There are many cases where an organization would need to manage many related documents at the same time. To help accomplish this task, SharePoint 2010 introduces a new feature called Document Sets. Basically, a Document Set is a collection of related documents that can act as a single entity within a document library. You can think of a Document Set as a folder on steroids.
So how do Document Sets differ from standard folders? For starters, a Document Set is a content type. This content type is actually activated by the Document Set site collection feature. Once the feature is activated, the Document Set content type will need to be associated with your document libraries.
Another major difference is that each Document Set has its own welcome page, which can be customized, as well as the ability to provision default content within the set each time a new Document Set is created in a library. Try doing that with your standard SharePoint folder!
Unlike regular SharePoint folders, a Document Set can even have shared columns automatically synchronized with the documents in the set. Since the Document Set is a content type, you can add custom columns, which you can use as the shared columns. As you build your Document Set content type, you can choose which of these columns should automatically be associated with the set and therefore the documents in the set.
It’s also important to remember that because the Document Set operates as a single unit within the document library, the set itself will still utilize the same metadata as the document library in addition to the shared columns. Also, managing permissions on a Document Set is no different than managing permissions on any other item in a document library. You can even manage permissions on individual documents contained within the set.
Document Sets also support versioning—both on the set itself and on the documents in the set. You’ll need to enable versioning for the library on the Library Settings > Versioning Settings page. When versioning is enabled, you have the ability to capture a version of the entire Document Set. Moreover, workflows can also be carried out on Document Sets, meaning that you can run a single approval workflow, for example, that will allow the approval of all the documents within the set at once, instead of having to go through the approval process for many documents.
One feature that unfortunately seems to be missing from Document Sets is the ability to download the entire set at once from the UI. Downloading copies of the documents is still a one-by-one process from within SharePoint; however you can get around this by opening the document library in Windows Explorer.
Document Sets are likely to be a popular feature in SharePoint 2010 thanks to the ability to work with many files as a single item in a library.
Ryan Keller is a consultant with SharePoint911.