Document Versioning in SharePoint 2013

How well does it really work?

Jasper Oosterveld

by Jasper Oosterveld on 9/23/2014

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Date Revised:

Applies to:
coauthoring SharePoint documents, document versioning, SharePoint 2013

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Versioning has always been one of the main selling points for SharePoint Document Management. At least, that's what I always use as an argument for storing documents in SharePoint instead of file shares—even though there are other reasons, of course. However, while I was preparing my presentation, “Best Practices: Document Management in SharePoint 2013” for SharePoint Connections Amsterdam 2013, I started to wonder if versioning worked as well as I thought it did. Let me walk you through my thinking.

What creates a new version?

When are new versions of a document actually created in SharePoint? The four actions that create a new version are when you:

  1. Upload a new document
  2. Upload a document with the same name
  3. Change a document's properties
  4. Open, edit, or save a document

Let's take a closer look at each of these actions.

Upload a new document

The first version of a document is created when you upload a new document into a SharePoint document library, as you see in Figure 1.


Figure 1: Uploading a new document to create version 1.

Upload a document with the same name

What happens if you upload the same document again? As Figure 2 shows, that action creates a new version of the document.


Figure 2: Create version 2 by adding the same document again

Change the document's properties

When you change the document's properties, you get a new version, as you see in Figure 3.


Figure 3: Changing a document's properties.

Please be careful! Note that even if you don't actually change the properties and just click Save, you will create a new version.

Open, edit, or save the document

Opening, editing, or saving a document, of course, also changes the version. This one makes sense! So after you open the document in the browser and edit some text, you're creating a new version, as you see in Figure 4.


Figure 4: opening, editing, or saving


What about coauthoring? When multiple people work on a document, how does this impact the versioning? The official Microsoft answer (which is excerpted from here: is:

"During co-authoring of a document, when a different user begins working on the document or when a user clicks save to upload changes to the library. The default time period for creating new versions during coauthoring is 30 minutes, but an administrator can change that setting."

I actually tried this in my Microsoft Office 365 demo tenant, but without success. After staying in the document, with multiple users, for over 30 minutes, I didn't see any new versions created. Unfortunately, I cannot test this in an on-premises SharePoint site. (Let me know if you've tried this and what the results were.)

Does versioning work?

To be honest, whether versioning works really depends on your situation and business requirements. For example, let's look at my work situation: I write project proposals together with a technical specialist, a project manager, and an account manager. I create the proposal, which means on our team that I start with version 0.1. After I'm done, which can take multiple days, I create version 0.2 and hand the document over to the technical specialist. He or she writes his or her part of the proposal and turns it into version 0.3 before handing it over to the project manager. After the project manager and the account manager are finished, the proposal is at 0.5 and can be sent to the customer as version 1.0.

This approach doesn't work with SharePoint versioning because SharePoint keeps creating versions each time I close and reopen the document. You can have more control with versions, but you have to work with check-in and check-out. By enabling the check-in and check-out feature, an end-user is able to put a “lock” on the document. The user can edit the document and check-in the document when finished. Other end-users are only able to view the checked out version of the document. Due to the lock principle, coauthoring is disabled.

Please really take a look at your requirements and those of your customers to determine if SharePoint versioning works for you.

Topic: Document Management

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