SharePoint 2007 Deployment: Features and Solutions


This second post on my SharePoint Deployment Series is focused on the concepts of Feature and Solution. Check the first post SharePoint 2007 Deployment: Overview for an introduction and the series index.

What's a Feature?

A Feature is a package composed of a set of XML files that describe Windows SharePoint Services elements, which can be activated on a specific scope to help users accomplish a given task. To make it easier to understand, I usually say that you should use a Feature when you need to add one or more objects to SharePoint and want to allow users to easily enable or disable that option.

With a feature you can:

  • Add a site column
  • Add a site content type
  • Add a list template
  • Create a list instance
  • Add custom actions to SharePoint's menus
  • Install web parts, master pages, layout pages, images and other contents
  • Register event handlers
  • Associate a content type with an existing list
  • Install a custom workflow
  • Install a custom control
  • Install a custom document converter

However, a feature cannot install itself. For that, it needs a solution.

What's a Solution?

A Solution is a deployable and reusable package that can contain a set of Features, site definitions and assemblies that you can apply to a site, and can also enable or disable individually. A Solution is materialized in a solution file, which is a file with a CAB-based format with a .wsp extension.

With a solution you can:

  • Install Features
  • Install assemblies in the GAC
  • Install assemblies to the BIN folder of a web application
  • Add assembly descriptions to the web.config safe controls section
  • Set Code Access Security configurations
  • Install files in the template folder of SharePoint (usually C:\Program Files\Common Files\Microsoft Shared\web server extensions\12\TEMPLATE)
  • Install files in the root folder of SharePoint (usually C:\Program Files\Common Files\Microsoft Shared\web server extensions\12)
  • Install a site definition

A Solution is the only way to automatically execute a deployment of functionality to a SharePoint server farm.