Create retention labels and apply them in apps

Microsoft 365 licensing guidance for security & compliance.

Note

This scenario is supported for all retention label configurations, including regulatory records.

Use the following information to help you create and publish retention labels, and then apply them to documents and emails.

Retention labels help you retain what you need and delete what you don't at the item level (document or email). They are also used to declare an item as a record as part of a records management solution for your Microsoft 365 data.

Making retention labels available to people in your organization so that they can classify content is a two-step process:

  1. Create the retention labels.

  2. Publish the retention labels by using a retention label policy.

Diagram of roles and tasks for labels.

Use the following instructions for the two admin steps.

Before you begin

The global admin for your organization has full permissions to create and edit retention labels and their policies. If you aren't signing in as a global admin, see Permissions required to create and manage retention policies and retention labels.

Decide before you create your retention label policy whether it will be adaptive or static. For more information, see Adaptive or static policy scopes for retention. If you decide to use an adaptive policy, you must create one or more adaptive scopes before you create your retention label policy, and then select them during the create retention label policy process. For instructions, see Configuration information for adaptive scopes.

How to create and publish retention labels

First, create your retention labels. Then create a label policy to make the labels available to apply in apps.

Where you create and configure your retention labels depend on whether you're using records management or not. Instructions are provided for both scenarios.

Step 1: Create retention labels

  1. In the Microsoft 365 compliance center, navigate to one of the following locations:

    • If you are using records management:

      • Solutions > Records management > File plan tab > + Create a label > Retention label
    • If you are not using records management:

      • Solutions > Information governance > Labels tab > + Create a label

    Don't immediately see your solution in the navigation pane? First select Show all.

  2. Follow the prompts in the wizard.

    For more information about the retention settings, see Settings for retaining and deleting content.

    If you are using records management:

  3. After you have created the label and you see the options to publish the label, auto-apply the label, or just save the label: Select Just save the label for now, and then select Done.

  4. Repeat these steps to create more labels.

To edit an existing label, select it, and then select the Edit label option to start the Edit retention wizard that lets you change the label descriptions and any eligible settings from step 2.

Step 2: Publish retention labels

Publish retention labels so that they can be applied by users in apps, such as SharePoint and Outlook.

  1. In the Microsoft 365 compliance center, navigate to one of the following locations:

    • If you are using records management:

      • Solutions > Records management > > Label policies tab > Publish labels
    • If you are not using records management:

      • Solutions > Information governance > Label policies tab > Publish labels

    Don't immediately see your solution in the navigation pane? First select Show all.

  2. Use the link to select the retention labels to publish, and then select Next.

  3. For the Choose the type of retention policy to create page, select Adaptive or Static, depending on the choice you made from the Before you begin instructions. If you haven't already created adaptive scopes, you can select Adaptive but because there won't be any adaptive scopes to select, you won't be able to finish the wizard with this option.

  4. Depending on your selected scope:

    • If you chose Adaptive: On the Choose adaptive policy scopes and locations page, select Add scopes and select one or more adaptive scopes that have been created. Then, select one or more locations. The locations that you can select depend on the scope types added. For example, if you only added a scope type of User, you will be able to select Exchange email but not SharePoint sites.

    • If you chose Static: On the Choose locations page, toggle on or off any of the locations. For each location, you can leave it at the default to apply the policy to the entire location, or specify includes and excludes

    For information about the location choices, see Locations.

  5. Follow the prompts in the wizard to name your policy, review, and submit your configuration choices.

    For information about the location choices, see Locations.

To edit an existing retention label policy (the policy type is Publish), select it, and then select the Edit option to start the Edit retention policy. This wizard lets you change the policy description and any eligible settings.

When retention labels become available to apply

If you publish retention labels to SharePoint or OneDrive, those labels typically appear for end users to select within one day. However, allow up to seven days.

If you publish retention labels to Exchange, it can take up to seven days for those retention labels to appear for end users, and the mailbox must contain at least 10 MB of data.

For example:

Diagram of when manual labels take effect.

