Dear user of our intranet

DearUserbyStuartMilesThis morning I received your support ticket.

Many thanks for enclosing the complete email chain with all your colleagues. Apart from a good permissions puzzle, there is nothing I like more than going through a 40-message email chain, and find the hidden clues between the “FYI” and “Can you help” forwards. I am really pleased that you have tried to get help from so many people before logging a call in our incident system, and it is heartwarming to see your colleagues’ empathy and desire to help.

From this wonderful meandering narrative I understand that “editing the Monthly Forecast in the Marketing site does not work”. That narrows down the possibilities, because only 938 of our approximately 15.000 sites have Marketing in the title, so it will save me going through 14.062 sites which are definitely not called Marketing.

Now of course I assume the Marketing site has “Marketing” in its title 🙂

From the company address book I see that you work in the Dairy division, which has 297 Marketing sites, so I can increase the odds even further.

Then it is only a matter of finding a Monthly Forecast document in one of these sites and checking which one does not work. That should not be too difficult: I did a Search and found 6274 hits on Monthly Forecast – it is matter of checking URL’s against the Marketing sites to see which are eligible.

I assume you wanted to edit a recent document so will start from the most recent.

In conclusion, I will check the cross of Dairy Marketing sites and Monthly Forecast docs from the last 2 months, and see which one of them “does not work”. Now of course there are many ways of “does not work”, but do not worry, I will check them all, from permissions to document library opening behavior, checkout, and workflows to corrupted documents.

I have planned about two weeks to go through this and I am quite looking forward to this challenging quest!

However, should you be in a sort of hurry, or have a deadline, please let me know. After all it is the 21st already and I can imagine you will need to update this document before the end of the month. Sending me the URL of the site, the name of the document and the document library/folder it lives in, as well as a description of what you were trying to do and what happened, possibly even with a screenshot of the error message, will reduce the quest to an hour or so. Of course this will rob me of the fun of exploring this all by myself, but I know that this is business-critical content so I can not be selfish.

Looking forward to your information,

Best regards,

The Helpdesk.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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SharePoint Holmes and the Embedding Enigma

SH-ObjectDetectiveSmallMy SharePoint Holmes cases are not extremely technical or complicated. Most of the solutions to the issues that I encounter have been amply described in blogs and Microsoft support. So why do I sometimes feel at a loss when I have a new issue to solve?

  • I am still learning about SharePoint Online
  • Users generally do not know what the issue is and they do not use the most precise language. Nobody likes an issue that stops you doing your job and calls for submitting a support ticket, so I can imagine you want to spend as little time as possible on that ticket.
  • As a result, things may have a different cause and solution than I expect from the description. I may think that it is permissions-related (I often do), while it may be PC, browser or document library settings. Or vice versa.

For instance “I can not manage my site” (to me, this sounds like a permissions issue) has meant different things in different circumstances:

  1. “I can not edit my site’s homepage” (because the page has been checked out to someone else – this is a document management issue, not a permission issue)
  2. “I can not manage permissions” (because I am not the owner of the group I want to manage – a permissions issue)
  3. “I can not manage this content in my site” (because this content has unique permissions and for one reason or another I am not in the site owner’s role here  – a permissions issue)
  4. “I do not know how to manage my site” is a training issue

With this SharePoint Holmes series I try to start with the issue as described by the user. As that is not always clear or correct, I sometimes start off on the wrong foot.

The case

“Hyperlinks in a document on SharePoint are not working” the title of the incident read.

Well, “not working” or “is broken” are always great and accurate descriptions that any support person loves to see 🙂 . So I called the owner and asked him to demonstrate the situation.

The issue was with a manual (in Word) that lived in a document library.  The document had some embedded documents as well as some hyperlinks to a company system.

The real problem was: “In this document, the embedded documents as well as some specific links can not be opened – they appear unclickable”

The investigation

    1. I opened the manual – I noticed that the document opened in Online format.
    2. I clicked on a number of links – all links to pages worked OK but I could not open the embedded docs. There was no “hotspot” or “zone” where the cursor showed something clickable.

