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Glossary of SharePoint and OneDrive Terms

The following terms are used by IT staff at Northwestern, by support staff at Microsoft, and throughout web and help content hosted by Northwestern University and Weinberg College IT Solutions (WITS).

Access Request Settings (for a SharePoint site)

The access request feature allows people to request access to content that they do not currently have permission to see. As a site owner, you can configure the feature to send you an email when someone requests access to a site. You can then choose whether to approve or decline their request. By default the requests are sent to the owner group.

You can either turn off this feature or change the email destination for these requests.

View the Northwestern KnowledgeBase article on this topic.

Anonymous Sharing

OneDrive: Anonymous sharing is not available in OneDrive at the University.

SharePoint: Anonymous sharing in SharePoint is the ability to create and send links to content that do not require any form of authentication on the end of the receiving user. This is the "Anyone with the link" option in the link settings for sharing.  The user clicking the anonymous sharing link to a file or folder within the SharePoint site will NOT be required to login with NetID to access the content. Anyone inside or outside of the University can access the content via the anonymous link, and that link can be forwarded and reused to access the content by other individuals. When content is viewed or edited by an anonymous user (someone who has used the anonymous link to access the content), the "last modified by" field will show as "guest contributor" and no further user information will be available. 

Anonymous sharing allows users to share and access content while not recording any information that would allow the site owner or administrators to identify the user. As a site owner, you will have the ability to identify files or folders that have been shared anonymously, but you will not be able to identify with whom the content has been shared. 

By disabling anonymous sharing, you will require any user that wishes to access the content to at least authenticate with a valid Microsoft account. You can disable anonymous sharing while still allowing external sharing, however anonymous sharing cannot be enabled if external sharing has been disabled for your site. 

When should anonymous sharing be enabled?

Anonymous sharing should only be enabled when content is designed to be public or unrestricted from any users inside or outside of the organization.

Note: This capability is automatically disabled for all sites with migrated SAFER data. If, after your migration, you believe you require anonymous sharing for your SharePoint site, you must contact so that central administrators are authorized to change the setting.

Document Library

A SharePoint site includes a document library, and one is created automatically when a new site is created for you. If you have access to do so, you can add additional document libraries to a site as needed. This is useful, for example, if you need to restrict access to a set of files. Each document library displays a list of files, folders, and key information about each, such as who created or last modified a file. You can use this information to organize your files and make it easier to find them.

SharePoint site owners may also limit member access to a single document library or to a collection of document libraries within a site.

View Tool Tip #5: Manage SharePoint Document Libraries for more information.

Document Versioning and Version History

External Sharing

External sharing is a setting on a SharePoint site that enables/disables the ability to invite users who do NOT have a Northwestern University email address to view or collaborate on a file, folder, library or the site in its entirety as needed. By choosing to enable this feature, you are allowing users to invite external guests by email address to access content within the site, or to access the site as a whole. External guests will need to authenticate using a Microsoft account, and their activity within the site will be tracked via that account name. 

As a site owner, you will have the ability to restrict which users can invite external guests. Enabling this setting does not automatically allow all site users to invite guests. By choosing to disable this feature, all users who wish to access the site or any of the content stored within the site will be required to authenticate with an active Northwestern NetID.

"Member Contribute" custom permissions

This is a configuration option when requesting a new SharePoint site. The "Contribute" permission level is assigned to the default Member group for the site. The permission level restricts the default "Edit" capability slightly for the Member group. Contributors will still be able to view and edit content, however they will not be able to create new document libraries or pages. They can still create folders within document libraries.

This configuration is applied to any SharePoint site for migrated SAFER data.

Sharing is also restricted with this option If, and only if, the Site sharing settings (via Cog/Gear icon > Site permissions > Change how members can share) are set to "Only site owners can share files, folders, and the site," then sharing is only allowed to those with already existing access.

  • The "Contribute" permission level is important for SharePoint sites that contain sensitive files or former SAFER shares. However, sharing is limited--similar to SAFER--when ONLY site owners (those with "Full Control") are allowed share files.

Member Sharing

Member sharing (also called "Sharing Permissions") is a setting for a SharePoint site that allows members to utilize the "Share" option to extend access to content within the site to users who may not currently have access to that content. By "Sharing" the content, they are inviting users to have access to that file, folder, or library permanently even if that access has NOT been configured or approved by a site owner or administrator. This also creates an independent permission structure for that content; this means some permission changes made at the library level will no longer propagate to content that has been shared. 

Turning member sharing off: By disabling this feature, you are ensuring that all permission changes will be made by a site owner or administrator (or a document library owner with "Full Access" to the document library they manage). All other users will still have the ability to quickly copy and send a link to others that already have access to the content. Users who wish to access the content via that sent link will need to have owner configured permissions to access the content, or they will receive an "access denied" message. 

When should member sharing be enabled? This feature is useful for content that does not require strict or closely monitored permission structures, as users can provide access to others without needing support from a site owner or administrator. Enabling member sharing will allow most users with the ability to edit the file, folder or library to also be able to grant other users access to that content.

How to Modify "Site Sharing Settings" for a SharePoint Site You Own

Navigate to Site sharing settings by selecting the cog (in the purple bar at the top right when you are in your SharePoint site in a browser). Then select Site permissions and then Change how members can share. Three options are available:screenshot of change member sharing window in Sharepoint

  • LEAST restrictive: Site owners and members can share files, folders, and the site. People with Edit permissions can share files and folders.
  • Site owners and members, and people with Edit permissions can share files and folders, but only site owners can share the site.
  • MOST restrictive: Only site owners can share files, folders, and the site. [We recommend this setting for sites for former SAFER shares and other sites with sensitive data.]



