Top questions about check out, check in, and versions

Behind the Office 365 Community scenes, we’ve been keeping track of your best questions about checking out, checking in, and versioning files in your document libraries. It’s time we gather them together and share them with you, along with our best answers. Many of the following questions also have links to current help topics for a deeper dive into the content.

Keep those cards and letters coming!

Questions and answers

Should I enable check out and check in of files?

When should I enable versioning?

What’s the best way to upload files?

Why aren’t others seeing files I just uploaded?

I clicked a document link in email, but it opened read-only – how come?

Should I use my local drafts folder?

How do I check in lots of files in different subfolders in one fell swoop?

I don’t see a Check out icon in my OneDrive for Business local folder.

Is there any way to edit a check-in comment?

I’m feeling lazy, can I do automatic check out and check in?

Someone went on vacation and left a file checked out. Now what?

All of a sudden, I can’t check in multiple files anymore -- What gives?

I read and tried everything but I’m still stuck – What do I do now?

Should I enable check out and check in of files?

Simply put, checking out and checking in files is a way to lock a file for exclusive editing and then to release the lock for others. Consider your collaboration style when creating libraries, organizing your files, and deciding how best to collaborate. There are several ways to collaborate with others on documents. The following table can help you decide what’s best for you.

Collaboration style

Typical uses

Best practice

Informal

Everyday team documents, light or infrequent editing, and occasional editing conflicts

Disable check out requirement (This is the default library setting) but you can still check out individual files as needed.

Co-authoring

Easy, real-time document collaboration with Office products on client computers and by using Office Online

Disable check out requirement and avoid checking out a file because it’s incompatible with co-authoring

Formal

Sequential comment and review and document approval

Enable required check out

Here are some additional tips and tricks if you enable check out in a library:

  • Check out file Avoid keeping files checked out for too long.

  • Add the Checked Out By column to the default view of the library. This way, others can easily see who has a document checked out. If this column is not in a view, you can still hover over the Checked Out icon icon image to see a tip that tells you who has the file checked out.

  • If you are in a rush to edit a checked out file, contact the other user and ask them when they can finish.

  • Avoid editing files that are already checked out because you may need to manually synchronize changes or even accidentally overwrite changes.

  • Bear in mind that your changes are not visible until you check the file back in. If you want others to see the changes before you’re finished, you can check in the document, but keep it checked out until you’re done.

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When should I enable versioning?

Version History with minor version deleted Versioning is a way to create a history of changes to a document that requires a controlled publishing cycle of major versions, or major and minor versions.

Here are two good reasons to enable versioning:

  • It’s important for your business process to track, view, and restore previous versions of a document. Common reasons include contracts, formal proposals, and legal documents that sometimes require lengthy iterations. In these cases, it’s a good idea to enable major and minor versioning.

  • If your team plans to use co-authoring, you might enable major versioning in the library, just in case someone makes a mistake and uploads a document of the same name in a library where everyone is co-authoring. This way, if you lose changes, you can restore a previous version of the document.

You can also enable versioning and check out at the same time. Note that if you decide not to make or keep any changes in the file, you can discard the check out, but this does not affect version history.

When you enable versioning, it doesn't automatically add columns to a view, such as the Modified and Modified By columns, so you may want to modify the default view. To get an approval status column that will show a Draft status until a document is approved, you also need to enable the Content Approval feature, which you can do from the Library Settings page.

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What’s the best way to upload files?

Three approaches come to mind.

Click Add to Drag Files to Library Using drag and drop   

The most common way to upload files is by dragging them from a computer or network folder to the document library. First, open the library on your site. Then find the documents on your computer that you want to upload, select them, and drag them to the space in your library where it says, drag files here.

If you don’t see the option to drag and drop files, install the latest version of your browser software or Microsoft Office 2013. This feature requires either Office 2013 or the latest version of Internet Explorer, Firefox, or Chrome.

An Open Explorer window Using the Open with Explorer command   

This command opens Windows Explorer on your computer, but it displays the folder structure on the server computer that underlies the site. From time to time, you might need to copy or move many documents in a library to another library.

For example, you might want to move all documents created over a year ago in one library to another library to archive the information. Or, you might want to copy documents from a library that you own from one site to another library in a subsite as you change workgroups.

You can also manipulate the files in the folder, such as copying, renaming, deleting, and so on.

Drag files to library Using the new document command   

In the Create a new file callout, click UPLOAD EXISTING FILE. In the dialog box that appears, click Browse to upload individual files.

The advantage to this approach is that it works no matter what browser or browser version you currently have.