If the labels don't appear after seven days, check the Status of the label policy by selecting it from the Label policies page in the compliance center. If you see the status of Off (Error) and in the details for the locations see a message that it's taking longer than expected to deploy the policy (for SharePoint) or to try redeploying the policy (for OneDrive), try running Set-RetentionCompliancePolicy, a PowerShell command, to retry the policy distribution:

  1. Connect to Security & Compliance Center PowerShell

  2. Run the following command:

    Set-RetentionCompliancePolicy -Identity <policy name> -RetryDistribution
    

How to check on the status of retention labels published to Exchange

In Exchange Online, retention labels are made available to end users by a process that runs every seven days. By using PowerShell, you can see when this process last ran and therefore identify when it will run again.

  1. Connect to Exchange Online PowerShell.

  2. Run these commands.

    $logProps = Export-MailboxDiagnosticLogs <user> -ExtendedProperties
    
    $xmlprops = [xml]($logProps.MailboxLog)
    
    $xmlprops.Properties.MailboxTable.Property | ? {$_.Name -like "ELC*"}
    
    

In the results, the ELCLastSuccessTimeStamp (UTC) property shows when the system last processed your mailbox. If it has not happened since the time you created the policy, the labels are not going to appear. To force processing, run Start-ManagedFolderAssistant -Identity <user>.

If labels aren't appearing in Outlook on the web and you think they should be, make sure to clear the cache in your browser (CTRL+F5).

How to apply published retention labels

Use the following sections to learn how published retention labels can be applied in apps:

In addition, when you use SharePoint Syntex and publish retention labels to SharePoint locations, you can apply a retention label to a document understanding model so that identified documents are automatically labeled.

After content is labeled, see the following information to understand when the applied label can be removed or changed: Only one retention label at a time.

Manually apply retention labels

End users, as well as administrators, can manually apply retention labels from the following locations:

  • Outlook and Outlook on the web

  • OneDrive

  • SharePoint

  • Microsoft 365 groups (both the group site and group mailbox in Outlook on the web)

Use the following sections to understand how to apply retention labels.

Applying retention labels in Outlook

To label an item in the Outlook desktop client, select the item. On the Home tab on the ribbon, click Assign Policy, and then choose the retention label.

Assign Policy button.

You can also right-click an item, click Assign Policy in the context menu, and then choose the retention label. When you select multiple items, you can use this method to assign the same retention label to multiple items at once.

After the retention label is applied, you can view that retention label and what action it takes at the top of the item. If an email has a retention label applied that has an associated retention period, you can see at a glance when the email expires.

Applying a default retention label to an Outlook folder

You can apply retention labels to Outlook folders as a default label that can be inherited by messages in that folder. Right-click the folder, select Properties, the Policy tab, and select the retention label you want to use as that folder's default retention label.

When you use a a standard retention label as your default label for an Outlook folder:

  • All unlabeled items in the folder have this retention label applied.

  • The inheritance flows to any child folders and items inherit the label from their nearest folder.

  • Items that are already labeled retain their retention label, unless it was applied by a different default label.

  • If you change or remove the default retention label for the folder: Existing retention labels applied to items in that folder are also changed or removed only if those labels were applied by a default label.

  • If you move an item with a default retention label from one folder to another folder with a different default retention label: The item gets the new default retention label.

  • If you move an item with a default retention label from one folder to another folder with no default retention label: The old default retention label is removed.

When labels are applied that aren't standard retention labels but mark items as records (or regulatory records), these labels can only be manually changed or removed.

Applying retention labels in Outlook on the web

To label an item in Outlook on the web, right-click the item > Assign policy > choose the retention label. Unlike Outlook desktop, you can't use this method if you multi-select items.

Assign policy menu in Outlook on the web.

After the retention label is applied, you can view that retention label and what action it takes at the top of the item. If an email is classified and has an associated retention period, you can know at a glance when the email will expire.

Label assigned to email in Outlook on the web.

As with the desktop version of Outlook on the web, you can also apply retention labels to folders. Right-click the folder, select Assign policy, and change Use parent folder policy to the retention label you want to use as that folder's default retention label.

Applying retention labels in OneDrive and SharePoint

To label a document (including OneNote files) in OneDrive or SharePoint, select the item > in the upper-right corner, choose Open the details paneInformation pane icon. > Apply retention label > choose the retention label.

You can also apply a retention label to a folder or document set, and you can set a default retention label for a document library.

Apply label list for an item in SharePoint.

