Accessing SharePoint using an application context, also known as app-only

There are two approaches for doing app-only for SharePoint:

  • Using an Azure AD application: this is the preferred method when using SharePoint Online because you can also grant permissions to other Office 365 services (if needed) + you’ve a user interface (Azure portal) to maintain your app principals.
  • Using a SharePoint App-Only principal: this method is older and only works for SharePoint access, but is still relevant. This method is also the recommended model when you’re still working in SharePoint on-premises since this model works in both SharePoint on-premises as SharePoint Online.

Both methods are detailed in following articles:

What are the limitations when using app-only

App-Only does not work in following cases:

  • Updating taxonomy service entries (write) - read works
  • Creating modern team sites does not support app-only when you use the SharePoint API for it. When modern team sites are created using Microsoft Graph to create the group then app-only is a supported scenario
  • Creating communication sites currently does not support app-only using the SharePoint API
  • Search when using SharePoint On-Premises. SharePoint Online support for it has been added (blog post)
  • User Profile CSOM write operations do not work with Azure AD application - read operations work. Both read and write operations work through SharePoint App-Only principal
  • User Profile Bulk Update API can be used with app-only permissions
  • Manipulating files via WebDav protocol and CSOM (using File.SaveBinaryDirect) does not work with app-only

Important

If the above scenarios are critical for you it's recommended to define a service account, grant that one permissions and then use it in your application. See the Governance.EnsurePolicy sample to learn more on how you can grant tenant wide permissions for a service account. Also the article explaining an alternative model for web app policies in SharePoint Online does contain a lot of information on this topic.

Important

Azure Access Control (ACS), a service of Azure Active Directory (Azure AD), was retired on November 7, 2018. This retirement does not impact the SharePoint Add-in model, which uses the https://accounts.accesscontrol.windows.net hostname (which is not impacted by this retirement). For more information, see Impact of Azure Access Control retirement for SharePoint Add-ins.