10 Things You Cannot Do with an External List


Now that you have a SharePoint list (See post from March1st) populated with external data from a SQL Server table, what can you do with it and what limitations do you have to deal with? Perhaps it is easier to say that the External List works just like any other SharePoint list except for the following:

  1. You cannot switch to datasheet mode to edit the data in the list. However, given the edit operation permmission, you can edit individual records by using the record dropdown and selecting Edit.
  2. You cannot create new columns for the list. If you need to add columns, you must update the SQL Server table and rebuild the External Content Type and the External List. On the other hand, if you want to remove some of the column or filter the rows, you can either modify the default view or create additional views to meet that need. (Next time we will look at adding external data columns to a custom list so that you can have columns unique to the SharePoint side of the list.)
  3. You cannot export the data to Excel or open the data with Access. Of course, both of these Microsoft tools support the use of data connections which could directly connect to the same SQL tables without the extra stop of going through a SharePoint list.
  4. You can not define an RSS Feed to notify someone when a change occurs to the list.
  5. You cannot assign a workflow to the list.
  6. You cannot create folders and store items in individual folders. This limitation makes sense if you remember that the data coming from a table or view in SQL Server is essentially a flat file.
  7. You cannot have attachments to individual records.
  8. There is no version history for changes to items in an External List.
  9. You cannot define item level permissions to items in an External List.
  10. Surprisingly and disappointingly, External Lists do not let you modify the form used to edit the list items. This limitation is the one that bothered me the most.

Next time we will look more at using External Content Types in conjunction with Custom Lists to see how well they work there.

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2 comments on “10 Things You Cannot Do with an External List

  1. Hi ,
    As it has been a long time since u have posted this, can i know if any of this limitations been solved till now? Actually i’m working on project where i have to pull data from SQL Server and display in a list.But till now only i can display in a external list not in a normal sharepoint list.Is there any way.?Or work aorund to get all the features which we get in normal list can be applied on external list.

    • The limitations still apply to SharePoint 2010. I have not looked at SharePoint 2013 yet, but remember that external data is not instantiated in SharePoint. SharePoint merely references the data from the source. Therefore, many of these features cannot find any ‘object’ in SharePoint to act on.

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