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How to prevent users from accessing old versions of a document

Posted on January 29, 2019

I had an interesting request from one of my clients the other day. They are using SharePoint Online to store various policies/SOPs and specifications for their engineering practice. As part of their industry regulation, they need to make sure that users cannot accidentally access the previous versions of the document. Out of the box, Version History allows to easily access older versions if need be. They needed it turned off somehow. Well, there are a few ways you can achieve this. Let me show you.

Option 1: Disable versioning altogether

NOTE: If you are in SharePoint Online, this trick below is now only possible if you opt out of the new minimum of 100 versions on a file. Click here to read more about the new mandate enforced by Microsoft.

This can be an easy fool-proof way to prevent old versions from accidentally being retrieved. By default, major versioning is enabled on all document libraries in SharePoint Online. When you disable versioning, you only store the latest copy uploaded or modified. To disable versioning:

  1. Navigate to the library where you want to disable versioning
  2. Gear Icon > Library Settings Preventaccessoldversions1
  3. Under Settings, choose Versioning settings Preventaccessoldversions2
  4. Choose No versioning radio button, then click OK at the bottom Preventaccessoldversions3
  5. That’s all. There will now be no version history stored or accessible on any of the documents in this document library.

Pros: Easy to set up

Cons: No versioning means NO versioning for anyone in that library

Option 2: Create a custom permissions level

To mitigate the “no versioning for everyone” scenario from above, you might want to consider this other option. It takes a bit more time to set up but is totally worth it. It deals with custom permission levels. By default, visitors and members of a site (those with ReadContribute or Edit permission level) can access the previous versions of a document or a list item. What you can do is create a custom permission level and not allow access to the older versions. Here is how to do this:

  1. Navigate to the root (the very top-level site) of the site collection where your site resides
  2. Gear Icon > Site Settings Preventaccessoldversions4
  3. Under Users and Permissions choose Site permissions Preventaccessoldversions5
  4. From the ribbon, choose Permission Levels Preventaccessoldversions6
  5. To create a custom permission level, I suggest we just copy an existing one and adjust it slightly. So go ahead and click on Edit Permission Level Preventaccessoldversions7a
  6. DON’T MAKE ANY CHANGES on the screen that appears next. Otherwise, you will mess up the out of the box permission level. Instead, just scroll all the way down and choose Copy Permission Level Preventaccessoldversions8
  7. Once the Permission Level has been copied, you can now make changes to it. Give it a name, you can also specify in the description the specifics of this custom permission level Preventaccessoldversions9
  8. Next, scroll down to a list of specific permissions and uncheck both View Versions and Delete Versions old versions of a document
  9. Scroll down to the end of the page and click Create. Now, our custom permission level has been created! Preventaccessoldversions11
  10. Now, all we have to do is assign the Members Group (or Visitors Group) this custom permission level. Click the check box next to the desired Site Security Group, then Edit User Permissions Preventaccessoldversions12
  11. Check the box next to the custom permission level you created, then OK Preventaccessoldversions13
  12. This is it!!! Make sure though that same user is not present in Visitors Groups or any other security groups you have as those with Read-Only privileges can still access old versions of the file. old versions of a document

Pros: Most elegant option

Cons: Takes time to set up. Also, in case you have multiple site collections, you will need to create custom permission levels in each separately

About Me

I’m Greg Zelfond, a U.S. based SharePoint consultant, and I provide affordable out-of-the-box SharePoint consulting, training, and configuration assistance to small and medium-sized businesses all over the world.

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