SharePoint Online document check out

A major difference between traditional file system and SharePoint is the ability to check a file ‘out’. This means a user can ‘reserve’ a file for their editing use only. Others can still view the file but they can’t make changes until the file is checked back in.

Why is this important? Imagine you are in a team of people all working on a proposal. You have agreed to some changes and you all go in and try and makes these changes. If two people attempt these at the same time, the second user will get a message saying that the file is in use and they can open a ‘read only’ copy. Out of frustration they do this. They then upload this edited copied back to the original location and in the process over write any changes.

SharePoint Online allows co-authoring, which allows multiple people to work on the file at the same time but in most cases in a business this is not generally a good idea.

A better approach is for a single party to check the file out, make any changes and then check the file back in. While the file is checked out, other people can still view the file but they can’t make changes. By checking the file out the editing user is safe in the knowledge that no one can update or overwrite the file until it is check back in.

So what’s the process of checking a file out using SharePoint Online?


Visit your favourite Document Library with the document you wish to check out.


Select that document by clicking with the left mouse in the very first column on the left of the document name under ‘tick’ heading. This should highlight the whole document line as shown above.

With the document highlighted, select the Files tab at the top of the page to view the Ribbon Menu.

Towards the centre of the Ribbon Menu, under the Open & Check out section you’ll see a Check Out button. Select this.


After a few moments you will see that the type icon for the document changes to display a small box with a white arrow in the bottom right indicating that the file is now checked out.


The person who checked the file out can now makes changes to that document as required (here highlighting the word Term at the top of the page).


However, if another user (in this case Lewis Collins, noted in top right of page) opens the document they can view the last version of the document prior to it being checked out as shown above (i.e. the word Term at the top of the page is not highlighted).


But if they try and edit that document they receive a warning like that above indicating that file is checked out.


If they tried to upload a file of the same name (after say taking a local copy and changing it), they are greeted with a similar message (as shown above) and they are prevented from overwriting the checked out file.

When the editing user is ready they simply check the file back in.


To do this is again select the checked out document by clicking on the cell at the very left, then selecting the Files tab to display the Ribbon menu.

Again, in the Open & Check Out section there is a Check In button that they should select.


They will then be prompted to select whether to keep the file checked out and whether they want to add comments.

Why would you want to retain check out? Doing so will save a copy of the editing changes made so they can be worked on again but not make those changes available to others. For example, you maybe waiting on further information to go into this document so you retain check out so SharePoint has the latest version that you can pick up editing again when you have that information but others won’t see those changes (because the edits are not yet complete).


Once the file is checked in other users will see all the updates as you can see above with Lewis Collins.

I hope you can now see the benefits SharePoint check in provides and how to go about the process. You can configure document libraries to always require check out if you want. An administrator can also over write any document that are checked out if need be as well. Those are topics for future posts.

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