10 ways to move a SharePoint document

Reading Time: 9 minutes

Date last verified and updated: July 2018

Document management is an integral part of SharePoint. An important activity to understand about managing a document is how to move it if the need arises. For example, a document may start in an end-user’s OneDrive for Business library, but eventually may need to move to an organizational Team Site or a document living in a Team Site may need to move to a Communication site or Document Center to be made available to a wider audience. You may also have a need to move a document to a different library or folder right within the same site.

Like most things in SharePoint there are several ways to get the job done. I’ve come up with 10 of them and will describe each of them along with their pros and cons!

TLDR? Here’s the list:

  1. File Explorer
  2. Drag-and-drop into SharePoint
  3. Document Library ‘Move to’ ribbon option
  4. Moving within Grouped Library View
  5. Manage Content and Structure **going away September 2018!
  6. Content Organizer
  7. Information Management Policy
  8. Workflow ** including Microsoft Flow!
  9. Custom Solution
  10. 3rd Party Product
  11. Bonus – SharePoint Migration Tool

The option you choose usually depends on several factors:

  • how many documents are you moving?
  • do you want the process to be “self-serve” from an end-user perspective?
  • are you moving content comprised of content types with metadata?
  • do you need to retain the original created/modified metadata? (I.e. the created, created by, modified, modified by columns)
  • do you want to retain version history?

[Update January 2018] Included Microsoft Flow. Included ‘Move to’ functionality announced for Modern libraries in SharePoint Online and OneDrive for Business.

[Update July 2018] Included the recent announcement for the ‘Manage Content and Structure’ feature. Included the SharePoint Migration Tool.


General Comment about moving OneNotesreminder

If you need to move a OneNote notebook you will need to follow a different set of steps than you do for other Office documents.  Microsoft has provided detailed instructions how to do it. You will likely want to share these with others in your organization as its not intuitive how to do this.


 1. File Explorer

Applies to: SharePoint 2010/2013/2016, Online

Open both source and target document libraries (on the same or different sites) and select ‘File Explorer’ on the drop-down menu.  This will open up an explorer view for each library. You can drag and drop items between the two.

Pros:

  • Easy for end-users
  • Both folders and files can be moved
  • Retains content types if the same content types are defined on both the source and target locations
  • Retains custom metadata if the same metadata is defined on both the source and target locations

Cons:

  • This is a manual process
  • This is a copy, not a move. You will have to delete the source items once moved
  • Can be slow to open up File Explorer windows.
  • Does not retain version history
  • Does not retain the created, created by, modified, modified by properties

2. Drag-and-drop into SharePoint

Applies to: SharePoint 2013/2016, Online only

This is a variation of the File Explorer method above. Open up the source document library (on the same or different site) and select ‘File Explorer’ on the drop-down menu.  This will open up an explorer view for the library. You can drag and drop items from there directly into the library view in SharePoint.

Pros:

  • Easy for end-users
  • Both folders and files can be moved
  • Retains content types if the same content types are defined on both the source and target locations
  • Retains custom metadata if the same metadata is defined on both the source and target locations

Cons:

  • This is a manual process
  • This is a copy, not a move. You will have to delete the source items once moved
  • Will drop the files/folders into the root of the library (may or may not be what you want)
  • Does not retain version history
  • Does not retain the created, created by, modified, modified by properties

3. Document Library ‘Move to’ ribbon option

Applies to: SharePoint Online only (Modern library experience)

A relatively new capability is the ability to copy/move files and folders from either OneDrive for Business/SharePoint to a destination in either SharePoint or OneDrive. Once you select a file, you can select either the ‘Move to’ or ‘Copy to’ menu options shown below.

MoveToCopyTo

‘Move to’ will allow you to move a file with full fidelity protections for metadata and version history to another folder within the same library, to another library on the same site, or to a completely different site collection. It can even allow you to move a document to a Teams’ channel (which is really just a SharePoint folder)!

[Update January 20, 2018] Here is a link to the Tech Community announcement explaining this feature: Move Files anywhere in Office 365, SharePoint and OneDrive

Reference: Copy files and folders from OneDrive for Business to SharePoint Site

Pros:

  • Easy for end-users
  • Can move/copy files and folders
  • Retains content types if the same content types are defined on both the source and target locations
  • Retains custom metadata if the same metadata is defined on both the source and target locations
  • Retains version history on a ‘Move to’, does NOT retain it on a ‘Copy to’
  • retains the created, created by, modified, modified by

Cons:

  • Although not a con for a ‘Move to’, a ‘Copy to’ does not retain any version history, only the most recent version is copied however I believe this is expected behavior.

