SharePoint Content Rollup – A very simple introduction


In this blog post we will take a look at SharePoint Content Rollup in its most basic form. I will explain the Content Rollup as if I was explaining it to someone with no experience whatsoever, from the beginning. I am going to attempt to avoid using jargon too! Are you ready? I am.

The Problem

This explanation is going to involve a story to set the scene and allow me to segue in some key concepts.

First of all I am going to introduce you to the imaginary family, the ‘Rowsoft’ Family:

  • Michael, the father, likes to make sure his household is run properly to his ‘Best Practices’
  • Ellie, the mother, is the true administrator of the house and makes sure everything runs smoothly
  • Jim, 12, likes Ninjas and the colour Red
  • Tim, 8, likes Pokémon and the colour Green
  • Kim, 4, likes Lego and the colour Blue

The Rowsoft family move into their new house and to cut a long story short need to find a place to put all of their children’s toys. Ellie is very excited about the new house and decides to buy just one toy box to put all of the toys in, it was quite a special box as it could grow and grow as more and more toys were added. Impressive. The toy box also sports a lock which means that only the children and their parents can get access to those wonderful toys, useful to keep those pesky neighbour’s kids away! Ellie likes to keep an eye on the toys which are in the toy box too, so every night she makes a list of the toys once the children have gone to bed, it is quite a list. Ellie has started to become concerned that Kim is easily able to access some of the toys that Jim and Tim have as they are a bit too ‘old’ for her, so Ellie puts locks on these individual toys in the box to restrict who can access what.

Everything seems to be going to plan with the toy box as whenever one of the children wants to play with their own toys they can see all of the toys and can easily access the ones they are allowed to. One of the benefits of having all of the toys in the one box means that whenever Kim wants to build a Lego Fortress she can also access all of the other toys she is allowed to play with and can create quite the scene, mixing in a few Ninja figures into a Fortress is a sight to behold! However this box is getting HUGE and is very bulky these days. You could say that Kim ‘Rolled Up’ or ‘Aggregated’ all of the toys she needed, but that would just be me adding these words in to drive home the point of this article!

One day Tim decides he wants to play with some of his toys so, with his Soda clutched in one hand, he pries open the lid of the toy box and glug, glug, glug he spills the sticky soda over everything and he has ruined all of the toys. All of the children are devastated as playtime is now over as there is nothing left for them to play with. Luckily, because Ellie had her list of toys she is able to restore the toy box to its former glory, but boy was that expensive!

Michael, or Mike as he is often known, steps in with some of his ‘Best Practices’ and suggests to Ellie that it would be much simpler if each child had their own toy box

Ellie is intrigued by this revelation and asks Mike what the benefits would be and this is what he said

  1. Each Toy Box will be much smaller in size
  2. It is easy to restrict access to a single box whilst still possible to let a child have access to any of the others providing they have permission
  3. The lists of toys will be smaller for each box to record any new toys in or old toys thrown out
  4. If Tim (or anyone) ruins a box then it is much easier and cheaper to restore the toys

There is one drawback though with this new plan and that is that in order to protect the toys the children can only play with toys from one toy box at a time. One of the children suggests that they could get their own copy of each toy from their siblings so that they could still play with it, silly Children, just wait till they need to pay their own bills! This would cost a fortune and would mean that the individual toy boxes end up growing fat again! So now the children can only aggregate the toys from their own toy boxes, this makes them happy for most of the time but sometimes, just sometimes it is nice to mix and mash.

If we want to expand this further we can also imagine that the neighbours, not the ones with the pesky kids, the nice ones across the road, also have a child with a Toy Box, he’s called Bob. Now, Tim could have permission to go over the road to play with the Pokémon in Bob’s toy box if he has permissions but they wouldn’t be able to mix toys from his own toy box.

The SharePoint Bit

If we translate our scenario to SharePoint this is how it looks.

First of all Ellie had a single Site Collection (SC), Toy Box, where all of the content (Toys) were stored, this Site Collection has its own Content DB which contains all of the information. Mike Rowsoft (Microsoft – Geddit?!) recommend a limit of 200GB . Ellie used to take backups of the Content Database should any trouble occur, such as data corruption so that she could easily restore the content. A Site Collection has its own permissions which is why Ellie could say that Jim, Tim and Kim could have access.

After Ellie split up the Site Collection into several site collections it meant that each had its own Content Database and Permissions (they are not shared across Site Collections). Because the permissions and databases are separate it means that content cannot be rolled up across them using the Content Query Web Part, it can only get content from a single Site Collection. Bob, who is in another House, can be looked at as being in another Web Application which is again a separation of the content.

The Lightning Tools Bit

Lightning Tools built the Lightning Conductor Web Part (available for SharePoint Server or SharePoint Online) to allow people to roll up content regardless of where it resides, it can be in any Web Application, Site Collection or wherever. What this allows SharePoint users to do is to view content from anywhere and display it anywhere meaning that if Kim wants to build her Mega Ninja Pokémon Lego fort she can, and so she should!! Roll up yer’ content lass roll it up!!


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