10 things I learned about versions

VersionHeaderAs you know, I am constantly patrolling my site collections because they are starting to get full.

One of the storage space eaters are documents with many versions. The ability to keep document versions is a very useful functionality, but it can also be a pain. Every version, major or minor, takes up as much space as the current document, at least in my SharePoint version. SharePoint 2013 is reported to only store the differences in versions, so a document with versions will use less space.
I assume you know the basics about how to enable versioning – if not this may be helpful.

I have learned a couple of things recently.

1. Every action on a document (except Read) creates a version (if versioning is enabled).

Jasper Oosterveld has explained that here.

2.  Many people do not understand the difference between major and minor versions.

I have seen a document at version 0.256 that was supposed to be the final document. When I asked the owner about the reason for the minor versions, and why the document was never published as a major version, he told me “I do not know, it is the way we all work”.

Now, I make it a point to teach people to use only major versions, and to use minor versions only when there is a publishing cycle (updating and approving) in place. Is “Content Approval” set, is there an approval workflow installed, are there any signs of a process? If not, I suggest owners to limit the versioning to 3 major versions, just to avoid accidents with overwriting.

3. Versions do not disappear until you edit the document or manually remove the versions.

If you go from “”unlimited” major versions to 10 major versions, the documents in your library will keep their 10+ versions until you edit the documents or their properties.
So that old document, “Production planning wk. 21, 2011”, with 56 versions, will keep its versions until you edit the document. But…this document will likely not be edited anymore, so even if you limit versioning, the versions stay there forever.
I make it a habit of removing all but 3 versions of these documents manually (in the Version History) whenever I find them. I am also thinking about a workflow to do this for all documents in a library.

4. Versions do not disappear when you set versioning to “No versioning”.

Suppose you have a document library with versioning set to 10 major versions and you change the settings to “no versioning”. Then you edit a document with number 8.0. You edits to the document will result in version number 9.0, 10.0 etc. without keeping versions 8.0 and later.  However, your versions 1.0 up to 7.0 will still exist. You can see that if you turn versioning on again.

It is better to limit major versions to 1, because then all superfluous versions will be removed when you edit the document.

5. Versions that are being removed manually go via the Recycle Bin.

If you open a document’s version history and select “Delete all versions” or “Delete minor versions”, those versions end up in the deleter’s Recycle Bin, so they can be easily restored. It also means they will keep adding to the Storage Space Allocation until they are moved to the Admin Recycle Bin.

Click "Delete all versions" or "Delete minor versions" manually.
Click “Delete all versions” or “Delete minor versions” manually.

6. Versions that are removed because they exceed the set limit after editing DO NOT go via the Recycle Bin.

So, if you change versioning settings from 10 major versions to 3 major versions, and then edit a document with 10 versions, the 8 exceeding versions will be deleted permanently and can not be retrieved.

7.  If you “cut and paste” a document, all versions will be retained.

I learned this and the next one from Popescu Andrei Vlad on LinkedIn. If you use the Explorer View to move content between libraries, be careful. If you need to keep versioning, use “cut and paste”, otherwise you will lose the versioning. Make sure you have versioning enabled in the target document library!
Moving a site within the site collection via “Content and Structure” also retains versions.

8. If you “copy and paste” a document, you will start with version 0.1.

So, when you are archiving content, or if you want to get rid of the versions using the Explorer View, “copy and paste” is better, because you will remove all versions, even if you have versioning enabled. This also works when you copy a site withint the site collection via “Content and Structure”.
I still have to test if it works the same if you use a 3rd-party-tool to move content, such as Content Matrix.

9. Minor versions can not be limited.

Now look at the description carefully. You would expect that the second square box would mean the same thing as the first one: a limitation to the number of versions. But  it says you can limit the number of major versions that have minor versions. That is something else altogether.

Please read the description next to the 2nd square box carefully. It does not say that you limit minor versions.
Please read the description next to the 2nd square box carefully. It does not say that you limit minor versions.

The second box should therefore always contain a lower number than the first box.

I usually suggest to use minor versions on 1 major version. This means that, whenever the last version with number x.1, x.2, x.3 is turned into a major version x+1.0, the minor versions are removed. That makes sense because document drafts are generally no longer relevant once the document is published.

My preferred versioning settings for libraries with a real publishing process.
My preferred versioning settings for libraries with a publishing process.

But even a limit of minor versions to 1 major does not mean you are out of trouble, because document 10.176 is still a possibility. If the document is never published to a major version, those versions will be using space forever.

10. When your restore an earlier version, this will be added as a new version.

So if you want to replace your current version 12.0 by older version 10.0, you have the choice of adding it as 12.1 or 13.0.

This is the version history before I will restore version 10.0 as the current version.
This is the version history before I will restore version 10.0 as the current version.

After checking out the file, going to the Version History again and clicking on Version 10.0, I can restore it. Version 12.1 (added by checking out) will be overwritten by Version 10.0 and be called 12.1. When checking in again, I can choose between saving it as 12.1 or 13.0. I have selected 13.0 in the example.

After restoring version 10.0 as the current version, it will be version 13.0. All versions in between are stored as well.
After restoring version 10.0 as the current version, it will be version 13.0. All versions in between are stored as well.

And you see versions 10.0, 11.0 and 12.0 are kept as well. So restoring a version will create a new one, not remove the in-between versions.


Once versioning is enabled, your document library may grow in unexpected ways. It can be harder to get rid of versions than you may have expected!

Have I missed something? Do you know more “gotchas”? Please share!


