How to Unlock a File in SharePoint Online [Release Lock]

How to Unlock a File in SharePoint Online [Release Lock]

You’re the global admin and yet you can’t make any changes to a certain file or do anything admin-related to it. In fact, you may even not be able to delete the file either.

But how does this happen? What are the possible reasons why a file is locked (and you as a global admin can’t do anything about it)? What possible fixes can you implement to regain admin access to the file?

To find out, let’s get started.

How the Locking Feature in SharePoint Works

The lock feature in SharePoint is a complicated issue that revolves around the network or client.

When opening a Microsoft Office file (Word, Excel, PowerPoint) from SharePoint, it’s always a guarantee that a file lock will be set as that’s how the product works. Specifically, there are two types of locks that can occur — exclusive file lock and co-authoring file lock.

The type of lock that will happen primarily depends on key factors. But the gist of it is that when you open Office files, SharePoint will try and set a co-authoring lock on it first. If it fails (or cannot be set), the exclusive file lock kicks in.

An exclusive file lock is set by the user’s session and will only enable the user to edit the file. If that user saves the file after making changes on it and properly closes it (existing gracefully), the application will send the correct network traffic.

That indicates the user is already done editing it and will release the lock.

Co-authoring file locks occur when the file allows co-authoring and if the client the users are using supports it. Whenever a file is opened in any Office web apps, co-authoring will always kick in.

Now, it’s important that you’re aware of the two types of locks so that whenever you face this issue, you already have an idea of why it happened (and which of the two locks you’re probably facing).

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    How to Release a Locked File in SharePoint

    To unlock a file, there are a few things that you can try. Note that although some people coin the term “workaround fixes”, these methods are how you must use SharePoint (and some relevant apps like Teams) especially when dealing with Office files.

    Properly Close the File

    One of the likely causes is that you may have forgotten to properly close the file. Meaning, you may have left it out in the open and walked away or you may have put your computer to sleep mode with the file open.

    The right way to exit the file gracefully is by clicking the “Close” button or the red “x” button of your browser, depending on the application (and version) that you’re using.

    How to gracefully exit a file in Microsoft

    Manage Document > Check Out

    If you’re using SharePoint and Teams together, this method might work. Usually, users assume that SharePoint has ultimate control over file permissions. However, this isn’t the case since Microsoft Teams also manages its own check outs.

    Now, try opening the file in SharePoint and use the option that will open the document in your desktop app (not the Office web app or within SharePoint).

    Once it’s opened, head over to File > Info > Manage Document and go through the check out and check in a cycle.

    How to check out a document

    Document Check Out

    If you’re not using Teams and SharePoint together, then you can check out the document directly within SharePoint without opening the file at all. Some people, especially those new to SharePoint, forget to do this one simple thing every after they make a change on a document.

    To do this, simply right-click on your document on your library or list (or you can also click the three dots beside the file name) and click on More > Check Out.

    How to check out a document in SharePoint

    Other Methods That Can Work

    Aside from the three I mentioned above, there are other unconventional methods that you can use too like:

    • Creating a copy of a file
    • Deleting the file and restoring it (and rolling it back to a previous version)
    • Enabling content approval (and disabling it afterward)

    However, as long as the file wasn’t corrupted in any way, the simple act of gracefully exiting the document and checking it out will most likely solve the issue (without going through unnecessary hoops of copying-deleting the file).

    That’s it! If you weren’t able to solve the issue (or if you have any other questions related to SharePoint and other Microsoft products), feel free to leave a comment below or send me a private message.

    About Ryan Clark

    As the Principal Solutions Architect at Mr. SharePoint, I help companies of all sizes better leverage Modern Workplace and Digital Process Automation investments. I am also a Microsoft Most Valued Professional (MVP) for Office Apps & Services.

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    6 months ago

    Hi Ryan

    Thank you for your article. I have tried all you have mentioned in your article and still the files is locked.

    4 months ago

    Thank you. This was helpful.

    Billy b
    Billy b
    3 months ago

    Microsoft seems to have an entire division whose primary task is to develop barriers to prevent people from doing work. The development of a lock on files is but one more way microsoft introduces inefficiency into work programs, wasting thousands of hours into trying to figure out a solution.

    2 months ago

    We have a locked file from a user that is not online at the moment.I removed her sharing permissions and the file is still locked. Is there a way to completely remove existing sharing locks on a file?

    Sqn Ldr. Ajey Paranjape (Retd.)
    Sqn Ldr. Ajey Paranjape (Retd.)
    1 month ago

    Thanks, the method of checking out and checking in thru Teams worked

    Sqn Ldr. Ajey Paranjape (Retd.)
    Sqn Ldr. Ajey Paranjape (Retd.)
    1 month ago

    thanks the method of checking out and checking the file again in using Teams worked

    1 day ago

    Hi Ryan, I have a SP 2019 on-premise installation, recently migrated from a SP 2010 installation. our workflows were created using an administrator user, and therefore when a warning messaage is presented, our users think the admin user has been included into the workflow.. e.g. someone invites an additional reviewer to the workflow process. this causes a warning message to be entered at the same time, in front of the user that was added to the workflow stating “The item is currently locked for editing. Waiting for item to be checked in or for the lock to be released.” This… Read more »

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