March 25th, 2012 Published by

Check In and Check Out Documents in Microsoft SharePoint

[In Part 2 of his series on Document Management and Collaboration in Microsoft SharePoint, Matt Milsark offers advice on using the SharePoint check-in and check-out process. Missed the first post? Please read SharePoint Document Management: Collaboration in the Cloud.]

Check This Out!

Microsoft SharePoint

Online document collaboration is quickly becoming standard practice for businesses of all sizes. Often times, multiple employees need access to create, edit, revise, proofread and review the same documents. Unfortunately, many businesses or departments or teams simply use a file share to store collaborative documents. But when multiple people need to work on the same content, strange things can happen. With a file share there’s no real way to manage who’s working on what document, and as a result it’s very easy in to overwrite the revisions made by another employee.

Microsoft SharePoint helps eliminate the collaboration difficulties normally associated with file shares with tightly integrated document management features. With SharePoint’s check-in and check-out feature, overwriting edits is impossible because when a document is checked out, no other person can make edits to that document until it is checked back in. Users can view the current document, but cannot make edits.

Enable Me

By default, required check-in and check-out is disabled in SharePoint 2010. A user can still check documents in and out, but most users won’t – either because they don’t know how or they’ll just forget. So to best leverage this feature, it’s highly recommended to force check-out. This isn’t a global setting. You can configure one library to force check-out and another not to. The following example uses a Word document. The document collaboration features of SharePoint work best with the Microsoft Office files (like Word docs, Excel sheets and so forth). Although you can use check-in/check-out with any document type, it’s most seamlessly integrated with the Microsoft Office suite.

To enable force check-out:

  1. As a Site Owner, navigate to the document library.
  2. In the Ribbon Bar, click the Library tab.
  3. In the Ribbon Bar in the Settings group, click Library Settings.

Library Settings

4. In the General Settings section, click Versioning settings.

Versioning Settings

5. The last option is Require Check Out. Ensure Yes is selected.

Require Check Out

Users will now be unable to edit documents unless they first check the document out. While the document is checked out, no one else will be able to make edits.

Check this Out in Action

So how does this all work? 

When a user views a document that is not checked out, SharePoint will remind them it cannot be edited until it is. This reminder surfaces in different ways. One way is by a message box like this:

Open Document reminder

A user has to choose Check Out and Edit and the document is automatically checked out for them.

Another way users are informed is directly from inside the application, as shown here:

Check Out Required

Just click Check Out and the document is ready for editing.

So now when a user browses to the library, they will see the green-arrow on the document indicating it is checked out. If they hover the mouse over the icon, it will display the user who has checked out the item.

Check out displays user


So the user who has checked out the document makes their edits. When completed, they now need to save the document back to SharePoint and ensure the document is checked-in so others are able to assist in the search.

This is pretty easy to do. It can be done by first Saving the document as normal, and then Check-In the document from the client application. In the Ribbon bar, click File. Click Info.

Ensure the document is checked in

What’s really helpful is that you’ll be reminded to check the document back in if you forget. So if you don’t check in the document, when you attempt to exit Word (in this example), you’ll see a message box like this:

Check in Reminder

Click Yes and the document is checked in, ready for someone else to edit.

Stay Tuned

So that’s it for check-in/check-out. It’s an extremely useful SharePoint feature for document collaboration, available in both Foundation and Server. And it requires very little configuration. In the next installment, we’ll cover SharePoint Versioning

About Matt Milsark

Matt Milsark has written 27 posts in this blog.

At, Matt builds many of our clients' environments as well as supports and maintains them. These range from a simple dedicated single server to large multi-server SharePoint farms. Because of the sheer number of clients we have and the myriad of ways they use SharePoint, Matt has become intimately familiar with many aspects of SharePoint. Matt warns, "SharePoint is a beast. You may think you’re an expert at SharePoint, only to find out later you’re an expert at merely a small aspect of the beast's capabilities." Matt is also passionate about vinyl records. Check out his music site at

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  1. September 20th, 2012 at 05:55 | #1

    Hi Matt,
    Why is it that when someone checks out a document, the little green arrow pops up immediately in SharePoint upon checkout no matter who checks it out. However, when the document is checked back in (from no matter whom, except admin mass checkin), it will sit there forever showing its still checked out.
    The only way to see for sure is to refresh the browser screen. I’m Using IE 8. This is such a pai. It seems like Microsoft forgot some code in their ActiveX controls. Unless, I’m doing something wrong.

    I sure would appreciate a response to this.

  2. stephanie
    December 13th, 2012 at 06:47 | #2

    Is there a way to require an attachment on a list item, be checked out and in? We have a Time Est. sheet that other departments update. Once they update the sheet, my team enters the totals in the form, and I have a “total time” column that calculates the columns in the form. My only challenge…is that when someone from IT updates the Time Est. form, there’s no way to require they “check out” the attachment before making changes to it…or is there??

  3. raven
    February 25th, 2013 at 16:53 | #3

    When someone checks out or downloads a document from SharePoint is there a record of that transaction that IT can go back to if given dates?
    Or can IT see everything a specific employee has downloaded?? Can this record of transactions be deleted? If so can it be recovered after being deleted?

  4. Howard
    March 2nd, 2013 at 13:09 | #4

    If a user forgets to check their file back in, how can it be checked back in by someone else?

  5. Howard
    March 2nd, 2013 at 13:12 | #5

    Oops – never mind. Just figured it out. Click the “…” (open menu) and go from there.

  6. March 3rd, 2013 at 18:05 | #6

    I am extremely impressed with your writing skills and also with the
    layout on your blog. Is this a paid theme or did you customize
    it yourself? Anyway keep up the excellent quality writing, it is rare to see a great blog like this one these

  7. szghani
    March 28th, 2013 at 07:45 | #7

    I have a slightly different situation. I have a checked out doc which keeps getting automatically checked in when you overwrite it (or create a newer version of it). Irrespective of the versioning (or/and check out/in)being enforced or not. Why is that?

  8. May 24th, 2013 at 14:11 | #8

    Thanks to my father who stated to me on the topic of this blog, this website is really awesome.

  9. Heather
    June 18th, 2013 at 05:25 | #9

    Is there a way to over-ride the need for checking out? I have a OneNote notebook that I want to share via a Sharepoint site that requires checking out. However, there is no option to check out the notebook because it’s actually a link, and therefore it will not sync.

  10. Mark Des Jardins
    September 16th, 2013 at 07:29 | #10

    Is there any setting to default the check-in dialog box to ‘Yes’?

  11. October 7th, 2013 at 10:17 | #11

    Is it possible to automatically check out a document on a click (view)? Could an event receiver do this?

  12. George
    January 23rd, 2014 at 11:11 | #12

    We are still using SP WSS 3.0. In a document library, I am able to store an MS Project file. The library is set to force check out. When I click on the file, it will ask if I want to check out and edit. Unfortunately, when I am finished with changes and close the file, it does not ask me if I want to check the document in. This works in Word and Excel, but not with an MS Project file. Any ideas?

  13. Bhande
    February 12th, 2014 at 05:17 | #13

    I have been facing a issue. Whenever I add a new document to a document library it asks me to Check In instead of Saving the document.

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