4. Moving within Grouped Library View

Applies to: SharePoint Online only (Modern library experience)

It’s a bit of a cheat including this option in this list as it is not moving a document outside of a library, however this feature in the modern document library experience allows a document to be moved from one group to another in a view within the same library.  When moved, it will automatically change the group column value on the document to the group value it was moved to. The short video below will demonstrate the BudgetStatus column updating updating from Submitted to Declined:

Pros:

  • Easy for end-users
  • handy for moving content around within a library and retagging it for up to 2 column values (the ‘Group by’ columns).
  • If there is versioning enabled, it will update the version history with the change when you drag and drop from one group to another since it is updating the metadata.

Cons:

  • if you are using column default values on your folders, changing the column value will not change the folder.
  • If check-out is required, the document will not move – you must check out the file first. It will give you a message stating “The file is not checked out. You must first check out this document before making changes.”
  • Will update the created, created by, modified, modified by as it is updating the document’s metadata.

5. Manage Content and Structure

Applies to: SharePoint 2010/2013/2016, Online

[Update July 2018] As of September 2018, in SharePoint Online this is being replaced with native File Move and Copy capabilities. Microsoft will be investing their development resources to introduce and develop advanced capabilities such as File Move and Copy to address this requirement. (point  3 in this post). Search for Message ID MC143382 in your own tenant message center for more information.

If the SharePoint Server publishing infrastructure feature is enabled on a Classic site collection, you will see a Manage Content and Structure link under Site Administration. You can move (and copy) documents using this feature.

managecontentandstructure

Pros:

  • can move multiple files at the same time
  • retains version history
  • retains created, created by, modified, modified by
  • retains Content type and metadata if the same content type is defined on the source and destination libraries

Cons:

  • must have publishing feature turned on
  • cannot move folders using this technique
  • must be a site owner
  • does not work across different site collections

6. Content Organizer

Applies to: SharePoint 2010/2013/2016, Online

Activate the content organizer feature on the site, configure routing rules and drop the document into the drop-off library on that site.  Optionally you can set up a rule to route (move) the document to any other site in the farm/tenant (as long as a “send to” connection has been configured)

Pros:

  • Once configured, does not rely on end-user to route content correctly
  • Retains content types if the same content types are defined on both the source and target locations
  • Retains custom metadata if the same metadata is defined on both the source and target locations
  • Allows you to also route it into a folder (only 1 level deep) if the rules are configured for this

Cons:

  • Doesn’t retain version history
  • Requires configuration by an administrator

7. Information Management Policy

Applies to: SharePoint 2010/2013/2016, Online

You can set up an information management policy to move a document to another location. To do this, you set up a ‘Send To’ location in Central Administration (or the classic SharePoint Admin Center in Office 365) for the destination location and then add an information management policy with the ‘Transfer to another location’ action selected.

[Update July 2018] For SharePoint Online, my recommendation going forward would be to consider using Microsoft Flow to move (or copy) a document from one location to another instead of configuring an Information Management Policy to do this. Please read my blog post, A Modern “Transfer to another location” in Office 365, where I walk thru an example to do this.

Screenshot below shows the configuration for an information management policy:

impmovedocument

There are 2 timer jobs that run in the background (once per week by default) to complete the document move:

  1. First job determines which documents are eligible to be moved
  2. Second job will execute the action on each of the above documents – in this case moves the document to the destination location.

Pros:

  • Does not rely on end-user to route content correctly
  • Document routing can be based on content type.  This means you can have different routing paths dependent on the type of content. Very useful!
  • Document routing based on metadata – no human intervention to move the document other than updating the metadata
  • Retains content types if the same content types are defined on both the source and target locations
  • Retains custom metadata if the same metadata is defined on both the source and target locations

Cons:

  • Doesn’t route the document immediately – timer job needs to run. This may or may not be a con.
  • Requires a SharePoint Administrator to configure the Send To connection.

