SharePoint Check In, Check Out, Content Approval, Draft Item Security and Version History Explained

There seems to be much confusion out in the SharePoint world around the topics of Check In/Out, Content Approval, Version History and Draft Item Security. My goal is to explain and clarify how all these function together.


It all starts with the creation of a new document be it created via the New menu or uploaded. When a user creates or uploads the new document, if “Require Check Out” is enabled, SharePoint will check out the document for the user automatically. Nobody, not even Approvers, can see the document until it is checked in.

Approvers can NEVER see content that is NOT checked in!

This is the function of check out and check in. It is a way for a user to work on a document in private until such time they are ready to share the document with others. When they then check it in, it moves to the next level of approval. If a situation unfolds where the user leaves the company and has a document still checked out, an Administrator can either do a “Discard Check Out” or “Take Ownership” can be done followed by a Check In.

This gets tricky in the case of a newly uploaded document. Because Approvers cannot see the document, the user doing the upload needs to be aware of this because they have to do the Check In to allow Approvers to see the document. It’s the same as the first iteration of a New document. Nobody except the author knows that the document actually exists… at least not until Check In.

In cases where users do mass uploads, having the “Force Check Out” option selected on the document library, can cause major problems as the uploading user would have to approve each document individually. That can be a very time consuming process. I always recommend that in such cases, the Administrator temporarily disable the “Force Check Out” option to allow the library content to be populated. With Content Approval turned on, this temporary change, would not cause major issues.


Upon check in, if “Content Approval” is turned on, NOW Approvers as well as the Author can see the document. Normal users cannot see the document until it is approved.

If Content Approval is not turned on, checking in the document, would make it visible to everyone. With Content Approval turned on, an approver would need to review the document and then approve it in order to make it visible to everyone.


When the Draft Item Security option is enabled, it usually deals with a scenario where you may have a collaborative group working on a document. This usually ties in with a Version History setting that has both Major (1.0, 2.0, 3.0 etc.) and Minor (1.1, 1.2, 1.3 etc.) versions. In such a case, there may be a group of people that have Member/Contributor rights that allows them to change document. There are some users who are Approvers and setting this setting determines who of these users can see items AFTER they are checked in. Remember that only the active author can see items that are checked out.

This option is only available when the Version History setting is set to use Minor versions.


Lastly there is Version History. Version history works independently from the above items with the exception of Draft Item Security which is only available as an option when Version History is set to Minor versions.

When set to Major versions, each update to the document results in a new version e.g. 1.0, 2.0, 3.0 etc.

When set to Minor versions, each update results in a new minor version e.g. 1.1, 1.2, 1.3 etc. When the document is then Approved, a new major version is created. As an example, the document is worked on and checked in by Bob, resulting in version 1.1. Now Sue edits the document and upon check in, it results in version 1.2. This continues until they are ready for the document to be approved. At this point, they choose to Publish a Major version. The document approvers are notified of the submission and they review it. Once they’re happy with it and approve the document, SharePoint publishes the document as version 2.0.

And that is how these items work together in the SharePoint environment. I hope this helps to shed some light on this subject.


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