Comparing SharePoint List and Form Library Forms

So you’ve heard about SharePoint list form customization in InfoPath 2010 and you’ve seen the cool demos. But you may be asking yourself – What’s the difference between list and library forms and when should I use one or the other? In this post, we will answer these questions and provide guidance on when to create list vs. library forms.

When designing InfoPath forms for SharePoint 2010, the first choice you need to make is between a SharePoint list form and a SharePoint form library form.

Popular Form Templates


Use a list form if you just need to collect data and store it on SharePoint. Use a form library form if you want more advanced functionality such as complex or repeating data or code.

What are list forms and form library forms?

SharePoint list forms store data directly in a SharePoint list.  Each control (e.g. text box) in the form is bound to a column in the list. SharePoint list forms are directly connected to the list, which means that you don’t have to worry about setting up the publish and submit locations.
Form library forms store data in XML files in a SharePoint form library. This means they are more flexible and you can do more with them. For example, they can be configured to save drafts and submit to different locations. However, they are more complex to work with and require more decisions to be made during configuration.

Because the way data is stored between these template types is different, it is not possible to switch between them.


Here are some basic guidelines to help you decide what type of form to design.

Use a list if:

  • You want to quickly get started building InfoPath forms on SharePoint
  • You need to use your form offline with SharePoint Workspace (formerly Groove)
  • You want to filter your SharePoint list based on a person or group
  • You would like to use the built-in display / edit views

Use a form library if:

  • You have repeating or nested data
  • You are working from a predefined industry or complex schema
  • Your form needs to be digitally signed
  • You need code in your form
  • Your form is not hosted in SharePoint or you need to store results as an XML document

How can I build advanced functionality into my forms?

In general, form libraries provide better support for more complex and advanced forms. Here are a few examples of the way InfoPath can be used to build more powerful forms.

Repeating data or complex schema

  • In some cases, you will want to collect repeating data in a form. For example, you have a project proposal form and want to include a list of potential risks for each project, or you have a book request form where users can request multiple books at once.
  • If you have a schema that has any nesting or repeating structures, or a defined industry schema such as Dublin core or Health Level 7, form library forms will allow you to organize your fields into groups to match your schema as opposed to having to flatten your schema to work with a list.
  • SharePoint lists store only one value per column; you can’t use list forms to store repeating data in a single item. As form library forms use XML to store data they can store repeating data in a single form.

Using repeating data in list forms

  • If you have a SharePoint list form, you have several options for dealing with repeating data other than using the built in support of a form library.
  • If part of your content is repeating, consider flattening that schema so that it can repeat. For example, you could limit your book request form to no more than ten books per form.
  • You can also use multiple lists and link them together using lookup fields and web part connections. This works well for master/detail scenarios where one list tracks all the items and another contains the specific details for each item.

Using repeating data in form library forms

  • Form library forms include controls that are designed to deal with repeating data inside the current item.  Form libraries have built-in support for repeating data with controls such as plain list, bulleted list, numbered list, repeating table, and repeating section.
  • They also support more customization of the form using the choice group and choice section controls. Advanced choice controls such as option button and optional sections are also available. All of these controls will be available by default in the controls gallery in InfoPath Designer for form library forms.

Digital Signatures

Managed Code

  • Form libraries support code-behind. This will allow you to do actions beyond logic in your form, such as advanced financial calculations.
  • Code can be used to extend InfoPath functionality or create custom business logic.
  • For example, in a pet food store you may use an InfoPath form to track food orders and use code behind the scenes to make sure you have enough inventory to meet the order and make sure that it isn’t sold before the form is submitted.
  • For more detail about forms with code, see Introduction to Programming in InfoPath 2010.

Control over where your form is stored

  • Form libraries allow you to choose the location of where your form XML is sent when the form is submitted.
  • If you need to store your form as an XML document for use outside of SharePoint, then you should use a form library.
  • For example, if you have an insurance questionnaire and you want to store the completed form in a document collection with related content, a form library will allow you to do this.

Bottom line

Overall, both list forms and form library forms support much of the key functionality that InfoPath provides, such as data validation, custom rules, default values, and control over visual layout. In most cases, a list form will be sufficient for your needs. Lists have the most straightforward design and form management experience. However, for more complex scenarios such as repeating data or the need to add code, a form library may be necessary.

Please leave a comment if you have any further questions!

Daniel Broekman and Kate Everitt

InfoPath Program Managers

Comments (34)
  1. pgibeau says:

    Great post, thanks !

