Modern vs Classic IN PLACE Records Management in SharePoint

Reading Time: 6 minutes

There are fundamentally two ways to manage document records in an enterprise. They’re either managed in a separate repository from where they were created OR they’re managed in place in the same location they’re created. This post talks about the latter (in place) method of Records Management (RM) in SharePoint and how it’s changed from the legacy to the new modern world.

For the remainder of this post, I’ll refer to “in place” record declaration implemented thru the legacy site collection feature as Classic and the “in place” record declaration feature implemented thru Security & Compliance retention labels as Modern.

Short on time? Skip down to where I talk about key differences and advantages of the Modern way.

In Place RM… the Classic way

In the legacy SharePoint world, a site collection feature called In Place Records Management is activated to allow you to declare a document a record. Once activated, it adds an additional option called Record Declaration Settings in several locations: under Site Collection Administration and each list and library within the site. At the site collection level, it allows control of these things:

  • Record restrictions (None, Block Delete, Block Edit and Delete)
  • Manual record declaration allowed or not
  • Who can declare/undeclare a record (contributors, admins, both, automated)

At each list/library level, it allows control of these things:

  • Use the above site collection settings by default OR
  • Allow/disallow manual declaration of records OR
  • Automatically declare every document/item added to the library/list as a record

Note: for the remainder of this post, I’ll discuss document record declaration, not item record declaration since the vast majority of records are documents.

Once a record has been declared in place, these things happen:

  • yellow lock symbol appears on the file type icon
  • you cannot edit/delete the properties or content of the document (according to site collection setting)
  • Declared Record column is added to the library and populated with current time
  • Note: Item is a Record column is NOT set to yes

For each document, you can select Compliance details from the context menu displayed when you click the 3 dots beside the document. When clicked,  it shows information about the document’s in place record status and when it was declared:

In Place RM… the Modern way

Microsoft recommends the use of Retention Labels instead of the in place record declaration method above. How does this work?

When defining a Retention label, you can specify whether or not you want the label to make the document a record by a simple checkbox on the label definition. Once a record label is applied to a document, these things happen:

  • white lock symbol is overlayed on the file type icon
  • Retention label column is updated with the label applied
  • Retention label Applied column is populated with current time
  • Item is a record column is set to Yes
  • the label can’t be changed (except by a site collection administrator)
  • the label can’t be removed (except by a site collection administrator)
  • the metadata can still be changed (by anyone with at least contribute permission)
  • the document’s content can’t be changed

You can use the Compliance details dialog box to view the Retention label applied and when the record will expire. There is no other place other than this (I’m aware of) where you can see when a document will expire.

Differences between Classic and Modern In Place Record Declaration

Can you update document metadata when it’s a record?

  • Classic: Depends. If you have the site collection setting to Block Edit and Delete, no one can edit the document’s properties. The document needs to be undeclared a record first. If the site collection setting is Block Delete, you will be able to edit the document’s properties.
  • Modern: Yes. If you have permission to update metadata on a document (contribute and above), you can continue to update it even when a document has been declared a record. All updates are audited. (Note: refer to my Advantage section at the end… immutable record labels are coming soon to prevent any kind of update)

Can you modify a document’s content if it’s a record?

  • Classic: Depends. If you have the site collection setting to Block Edit and Delete, no one can edit the document. The document needs to be undeclared a record first. If the site collection setting is Block Delete, you will be able to edit the document.
  • Modern: No. The document will open in read-only mode both in the online and client versions and can’t be changed regardless of your permission level. The label must be removed or changed to a non-record label in order to modify the document.

Can you automatically declare each document in a library a record?

  • Classic: Yes. A library setting called Record declaration settings will allow you to automatically make all documents added to the library a record.

However, once set, this will also change the setting to require check-out on each document as is described in the pop-up below:

  • Modern: Yes. A library setting will allow you to default all documents within the library with the retention label.Only a site collection administrator can remove/change a record label from a document. Other users cannot.

Out-of-the-box, can you make a document a record based on one of its properties?

  • Classic: No. A Custom Information Management policy would need to be written to do this and then applied to all content locations across your environment.
  • Modern: No. The auto-apply feature will soon have capabilities to leverage metadata and content types to apply labels (in development), however the label cannot declare the document a record. (as of the time of this writing – January 2019). I believe this is a gap many organizations will struggle with.

Can you filter all records in a library?

  • Classic: Yes. Filter based on the Declared Record column not equal blank
  • Modern: Yes. Filter based on the Item is a Record column equals Yes

Can you apply these solutions at-scale across a tenant?

