Versioning in SharePoint

Note

This is an open-source article with the community providing support for it. For official Microsoft content, see Microsoft 365 documentation.

Basic Idea

Document collaboration, co-authoring, and List updates with human beings is much better with Versioning enabled. People make mistakes, and Versioning provides the safety net.

Emotionally, it reinforces the idea that SharePoint is a good place to store your work product.

SharePoint Lists items (data) and Library documents (files) have the ability to store, track, and restore the previous state of the item or document to how it was before a user changed it.

Versioning creates a historical record of all changes, with the date/time and indication of the user who made the change, on a per-file/list item basis. The end user can view, delete, and restore a version if they have the correct permissions in the library or list.

To do this… I need this permission…
View version history Full Control, Contribute, Read
Restore a previous version Full Control, Contribute
Delete a version Full Control, Contribute
Un-publish a version Full Control, Contribute
Recover deleted a deleted version Full control and/or Contribute

Enabling Versioning

In SharePoint Online or On-Premises, versioning is enabled in the List Settings or Library Settings screens by clicking on the 'Versioning settings' link. An interface is provided to let you control how many versions you'd like to retain. The user must have the Manage Lists permission capability to enable versioning.

Disabling Versioning

If you can Enable versioning, you can Disable versioning. Disabling versioning doesn't delete the old versions. End users receive no notification of this change.

Note

A Cautionary Tale: As site owner, if you disable Versioning and don't tell your end users, they'll notify you. In person.

Note: Versioning can also be enabled or disabled through PowerShell, SharePoint Designer, or by a developer using CSOM.

Accessing Previous Versions

In SharePoint Online, select the list item or document, and in the Actions menu, select Version History. You can also see a link to the version history in the details pane.

In SharePoint on-premises (2010, 2013, 2016, 2019) you can view version history by clicking on the link in the ribbon menu.

In both products, Version History opens in a modal dialog box, with options to View, Restore, or Delete the entry. If any SharePoint Metadata columns were changed, that column and its new value will be displayed.

SharePoint Online vs SharePoint On-Premises

Historically, versioning is not enabled by default at the creation of a list or library. Recently, SharePoint Online has started enabling it by default in libraries when they're created.

What Online On-Premises
Lists Not enabled at creation Not enabled at creation
Libraries Enabled at creation (and set to 500 versions) Not enabled at creation

Note

A Cautionary Tale: As Site Owner, you're responsible for not exceeding your allotted space limit. 500 versions of an Excel file won't cause any trouble. A 500-version library with hundreds of 300MB PDF documents might push the site over the limit and prevent users from working in the site. Watch your Storage Metrics on storage libraries.

Major Versus Minor Versions

Libraries can have both Major versions, which are represented with whole numbers (12.0), and Minor versions, which are represented with decimal numbers (12.3). If your library is configured to use Check In/Check Out, each change performed by a user with a checked-out document will create a minor version.

Lists usually only have Major versions.

Note

When you create a new version of a document, the incremental changes are stored in SQL Server, rather than a completely new copy of the document. This provides the most efficient storage and helps reduce overall storage requirements.

Best Practices and Versioning Trivia

  • The Version column in SharePoint Views is sometimes not a number column. If you sort it, version 12 shows up in between version 1 and 2.
  • It is a best practice to enable Versioning in a list at creation and not set a limit of major versions. It takes up very little space, and your end users will thank you for it.
  • In an average SharePoint On-Premises farm, setting document library versions up to 10 major and 10 minor has, in practice, been enough for any group that can't define how many versions they need.
  • A deleted and then restored file/list item maintains its old versions.
  • In a list with versioning enabled, attachment changes are not versioned.
  • Limiting the number of versions is generally a good practice. It means you can conserve space on the server and reduce clutter for users. But, if your organization is required to save all versions for legal or other reasons, don’t apply any limits.

Further Reading


Principal author: Patrick M Doran