Posted in Information Management, Products and applications, SharePoint Online

How SharePoint column settings can affect libraries synced with File Explorer

In my previous post I described how end users might adopt SharePoint (Online) more quickly if they can work the way they always have – in File Explorer. And this is certainly the case if there are no mandatory columns in the source SharePoint library.

However, the presence of mandatory columns (‘Required’ in Content Type settings) may result in different outcomes, in both the synced library in File Explorer and also in the SharePoint Online library. This post describes the various options.

Thanks to Francis Laurin for pointing out a particular issue, described below.

Synced library outcomes in File Explorer

There are five potential outcomes when a SharePoint Online document library is synced with File Explorer via the newest version of the OneDrive sync tool and Windows 10.

The first option is when there are no mandatory columns in the SharePoint document library, including when the document library contains a Content Type that contains a Site Column that is not set as mandatory in the Site Column settings.

In this option, When the document library is synced, the documents appear with a cloud icon under the Status column. If the document is edited, the Status icon changes to a green circle with a tick.


The second option is when the SPO document library has a ‘local’ column that is mandatory. When this happens, the OneDrive for Business Sync (ODBS) client alerts the end user that the synced library is now read only. No documents can be added or edited via File Explorer.


The third option is when (a) a Site Content Type (CT) is added to the library (after enabling the management of content types via the Advanced Library settings), (b) that CT has a site column that is made mandatory via the Site Columns settings, and (c) the CT is not the default or only CT.

In this case, the synced library in File Explorer is made read only (same as the second option above).

The fourth option is when (a) a Site Content Type (CT) is added to the library, (b) that CT has a site column that is made ‘Required’ via the CT settings, and (c) the CT is not the default or only CT.

In this case, the synced library in File Explorer is the same as the second option above. That is, the library in File Explorer is locked so end users can NOT upload documents or editing existing ones.

The fifth option is when (a) a Site Content Type (CT) is added to the library , (b) that CT has a site column that is made ‘Required’ via the CT settings, and (c) the CT is the default or only CT.

In this case, when documents are uploaded to the synced document library in File Explorer, the document is added but is automatically checked out in the SPO document library and ONLY visible to the person who uploaded it.

  • The end-user can see their uploaded document in File Explorer but anyone else who syncs (or has synced) the library cannot see the newly uploaded documents.
  • The end user can also see the document in the SharePoint library, which now has the ‘checked out’ and ‘required info’ missing notifications (see screenshot below). No-one else can see the document, which now sits in the ‘Checked out documents’ part of the library.


It is quite likely that an end user will not know that the document they have uploaded is only visible to themselves and checked out in the SPO document library. They will also not know, when they upload a document, that a special CT may exist. Accordingly, care must be taken with the fifth option.

Recommendations for the use of File Explorer

If you are planning to suggest that users sync their document libraries to File Explorer, try to ensure:

  • There are no mandatory columns in the library, including Site Columns that are made mandatory, including in added Content Types. This will lock the library in File Explorer.
  • There are no columns in a Content Type that have been changed from Optional to Required AND where that CT is the only or default CT for the library. Although this option allows end users to upload documents, it will cause documents to be automatically checked out when they are uploaded. Consider instead leaving the default ‘Document’ CT in place or using non-mandatory columns.


Posted in Classification, Electronic records, Governance, Information Management, Legal, Office 365, Products and applications, Records management, SharePoint Online, Training and education

Using the Sync option to work smarter and reduce duplication, and increase end user acceptance of SharePoint

Note: A correction was made to this post on 20 July 2019, relating to if a document library contains mandatory metadata.

Perhaps the single most common complaint about using electronic document management (EDM) systems over the last two decades has been the requirement to save a copy of a record stored on a network file share to the EDM system.

Network file shares are littered with documents, many of them duplicated in other locations, on personal drives (and removable drives), and attached to email messages. Some of these documents may also have been saved in the EDM system. 

It is a known fact that legal discovery activities rarely focus solely on the records in an EDM system, no matter how good that system may be. As long as network file shares (and personal drives) have existed (and continue to exist) alongside EDM systems, the latter has always been the poorer sibling in terms of information value.

Various attempts over the years by EDM vendors to ‘integrate’ their products with network file shares (often via WebDAV – see below) have rarely been successful not the least because the folder structure of the network file share is inevitably more useful and flexible than the often rigid structure of the EDM.

*WebDAV, or ‘Web Distributed Authoring and Versioning’ (RFC 4918) is ‘an extension to HTTP, the protocol that web-browsers and web servers use to communicate with each other’. WebDAV facilitates collaborative authoring, editing and file management. The most common usage of WebDAV is to map cloud storage as a network drive. (Source: WebDAV: What it is, where it turns up, and its alternatives, retrieved 18 July 2019)

The old ‘Groove-y’ way

Microsoft Office Groove 2007, or ‘Groove’, was a Microsoft Office component that used WebDAV to synchronise with a SharePoint library, allowing the library to be opened from Windows Explorer. (Source: Understanding and troubleshooting the SharePoint Files tool in Groove 2007, retrieved 18 July 2019)

While this method worked, it was clumsy and difficult to use. Duplication on network file shares continued.

2018 – The new OneDrive for Business sync client

The previous Groove OneDrive for Business sync client (Groove.exe) was included with the Windows 10 Operating System that was released in mid 2015.

The new SharePoint Online became widely available from 2016 and has continued to evolve. Initially, it was only possible to synchronise a SharePoint Online document library using WebDAV methods.

The new OneDrive sync client (OneDrive.exe), also known as the Next Generation Sync Client (NGSC), appeared in early 2018. The new sync client allowed users (with Windows 10 devices) to sync their SharePoint document libraries to File Explorer.

