Document collaboration and co-authoring

With Office and OneDrive or SharePoint, multiple people can work together on a Word document, Excel spreadsheet, or PowerPoint presentation. Office has tools, such as comments, track changes, and activities for communication, clarity, and consistency. When everyone is working at the same time, that's called co-authoring.

When you're using Office and your document is on SharePoint or OneDrive, when everyone is done, you have a finished document, there's no need to copy and reformat. When you're working together, you can see where everyone is and what they're typing - as though they're typing on your device. For more info on what is required to make co-authoring work for you, see below.

Name and location of other person editing your document
See where others are and what they're typing

If you use Skype, you can work remotely while feeling like you're sitting in a meeting room. Skype lets you talk to and see the other people working on your documents. Instant messaging lets you ask questions without interrupting, or send links or files to the group. For more info, see Collaboration in Office—chat with your co-editors in real-time via Skype!

Note: If you're using Information Rights (IRM) or Rights Management Service (RMS) with your documents, co-authoring is not supported. For more info on collaborating without co-authoring, see Can I collaborate without co-authoring?

Updated January 9, 2017 thanks to customer feedback.

What kinds of co-authoring can I do in Office?

There are two types of co-authoring that are supported in Office, regular, and real-time co-authoring. Both let multiple people collaborate and work together on documents. There are just a few differences between the types.

Regular co-authoring is when you and others can simultaneously work on a document, and not block each other. You can see who else is working on the document (in the collaboration corner), and the paragraph that's being worked on is locked. When new changes are made by others, you see an Updates Available status in your document or presentation. When you save, you see changes that others have made. Your document is refreshed with changes that everyone else has saved since the last time you saved. If you're using an application that can do regular co-authoring, you can co-author with someone who's using a version that supports real-time co-authoring.

Real-time co-authoring is where two or more people can type at the same time and automatically see text changes as they happen. You can see the cursor location where someone is working and what they're typing as they type, just as if they are working on your computer or device. Text and the location or presence of the person appears almost instantly, with formatting catching up shortly. You can hover over the cursor location and see who is making the changes. If you co-author with someone who's using a version that supports only regular co-authoring, you won't see edits from them in real time, but you can still work together.

What do I need to co-author a document?

To co-author, the document needs to be on OneDrive consumer, OneDrive for Business, SharePoint Online, or SharePoint server. For real-time co-authoring, the document does have to be in the cloud, so it works with OneDrive or SharePoint Online, but not SharePoint server. If you store documents only locally on your computer, you can't co-author.

Co-authoring with Office is turned on by default in OneDrive, and SharePoint, and just works unless it's blocked or turned off by an administrator.

To co-author with others, you need:    

  • A shared storage area   OneDrive, OneDrive for Business, SharePoint Online, or a SharePoint Server document library to store your files. For real-time co-authoring, you must use the online versions, but regular co-authoring works fine with on premise SharePoint Server.

  • Apps that support co-authoring   Word and PowerPoint on all platforms, and on all versions since Office 2010, Excel Online, Android, and Windows Mobile. In addition, real-time co-authoring is supported on Word for Windows Desktop 2016, and Word, PowerPoint, and Excel Online.

  • A co-authoring friendly document    Co-authoring is only supported on modern file formats: .docx, .pptx, and .xlsx. A few features are also not supported, such as VBA. Documents with track changes do not support real-time typing in Word.

  • Co-authors    People with permission to access and edit the documents to co-author with you.

Note: Any version of an app that supports co-authoring, can co-author with any other supported version. For example, if you are in Word 2016, you can co-author with people who are using Word Online or Word for Mac. You'll see people's changes from Word Online in real-time, and changes from Word for Mac users as they save.

Create or open documents for co-authoring

You can create documents in Office Online or Office desktop products. These topics will help you learn how to co-author documents:

Share your documents to collaborate and co-author with others

A key to collaborating and co-authoring is sharing your documents. In SharePoint, OneDrive, and Office apps you can share files with others.

