SharePoint Mystery: The Case of the Missing Documents

It was a dark and stormy night, … well, not really, but in the spirit (pun totally intended) of the upcoming Halloween holiday, I thought I would share a really perplexing SharePoint mystery and my somewhat unsatisfying solution.

Here’s the scenario: we have a new SharePoint site with a document library where there are several required columns and one of those fields is a Person field so therefore, it can’t have a default value.  A user uploads multiple documents to the library for the first time and since at least one required column value is missing, all of the new documents enter in a checked out state.  Note that the option to require check out is not enabled.  I’m the Site Collection Administrator and the user tells me that she’s uploaded several documents and wants to be sure she did it correctly so she asks me to check.

I open the document library and see no documents in the default view.  I know they are there because we are sitting next to each other at a conference table and I can clearly see all 5 documents in her view on her laptop.  Since I’m the all knowing, all powerful Site Collection Administrator, I would assume that I could see her documents, even if they are checked out to her.  But, guess what?  I can’t.  At least not until I navigate to Document Library Settings, Managed Checked Out Files.  The only way I can see these documents in a list view is if I assume control of the documents and transfer ownership to me.  When I do that, I get to see the documents but, of course, now the user who uploaded them can’t see them until I enter the required column values and check them in.  I tried the same scenario logging in with a System Account, which should trump the Site Collection Admin in terms of privileges, and even the System Account can’t see the documents without digging in to the List Settings for the Document Library.  So, Microsoft, “what were you thinking?”

One would think that the Checked Out To site column would show who’s got the document checked out, but there is no one listed when the document is first uploaded.

Imagine what could happen if these documents remain checked out and my user gets hit by the proverbial bus before she has a chance to check them in (or what if she just goes on vacation?).  Another user could upload the same documents and then when my user gets out of the hospital or back from vacation, she could remember that she’d uploaded documents and override the versions added while she was away.  Can you say version control nightmare?  If this is an extranet scenario and the external person uploads the documents but internal Site Collection Administrator doesn’t easily see that they are there, this could be a very confusing scenario on both sides.

Did someone at Microsoft forget to test this possible scenario or is this what we often call a “feature”?  I’ve asked a few SharePoint gurus and some think that I should be able to see the documents with my super powers and others have said that the only way to see them is to change the ownership to me, which is the only thing that worked.  Unless I’m completely missing something, I think this is something to be aware of for new SharePoint sites, which is when the “upload multiple documents” feature is more likely to be used.  For existing sites, it’s more likely that documents will be saved as they are created, one at a time, which means that SharePoint will prompt for all required fields and documents are less likely to be uploaded in a checked out state.  In the mean time – while the mystery is solved, site owners need to be aware of documents that might be here in one view and mysteriously gone in another, even for the person with super powers on the site!  The solution: always remember to check into the Document Library Settings to see what’s going on in Managed Checked Out Files.

In a further note, while you are pondering this SharePoint mystery, be sure to check out Sadie Van Buren’s extremely comprehensive wish list for the next release of SharePoint on her blog.  She’s promised to link to this additional wish item if I would write it up!  Sadie – I did it, your turn!

Copyright © 2008 IDG Communications, Inc.

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