Minor versions, major problems


“Hey, do you see that? We can keep versions.”

“Oh nice, that is useful.”

“Apparently we can do major and minor versions.”

“What does that mean?”

“I don’t know, but let us select them both.”

“I see you can also set a limit.”

“Nah…let us not do that. Let’s keep them all, just in case. Better safe than sorry.”

And that is one of the reasons why you, dear site collection administrator, are faced with a site collection that is bursting at the seams, if you are using an older version of SharePoint. Each version consumes the space of the document.
Office 365 saves versions in a different way. Dan Adams has described that well.

There is a time and place when versions should be used. This is my take on things:

When to use major versions?

For document libraries that are highly collaborative, I recommend to use 2 or 3 major versions to prevent accidents with online editing. I have had to ask for a backup and restore several times, because someone messed up an Excel file and they did not have an earlier version to restore.

For document libraries that need to keep track of version history for audit reasons you will probably need to keep more than 3 versions, but major versions should be sufficient.

For lists, I would suggest to enable versioning if your lists facilitates a process or regular updates and you want to keep track of history.

When to use major and minor versions?

Minor versions or drafts are useful if there is a publishing procedure in place:

  • The current official document is online.
  • Someone needs to review and update the document on a regular basis, or can propose a change while the existing document is still the official one.
  • This reviewed, updated or changed document version is added to the library (via online editing of the official document), and kept invisible to the general audience until it has been reviewed, approved and published as the new official document.

This is a common scenario for policies, procedures and lots of other formal documents.

In publishing sites, the Pages library has unlimited major and minor versioning enabled by default. This is useful for sharing a page edit with other contrubutors before publishing the new version of the page. Although page versions do not add much to the consumed storage space,  I always limit the versioning whenever I create such a site.

However, there are some things you need to know before you start working with minor versions.

1. It is not immediately obvious IF versioning has been enabled, and if so, if it is major only or major and minor.

You need to go to Library settings > Versioning settings to find out. I wish there was an indication on the tile!
If you have a formal publishing process, I would encourage you use the visibility settings as shown in the screenshot, and please read all texts well.
Content approval is optional. If you enable that, you can further limit visibility to approvers only.

Versioning settings for a publishing process
Suggested settings for versioning if you have a publishing process in place.

2. It is impossible to limit the number of minor versions for a file.

You limit the number of major versions that can have minor versions. The number below should therefore always be smaller than the number on top. But that means that there is no limit on the number of minor versions.

Major and minor versioning setting.
Major and minor versioning setting. Read well what it says!

3. Allowing minor versions makes the user interface more complicated. 

Users have to choose between major or minor version, and I have experienced that not everyone knows the difference. (I once noticed a final project proposal with version 0.59. When I asked the project manager he said he always did it this way because he did not know what it meant.)

Dialog box to choose minor or major version
This dialog box can be confusing if you do not know the difference between minor and major versions.

4. It takes some effort to get rid of minor versions.

That will be the topic of my next post.

Have you read my earlier post about versions?

Do you have other scenarios where you use major and minor versions? Please let me know!

Image courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net


4 thoughts on “Minor versions, major problems

  1. Lucia Leblanc January 31, 2018 / 12:15 am

    We are having a big problem with multiple editing the same version at once, changes aren’t being saved or they are getting conflict messages even though it is not clear that a colleague is working in that part of the document. Are there some clear cut rules to follow when multiple people are editing at once (this happens a lot in our office on urgent documents)?

  2. Paige Reno February 8, 2019 / 8:10 pm

    For my organization, the use of major versions would be sufficient, but I have a problem that forces me to keep using minor versions, too. Maybe you have a better solution for me. The problem is the loss of the ability to overwrite a document version. When I have both major and minor versions enabled, I have three options at check-in: check in as a major version, check in as a minor version, or overwrite the current version. When I disable minor versions so only major versions are allowed, I only have the option to check in as a new major version. I really like the overwrite option because sometimes the edits I’ve made are really small (fixing a typo, for example) and I don’t think it really warrants a full new version taking up space. Does anyone have any ideas on how I can keep the overwrite option with only major versions enabled?

    • Ellen van Aken March 4, 2019 / 11:21 am

      Hi Paige,
      That is an interesting question indeed! I would not worry about the space a new version takes up – in current versions of SharePoint only the differences are stored, not the complete document.
      I would personally worry more about e.g. Alerts that will be triggered when you create a new version which only has some typo corrections. You may want to check if people have Alerts on that document library. Also, if people are referring to a document with a certain version number (perhaps not a good practice in the first place) creating a new version might create issues. Hope someone else has the definite answer!
      Best regards,

      • Graeme September 7, 2021 / 11:42 pm

        Hi – As a work around, I have a master document library which has restricted permissions, and contributors need to check out the file to make changes. In our document policy, we specify that major and minor versions are major changes or minor changes, instead of published docs or draft docs. I identify draft procedures with a metadata column for Draft Y/N and Draft Reason, which can be easily filtered for to make sure draft procedures don’t get forgotten.

        We have a separate PDF library that all staff can access. Cross-references between procedures use the link to the PDF copy, so if a user is following Procedure X and it says refer to Procedure B, when they click the link Procedure B opens in a new tab.

        The PDF library is the ‘official’ library of all our approved procedures, and version number and issue date is captured as metadata. The master document library is the repository of the editable files, and draft changes can be created, modified, reviewed etc. before being published.

        When we make a change to the master procedure, we overwrite the PDF in the PDF library, and it is immediately available. Because of the way links work, the cross-references will automatically point to the current file. We don’t enable version history on the PDF library.

        Coming back to Paige’s query, if I update a procedure and issue it (save the PDF and update the metadata for version/issue date), and then see minor edits that we missed, I simply reopen the editable master copy, check it out, make the change, save, then Save As a PDF in the PDF library. I don’t need to update metadata because I have only edited typos, not content. When I check the editable copy back in, it doesn’t matter which type of version SharePoint assigns, because the SharePoint assigned versions aren’t the ‘official’ version – this is in the metadata in the PDF library.

        I know it seems a bit messy, but the main reason I did it this way is so that all staff have read access to all procedures, and when they click a link it always opens a new tab and always behaves the same way. When you have different types of documents, they all behave differently, e.g. in Excel the link is in a cell, so when you click the cell the link opens, but in Word you have to press Ctrl+link to open the link, and PowerPoint is different again. Saving everything as PDF means it always behaves the same way.

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