A Basic Guide to External Sharing in SharePoint Online

Topics: Document Management, SharePoint Online, SharePoint Blog, Knowledge Sharing

Written by Quentin Russell

As you're probably aware, SharePoint is one of the best tools on the market for document storage and management. Sharing documents in SharePoint Online is incredibly easy. Sharing documents with third parties is a little bit more complicated. How can you manage external sharing in SharePoint Online safely? To answer that, we wrote this basic guide that should walk you through what to do. Let's take a look at managing external sharing in SharePoint Online.

What is External Sharing?

External sharing is the process of sharing content from within your SharePoint with someone outside of your organization. Additionally, if your company uses multiple SharePoint subscriptions, external sharing can be used to share content between these two licenses. You need to be careful about how you handle external sharing in your company. While Microsoft does a good job at keeping malicious third parties from accessing your files, it can't do anything for you if you hand them the key.

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How to Configure External Sharing in SharePoint Online

Before you can begin sharing documents, you need to make sure your sharing settings are set up properly. SharePoint allows you to control these at an organizational level and at a site level. In order for users to be able to share content at a site level, external sharing has to be enabled at an organizational level.

How to Change Organization-Level External Sharing Settings

  1. Log into SharePoint online with an account that has admin permissions and go to the Sharing page of the SharePoint admin center.
  2. Under External sharing, specify your Sharing level for SharePoint and OneDrive. By default these are both set to "Anyone." You can change that to one of four options:
    1. Anyone - Anyone that has a link to access your files or folders can access this.
    2. New and existing guests - This requires people who have invitations to sign in with their Office 365 account or provide a code to verify their identity.
    3. Existing guests - This makes it so you can only share with guests who are already in your directory.
    4. Only people in your organization - This disables external sharing.

Once you're here, you can make other changes to how external sharing happens at an organization level. If you are interested in learning more about external sharing settings, you can check out this Microsoft blog.

How to Share a Document or Folder in SharePoint Online

  1. Go to the SharePoint document library where the document or folder you want to share is located. Select the folder or document you want to share.
  2. Click Share and then select from the four options in Link settings.
    1. Anyone with the link.
    2. People in your organization with the link.
    3. People with existing access.
    4. Specific people.
  3. Check Allow editing if you want to enable the recipient to make edits. (Note: if you selected Anyone with the link you'll also have the option of setting an expiration date for the link).
  4. Click Apply and you'll then be able to copy the link to your clipboard or send it through email.
  5. The third party will receive an invitation to join the document or folder. Once they accept it, they can log in using a trusted email address/verification code. This will add them to your organization's Azure AD (unless you selected Anyone with the link in which case they can start viewing it right away).

How to Share a Site in SharePoint Online

The steps you need to follow to Share a site on SharePoint Online will change depending on the type of site you're trying to share.

How to Share a Communication Site in SharePoint Online

  1. Go to the communication site you want to share and click Share site in the top right corner.
  2. Enter the names of the users or groups that you want to share the site with.
  3. Change the permission level as needed (Read, Edit, or Full control) then click Share.

How to Share Classic Sites in SharePoint Online

  1. Go to the classic SharePoint site you want to share and select Share site in the top right corner.
  2. Enter the names of the people or groups you want to share the site with.
  3. Click Show Options to select a permission level or choose not to send an email invitation then click Share.

How to Share Office 365 Group-Connected Team-Sites in SharePoint Online

This is the same process as adding an authenticated external user. The third party will receive an invite via email. The main difference is that once the invitation is accepted, the user will receive group emails, calendar invites, and Yammer discussions as well. They'll gain access to the group's associated team site and content.

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Tips for Managing External Sharing

1. Don't Turn of External Sharing

If you want to limit external sharing at your organization, turning off external sharing might seem attractive. Don't do that. Instead, configure your sharing settings to match how much you will be sharing. By turning off external sharing, you risk limiting yourself and having to spend time going back in to turn it back on in a case where you have to share something with a third party.

2. Implement Governance Policies

To make sure that people aren't sharing the wrong things with the wrong people, your organization needs to implement proper governance. All of your users should be on the same page about your sharing policies. In addition, by having governance policies your organization has policies in place if there is a sharing blunder.

3. Turn Off Anonymous Sharing

We know that we just told you not to turn off external sharing, but hear us out. Turning off anonymous sharing is different then turning off external sharing altogether. Turning of anonymous sharing will offer you more control over who can access what documents within your SharePoint.

Conclusion

External sharing in SharePoint Online isn't difficult. Just use the tips and tricks above and you'll have complete control over external document sharing at your organization.

You can find more SharePoint tutorials like this on our blog so make sure to check back there everyday. If you are interested, you can also sign up for our mailing list and receive an email every time we publish a new blog.

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