If you spend lots of time on the road or work in places where there is no Internet connection (do places like this even exist these days?), you have a scenario where you need your files to be available in offline mode. Today I will be writing about a feature that I am not a particular fan off. However, lots of users are inquiring about this, so I would like to explain how it works as well as discuss its limitations. The feature I am talking about is OneDrive Sync. The idea is that you sync the whole SharePoint Document library to your computer, make changes on your desktop and all the changes automatically sync back to SharePoint when you have Internet Connection.
How to Sync SharePoint Document Library with OneDrive
To sync files on your computer is pretty easy and straightforward:
- Go to the library you want to sync
- Click on Sync button
- If you don’t have OneDrive application installed on your machine, it will prompt you to download that software first. Do that.
- Once all set and done, the library will sync to your computer. Here is how it looks.
By the way, the OneDrive App that allows you to sync SharePoint Document Library is the same app that allows you to sync files and folders from your own OneDrive for Business Account. You can easily differentiate between the 2 in your Desktop OneDrive for Business Folder.
My Desktop OneDrive shows two “folders”: One that syncs my files and folders from my own OneDrive for Business account and one that syncs all SharePoint document libraries
Sounds simple? Kind of like DropBox, right? Not quite. Let me explain and talk about the dark side of OneDrive for Business Sync and discuss its limitations…
Problems with SharePoint Document Library Sync with OneDrive
- Sync conflicts. Unlike DropBox, which is primarily used for personal file storage, you are now syncing the whole SharePoint Document Library from a team or department site that many other users have access to modify at the same time (either online or offline). That means that when you sync it, you will need to resolve sync conflicts (if 2 users modify same file). OneDrive will notify you of conflicts during sync and you will need to manually resolve this (and by the way – not a very user-friendly user experience). It is never a problem when you have your own personal DropBox or OneDrive folder, but once you get into multiple users situation – beware!
- 5,000 limit sync. Ever heard about 5,000 item limit threshold on a document library? There is no escape from it with OneDrive Sync. If your document library contains more than 5,000 items (that includes both files and folders contribute to the 5,000 count) – you will not be able to sync that Document Library to your desktop. If you try to do it, you will get this message
- No metadata sync. Sync is useless if you use Metadata in your SharePoint Document Library to organize files. Metadata is just a SharePoint thing and there is no way to view metadata on your computer. So when you sync a metadata document library to your desktop, it will look like 1 flat list of files on your computer. That means that navigating and finding the file you want to modify on your computer might be a challenge.
- Can’t sync individual folders. With the current version of OneDrive for Business Sync, you can not sync selected folders, you have to sync the whole SharePoint Document Library. Even if you need just 1 folder with few files, you have to sync the whole Document Library. I heard that new version of OneDrive for Business will allow you to pick and choose the folders you want to sync, but for now – it is all or nothing.
- Too easy to delete. If you go online to a SharePoint Document Library and try to delete a file or a folder, you will get a pop-up asking you if “you are sure you want to send the item(s) to Recycle Bin. Once you click OK, it will delete accordingly. When you are working offline and delete a file or folder on your desktop OneDrive for Business folder, you don’t get any pop-ups. So whether on purpose or not, once you click Delete on your keyboard, it will be gone in both your desktop AND SharePoint. This is not so obvious to many users. They think they clean their house (laptop), but in reality are wiping out corresponding files and folders in SharePoint. So be very careful!!! With that being said, whether you delete files or folders in SharePoint or OneDrive on your desktop. they items will go to Recycle Bin. from where you can restore. But nevertheless, I would not go that far for it to happen.
- If you own a Mac, you are out of luck. If you are a Mac user – I feel sorry for you. OneDrive for Business for Macs does not support sync to SharePoint Document Library (as of writing of this blog post).
So what does this all mean? If you are comfortable with all of the limitations I mentioned above, you may still consider using OneDrive sync. I personally don’t use it and discourage my clients from relying on it too much (mostly for the reasons mentioned above). The reason you switched to SharePoint online (to the cloud) is so that you have one (and only) source of truth for your files and content. The only robust way to ensure this is by having everyone work off same copy in SharePoint, so you get the luxury of version control, check-in/check out capability and other “safety” features. At the end of the day – it is your business decision.
How to prevent users from syncing SharePoint Document Libraries?
By the way, if you want to prevent users from syncing a document library to their desktop, do the following:
- For a given Library, go to Library Settings
- Click on Advanced Settings
- Choose “No” radio button under “Allow items from this document library to be downloaded to offline clients?“
- Click Save
The Sync Button above the library will now be grayed out