagate the values on these documents. This is misleading as users would think it will. This issue occurs when you perform the operation in the same library and suprisingly, it is working between different libraries….

  14. Hi Joanne. Great article. I much prefer the modern experience. The main things I miss from the classic experience are (a) being forced to enter the metadata – it was annoying but at least then it got done and (b) the way the library views were links above the files. The old way was 1 click to change the view, now it’s 2 clicks (select the drop down menu) and not so obvious to find.

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