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The Ins and Outs of SharePoint Document Check-In and Check-Out

Written By: Arshad Ali -- 10/13/2010 -- join -- contribute -- (28) comments -- printer friendly version

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Categories: Document Management, Features, SharePoint 2010, SharePoint Foundation 2010

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Problem

SharePoint is a collaborative platform. A central feature is the ability to share documents with other users. But what if multiple users try to edit the same document at the same time? This can lead to versioning conflicts and confusion about changes. How can this be prevented?

Solution

SharePoint provides a feature called document Check-In and Check-Out. The purpose is to exclusively lock a document for modification by a user. Once the changes are complete the user can check-in the updated document to release the lock and make the changes visible to other users.

When you check-out a document, you get an exclusive lock to edit that document and can be sure no other users can make any changes to the same document. Though other users can read the document, they will not be able to edit it or even will see your changes unless you check-in the document. While a document is checked-out, you can edit it, close it, reopen it, even work offline with it. Once your required changes are done you can check-in the document to release the exclusive lock which you had for document editing. Your changes are then available to other users. While checking-in the document you can also specify a comment about the changes to help others understand what has changed.

If the version control feature is enabled, this comment will become part of document version history, so if needed you can revert back to an older version by looking at the comment. (I will be talking in detail about version control in a future tip.)

There might be a time after checking out a document where, where you want to discard your changes, even after saving them. You can then discard your changes by un-doing a check-out.

Example

Click on the dropdown (arrow) icon on the document as shown below, then click on the Check-Out option to check out the document (this gives you an exclusive write lock on the document).

In SharePoint 2010, you can also check out a document by selecting a document in the library and then clicking on Check-out option in the Documents ribbon (2nd image below).

When you make changes to a checked-out document, the document is stored by default on your hard disk in a drafts folder that is in your "My Documents" folder (when using WSS 3.0) or with SharePoint 2010, the default location is the web server. The location of the local cached copy is configurable. (That, however, is outside the scope of this tip.)

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