What is a content type?
In the course of a single project, a business might produce several different kinds of content, for example, proposals, legal contracts, statements of work, and product design specifications. Although these documents might be stored together because they are related to a single project, they can be created, used, shared, and retained in different ways. A business might want to collect and maintain different kinds of metadata about each kind of content.
Windows SharePoint Services 3.0 enables organizations to define these different sets of documents as content types. A content type is a group of reusable settings that describe the shared behaviors for a specific type of content. Content types can be defined for any item type in Windows SharePoint Services 3.0, including documents, list items, or folders. Each content type can specify:
The columns (metadata) that you want to assign to items of this type.
The document template on which to base new items of this type (document content types only).
The custom New, Edit, and Display forms to use with this content type.
The workflows that are available for items of this content type.
The custom solutions or features that are associated with items of this content type.
Content types provide organizations with a way to manage and organize content consistently across different lists and libraries in a site collection (site collection: A set of Web sites on a virtual server that have the same owner and share administration settings. Each site collection contains a top-level Web site and can contain one or more subsites.), and they also make it possible for a single list or library to contain multiple item types or document types.
A content type is a reusable collection of metadata (columns), workflow, behavior, and other settings for a category of items or documents in a Microsoft SharePoint Foundation 2010 list or document library. Content types enable you to manage the settings for a category of information in a centralized, reusable way.
For example, imagine a business situation in which you have three different types of documents: expense reports, purchase orders, and invoices. All three types of documents have some characteristics in common; for one thing, they are all financial documents and contain data with values in currency. Yet each type of document has its own data requirements, its own document template, and its own workflow. One solution to this business problem is to create four content types. The first content type, Financial Document, could encapsulate data requirements that are common to all financial documents in the organization. The remaining three, Expense Report, Purchase Order, and Invoice, could inherit common elements from Financial Document. In addition, they could define characteristics that are unique to each type, such as a particular set of metadata, a document template to be used in creating a new item, and a specific workflow for processing an item.
Content Type Scope
The Microsoft SharePoint Foundation site in which you create a content type determines its scope—that is, the extent of its availability. A site content type becomes available to lists and document libraries within the site on which the content type is created, and also to lists and document libraries in any child site.
Content Type Features
Content types are a site-scoped Feature. Features are a way of encapsulating SharePoint Foundation functionality for ease of distribution and deployment. Features provide a mechanism by which you can package the files that a solution needs, such as content types, Web Parts, lists, and site definitions. You can package the necessary files into a .wsp file, which is basically a .cab file that contains a manifest that lists its contents.
Inside the Feature, the feature.xml file contains references to all the element manifests within that Feature. Content type definitions are element manifests. You must create a content type definition for each content type that is included in your Feature.