To find out more about sharing documents in OneDrive and SharePoint, look at these topics:

Name and location of other person editing your document
You can see where others are in the document, along with a flag with their name.

When you open a shared document in a desktop or mobile app, it doesn't matter if you're connected or not, you can keep working. If there are others editing the same document, they won't be able to see your changes while you're offline. When you go back online, you'll be notified of any changes that are available, and others will see that you have changes.

When you're working in Word, the paragraph you're working in is locked so that no one can overwrite what you're working on. When you go offline with Word, it is possible to work on the same paragraph as someone else in your group. When you save your changes, you'll get a pop-up message saying there is a conflict. You can then click through to where you'll be able to sort it all out.

Sentence with conflict in Word
A conflict being resolved in Word 2016

If you're working on a file that's in a sync folder (such as OneDrive or OneDrive for Business), it syncs when you come back online, regardless of whether the app (Word, PowerPoint) is running. When you reconnect, your file automatically syncs. If there are conflicts, you'll get an alert. For more info see Sync OneDrive.

By default, in SharePoint the groups and permissions assigned to a library where you store or create a document are inherited by all documents in the library. For example, on a team site where everyone has read/write permissions, anyone can co-author. While a SharePoint Online document library with read-only permissions only allows peopleto view documents, though no one but the author can make changes unless explicitly invited.

SharePoint permissions are inherited, but you can set different ones for specific people. If a SharePoint library shares for view only, you can give edit permission to some users. However, if the library is set for edit permissions for everyone, you can't restrict a few to just viewing. You can override inherited permissions with a higher permission, not a lower permission. For more info on permissions, see Understanding permission levels in SharePoint

With SharePoint MySite, OneDrive for Business personal library, or consumer OneDrive, your files need to be explicitly shared. By default, they can only be edited and viewed by the owner of the library. You can select who can edit individual files by sharing to people or groups with edit permissions. For more on sharing, see Share files or folders in Office 365.

Although you can upload files via Word and PowerPoint 2007 or earlier to SharePoint Online or OneDrive, and you can open them for editing, you can't co-author these documents with those legacy applications. When a user opens a document with Word or PowerPoint 2007, SharePoint Online or OneDrive creates a lock on the document and prevents other users of Office from editing that document. To take best advantage of co-authoring in Word or PowerPoint, it is recommended that all users work with at least Office 2010 on the desktop, Office Online, newer Mac or a mobile app.

Yes, Microsoft has worked with dozens of partners worldwide so you can co-author with Office Online. Check your storage provide to see if co-authoring with Office Online is supported.

There is no support, however, for third-party providers with Office desktop or other platforms and Microsoft does not support co-authoring documents stored on Google Drive.

Here are some links to get you started.

If co-authoring isn't working correctly, there are several things that can cause problems. To help troubleshoot your co-authoring sessions and setup, see Troubleshoot co-authoring in Office.

If you've shared your documents using OneDrive or OneDrive for Business you can receive an email message letting you know that the document has been updated.

Can I collaborate without co-authoring?

You can still collaborate without co-authoring, such as when you've got unsupported file formats or you're using Information Rights Management (IRM). While everyone works separately, documents can be shared and checked out by others to write or update. In SharePoint, you can create workflows that track and enforce how a document is edited and approved. Additionally, you can create alerts on documents or libraries, or subscribe to an RSS feed so you're notified when changes are checked in. For more about checking documents in or out, workflows, and alerts:

Other topics of interest

If you haven't used Word Online or Office Online, you can test drive it here: Word Online. To change to a different online app, click the app launcher App launcher button and choose another app.

Here are a few blog posts that might have valuable information for you:

Here are some Help links:

For SharePoint administrators:

Note:  For more information about how to co-author documents, search the Help for Word, PowerPoint, and Office Online. For more information about configuring SharePoint for document collaboration and co-authoring, see the TechNet web site.

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