my world of work and user experiences

October 31, 2010

Why that default Overwrite in SharePoint 2010 Document Libraries?

Filed under: Interaction,SharePoint — Tags: , , — frederique @ 23:05

There are some things that make me go “Hmmmmm…”

What happens

When you upload a document in a Document Library in SharePoint, the option Add as a new version to existing files is checked on by default. In 2003 this was called Overwrite existing file(s)? So it is very easy to accidentally overwrite an existing document. That happened in the old SharePoint. And still happens in SharePoint 2010. Hm…

Upload document with the default option to overwrite the current file

Upload document with the default option to overwrite the current file

Why is that a problem

That accidental overwriting happens a lot, especially in large libraries, where many people contribute. The users who upload similar documents do not pay attention and give their document the same filename as an existing document.

The stakeholders of the old documents call me, to ask what happened to the metadata of their documents. They see strange descriptions, the status field is incorrect, and so on. And when they open their document, panic really sets in. Then I do some archaeology in the library, only to find out that this is another document altogether. Fortunately the version history allows me to see what happened and to retrieve the old document.

Of course we try to mitigate this problem. First and foremost, we ask the users to respect a naming convention for their files. Also, in several sites we use InfoPath with automated name fields and Excel files with macros that automatically include the date and in some cases also the time in the filename, so that we can ensure its uniqueness.

Still, users have are hard time trying to understand why they have to be so careful with their filenames. Especially the users who know that usually the Title field is displayed, while the Name remains invisible as just a technical filename.

Any old Windows Explorer will warn you when you try to save your document with an existing filename, and ask you politely whether you actually want to overwrite or if you want to save it under a new name. So why is our smart SharePoint system so stupid about this?

What do I want

The interaction that would serve me best, is for the overwrite option to be governed by a setting in the Document Library. I can determine whether or not I want content approval, versioning and many other options on my library. I want an additional setting, determining whether the overwrite option is enabled or disabled by default.

In most cases I would select the setting to disable the default overwrite option. We have trained most users that want to edit a document to actually do that within the site, via the option Edit in Microsoft Word. So they don’t upload a new version and don’t need that overwrite option anyway. This implies that the documents that most users upload are actually new documents.
The required interaction there, is that the library warns them that a file with that name already exists, allowing them to change the filename. And the last thing we want the library to do, is seamlessly overwrite the existing document. Absolutely not.

I would still want to see the checkbox on the upload page, so that power users, who know what they are doing, can deviate from the default. Most users don’t even see the checkbox, but there is always the happy few who do want something non-standard.

Well, I’ll have to figure out what will be my best practice to deal with this issue in 2010….

Document Library settings in 2010

Document Library settings in 2010


  1. Greetings! Have you found a solution to the problem, please?

    Comment by Aurel — March 22, 2012 @ 16:53

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    Comment by My Homepage — March 28, 2012 @ 18:58

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  4. Does anyone find any solution using JavaScript? I can’t custom the page using Visual Studio within my company… :s

    Comment by Clement — June 8, 2012 @ 07:48

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