UPDATE 30 June 2022: Based on feedback and some live troubleshooting with MacOS users, I have changed the text to read MacOS instead of iOS. Also, one MacOS user noted that if there are problems with the sync on those devices, it is sometimes easier just to delete the app and re-install it.
Microsoft 365 provides two primary locations for end-users to create and capture document type content – OneDrive for Business (‘my files’) and SharePoint Online (‘our files’). Both of these can be accessed from the Chats (ODfB) and Team channels files (SPO) tabs in MS Teams.
Both OneDrive for Business and SharePoint (including via the Files tab in Teams) include the option to Sync content to Windows File Explorer or iOS Finder, allowing end-users to access both from a familiar interface.
In 2021, Microsoft added the option to ‘Add shortcut to OneDrive‘ from a SharePoint library or folder via the browser but not (yet) from the Files tab in Teams. As the name suggests, this creates a shortcut in OneDrive for Business to a SharePoint library or folder. While syncing only syncs to File Explorer or Finder, a short cut to OneDrive also makes the library or folder accessible from the browser version of OneDrive, the OneDrive mobile device app, and File Explorer/Finder.
This post explains the difference between Sync and Add shortcut to OneDrive and the potential impacts both of these options may have on managing records. In summary, both options are useful and likely to be popular but a range of records management related capability in SharePoint is neither visible nor accessible in File Explorer.
The Sync option, in both OneDrive For Business and SharePoint Online, allows content in those locations to be synced to and then accessed directly from File Explorer (Windows) or Finder (MacOS). The option replaces earlier methods to map SharePoint document libraries to drives. The option is useful and popular because it means that end-users can continue to work in a familiar space.
On both Windows and MacOS machines, syncing from both SharePoint and OneDrive is managed by the same OneDrive sync app. As the screenshot below shows, on Windows machines, the sync client adds separate sections in File Explorer for the content synced from SharePoint (‘andrewwarland’ is the tenant name) and OneDrive for Business (‘OneDrive’ – tenant name) as can be seen in the example below (a personal OneDrive section can also be seen).
Positives of syncing
Creating, accessing and managing ‘personal’ or working content in the synced OneDrive area of File Explorer makes a lot of sense and usually replaces ‘home’ drives.
Negatives of syncing
Creating, accessing and managing content synced from SharePoint via File Explorer minimises a range of records management functionality, including the visibility and editability of columns that can otherwise be seen in both the Teams Files tab and in SharePoint via a browser. For example:
- A synced library does not display the unique Document ID, added columns, or retention and sensitivity information.
- Content can be added even when a column is mandatory (an error message displays in the SharePoint site, but not in File Explorer).
For these reasons, syncing may be best suited for lower-level ‘working’ content and should probably disabled if this functionality needs to be visible or accessible.
In addition to the above, creating new folder in File Explorer at the top level of a synced Teams document library does not create a new channel in Teams.
Add shortcut to OneDrive
As the name indicates, the option to ‘Add shortcut to OneDrive’ allows an end-user to add a shortcut from a SharePoint document library (or a folder in that library) to their OneDrive for Business unless the library (or a folder in it) have already been synced, in which case an error message will appear.
The option is not yet available via the Files tab in a Teams channel.
Shortcuts to OneDrive can be accessed:
- Via the browser version of OneDrive
- In File Explorer/Finder, under the OneDrive – (Tenant name) section (along with any other synced OneDrive content).
- Via the OneDrive app on a mobile device.
When a shortcut is added to OneDrive, a folder with the same name with a ‘link’ icon will appear in all three of the OneDrive options above. In the OneDrive – tenant name section of File Explorer, both library and folder shortcuts display as a folder (with the site name if there is a conflict) with a ‘link’ icon, as can be seen in the example below.
When shortcuts are added in this way, File Explorer displays the same (cloud/accessed) icons as for other synced content. The screenshot below shows the content in the ‘Documents’ library of the ‘Modern Site’ SharePoint site.
- The cloud icon indicates that the content has not been accessed or downloaded (or fully downloaded for the content of folders).
- The green circle/tick icon indicates that the content has been accessed and downloaded to the local machine.
Positives of adding shortcuts
The ability to add shortcuts to SharePoint content in OneDrive is likely to be useful and popular as, even though this option is more or less identical with syncing (in terms of the outcome), it means that SharePoint content can be accessed from a familiar location (and also on a mobile app).
Negatives of adding shortcuts
The main negative of being able to add shortcuts to SharePoint content in OneDrive, in addition to the issues with syncing already noted, is the potential for confusion.
- There is no obvious indicator in SharePoint to say if a shortcut has already been added to OneDrive; only when the end-users tries to share it again will an error message appear.
- End users who add shortcuts to SharePoint document library folders may not be aware of other folders in the same library. There is no visible hierarchical navigation to indicate that there may be other folders, or the position of a folder among others.
- Despite having a ‘link’ indicator in the folder icon, end-users may treat the content in the shortcut folder as being in their ‘personal’ OneDrive space.
Additionally, that if a library or folder in a library has been added as a shortcut to OneDrive and is then deleted from SharePoint or the Teams/Files tab, the shortcut will still exist in the person’s OneDrive until they remove it. A shortcut folder can be removed at any time by an end-user also by using the remove option. This implies that end-users will proactively manage shortcuts in their OneDrive.
Creating, accessing and managing content in File Explorer/Finder is a common and popular way to work. However, if corporate records are being stored and managed in SharePoint, it is a good idea to ensure that end-users are aware of the various ‘levels’ of functionality:
- SharePoint document libraries. These are a logical ‘container’ for storing records and provide the full set of document and records management options for managing records, including a wide range of system and added metadata, column information including added metadata, retention and sensitivity labels, check out/in, the ability to create multiple views, versioning, etc.
- Teams Files tab. This area of Teams provides a slightly cut-down version of the document library experience and is focused on the default Documents library that comes with every Team; each new (non-private) channel creates a folder in that library. It is not (yet) possible to add a shortcut from the Files tab, and versioning is not visible.
- File Explorer/Finder provides basic information only about the content stored in the document library although with Windows 10/11 it includes the ability to navigate to the SharePoint site and see the version history.
While both syncing and adding shortcuts provide a very similar outcome in File Explorer, good communication is important to ensure this functionality is used appropriately.
Feature image: Photo by Elena Saharova from Pexels
13 thoughts on “Sync vs Add Shortcut to OneDrive from SharePoint”
Thanks for Sharing.
Thank you for this article. It was easily understandable and helpful. By the way, being an Apple fan, I point out that Finder is on MacOS not iOS…at least from a normal users perspective.
Thank you for the feedback, and pointing out that error. I will fix that now.
What happens if a user adds a shortcut to a Teams folder that is say, 400GB? Will the entire thing try to download to the local machine?
Hi Brian, I would refer you to the Microsoft documentation. Adding a shortcut or syncing doesn’t bring all the content down to the local machine, it’s only when they try to open it, it may take a (long) while to open ‘locally’. I would suggest user education NOT to do this if their files are so large. https://support.microsoft.com/en-us/office/restrictions-and-limitations-in-onedrive-and-sharepoint-64883a5d-228e-48f5-b3d2-eb39e07630fa?ui=en-us&rs=en-us&ad=us#numberitemscanbesynced
Some shortcuts were removed locally from One Drive. We can see them in One Drive online, but I need them back in Windows explorer. Can you direct me to some help to get those shortcuts to show up in the WE version of One Drive?
The ‘Add shortcut to OneDrive’ option from SharePoint document libraries will, for Windows 10/11, place the short cut under the ‘YourFirstName-Tenantname’ (blue cloud icon) of File Explorer (previous Windows Explorer). Those shortcuts also appear in your online OneDrive. What is confusing is that only the library name may appear as a folder in the OneDrive on File Explorer, but the folder has an additional ‘link’ icon in it. So, to get them back, open the SharePoint document library via the browser, then you should see ‘Add ShortCut to OneDrive’. If you don’t, then your administrators may have removed that option for everyone. If this is not clear let me know, happy to send you an email to clarify further.
Hi Andrew, thanks for this article. One more thought: Since the “shortcut” is stored on the server side, it is available on all devices, while a “sync” must be done on each device separately. Furthermore, its removal is quite cumbersome.
Vi er ved at oprette en struktur for projektafvikling i SharePoint.
Er det muligt at gemme 3D Filer?
Any digital file can be saved in SharePoint. However, if you need to open these files, you will need to sync the library to File Explorer. If the files are very big, work directly from File Explorer so that SharePoint is kind of a cloud ‘back up’.
Great article, thanks. Do you know if there is a way to change the default path for a new shortcut? I’d like to change it from “%userprofile%\OneDrive – Tenant” to “%userprofile%\OneDrive – Tenant\Shared” to help identify the data as a shared resource.
Thank you. I’m not sure I understand the question – did you want a personal OneDrive account to be accessible by everyone (or at least more than the original owner)? If that’s the case, perhaps move that content to SharePoint instead?