sharepoint basics / web applications and site collections

pma111 used Ask the Experts™
could someone help me with a very basic (idiots) guide to the difference & interaction in SharePoint between a 'web application' and a site/site collection. And when it comes to access related permissions, e.g. who can access a document uploaded to a site, e.g. https:\\ourcompany\sites\ourteamsite - are access control related permissions typically set per site, or per 'web application'. If that was your concern (permissions) do you need to be focusing on 'site level' permissions, rather than the 'web applications' level permissions? Or where would you apply access control permissions in such a setup, generally?

I am trying to understand if your sharepoint server typically acts as a glorified file server, where lets say each team in the company has a locked down area for sharing files amongst their direct team colleagues, and each individual in the company has a personal area for files only accessible to them, and each of these areas are essentially 'sites' in sharepoint, then what exactly is a 'web application' in regards to sharepoint? is it in my link above, the https:\\ourcompany, which basically represents a collection of sub sites? I ran the cmdlet get-spwebapplication and all it essentially returns is a list of URL's.
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Sr. Systems Administrator
This is a huge question to answer but I will see if I can make a dent.

The difference between a Web Application and a Site Collection. A web application acts like a Website on a normal Web server. It listens on a port (80/443 normally but can be others) and has a Host Header name. By itself, a web Application (and a Website for that matter) provides nothing but a container for content. A basic SharePoint installation will have 3 Web Applications, The main Application for your content. (http://yourcompany) A mysites link for users sites, and A central Administration web application. By themselves, they are just containers for Site Collections.
  Site Collections exist inside a Web Application and are the security boundry. You can have a lot of site collections inside a Web application. Each site collection is a hierarchy of linked Sites. You create Site collections using a Template normally. This gives you some basic content structure to start building your site.
  Permissions can be as granular as you like but they start at the site collection level. Normally only Farm Administrators have permissions on the Web Application.
  As far as the question about it being a glorified File server, it can but it also can be a lot more. The way I first learned it was as a way to give a collaboration platform to a business unit. They could share files, calendars, chats, newsfeeds, etc..... The SharePoint admin would create a site collection for the business unit and someone there would be in charge of assigning permission in the collection (A site collection admin). But it is entirely up to you how you do it. You can assign permissions granulary or just set it at the collection level and let it inherit.

  As an example, my company has one main Web Application for content. For the sake of demonstration, http://application. Under this we have About 38 separate Site collections, some with only one level, some with dozens of levels. Our Intranet is there in its own Site collection. Along with Department site collections and other specialty ones such as training. Each of these has its own permissions. Most have some granularity of permissions. Each of these Site collections has a URL like http://application/sites/Sitecollection. And if it has multiple subsites, there will be longer paths. (The sites part is called a managed path. you can have others)

  There are probably some others here that can explain it better. I would recommend seeking some SharePoint Admin training. There are a few online ones. I use Learnnowonline for other things but they do have some SharePoint stuff (2013). has training also. These come with 30 day trials so you could look and see if anything would help. There are more out there but I haven't looked at any others.
Walter CurtisSharePoint AED
Distinguished Expert 2018

Well said...

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