    I know that I can’t use Infopath List Forms to manage data that includes Managed Metadata.  My guess is I could probably use Form Libraries, in conjunction with OOTB SP web services, to paliate.  So it is probably another reason one would go with Form Libraries.

    It would be great to see a blog on that particular topic !

  2. infopath says:

    Thanks for your comments. Managed Metadata Columns in InfoPath 2010 are supported in Document Information Panels only.

  3. John Shaw says:

    In SharePoint 2007 (WSS/MOSS v3) we were only allowed to show flat data structures once the InfoPath form was published to a Form Library. has this restriction been removed/enhanced and now allows for nested data displays (how many levels)? Or, are we still left up to ingenious ways of showing nested data from the InfoPath Form (more than one set of nested data in the form)?

  4. infopath says:

    In response to the previous comment from John Shaw, are you referring to promoting fields from the form as columns to the SharePoint library? If so, this functionality has not changed in InfoPath 2010. You can store nested data inside the form but nested values cannot be stored in SharePoint columns.

  5. Edward Meyer says:

    Thanks very good explanation.

    I needed that. 🙂


  6. jay dhumal says:

    what about getting data from web services on a form , i suppose only form library forms can do it.

    any way great article

  7. infopath says:

    Both list and library forms support Web service data connections.

  8. Confused says:

    Why in the world would the "option button" be unavailable for SharePoint list forms? All of my radio button fields get automatically converted to drop down lists, which is very frustrating! Is there anyway to use radio buttons in infopath without using a a form library?

  9. infopath says:

    You can use option buttons in list forms by right-clicking any dropdown control and choosing Change Control -> Option button, but you’ll have to copy/paste the option button several times to get the correct number of choices, and you’ll have to manually set up the correct value for each option so the right value is saved to the list when the form is submitted.

  10. Toby says:

    I would like to use combo list box option in Groove but it is not supported, is there a work around. Essentially all I would like to do is allow users to add to the drop down list.

    Many thanks, Toby

  11. Monica says:

    Hi, I'm new to InfoPath and I'm currently using a form library for a simple form I've been working on.  According to your checklist I think I can use a list instead, but I'm not clear on what is considered repeating data.  I am using a repeating table to allow multiple attachments to be attached to the form. Does repeating table = repeating data?


  12. Lakshmi says:


    Am new to sharepoint and infopath.Please provide more explaination regarding this concept.It is very helpful to begineers like me.

  13. Brummel44 says:

    Great post. Thank you ! That's clear.

  14. Ans says:

    Hi, Nice Post.

    I was using List forms but wanted to add repeating tables that i could not because option of repeating table was not present in the controls.

    Now i know where i was wrong.

    My suggestion is to provide a tool tip help on the control, that you cant choose repeating table unless you make a form library form type.


  15. Frustrated says:

    Why do forms not support managed metadata? Is this being considered or worked on?

  16. Publishing to more than 1 Form Library says:

    I have 'inherited' a form, linked to 1 Form Library (eg L1). We now need another library (L2) to use the same form, within the same site.

    Can I publish the same form to a new location, and STILL be able to publish it back L1? I understand it should be a content type (it probably will be on-going), but there is workflow running on L1 and we haven't presently the time to re-wire L1 to run off a specific content types. I therefore need to know that I can publish the form (to wherever!) and still be able to re-point the form back to L1.

    Note: there are 10 views in the form and 5 lookups to lists within the sites.

  17. sam says:


    I restriction to add:

    You cannot print an InfoPath form list

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  19. Tod says:

    Wow!  Exactly what I was hoping, but not expecting, to find!  Thanks!!

  20. garni says:

    I try macke a form for my contact information. in same time i want   viwe/edit contact and alo can post a comment and see my old coment

    i prefear have sepreat (coment list)

    can i mack thi form? and starting from where ?

    list or dacument ?

    I do this on the web with web part but my problem is in workspase( i cant see web part) 🙁

    please help me?

  21. Aedla says:

    Nice post..

    I have one question for you….

    Is it possible to convert list form to PDF format?

    Any help would be appreciated.

    Thank you.

  22. I wish I could be using the 2010 product, but alas, I cannot. So I am trying to populate a SP2007 list from a browser enabled InfoPath 2007 form. I already successfully set up a browser enabled form that populates a SP Forms library – but really need a **list** to be populated.

    Using this data at this link in the quest to populate a SP **List** from a web enabled InfoPath form,…/cc162745(office.12).aspx I see that the use of CAML is required. I can't quite figure out what the role of the CAML XML file is. The data connection associated with the CAML XML file "Retrieves" data, but is that only because this write-up uses repeating tables? In my situation, I am not using repeating tables.