      SH-Object Online
      The embedded Word document was not clickable
    3. The special links (to a certain system) looked properly configured, but they gave an error message.
    4. I could not find anything strange in versioning settings (no mandatory check out) or advanced settings. The opening behavior was set to “use the server default (open in the browser)” which is standard practice.
    5. I determined to take a better look at the document, because only that document caused the issue. I did not want to make changes to the content, so I downloaded it.
    6. I opened it in Word. The embedded documents could be opened – they had an active window. And I could open the special links too!

The solution

OK, this was easy. I changed the library’s opening behavior to “open in the Client application” and opened the document again. Yes, the embedded documents and the links were now clickable and opened without problems.

SH-Object Client
An active zone appears around the embedded document when opening the document in Word

I can not explain what was happening with the links but they could be opened in the Client software.

This is yet another illustration of the fact that the Online versions of the Office programmes are limited in functionality.

The owner of the manual was happy, but I suggested to upload all embedded documents into the document library and making links to them from the “Master Document”, instead of embedding. If they are in a document library, you can manage and update them online when needed, and the link in the Master document will always lead to an up-to-date document. If you embed the document, it will live on its own and there will be no history of changes or anything.

Which issues with the opening behaviour of document libraries have you encountered? (Apart from my earlier password-protected document case)

Image courtesy of Craig Whitehead on Unsplash.com

SharePoint Holmes and the Missing Metadata

SH-MissingMetadata

After all the recent permissions issues it was nice to get a Document Management case for a change.

The case

The issue was: “Every time I edit a document and save it, it is checked out and we need to check it in again and add the metadata. We have not set mandatory check-out in this library – what is going wrong?”.

I put on my SharePoint Holmes paraphernalia and set out to solve yet another case. Or so I hoped 🙂

The investigation

  1. I looked at the recently edited document. Indeed, the document was checked out with the yellow box where the metadata should have been.

    SH-MissingMetadata-ClientLibrary
    The document was checked-out and missed required metadata.
  2. I checked the Library Settings. Set to modern view, to open documents in the Client application, indeed no check out required. The “Topic” field needed a value.
  3. I uploaded another document and edited it without any issues – the document stayed checked in and retained the metadata. I edited the properties, no problem.
    Hm.
  4. I selected the checked-out document to view the properties. I quickly scrolled down the details pane to see the metadata. Yes, no topic selected, as expected.
  5. I Googled on the check-out issue as I had no clue what happened here.
    The solutions all pointed to something with “metadata” so I selected the document again to have a closer look at the metadata, and hoped that permissions and edit history would provide some extra clues.
  6. Someone called me on Skype so I left the details pane open without scrolling down.
  7. When I came back from my call, the answer stared me in the face.

    SH-MissingMetadata-NoPreview
    No preview available – aha!

The solution

I had seen this “No preview” message before on a password-protected Excel file. The owner confirmed this.
After some searching I came across several posts describing this behaviour. Apparently, SharePoint does not only respect the content of a password-protected document, but also the metadata. Hence, you have to re-add the metadata after each edit.

A request to change this behaviour has been submitted to Office 365 User Voice.

I discussed with the owner whether password protection was really needed as SharePoint has its own protection. As it turned out, the people who had the password were the same people who had access to the document and the document library, so she decided to remove the password.

I also checked what happens if this would have been a document library that opens documents in the Online version.
First, you get a warning message:

SH-MissingMetadata-Online

 

After editing in the client, you have the same result in the document library: the document is checked out and has missing metadata.

Another reason not to use password-protected documents in SharePoint!

Image courtesy of Simon Howden at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

SharePoint Holmes and the Haunted Homepage

sphomepage-thumbPart of my role is solving user issues. Sometimes they are so common that I have a standard response, but sometimes I need to do some sleuthing to understand and solve it.
As many of my readers are in a similar position, I thought I’d introduce SharePoint Holmes, SharePoint investigator, who will go through a few cases while working out loud.

The case

“Oh, Ellen, I think I have done something terrible to my site”, the site owner said, a note of panic in her voice. “I keep getting requests for access, while this is a site for all employees, and I do not know what I have done wrong”.

We had already noticed a number of tickets where people complained that they had lost access to this important site (and it was period-closing time so many people had to upload reports).

My first thought was “I hope she has not clicked “Delete Unique Permissions” when on the site permissions page” because that inherits the permissions from the parent AND removes all unique permissions from the site.
Although I like that as a thorough cleansing option for when you do not know how your permissions are set, in this case it would have been rather disastrous.