A mostly unnoticed but significant change

The sync option on SharePoint document libraries (in addition to OneDrive and OneDrive for Business) is possibly one of the least noticed changes that has the potential to have – ironically – both a major and also minor impact on the way people work.

It is a minor impact because – provided the synced document library does not have mandatory metadata (see below) – the change effectively allows users to continue working the way they always have, in File Explorer, going only to SharePoint Online when they need to.

It is a major impact because, coupled with the ability to ‘share’ content easily (directly from File Explorer), the potential for duplication – except for the duplication between ‘work’ and ‘personal’ spaces – has been removed. Everyone with access to it can sync the same document library and multiple people can work on documents in the library at the same time.

Instead of creating a ‘working’ document on a drive and perhaps emailing it to everyone, there now only needs to be a single copy that multiple people can access – via File Explorer, at the same time. Everyone with access can see when any other person is editing.

That is, end users can continue to work in File Explorer, the way they have always done. In that sense, the ability to sync a document libraries makes redundant the need to open a browser and access SharePoint that way. (This in turn impacts on the way change is managed and perhaps how each SharePoint site might be configured).

How it works

As a start it should be emphasized that this works best with Windows 10 as Windows 7 devices may still have the old ‘Groove’ client installed.

Please note also that this only works if there is no mandatory metadata on the document library. If there is, the users will be unable to add new content to the synced library, or edit existing documents. See below for more information.

Users need to go to the SharePoint site first and click on the library they want to sync. Users need to have edit rights on the library to sync it.

They should then see the Sync option:


The OneDrive for Business client notifies the user that the library will be synced.


The library is then synced to the user’s File Explorer.

Note: If the document library has any mandatory metadata, the user will be notified via a pop-up that the library has been synced in ‘read only’ mode.

A new icon (with the Office 365 tenant name) appears on the left, and each document library that is synced is shown as a folder beneath it.

If the document library has any mandatory metadata columns OR the library requires check out (via Versioning settings), an additional ‘lock’ appears to the right of the sync status. This means the documents cannot be edited and new documents cannot be added. (Source: Sync SharePoint files with the new OneDrive sync client)


If neither condition applies, end users can work directly in the synced document library in File Explorer, including adding new folders and documents.

End users may also select which folders they wish to sync either by opening a folder in SharePoint and syncing from there, or by right clicking on the folder that was synced, clicking on ‘Settings’ and removing any unwanted folders. This, of course, could mean that users don’t see new folders they really should see and may as a result attempt to create one with the same name (which will be rejected).

Documents are not downloaded to the user’s computer until they open them. This can be seen below in the first document with a circle/tick icon (downloaded) and the three others with cloud icons (not downloaded).


The user can right-click and use the Share option (the same as in SharePoint Online) to share the document with colleagues which (as long as the person sharing has the permission to do so) gives the other person access if they didn’t have it before. The three dots at the top right of the dialogue box provide the option to manage access to the document.


Note: End users cannot copy and paste a link to sync a library, the sync runs from a user’s computer and is personal to their log on and their device.

End user reactions

Personal experience supporting thousands of end-users with access to SharePoint Onine indicated that this was perhaps one of the most useful features ever released.

Several people noted that they regarded the sync option as a ‘cloud-based backup’. Some indicated that they rarely returned to the browser version of SharePoint for their key document libraries (which may be problem).

What about metadata and content types?

Presently, document libraries synced to File Explorer do not display any metadata associated with the document or document library, only the icon, name, date, type and size.

However, Microsoft Office documents (Word, Excel, and PowerPoint) retain any original metadata in the document properties (the ‘metadata payload’) and these properties may be changed on the document itself via the ‘File’ option.

Any metadata columns are also ignored; a user may add a document directly to the synced document library in File Explorer without having to add metadata. Note that this is the same behavior in SharePoint Online; if a document is added to a library with a metadata column, a warning appears (see screenshot below) but the document can still be uploaded. (This paragraph was corrected on 20 July 2019 to remove reference to mandatory columns, which make the synced library read only).


Note also that new options coming soon to SharePoint Online, which will also be seen via the ‘Share’ option in File Explorer, is the ability to set restrictions such as the ability to print or download, or expiry dates.

The new way of working

The old way of working was to create and manage documents on network file shares and personal drives, emailing copies as required. Adding documents to EDM systems was an additional and disliked step that in most cases created a copy of a document that still remained on a drive somewhere. (And, in many cases, the EDM system had a linked file share where the documents were stored).

The new way of working minimises the need for duplication.

  • Users create a new Office document (including directly from OneDrive or SharePoint, where it is automatically saved in the library from which it was created)
    • If the document was not created from OneDrive or SharePoint, the ‘save’ dialogue presents the following locations by default: OneDrive (personal); SharePoint (any SharePoint site the user has access to – including the synced document library on File Explorer); or ‘browse’ to another location.
    • If the document is saved to the synced document library in File Explorer, it is then automatically copied to the SharePoint Online document library (and a green circle and tick appears).
    • If the document is saved to a SharePoint Online library directly, it will appear in a synced folder in File Explorer initially with a cloud icon.
  • The document may then be shared, either from File Explorer or in SharePoint Online (the same Share dialogue on both).
  • The recipient of the Share invitation can then open the document directly and edit it (if given those rights).
  • Any edits of the document will be recorded in the version history of the document. Other actions (e.g., changes to security) will be recorded in the audit logs.

However, if the library contains any mandatory metadata, the synced library will read only.

One document, stored in a single location, accessed by many. A new, much smarter, way of working.