OneNote Shared Notebooks - Options and Troubleshooting - Part 2: Notebooks On SharePoint

Continuing from my previous post about OneNote Shared Notebooks on Windows File Shares, this one will focus on OneNote shared notebooks on SharePoint servers. The advantages, disadvantages, and troubleshooting tips.


Notebooks on SharePoint Servers


  • SharePoint is a great team repository,  a place to share documents, lists, calendars, and so on.
    • You can access documents from a browser with more context than just a file list on a file share.
    • There are lots of nice features for custom solutions like workflow support, metadata support, search and query by metadata across an entire enterprise and so on that I won't go into.
  • Many teams  have all their shared documents on SharePoint servers for these benefits.
  • In that case, it makes sense to have your OneNote shared notebooks in the same place on SharePoint.
  • Internet access to your notebooks is one significant benefit
    • SharePoint is accessible via http over port 80.
    • It can be made available more easily across the internet.
    • Many service providers offer SharePoint hosting services
    • If you have a OneNote shared notebook on a publicly hosted SharePoint server you will be able to access it with OneNote from anywhere, and collaborate with people anywhere.
  • Note: you still need OneNote to access the notebook, not just a web browser. However, you can optionally publish an html web view of your notebook using the OneNote Web Exporter PowerToy .


Performance and Reliability

More things can go wrong when syncing OneNote notebooks to SharePoint vs syncing to a Windows file share. As there is more complexity and variety in the components and configurations involved.

  • Sync times are much longer on SharePoint
    • OneNote syncs every 10 minutes to SharePoint, whereas it syncs every 30 seconds on Windows file shares.
    • The worst case time between making a change and others seeing it is 20 minutes (vs a minute on a file share).
  • A change to a OneNote section file on SharePoint requires the whole file to uploaded or downloaded
    • On Windows file shares, OneNote can read/write just the bits in the file it needs to update. This is very efficient.
    • However, file access on SharePoint uses WebDAV
    • WebDAV does not support byte range read/write (also known as Partial Get/Put)
    • Thus OneNote must upload or download the entire file.
    • This uses more bandwidth, hence the reason for the 10 minute sync interval.
    • This is also the reason why Embedded files are stored alongside the section file in a thicket folder on SharePoint (whereas they are stored inside the .one file on Windows file shares).
  • Authentication is a common problem area
  • Vista vs XP client makes a significant difference
    • Vista has a completely new improved WebDAV stack that OneNote uses
    • Vista's WebDAV uses WinHTTP instead of WinInet. WinHTTP is new in Vista, it has some different behaviors to WinInet. Some calls to SharePoint (like file enumeration) still use WinInet. This introduces some complexities in things like authentication when the two networking stacks behave differently.
    • On XP, Office uses a technology named"Rosebud" (also known as MSDAIPP, often referred to as "Web Folders") to access files on SharePoint. It's a very complicated mix of technologies, and frankly prone to issues ... not my favorite and we're transitioning away from it as of Office 2007 and Vista in favor of WebDAV. It uses something called "Microsoft Office Protocol Discovery" [scroll down halfway to 'Understanding Microsoft Office Protocol Discovery] to talk to the server. It attempts to discover what services the server supports then decides whether the user should have read only browse access, or read/write access. It determines if it can use WebDAV or Web Extender Client (WEC), otherwise it falls back to HTTP GET and read only. In general when talking to SharePoint Rosebud uses WEC which talks via FPSE (Front Page Server Extensions) to SharePoint and avoids the XP WebDAV stack altogether.
    • See my earlier post on SharePoint - Access Denied for some more details on differences between behavior on XP and Vista
  • [there's a lot more technical background information I could write here, but that's enough for now, and if I get many questions I'll add further clarifications later...]

Troubleshooting Tips

The most likely problems you'll see with OneNote notebooks on SharePoint are related to authentication.

  • Getting "Access Denied" infobar prompts
  • Getting password prompts that keep popping up
  • Failing to open a notebook (possibly after getting password prompts)
  • Having read only access to the notebook (you can't type anything)

Below are some steps that commonly solve these issues:

  1. Install Office 2007 SP1. It's available through Microsoft Update (so you may already have it installed) or for direct download. You can check if you have this installed by clicking "Help" -> "About Microsoft Office OneNote" in OneNote. The version number at the top should be 6211.1000 and say "SP1" in it. It has some relevant fixes to improve this.
  2. Confirm that "Auto Detect Settings" is on in Internet Explorer if you're using Vista.
  3. Install Vista SP1 (if you have Vista) from Microsoft Update as soon as it's available (soon). It has some relevant fixes.
  4. If your SharePoint site uses Basic Authentication (some hosting service providers use it) then you must use https:// for the URL path.
  5. Confirm whether you have write access to the SharePoint document library where the notebook exists. Go there in your browser, and try to make an edit to a non-OneNote file.  If you can't edit any files then it's possible you don't actually have correct write permissions to that location and should speak to the administrator about the permissions.


[Sorry, it took a while to get around to part 2. I was out on vacation.]