SharePoint Holmes to the rescue! I put on my admin cap and ventured into the site.

The investigation

  1. I opened the site. No problems for me, but then I am an admin so I have permissions for everything.
  2. Gear wheel > Site Settings > Site permissions. Phew, “This web site has unique permissions” was still there. So permissions had not been inherited.
    There were a number of groups with a variety of permission sets, including a Visitors group with Read permissions, which included all company employees. That looked OK.
    Of course there were also a few items with unique permissions, but that is not unusual and it hardly ever leads to a sudden flood of support tickets.
  3. I looked at what had been set as the homepage. (Site Settings > Welcome Page). “Homepage_New”.  That made sense.

    SPHomepage-WelcomePage
    You can determine the welcome page yourself.
  4. I checked the Pages library. Yes, there was a page called Homepage_New and it was the page I had seen when I entered the site.
  5. It was time to check the permissions for the Pages library. Aha, “This library has unique permissions” and only the Owners (Full Control) and Visitors (Read) were mentioned. Good idea – you do not always want everyone with Edit or Contribute permissions to manage (and mess up) your pages.

    SPHomepage-Libraryperms
    The Pages library had limited permissions to avoid unwanted editing. But Visitors (Bezoekers) have Read (Lezen) permissions. (I have tried everything to get this page to display in English, not Dutch, but it does not work.)
  6. Then I noticed something in the yellow box: “Some items of this list may have unique permissions which are not controlled from this page”. And yes, one of the pages was “Homepage_New” to which only the Site Owners had access…

    SPHomepage-Pageperms
    The Welcome page had different permissions – in this case only the Owners had access.

The solution

I quickly deleted the unique permissions from the page so at least Visitors could access the homepage again. Then I informed the site owner what had been causing the issue.

So yes, this was a permissions issue, but everyone still had access to the site. It was only the Homepage that was restricted, leading everyone to believe that they could also no longer reach the content of the site.

Tip

When this ever happens to you or your audience, and you expect that you have access to this site (e.g. because you have always had access or you have just been invited), try checking Site Contents.
Take the root of the site (https://company.sharepoint.com/…/sitename/) and then add “_layouts/15/viewlsts.aspx?view=14” to it. Create the link and paste it in the browser.
If you still get an access denied, you likely have no permissions.
If you see the content, it means there is something wrong with the welcome page.

Has this ever happened to your users?

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

8 Tips to avoid overwriting Excel files in SharePoint Online

Overwritten ExcelOne of the myriad changes announced at MSIgnite was the mention that all files in OneDrive will soon open in edit mode directly, so you can work faster.
I hope Microsoft  will wait a bit before rolling that out for SharePoint as, since moving to SharePoint Online, we have had a number of incidents where users have inadvertently overwritten or otherwise messed up a shared Excel Online file, resulting in incorrect data.

I do not quite get how that has happened, as Excel Online files always open in read mode (in Internet Explorer and Edge, in any case, and only very few people have another browser) and you have to specify whether you want to edit in Browser or in Client.
But it has happened more than once, also with people who are quite SharePoint-savvy, so I guess it is a thing. Perhaps it is the “autosave” option when you are in Edit mode, so your changes are saved, even if you do not intend to?

OverwriteExcel-readmode
In my experience, an Excel Online file ALWAYS opens in Read-mode.

This is a major annoyance, as we can not restore a single file from Office365. We can only restore the full site collection…
So more than ever before, prevention is key! Here are a few ideas to prevent and remediate incorrectly overwritten (Excel) files – pick the option(s) that suit your situation best:

1. Adjust permissions

Make sure only those people who really need to edit the file can do that.

How: Go to the library, folder or file and check and adjust the permissions.

2. Set mandatory check-out

If people have to consciously check out a file, they will be made aware they are going to edit it, and they can stop if they do not want that. It does not change the auto-save, however.

How: Gear Wheel > Library Settings > Versioning settings > At the bottom, check “Require documents to be checked out before they can be edited” and click OK.

OverwriteExcel-checkout
How to set mandatory check-out before editing.

