Check-Out, Locking and Document Co-authoring

Following on from yesterday’s post about the difference between Check-Out and Locking in SharePoint, I found myself wondering what happens if you violate a lock? Or a Check Out? Let’s look at locks first…

Locked Documents

For Office applications it depends on whether they support document coauthoring. The following criteria seem to determine if coauthoring is supported:

  • It has to be a Word, PowerPoint or OneNote document (I think)
  • Both office clients are the same version (e.g. no Word 2007 and 2010 crosses)
  • Document Versioning seems to be required on the document library
  • The document must not be checked out (as this would mean it was for exclusive editing – which doesn’t really match with co-authoring)
  • Co-authoring must not have been disabled by group policy

Assuming that those criteria are met you’ll be able to edit the document at the same time. If not, then you’ll be shown a warning dialog like this Excel one:

So you can choose to open a read-only version, take a copy for editing, or you can wait for the file to become available (unlocked).

Word offers a similar (but different) dialog, which offer the option of editing the document and then merging changes when the file becomes avalable.

Okay, well, that is actually pretty reasonable functionality.

Checked Out Documents

If you try to open a checked out document from SharePoint, it will open it – but in read only mode. If you want to edit it, you have to click a button sayign that you want to – and if the file is locked out it will show similar dialogs as above, for locking.

For an Excel file, this looks like:

Again, you can get a notification when the file becomes available.

For Word, this looks like:

Like in Locking, you can edit a local copy of the word file and merge it in later.


In conclusion, the user experience is similar, but slightly different, for a check-out compared to a lock. Locked documents may still allow concurrent editing, but checked out documents do not. However, they are similar enough that users probably won’t be too terrified, and might not even realise that they are dealing with different things.

Check-Out, Locking and Document Co-authoring

2 thoughts on “Check-Out, Locking and Document Co-authoring

  1. Lori says:

    Have you ever needed to Unlock a document that was being co-authored where the user has left the company?

    1. Nope, but Administrators should be able to check it in. The Lock should expire in time anyway, unless it’s open on a machine somewhere… (I think)

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