After a retention label is applied to an item, you can view it in the details pane when that item's selected.

Applied label shown in Details pane.

For SharePoint, but not OneDrive, you can create a view of the library that contains the Labels column or Item is a Record column. This view lets you see at a glance the retention labels assigned to all items and which items are records. Note, however, that you can't filter the view by the Item is a Record column. For instructions how to add columns, see Show or hide columns in a list or library.

Applying retention labels in Microsoft 365 groups

When you publish retention labels to Microsoft 365 groups (formerly Office 365 groups), the retention labels appear in both the group site and group mailbox in Outlook on the web. The experience of applying a retention label to content is identical to that for email and documents.

To retain content for a Microsoft 365 group, use the Microsoft 365 Groups location. Even though a Microsoft 365 group has an Exchange mailbox, a retention policy that includes the entire Exchange location won't include content in Microsoft 365 group mailboxes.

In addition, it's not possible to use the Exchange location to include or exclude a specific group mailbox. Although the Exchange location initially allows a group mailbox to be selected, when you try to save the retention policy, you receive an error that "RemoteGroupMailbox" is not a valid selection for the Exchange location.

Applying a default retention label to all content in a SharePoint library, folder, or document set

This method requires retention labels to be published to a retention label policy.

In addition to letting people apply a retention label to individual documents, you can also apply a default retention label to a SharePoint library, folder, or document set. In this scenario, documents in that location can inherit your selected default retention label. Although the same label is applied, each document will be retained and deleted separately, according to the start of the retention period setting in the label.

For a document library, the default label configuration is done on the Library settings page for a document library. When you choose the default retention label, you can also choose to apply it to existing items in the library.

For example, if you have a retention label for marketing materials, and you know a specific document library contains only that type of content, you can make the Marketing Materials retention label the default label for all documents in that library.

Apply label option on library Settings page.

Label behavior when you use a default label for SharePoint

For standard retention labels that you apply as a default retention label to a library, folder, or document set:

  • All new, unlabeled items in the container will have this retention label applied.

  • For folders, the inheritance flows to any child folders and items inherit the label from their nearest folder.

  • If you selected the option to apply the default label to existing items: Items that are already labeled retain their retention label, unless it was applied by a different default label.

  • If you change the default retention label for the container: Existing retention labels applied to items in that container are changed only if you selected the option to apply the default label to existing items and those labels were applied by a default label.

  • If you remove the default retention label for the container: Items retain their labels.

  • If you move an item with a default retention label applied from one container to another container: The item keeps its existing default retention label, even if the new location has a different default retention label. Only if you then change the default label for this new location can the moved item inherit the default label from its current location.

When labels are applied that aren't standard retention labels but mark items as records (or regulatory records), these labels can only be manually changed or removed.

Automatically applying a retention label to email by using rules

In Outlook, you can create rules to apply a retention label.

For example, you can create a rule that applies a specific retention label to all messages sent to or from a specific distribution group.

To create a rule, right-click an item > Rules > Create Rule > Advanced Options > Rules Wizard > apply retention policy.

Rules wizard with option to apply retention policies.

Although the UI refers to retention policies, it's your retention labels that display here and can be selected, not your retention policies.

Updating retention labels and their policies

When you edit a retention label or retention label policy, and the retention label or policy is already applied to content, your updated settings will automatically be applied to this content in addition to content that's newly identified.

Some settings can't be changed after the label or policy is created and saved, which include:

  • The retention label and policy name, and the retention settings except the retention period. However, you can't change the retention period when the retention period is based on when items were labeled.
  • The option to mark items as a record.

Deleting retention labels

You can delete retention labels that aren't currently included in any retention label policies, that aren't configured for event-based retention, or mark items as regulatory records.

For retention labels that you can delete, if they have been applied to items, the deletion fails and you see a link to content explorer to identify the labeled items.

However, it can take up to two days for content explorer to show the items that are labeled. In this scenario, the retention label might be deleted without showing you the link to content explorer.

Locking the policy to prevent changes

If you need to ensure that no one can turn off the policy, delete the policy, or make it less restrictive, see Use Preservation Lock to restrict changes to retention policies and retention label policies.

Next steps

Event-based retention is another supported scenario for retention labels. For more information, see the following articles: