SharePoint Check In, Check Out, Content Approval, Draft Item Security and Version History Explained

Written by Cornelius J. van Dyk on . Posted in Blog

There seems to be much confusion out in the SharePoint world around the topics of Check In/Out, Content Approval, Version History and Draft Item Security.  My goal is to explain and clarify how all these function together.


It all starts with the creation of a new document be it created via the New menu or uploaded.  When a user creates or uploads the new document, if “Require Check Out” is enabled, SharePoint will check out the document for the user automatically.  Nobody, not even Approvers, can see the document until it is checked in.

Approvers can NEVER see content that is NOT checked in!

This is the function of check out and check in.  It is a way for a user to work on a document in private until such time they are ready to share the document with others.  When they then check it in, it moves to the next level of approval.  If a situation unfolds where the user leaves the company and has a document still checked out, an Administrator can either do a “Discard Check Out” or “Take Ownership” can be done followed by a Check In.

This gets tricky in the case of a newly uploaded document.  Because Approvers cannot see the document, the user doing the upload needs to be aware of this because they have to do the Check In to allow Approvers to see the document.  It’s the same as the first iteration of a New document.  Nobody except the author knows that the document actually exists… at least not until Check In.

In cases where users do mass uploads, having the “Force Check Out” option selected on the document library, can cause major problems as the uploading user would have to approve each document individually.  That can be a very time consuming process.  I always recommend that in such cases, the Administrator temporarily disable the “Force Check Out” option to allow the library content to be populated.  With Content Approval turned on, this temporary change, would not cause major issues.


Upon check in, if “Content Approval” is turned on, NOW Approvers as well as the Author can see the document.  Normal users cannot see the document until it is approved.

If Content Approval is not turned on, checking in the document, would make it visible to everyone.  With Content Approval turned on, an approver would need to review the document and then approve it in order to make it visible to everyone.


When the Draft Item Security option is enabled, it usually deals with a scenario where you may have a collaborative group working on a document.  This usually ties in with a Version History setting that has both Major (1.0, 2.0, 3.0 etc.) and Minor (1.1, 1.2, 1.3 etc.) versions.  In such a case, there may be a group of people that have Member/Contributor rights that allows them to change document.  There are some users who are Approvers and setting this setting determines who of these users can see items AFTER they are checked in.  Remember that only the active author can see items that are checked out.

This option is only available when the Version History setting is set to use Minor versions.


Lastly there is Version History.  Version history works independently from the above items with the exception of Draft Item Security which is only available as an option when Version History is set to Minor versions.

When set to Major versions, each update to the document results in a new version e.g. 1.0, 2.0, 3.0 etc.

When set to Minor versions, each update results in a new minor version e.g. 1.1, 1.2, 1.3 etc.  When the document is then Approved, a new major version is created.  As an example, the document is worked on and checked in by Bob, resulting in version 1.1.  Now Sue edits the document and upon check in, it results in version 1.2.  This continues until they are ready for the document to be approved.  At this point, they choose to Publish a Major version.  The document approvers are notified of the submission and they review it.  Once they’re happy with it and approve the document, SharePoint publishes the document as version 2.0.

And that is how these items work together in the SharePoint environment.  I hope this helps to shed some light on this subject.



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Cornelius J. van Dyk

Born and raised in South Africa during the 70's I got my start in computers when a game on my Sinclair ZX Spectrum crashed, revealing it's BASIC source code. The ZX had a whopping 48K of memory which was considered to be a lot in the Commodore Vic20 era, but more importantly, it had BASIC built into the soft touch keyboard. Teaching myself to program, I coded my first commercial program at age 15.

After graduating high school at 17, I joined the South African Air Force, graduating the Academy and becoming a Pilot with the rank of First Lieutenant by age 20. After serving my country for six years, I made my way back into computer software.

Continuing my education, I graduated Suma Cum Laude from the Computer Training Institute before joining First National Bank where my work won the Smithsonian Award for Technological Innovation in the field of Banking and Insurance. Soon I met Will Coleman from Amdahl SA, who introduced me to a little known programming language named Huron/ObjectStar. As fate would have it, this unknown language and Y2K brought me to the USA in 1998.

I got involved with SharePoint after playing around with the Beta for SharePoint Portal Server 2003. Leaving my career at Rexnord to become a consultant in 2004, I was first awarded the Microsoft Most Valuable Professional Award for SharePoint in 2005, becoming only the 9th MVP for WSS at the time. I fulfilled a life long dream by pledging allegiance to the Flag as a US citizen in 2006. I met the love of my life and became a private consultant in 2008. I was honored to receive my ninth MVP award for SharePoint Server in 2013.

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