  • Classic: Yes. Create a Site Collection information management policy on the root site of a site collection with the retention settings set to declare a record when applied, and then import that into all site collections requiring it across the tenant. Associate the policy to content types and libraries across the site as required.  Note that the application of the record information management policy to documents is dependent on several Timer jobs and therefore is not immediate.
  • Modern: Yes. Publish the retention label to all sites in your tenant. This will work across Modern SharePoint Sites. Note that the application of the retention label is dependent on a timed process and is therefore not immediate.

Can you undeclare a record?

  • Classic: Depends on the site collection setting. Options are: all list contributors and administrators, only administrators, or only thru a policy action (automated).
  • Modern: Only a site collection administrator can remove/change a record label from a document. Other users cannot. (Note: refer to my Advantage section below… immutable record labels are coming soon to prevent any kind of update)

Advantages of the Modern Model over Classic

  • Scalability. You define the record retention label once in the Security & Compliance Center and, if published tenant-wide, can use it on any document library across the tenant. I think this is an easier setup from an administration perspective than the legacy Information Management Policy approach. A retention label can also be published to multiple workloads. This post demonstrates publishing to SharePoint, however they can also be published to OneDrive and Outlook.
  • User interface. Applying a record label is as easy as applying a piece of metadata on a document because it shows on the property pane alongside regular metadata. This is easier/quicker than opening up the Compliance details dialog and clicking the link to declare the document a record which is what is required in the Classic world.
  • Bulk manual declaration. The Modern model will allow many documents to be selected at once and a label applied to it. You cannot do this with the legacy in place model.
  • Analytics. There is better visibility into content across your organization with a Record label with the Label Analytics dashboard and supporting details. (Rolling out Q4 2018)
  • Immutable record labels. With this new label, you’ll be able to tag documents with an “immutable” mark making it irreversibly unchangeable and undeletable. (Announced as coming Q4 2018, not here yet…). I see this as a common regulatory requirement for many organizations.
  • Technology investments. Microsoft has clearly stated their recommendation to discontinue use of the in place records management feature and replace it with retention labels/policies. This is strong indication that all new technology investments will be made toward the new model.

Thanks for reading.



  1. If the future is labels, what about those still using on-premise SharePoint for records management who for security reasons can’t use O365?

    1. Hi Kent, since Retention labels are a cloud-only records management solution, I would *think* you should stick with the traditional records management capabilities in SP On-Prem. (e.g. deletion policies, information management policies, records center, site closure policies, etc.)

  2. Hi!
    Now that I am conscious of how great this site is, I read all!

    Brilliant overview! One comment and one question:
    – for quality document management, once a document is a record you cannot change anything; so I cannot imagine one of my customers agree to use labels…
    – once again, why is Microsoft creating a new way of achieving things, instead of improving existing ones? Modern vs classic, workflows vs Flow, records vs labels…

    1. Hi Damien, a label doesn’t have to declare the document a record, that’s an option when you’re defining the label. Declaring a document a record is a typical Records Management regulatory requirement in an organization… whether you do it in-place (like a retention label does) or move it to a records center is a business process decision for what makes sense in your scenario.

    1. Hi Ingeborg,
      I’ve never tried this so have no experience to lean on. Do you need to have a similar setup configured on the SPO side? I would submit a question on the MVP forums to assist.

  3. Excellent article, and few questions answered!

    Just one question I encountered on the best practices. Is it something recommended in any scenario to completely lock Records Center for even READ access and the access need to be requested with approval (may be via a workflow)? I see this as a nightmare of approval emails flooding the approver. Naturally, the permissions should be based on the security classification or User Access Policy right? in both Document Library or in Records Center. What you all suggest?

    1. Hi Raj, this is a big question and one I’m not going to be able to answer without asking many more questions. Nothing like this is “best practise” unless there’s a good business reason for doing so. In my career travels, I’ve never seen an approval mechanism built in front of a records center. This sounds like a lot of noise.

      Typically access it controlled by permissions alone.

  4. Joanne – question, does a Record Manager need permissions on the SharePoint Online site collection in order to manage records on that site, or is Records Manager all they need?

    1. Hi! Permissions are separate between the Compliance Center and SharePoint sites. E.g. Records Managers need to be granted the Disposition Management role in the Compliance Center to view Record dispositions. They *also* need access to the site collection if they want to view any of the documents/records being disposed of on the site.

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