This can be a pain for users, as they will have to remember to check the file in when it is finished (and preferably before they go on holiday  🙂 ). On the other hand, a checked out file can not be edited, so it may also be a blessing!
Remember that a Site Owner or site collection admin can always override the checkout or check the file in.
If many people need to edit the file in a short timeframe before a deadline (e.g. end of month), option 7 may be a better solution.

3. Always open the document in the Excel client

SharePoint Online allows you to select the opening behaviour of a file. If you set this to “Client” the file will always open in Excel desktop version, read mode, which will need a conscious effort to edit the file. (Unless you have “Autosave” enabled in your Excel client!)

How: Gear Wheel > Library settings > Advanced Settings > In the 3rd paragraph from the top, select “open in the client application” and click OK.

OverwriteExcel-clientopening
This setting will always open the file in the client application.

Please note there are differences between working in Excel Online and Excel client.

In general, the Online version is limited; it is useful when you just need to make a few simple content edits. The Client version is more powerful.

4. Set versioning

This is remediation, not prevention. Having versioning set means you can restore an older correct version if the current one has been corrupted. By default, SharePoint Online document libraries have 500 major versions already enabled, which should be sufficient. 🙂

How to set versioning: Gear Wheel > Library Settings > Versioning settings > Document Version History > make sure this is set as below (or use a smaller number) > Click OK.

OverwriteExcel-versioning
This is the default setting for all document libraries created in SharePoint Online.

How to restore a version: Select the document > Click version history from popup or command bar > Hover over date and time of version to restore and click the black triangle that appears > click Restore from the popup. Please note this version will be copied to the top as a new version.

OverwriteExcel-restoreversion
In this case, I restore version 4.

For more info about versioning:

10 things I learned about versions 

5. Create a dedicated document library

Options 2, 3 and 4 (and ideally, 1 as well) have to be set for the complete document library in which this document lives. If that is difficult or unpleasant, why not create a new document library especially for this document?

How: Gear wheel > Add an app > Document Library > Specify name > Create.

6. Use a password-protected workbook or worksheet

You can protect your Excel file with a password and only give the password to those people who need to change the data. You may need to rearrange your Excel for that, since you can view a password-protected sheet, but not a password protected workbook, in the browser.
This is never my preferred option, as I think we have SharePoint permissions for this scenario, but in some cases it can be useful.

How: Open the file > click File tab > Info > Protect Workbook > select “Encrypt with Password” (for the complete file – if you want to open in the client) or “Protect Current Sheet” > add password and options > OK.

OverwriteExcel-password
Here you can also protect your workbook or -sheet

 

7. Turn this Excel file into a SharePoint list

This can be a good option if your Excel file is relatively simple and does not contain complicated calculations or relationships between sheets etc.
You can use the SharePoint list to collect the data, export the data into Excel and do your advanced data processing in Excel.  In case of many people having to process data before a deadline, e.g. end of month, this method is preferably over mandatory check-out of a file as everyone can work on their own lines without having to wait for others or messing up other people’s data.

How: The simplest way is to use the Import Spreadsheet app.
Then create good views so your audience can view or edit their data according to their needs with the least amount of hassle.
I have streamlined a lot of processes in this way, check out my Business Examples.

8. Instruct your users

Once you have taken your measure(s) of choice, let your users know how they should work with the file. For instance, how to disable Autosave in their Excel client, or how to properly check out and check in.
Add the info on your site’s homepage, create a document that you pin to the top of the library, record a short demo, etc.

OverwriteExcel-pindocument
You can pin the instructions on top of your library so people can not miss it.

Have you had this issue as well and if yes, how are you trying to prevent it?

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

SharePoint Holmes and the elusive Link

HH-header

“Users can not access links”.
What a boring title, I thought when this incident was assigned to me. But, as usual, there was a twist to it.

The case

Several users of a local site received a “you do not have access” when they clicked a link that was added to a news item on the homepage. This link directed to a pdf-document.  According to the site owner, they should have access.

So I put my SharePoint Holmes Admin Hat on, and dove into the site.

The investigation

The homepage contained an Announcement list in Newsletter Style. The text “read more” (I know, not the best way to name a link) led to a pdf in a document library in the same site, called News Documents.

HH-Local News
The Local News list. “Read More” should take you to a document.

The News Documents library contained 2 items.