8. Workflow

Applies to: SharePoint 2010/2013/2016, Online

You can build a workflow to move a document based on some condition. (Eg. a status has changed to some value indicating it should be moved) Depending on the complexity of your requirements this workflow may be either in SharePoint Designer, Visual Studio or a third-party workflow product.

[Update January 2018] In SharePoint Online, you can also use Microsoft Flow to move (or copy) a document from one location to another. If you are building a new workflow today, I recommend using Microsoft Flow over a SharePoint Designer or Visual Studio workflow. Please read my blog post, A Modern “Transfer to another location” in Office 365, where I walk thru an example to do this.

Pros:

  • does not rely on end-user to route content correctly
  • fully customizable
  • workflow can retain content types if the same content types are defined on both the source and target locations
  • workflow can retain custom metadata if the same metadata is defined on both the source and target locations

Cons:

  • requires a workflow to be written and maintained for the document move scenario.


9. Custom Solution

Applies to: SharePoint 2010/2013/2016, Online

You can code a custom solution using numerous techniques (e.g. REST API) to move a document to any location in your farm/tenant based on your unique business requirements.

Pros:

  • does not rely on end-user to route content correctly
  • fully customizable
  • custom code can retain content types and metadata if the same content types and metadata are defined on both the source and target locations
  • code can be written to retain version history

Cons:

  • requires custom code to be written and maintained for the document move scenario.
  • you will need to ensure the custom code will continue to work with product updates .

10. 3rd Party Product

Applies to: SharePoint 2010/2013/2016, Online

If you want to move documents at large scale, investment in a 3rd party product to assist can be money well spent. This is common when you are doing large-scale migrations.

Pros:

  • Highly customizable and scalable
  • Can usually be configured to retain content types and metadata if the same content types are defined on both the source and target locations
  • Can usually be configured to retain created, created by, modified, modified by properties.
  • Can usually be configured to retain version history

Cons:

  • $$$
  • Requires an administrator to configure and run the tool

Bonus (#11) SharePoint Migration Tool

Applies to: SharePoint 2013 only (to SharePoint Online/OneDrive)

[Update July 2018] Added this migration tool as an option.

From small to large-scale migrations, you can download the [FREE] SharePoint Migration Tool to migrate lists or files from your SharePoint on-premises document libraries or on-premises file shares and move them to either SharePoint or OneDrive in Office 365.

Reference: SharePoint Migration Tool

Pros:

  • Free
  • can scale to do large migrations
  • customizable
  • can retain version history

Cons:

  • Only from SharePoint 2013
  • not as customizable as some 3rd-party migration products

Summary

The option you choose to move a document will ultimately depend on:

  • how many documents you need to move
  • is it a one-time or recurring event?
  • are you in the Classic or Modern library experience?
  • do you need to retain version history and metadata?
  • are there any unique requirements to consider?

Microsoft continues to add new functionality into both SharePoint Online and On-premises for document management and I will continue to update this post as new capabilities are introduced.

Thanks for reading.

-JCK


Credit: Photo by Miguel Á. Padriñán from Pexels

10 comments

  1. This is a fantastic article! Very helpful for users and administrators. However, I have a question for you. I defined a custom content type with some meta-data and the content type has been added to two different libraries. When I copy a document or folder from one library to the other, the meta-data is not preserved. Also, I cannot tell what content type each particular document or folder is. Do you have any tips for trying to troubleshoot this issue where custom content types are defined on both source and destination libraries but meta-data is not preserved during a copy?

    1. Hi Christopher, great question! First, you will need to determine what the content type is to ensure that you have the same content type on both the source and destination library/list. One way to do this is to add it to a library view. If the content types are the same on the source and destination sides (i.e. the site columns are named exactly the same then the values should copy over successfully) In fact, as long as the columns are the same, the content types can in fact be different and the column values should successfully come across. Let me know if that helps.
      JCK

  2. Hello, thanks for this fantastic article. I have been using the Content & structure to move files from one library to another keeping the version history and the document metadata. Now, though, I am having problems with the unique id link (reatined in the destination library) since it seems to go to the original library and then gives an error because the file is not there. Do you know if something is happening with this?

    Thank you!

    1. Hi Laura,
      I’m not sure what you mean by the ‘unique id’ link… Document ID? Are you within the same site collection or different? It’s hard to troubleshoot with you without knowing more details, however not sure I’ll be able to provide timely support on this one.
      -JCK

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