SharePoint Online Content Type Hub Publishing Issues

We use the SharePoint Online Content Type Hub extensively as the central location to create, manage and distribute content types throughout our SharePoint Online tenant. We recently saw an issue with the distribution of one of the content types defined in the Content Type Hub which had a specific PowerPoint template assigned to it.

The content type in question had been updated with a revised template and republished, however when we tried to create a new presentation from the content type in SharePoint Online, the older template was still being served. I spent quite a long time testing a variety of PowerPoint template files of varying content and sizes with the content type (upload a new template to the content type in the Content Type Hub –> republish the content type –> wait for distribution to the site collections –> test; a process that can take some time when the content type is being distributed correctly) with no progress at all. It didn’t seem to matter what template file I uploaded to the content type, nothing seemed to be distributed. I even tried a blank Word template, and even that didn’t get distributed. Eventually I raised a Microsoft support case to help resolve the issue.

As the content type used managed metadata columns and I’d made a minor change to those, I tested with content types created using the same columns but a different template file and one using no managed metadata columns, but with what appeared to be the problematic template file uploaded. Only the example with the problematic template file was affected, but in the same way that we’d seen with the original content type, it didn’t matter what template file we uploaded afterwards, the content type and revised template were not distributed. The template we were using was obviously the issue, however it seemed to break distribution of any content type it was uploaded to from then on.

SharePoint content type templates are held in a folder structure in the root of site collections as follows:

_cts/<content type name>/<template file name>

This is true for both the Content Type Hub where the content types are distributed from, and the destination site collections.

Examining this location in the Content Type Hub (initially using PowerShell, but also using the SharePoint Client Browser), showed the following:

SPCB exploration of cts folder

As can be seen, all of the template files that have been uploaded to the content type were still present! Uploading a new template file does not appear therefore to delete the previous file that was associated with the content type. If one of the uploaded files causes issues distributing the content type, even though it may not be associated with the content type anymore, it continues to cause issues simply by being present in the folder for the content type. For example the following PowerShell retrieves the template filename and URL associated with the content type:

Get-PnPContentType -Identity “Black Marble Presentation” | select DocumentTemplate,DocumentTemplateUrl

In our case, this demonstrated that the template that was causing the issue was not associated with the content type, except by its existence in the folder for the content type in _cts.

The following PowerShell could therefore be used to remove the extraneous template files from the content type folder in the Content Type Hub site collection:

Remove-PnPFile –SiteRelativeUrl “_cts/Black Marble Presentation/<template file name>”

Using the above PowerShell I removed all of the unused template files and then republished the content type with a simple blank Word template initially to test whether the content type was distributed successfully. Once that was shown to be successful I uploaded a revised PowerPoint template file and republished the content type. The revised template was also successfully distributed.

Renaming an In-Use Content Type in SharePoint Online

Design of SharePoint content Types for SharePoint, and in particular SharePoint Online is very important. Care must be taken to ensure that the design is appropriate for the environment as changes made later can impose significant management overheads. In particular, if a Content Type is put to use (I.e. is assigned to a list/library), this can complicate changes made at a point following initial deployment.

Some Content Type operations are simple, e.g. adding a column. This will work as expected, with the new column rippling all the way down to the in-use Content Types.

Renaming a Content Type potentially falls under the ‘more difficult’ category, in particular if it’s been assigned to a list/library. This is due to the way that SharePoint handles this process, with the Content Type that is assigned to the list/library being a child content type of that published to a site collection.

I’d still strongly recommend using the Content Type Hub (hidden site collection, available on /sites/contenttypehub) to centrally manage and publish content types. A change to the name of a content type made here, then the content type being republished will rename the content type in the content type gallery in each site collection. If the content type is attached to a list/library however as this is a child content type, this will not be renamed, so you end up in the scenario that the gallery reflects the name change, while the instance attached to the list/library does not.

Looking at the list of content types attached to a list/library, and clicking through on the content type that you wish to change does allow you to change the content type from read-only to writeable. This then allows you to change the content type’s name, however if you have lots of libraries and/or lots of content types to process, this gets laborious very quickly. PowerShell to the rescue again!

The following script is a sample that can be used to change the name of a content type that is attached to a set of lists/libraries:

[sourcecode language='powershell'  padlinenumbers='true']
$SiteUrl = "https://domain.sharepoint.com/teams/SiteCollection"  
$UserName = "Andy@o365domain.com"  
# Ask the user for the password
$Password = Read-Host -Prompt "Enter your password: " -AsSecureString

# List of lists/libraries to process
$libraries = @("Library1","Library2","Library3")

# Add references to the CSOM libraries
Add-Type -Path "C:<Path-to-CSOM-libraries>Microsoft.SharePoint.Client.dll" 
Add-Type -Path "C:<Path-to-CSOM-libraries>Microsoft.SharePoint.Client.Runtime.dll" 

# Connect
$spoCtx = New-Object Microsoft.SharePoint.Client.ClientContext($SiteUrl)  
$spoCredentials = New-Object Microsoft.SharePoint.Client.SharePointOnlineCredentials($Username, $Password)   
$spoCtx.Credentials = $spoCredentials

# Load the web context
$web = $spoCtx.web
$spoCtx.load($web)
$spoCtx.executeQuery()

# Process the lists/libraries
foreach ($lib in $libraries) {
    $list = $web.lists.getbytitle("$lib")
    $spoCtx.load($list)
    $spoCtx.executeQuery()

    # Load the content types attached to the list/library
    $CTs = $list.ContentTypes
    $spoCtx.load($CTs)
    $spoCtx.executeQuery()

    $IDToUse = ""

    Write-Host "Processing library $lib" -ForegroundColor Yellow
    foreach ($CT in $CTs) 
    { 
        Write-Host "-- " $CT.Name $Ct.Id
        if ($CT.Name -eq "Content Type To Change")
        {
            $IDToUse = $CT.Id
            Write-Host "Using this one..." -ForegroundColor Green
        }
    }

    # Grab a reference to the content type we want to change
    $CT = $list.ContentTypes.getbyid($IDToUse)
    $spoCtx.load($CT)
    $spoCtx.executeQuery()

    if ($CT -ne $null)
    {
        # Set the content type to be writeable to be able to update it
        Write-Host "Setting content type to ReadOnly = false" -ForegroundColor Green
        $CT.ReadOnly = $false
        $CT.Update($false)
        $spoCtx.load($CT)
        $spoCtx.executeQuery()

        # Modify the content type name
        Write-Host "Processing Content type..." -ForegroundColor Cyan
        $CT.Name = "Content Type That Has Been Changed"
        $CT.Update($false)
        $spoCtx.load($CT)
        $spoCtx.executeQuery()

        # Return the content type to read-only
        Write-Host "Setting content type to ReadOnly = true" -ForegroundColor Green
        $CT.ReadOnly = $true
        $CT.Update($false)
        $spoCtx.load($CT)
        $spoCtx.executeQuery()
    }
}
[/sourcecode]