OneDrive is a Microsoft cloud file-sharing and file storage platform. OneDrive is often used as storage for your personal files for work or school while SharePoint is used to collaborate with colleagues. Through Microsoft OneDrive, you can access all of your files (Word, PowerPoint, Excel, etc.), from any location on any device. Because the files are stored in the cloud, you do not have to worry about losing them or taking up too much space on your local machine.

Please review Tool Tip #3: Move Files and Folders Between OneDrive and SharePoint as you make sure that all department files are stored in SharePoint going forward.

Review Microsoft's Intro to OneDrive online guides. Please note, however, that anonymous linking ("anyone with the link" sharing), named in the help guides, is NOT available at the University. Anonymous links, however, are an option via SharePoint sites if the setting is enabled.

Retention Policies

When a SharePoint site is requested, a retention policy of one, two, three, or seven years may be selected. An "indefinite" policy may also be selected.

What is a retention policy?

A retention policy applied to a site will ensure that files or folders within the site cannot be permanently deleted before the duration of the retention policy has passed since the last modified date of the file or folder. For example, a folder with a one-year retention policy applied to it cannot be permanently deleted until one year has passed from the last time it was modified.

Will content be automatically deleted if it is not modified within the retention period?

No. Content will not be deleted once it has reached the retention policy expiration duration. The files will not be deleted or modified by the policy in any way. Once the period expires, it is now possible to delete the file, but it will not be done automatically. 

What happens if a user attempts to delete a file within the retention policy duration?

The "delete" option will appear for users that have the ability to edit the file or folder. Once deleted, the content will be moved to the "preservation hold library" within the site and will remain there until the retention policy duration is reached, at which point it will be permanently deleted. Site owners can restore the content to the original location at any point before the retention policy expiration date.


SharePoint is a Microsoft cloud file-sharing platform for your department, organization, unit, or team. Review the Microsoft Sharepoint Learning Center for more information.

Files that need to be accessed and maintained by others in a unit AFTER a faculty, staff member, or student leaves the University should be stored in SharePoint and not in OneDrive.

SharePoint Permission Levels

Permission levels are the predefined "roles" that can easily be assigned to users within SharePoint sites. Assigning a user a permission level will determine the capabilities that the user will have for that file, folder, library or site. The standard three default groups that exist in a SharePoint site are as follows: Owner, Member, and Visitor.

Owners typically have "Full Access." Members have "Edit" access on regular sites and "Contribute" access on sites with sensitive content or sites with form SAFER content. Visitors have "Read" access on regular sites and "Visitors View No Download" access on sites with sensitive content or sites with form SAFER content.


Site Collection Administrator

For a site, the Site Owner is also the Site Collection Administrator IF they are the person that requested the SharePoint site initially or IF they were the initial owner of a site from a Box org migration.

If there is an action blocked--or not available--for a site owner, a Site Collection Administrator may want to investigate applying the "Site Collection Administrator" permissions for the other site owner. This may be done from the site's home page and then by selecting the cog in the purple banner. Select Site Permissions > Advanced  permissions settings and, finally, Site Collection Administrators from the top menu options.

how to select site collection admin option

  • However, some site changes can only be done by administrators in central IT (Northwestern IT). In these cases, email for assistance.

For a collection of SharePoint sites, a Site Collection Administrator has full control over all web sites in a site collection. They may also receive the site use confirmation mail.

Site Member

The default Member group has the "Edit" permission level in SharePoint. Editors will not have the ability to manage permissions, but can extend access to other users via the "Share" feature.

Important Note about SAFER to SharePoint sites:

For SharePoint sites created for migrating SAFER content, the default Member group is modified to be the "Contribute" permission level. See the definition on this page for more information about this custom role. This "Contribute" permission level is also recommended for any site with sensitive content.

Site Owner

The SharePoint site owner has full control of a site. The owner has view, edit, add, and delete capability. The owner also has the ability to manage the permissions of the content and to view, edit, or delete ALL content on the site.

HOWEVER, if you notice that, as a site owner, there are some actions you cannot take on the site, there are a couple of options:

  • You may not be a "Site Collection Administrator" for the site. You can ask another site owner to follow the directions under the "Site Collection Administrator" entry on this web page in order to give this additional access OR you can email for that access to be applied.
  • Some site changes can only be done by administrators in central IT (Northwestern IT). In these cases, email for assistance.

Site Visitor

The default Visitor group in SharePoint has the "Read" permission level. The visitor cannot edit, add or delete items and cannot edit permissions.

Important Note about SAFER to SharePoint sites:

For SharePoint sites created for migrating SAFER content, the default Visitor group is modified to have the "Visitors View No Download" permissions. See the definition on this page for more about this custom role.

"Visitors View No Download" custom permissions

This is a configuration option when requesting a new SharePoint site.

This configuration restricts the ability of read-only visitors within a SharePoint site so that they cannot download their own editable local copies of files. This configuration forces these users to open documents within a SharePoint site using the online applications and will not allow them to use the full Excel, Word or Powerpoint applications when opening content from a SharePoint site. 

Further, this configuration can be used to allow individuals to navigate to a SharePoint URL and navigate within the site while only having access to a subset of the site contents--provided that the subset of site contents has had permission inheritance broken either at the document library or folder level.

This configuration is applied to any SharePoint site for migrated SAFER data.

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