    What is the role of the CAML XML file when you want to populate a simple SP2007 "List" (not a SP Forms Library) from a web enabled InfoPath 2007 form?

    Thank you for any insight.

    Sorry to go retro, but its where I am.

  23. Santosh Balan says:

    Oh.. how I agree with the post below.  A small help/tool tip could have saved days of frustration, while I was trying to do a master/detail with a List form.

    The messages were downright cryptic and wasted a few days before I hit this post.

    Thanks.. nice and clear post….

    Santosh Balan


    Ans 7 Jun 2011 12:27 AM

    Hi, Nice Post.

    I was using List forms but wanted to add repeating tables that i could not because option of repeating table was not present in the controls.

    Now i know where i was wrong.

    My suggestion is to provide a tool tip help on the control, that you cant choose repeating table unless you make a form library form type.


  24. Ali says:

    Hi Mates,

    Is there any disadvantage / limitation for data which we use with form library instead of using list? Can we use form library in KPI & reporting?

  25. P says:

    Thank you 🙂 Your post is really helpful

  26. JC says:

    Dont under-estimate the list forms!

    The OOTB list form coupled with third party workflow tools (Nintex, K2) provide an opportunity for organisations that want to avoid code-based solutions. Especially if you have a forms team that are not .NET developers and have a zillion forms to churn out, support and integrate with other line of business applications.

    Don't forget that you can host the list forms in a forms web part, and seed them with a query string web part. Add a content editor web part to the page and you have an opportunity to enhance the client experience via javascript.

    Great article BTW.

  27. Karen says:

    I normally use a SP list to create a form & then work on the design in InfoPath; however you can't print the form. Is there a way to include the print option in this type of form? Thanks

  28. Information Worker says:

    Great post, exactly what I have been searching for. A bit confusing was the choice of List, Library or Formularlibrary. This post helps to decide what to choose.

  29. max says:

    How can I include default title of form library in an infopath designed form

  30. SRAEngineer says:


    I am a novice at SharePoint. We are using SP2010 OOB.  Thank you for the much needed clarification in this Blog Post.  However, I could use some guidance in the following scenario:

    I meet the following 3 out of 5 requirements for the form library Form:

    • You have repeating or nested data

    • You are working from a predefined industry or complex schema

    • Your form needs to be digitally signed

    However, portion of the data from this form needs to be saved in a list. Where such data from all the applications are grouped by its content Type, By its applicant and By type of the finding for each project and total costs are calculated, notes are added. And, the notes are followed up later for the update of the application.

    I plan to use the InfoPath 2010 form library form. However, can I keep all the information in the form and send some data to the list for further analysis/grouping at the same time?

    If I revise the form, would the retroactively the list data will get updated as well?

    Thank you for your guidance.

  31. Scott Heim says:

    Hi SRAEngineer,

    You can build functionality into your InfoPath "library" form to "submit" data to a SharePoint list. There is a separate blog post for that:…/submitting-to-a-sharepoint-list.aspx

    Adding new items to a list is not too difficult but "updating" an existing item will require more design work as you will need to know "what" the list ID is for the item you want to update.

    There are a LOT of comments on the post referenced above – I would encourage you to go through those as most of the "gotchas" in that process are spread throughout the comments.


  32. SRAEngineer says:

    Hi Scott:


    Thank you for the guidance. This is extremely helpful.  I will work on the solution next week. However the link you provided above has an example, where all the controls that they want to publish are grouped in one section. I just wondered if the controls of interest are spread all over the form, would the method still apply? or alternately, should the data be published in the library first and then create a list with the lookups? And, would the lookups column would have the same functionality as the regular list published columns?


    How do I decide to choose from SharePoint 2010 Content Types versus Views for InfoPath Forms?

    Hi: I am a newbie to SharePoint/InfoPath.  My first huge project has six applications that users can choose from and submit. Each has different metadata. Two applications are huge and have most columns identical and they have many (180+) controls, four applications are small (10 to 15 controls).  I plan to submit InfoPath forms to a Form Library with important metadata published as columns (about 50) in the Form Library for large forms and publish all the metadata for the smaller forms.  

    My question is: Should I create Content type for each form or should I create different InfoPath view for each form?  All the selected metadata goes to one library.

    Thank you for your consideration.


  33. William - HumWEBit says:

    I'm definitely going to bookmark this. I still cant decide which to use, but I think I am going to try both. Thanks for the help!

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