21 thoughts on “10 things I learned about versions

  1. Joshua D Bodzin September 24, 2014 / 5:54 pm

    Hi Ellen, is it possible to delete the current minor version of a document? I have a library of published documents that users are able to create minor versions (drafts) that are then routed through a workflow for approval before they get published as a major version. The problem I have is what happens when a document is rejected. Now the person who created that draft sees the draft as the latest version in the version history. I would like to be able to run a search to find any minor versions that were rejected and delete them so that the only version is the current approved major version.

    For example: Document “ABC” is at version 4.0 and Bob wants to make a change. He creates 4.1, and routes it for approval, but his change is rejected. Next time Bob opens that document he is going to be opening 4.1 ( an unapproved, non-published version) rather than the currently approved 4.0 and he is going to have to remember that.

    I am in an FDA regulated industry so it is a requirement that users have access to the published approved documents in such away that prevents the access of incorrect or unapproved documents.

    I can’t seem to figure out a way to delete the current minor version through the normal user interface so, do you know another way, or am I missing something?

    • Ellen van Aken September 24, 2014 / 6:26 pm

      Hi Joshua, that is an interesting question. You can indeed not delete a current major or minor version. I am only working with the standard interface, so I am not aware of any third-party tools or workflows that could automatically remove a version that has been rejected. I would expect that Nintex or a similar tool could do that, but I know that also has some limitations when it comes to removing versions.
      I have worked with similar setups and have never had the question, so I guess they found a workaround, perhaps it was just the “look at the versioning history and make sure you edit the latest published version” or something. I will ask and let you know how they handle that.

  2. James October 23, 2015 / 7:25 pm

    Finally some clarification on this confusing topic of versioning! Thank you so much!

  3. STeve Barfield February 10, 2016 / 11:52 am

    Hi Ellen – is it possible to display the number of versions of a document in a list of documents. By this I mean if a document had versions 0.1, 0.2 and 1.0 – a value of 3 would be displayed. This would help us manage the size of our SharePoint libraries. Thanks Steve

    • Ellen van Aken February 10, 2016 / 12:40 pm

      Hi Steve, Interesting question. I have never seen that function; you can show the versions in the document library view(s), but this will only display the version number. If you are looking for documents that consume a lot of storage space because of versions, I generally check the “Storage Space Allocation”, where the total storage space consumed by a document is shown, as well as the storage space consumed by the versions alone. That usually gives me a clue. Not sure if this answers your question but it is the best I can do :-).

  4. Christian Tasler October 20, 2016 / 2:07 pm

    Hi Ellen, is it possible to Change the Setting from minor & major versions to major versions only and have all old minor versions convertoed to major versions? We dont have much of them and rearely any major version so we are afraid to loose the version Information completely when changing the stettings.
    Thanks Christian

    • Ellen van Aken October 21, 2016 / 4:31 pm

      Hi Christian, I have not found a setting that does that. You may use a workflow (we have used Nintex to “do things with versions”), otherwise you will have to publish the minor versions manually before you change the settings. Good luck!

  5. Vikas June 14, 2017 / 7:48 am

    Hi Ellen, by any means is it possible to disable and enable versioning through JSOM.

    • Ellen van Aken June 14, 2017 / 7:55 am

      Hi Vikas, with code or script you mean? Apologies, I do not know that, I have no experience with that.

  6. mel95smith February 19, 2018 / 10:42 pm

    Hi, thanks for providing an informative document. I’m looking at versioning and the ability to name (i.e. Title = XXXX) and provide comments for each version. Is that only possible with the full SharePoint workflow or is it possible to go back and add that metadata? How would you do that?

    • Ellen van Aken February 20, 2018 / 8:24 pm

      Hi, during check-in of a version you can add comments, but you can not change the name of the file, in any case not in standard SharePoint.

  7. Nancy Wallace May 3, 2018 / 10:07 pm

    I still do not see an answer for, or understand, exactly what “editing a document” is, to determine when a version is created in the first place – there is no explanation of that in any articles. Does it mean every Save action (for a minor version), or closing out of the document entirely? And if there are two people editing a Word document collaboratively, does “closing out” refer to when each leaves the document, or just when the later, second exiter closes the document?

    • Ellen van Aken May 8, 2018 / 9:29 pm

      Hi Nancy, reading and downloading are about the only things that do not create a new version; but editing the document, its properties, and even just saving do!
      I wrote this post before simultaneous editing was possible, so I am afraid I have not found out yet when versions are created – but with 500 versions enabled by default I assume every edit will create a version.

  8. Anne Christensen August 10, 2018 / 3:08 pm

    I want to export a list or library to Excel. Even iwhen I have the version displayed in my view the information does not get exported to the Excel file. Do you know where / how I can specify that I want the version information exported as well?

    • Ellen van Aken August 16, 2018 / 8:55 am

      Hi Anne, that is interesting! I was not aware of that. But you could try adding a calculated column, called “Version2” or something, add the formula “=[Version]” and make it a single-line-of-text field. That appears to work. Please be aware this is only useful when you need a snapshot of the current situation – as soon as you create a new version your calculated column will turn to 0 (this is very strange) and of course your Export will also no longer be accurate. Hope this helps!

      • Anne Christensen August 16, 2018 / 9:10 am

        Hi Ellen, Great that helps. I can see the issue with the update of versions that sets the calculated column to 0. What I did was to delete the column and re-create it again just before export to Excel. I did find any other solution to this issue.

  9. Rene Hardee July 8, 2021 / 10:27 pm

    The limit of versions is 50,000, but I haven’t found any clarity on if this is 50,000 versions per item in a list, or 50,000 versions per list total? Any idea?

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