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BCS External List Limitations

[ 18 ] July 5, 2010 |

There are a number of features that are missing when you create an External List based on an External Content Type. This can cause a lot of issues with end users because even though it looks exactly like a normal list it might not behave exactly like a normal list (or at least have some features missing)

1) Workflows cannot be configured on External Lists

Unfortunately as you can see you cannot actually run a workflow on an external list. You neither have the option to define any workflows nor can you actually start one. Now this is even if the workflow that you are thinking of defining will not alter the External List item in anyway, doesn’t matter, External List = No Workflows!

No workflows!

2) Cannot create Information Management Policies

This kind of makes sense. I mean you can really declare something a record or move something to another location if you aren’t storing it within SharePoint but it is worth knowing. No IMP’s means no barcodes,  auditing, retention or labels.

Try to add an IMP and this is what you get, I don't know why it hasn't been removed from the list options all together

3) No versioning or version history

You cannot version or see version history for an External List. Now this does make sense since in many external systems there is no concept of versions

4) No Inline Editing or Datasheet View

Inline editing allows you to edit list items from within the list view itself, kind of a datasheet view for an induvidual item. Datasheet view is a way where you can easily change metadata for multiple items. Neither of these are available.

No inline editing is available unlike in this picture

5) No ratings

This does suck but you cannot rate any items in an external list.

6) No ability to Export to Excel, Create Visio Diagram, Open with Access or Open with Project

Some of these are not available to all list types (Create Visio Diagram or Open with Project for example) but all standard lists are able to be exported to Excel or opened with Access. This is a real shame I think because exporting to Excel is an oft use feature that will be missed by users.

7) No REST access through ListData.svc to External Lists

Yep you cant access an External List though REST…

8 ) No RSS Feeds

No RSS Feeds are available either

No RSS available

9) No Item Level Permissions

You also cannot configure item level permissions for External Lists.

10) No item or field level validation

So as you can see there are quite a few limitations that one should be aware of. The thing that is concerning is that from a users perspective you cant actually tell that a list is external and without all these things being available this can lead to some confusion. But it is out of the box functionality after all and with a little SharePoint Designer and XSL magic you might not be in the situation to expose external lists anyway.

11) No Lookups

Unfortunatly the only thing that you can do a look up on in an external list is on the ID column, anything else and you are out of luck.

12) No attachments

No attachments either!

Tags: ,

Category: Planning, Requirements and Analysis

About Michal Pisarek: Michal Pisarek is the founder of Dynamic Owl Consulting and a Microsoft SharePoint MVP. View author profile.

Comments (18)

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  1. Manoj says:

    Awesome stuff. Thanks so much for posting this. I did figure couple of them through my experiments but this kind of summarizes all. Great !!!

  2. If limitations matter: You can connect native SharePoint lists to any external data source and setup some kind of bi-directional replication without any programming using this tool:

    Then ALL list features are available, e.g. workflows on external data change etc.

  3. Peter Holpar says:

    A few month ago I wrote about my experience with the validation issues with external lists. You can read it here:

  4. […] data similar way as in the case of standard SharePoint list (I wrote similar, because there are significant exceptions as well). It includes the programmatic access […]

  5. Ivan says:

    Great article, thanks for putting all these in once place.

  6. […] March 2010, we reviewed a blog by Michal Pisarek “BCS External List Limitations” (link: He provided a decent list of BCS limitations in context of External […]

  7. enti says:

    You can use my free plugin for this.
    It will install new ribbon button to any external list and it will generate the excel document.


  8. I want to add one more problem about External Lists, you can not use SPMetal.exe with external list… But do not bother yourself, there is a workaround that we can create any custom list and lookup columns to our external list …

  9. […] it seems that you can’t access BCS list data via REST, according to this article. But it seems that you can access the list data through SOAP. I used the code below to query a BCS […]

  10. […] SharePoint list, it’s a different beast underneath. Compared to regular lists, external lists are significantly impaired (see also Inside Microsoft SharePoint 2010, page 493). While BCS and SPD enables you get off the […]

  11. […] 1. […]

  12. Majid says:

    I want to show a field as hyper link in my external list. The link is present in the table from where I am getting data. please tell me how I can make a field hyperlink in external list…..?

  13. SharePointFrank says:

    Please note that there are some improvements with BCS in SharePoint 2013 / Office 365 Next. See here for a discussion and compare with 3rd party data replication tool (especially for sandboxed or cloud-based configurations):

    Seems to be that using native SharePoint lists or libraries as some kind of replicated cache for external data sources still has some pros…

  14. Selvan says:

    Great article, you missed about creating index based on external column also not possible.

  15. AbuBenAdam says:

    Here is the List of SharePoint external list limitations:

  16. […] A more completed list is in the post BCS External List Limitations. […]

  17. vanitha says:

    what is items limit in sharepoint 2013 external list?

  18. Frank Daske says:

    You will find a list of limitations here:

    As I remember the item limit is 2000 items, but can be increased with settings changed. But the performance goes down dramaticaly in this case.

    Sync of native lists with external data can help (up to 100.000 items and more):

    Hope that helps.

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