HH-NewsDocuments
The News Documents library
HH-NewsDocumentsLibrary
The 2 documents

The document library inherited permissions from the site.
The audience included myself, so I decided to take a look as my “normal” self.

Yes, I could access the page. But when I clicked on the link “Read more” I got a “Sorry, you don’t have access to this page”.

I looked into Site Contents and saw that the library contained 2 items, but when I opened the library, I saw no documents. Hmmm.

HH-Library-user
As a normal user, I can see the News Documents library contains 2 documents.
HH-emptylibrary
As a normal user, I do not see any documents in this library.

I went back into admin mode, and checked again.

  1. I checked the link on the homepage – was it perhaps a broken link? No, it looked solid and led to the pdf without further ado.
  2. Did the documents open in browser by default, which might hamper the opening of a pdf? I checked the Advanced Settings but it opened by default in the client.
  3. Had the documents been checked out? No, I did not see the green tell-tale mark.
  4. I wanted to take a better look at the views, to see if those could tell me more.  There were rather a lot of columns in the default view, so I had to do some horizontal scrolling to get to the Views link.
    “Draft” I suddenly noticed in the right-hand column.
    “0.1” I saw in the column next to it. That column was called Version.
HH-FullDocumentLibrary
I had not seen the “Version” and “Approval Status” columns in my earlier investigation…

AHA.

The solution

In the Versioning settings I noticed that content approval was enabled, and only people with approve permissions and the author could see drafts.

HH-ContentApproval
The Content Approval settings

Both documents had never been approved and were therefore visible for only a few users.  Everyone else got a “you do not have access” as for the majority of users, these documents were not yet accessible.

That explained why I could see it as an admin, but not as a normal user.

The site owner was not aware of the versioning as he had inherited the site. When I explained, he decided to turn of the content approval as that was not really needed for these documents.

Another issue solved! Now would you classify this as a document management issue or a permissions issue?

Image courtesy of vectorolie at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Where do SharePoint permissions live?

permissions-treasuremapAfter we moved to SharePoint online, users did not know how to find or change permissions in folders and items anymore. In general I prefer to keep it that way 🙂 but I was curious to learn how it was done now, since I provide support on permissions issues.

Permissions pages for sites and lists/libraries have not changed for ages, but in SharePoint Online you have to follow a different path than before to get to the permissions page for folders, documents and list items.

When talking about the permissions page: I am referring to a page like this:

Permissions Page
The permissions page has a complete overview of groups and individuals, the ribbon, and a yellow bar with information about unique permissions in this unit, users with limited access and more.

Of course you can see the permissions page via my new BFF, the link “show items with unique permissions” on the Site Permissions page, but there are times when you do not want to see if there happens to be an exception, but what the permissions actually are for a certain folder or item.
(I recently saw a site with so many unique permissions that I completely lost track and could not figure out what was NOT in that list)

I am not very good at drawing or illustrations, but I want to learn. Here’s my attempt to show how to find the permissions page for a team site, containing a list, containing a folder, containing an item. (An item can be inside or outside a folder)

Folders and items: Details pane in list/library

Whether the item is in a folder or not, in both situations the permissions page is found via the details pane.

Details Pane
The details pane is on every list/library and is context-sensitive. When you select a folder, document or item it shows info for the selected item.

You need to be in the list or library (i.e. via Site Contents) to see the details pane. When you click “Change permissions” under “Has access” (this will be under the metadata) you will see this:

Permissions-advanced 2
Go to the permissions page via the details pane

You can also go to the above place by using the new Share interface and clicking the … top right and then the “Manage Access” link that appears which leads to a similar pop up as the screenshot above. Click “Advanced” to go to the Permissions page.

Permissions -advanced 3
The new Share interface with …

Folders and items – Share/Get a Link in web part

If you use a list or library web part, and the … are displayed, you can use the “Share” or “Get a Link” option to get there using the “Shared with” link and then clicking “Advanced”. The web parts use the “old” Share experience, which I expect will be replaced with the new Sharing experience, above.

Permissions-advanced1
Web parts still use the “old” Share interface. I expect this will change over time.

Have you found any more ways to go to the page with the permissions?

photo credit: MontyAustin Goonies Treasure Map via photopin (license)