Related tips about check out, check in, and versions   

Whichever way you upload, keep in mind the following about check out, check in, and versions when they are enabled:

  • If you are uploading a file to a library that requires files to be checked out, the file is initially checked out to you. You still need to check the file in before other people can view and edit it.

  • If the library is configured to track versions of files, you typically add the uploaded file as a new version, which then becomes part of the version history of the file.

  • If the library requires you to add values to one or more library columns, such as a department name or project number, you must still edit the values and check in the document before the upload operation is completed.

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Why aren’t others seeing files I just uploaded?

If you upload files to a library that requires files to be checked out, the file is initially checked out to you. You can see the files, but others cannot and that’s easy to overlook. Before others can view or edit the files, make sure you fill in any required properties and then check in the files.

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I clicked a document link in email, but it opened read-only – how come?

If someone sends you a link to a SharePoint file and you click it, always make sure to read the title bar to see if it says read-only before you start editing. If it does and the library has checkout enabled, you need to check out the file. You can always navigate to the library by inspecting the URL to locate the library.

But if the file is an Office document, such as Word, Excel, or PowerPoint, it’s much easier. First, put the document in Edit mode, click the File tab, and then locate the Manage Versions button, which you can use to check out the file.

But note that it’s also possible that someone already has the file checked out, so in this case the Check Out command would not be available.

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Should I use my local drafts folder?

How often have you seen this?

Message box that offers the opportunity to keep checked out file in a local drafts folder

The local drafts feature has been around for several versions. Selecting Use my local drafts folder lets you take the file offline and makes the file easier to find on your computer, if you need to open it later while you are not connected to a network. By default, the folder is called SharePoint Drafts and it’s located in your Documents or My Documents folder. By the way, you don’t see this dialog box if you select two or more files for check out.

But times have changed. If you want to work with files offline, then your best bet these days is to use OneDrive for Business which makes it a snap to take any document library offline and to automatically synchronize changes. OneDrive for Business comes with Office 2013 and there is also a stand-alone version.

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How do I check in lots of files in different subfolders in one fell swoop?

A library organized into folders often has a default view that displays all the folders. If you want to check in lots of files in lots of folders, create a new view that “flattens” the library so you can see all the files in one view without folders. To do this, select Show all items without folders under Folders on the Edit View page. While you’re at it, you might increase the file limit so you can see all the files at once by also increasing the Number of items to display under Item Limit. This makes it much easier in one operation to select all the files you need to check in.

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I don’t see a Check out icon in my OneDrive for Business local folder.

Let’s say you have synced a library with OneDrive for Business. Of course, you can still check out files in the browser and you can still see the Checked Out icon icon image in the browser to indicate the file is checked out. But there is no Checked Out icon on the file in the local folder of your device. That’s because the local folder has no knowledge of the check out/check in state of the file on SharePoint Online.

However, in your local folder you can do the following:

  1. Right click the file name.

  2. Click OneDrive for Business, and then click Go to browser.

You can now quickly see the SharePoint library and the check-out/check in state of any file in the library.

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Is there any way to edit a check-in comment?

Well, sort of. When you check in a document, you can add a brief comment about the changes you made. This is a great way for others to see a summary of your edits. If you ever need to edit a comment you can check out the document again, immediately check it back in, select Overwrite the current version, and then add the new comment in the Comment box.

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I’m feeling lazy, can I do automatic check out and check in?

The short answer is no. It’s important to make an explicit decision when you check in and check out files because both operations have important consequences for other users. When you check out Office documents, like a Word document, the yellow message bar and prompts help you track the state of the document and make quicker decisions. For more information, see Should I enable check out and check in of files?

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Someone went on vacation and left a file checked out. Now what?

You don’t have to wait for them to come back.

A site or library administrator can use the Override Check Out permission which enables check in of a document or discard check out of a document by another user. But be aware of the consequences of doing this. Your colleague on vacation may want to add the local copy of his changes back to the document in the library and the two versions need to be reconciled, either manually or by using comparison tools, such as the ones provided by Word and Excel.

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All of a sudden, I can’t check in multiple files anymore -- What gives?

If you have been editing and uploading many files at the same time, you can select and check them all in at once. But if you see that the Check In command is disabled, scroll through the entire library view and make sure that you have not inadvertently selected a file already checked in. That’s the most common reason for a disabled Check In command and it’s easy to overlook this.

Check in file

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I read and tried everything but I’m still stuck – What do I do now?

If you still have problems or encounter unexpected behavior, it may be time to file a service request.

Contact Office 365 for business support.

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Applies To: SharePoint Online



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