SharePoint’s Cryptic Sharing Errors and Removing the Outlook Send Link Option

Sharing is Caring, Unless You Can’t

Software has a nasty habit of making people feel incompetent when they don’t understand why functionality doesn’t work as expected. Maybe it’s age, but I become increasingly frustrated when software doesn’t work as I want it to. Which brings me to the OSE204 error signaled by SharePoint Online when I tried to share a document (Figure 1).

What's an OSE204 error?
Figure 1: What’s an OSE204 error?

The first question is why SharePoint insists on acting as if it’s mainframe software of the mid-1980s by issuing cryptic error codes. Fortunately, SharePoint includes some intelligible text to explain why it complained about an action, which makes it even stranger why OSE204 appears. It must be a SharePoint thing, just like Exchange people can explain the finer points of why DMARC is important.

Microsoft publishes a page to explain SharePoint and OneDrive sharing errors and helpfully asserts that the reader must be a SharePoint administrator to resolve the underlying problems. Reading through the text, we discover that users can encounter eleven different sharing errors from OSE202 to OSE404, which seems like a lot. Then again, sharing is a complicated business when you consider the permutations of sharing with people inside your tenant, guest users, external users, and so on.

Why OSE204 Happened

The page says: ”Error OSE204 indicates that sharing is turned off for the site that you’re trying to share from” and explains that an administrator can fix the problem by updating the sharing capability of the site. Unfortunately, it doesn’t cover what I did to provoke the problem, which was to change the sensitivity label assigned to the site. Sensitivity labels used for container management can control the sharing capability for a site. When I updated the assigned label, SharePoint applied the label settings and blocked sharing to external users. What happened is very logical and an excellent example of how powerful policy-based management through sensitivity labels is. But figuring out what had happened didn’t make me feel any less incompetent.

A SharePoint administrator isn’t needed to fix the problem. Because the sensitivity label assigned to the site controls the sharing capability, a site owner can restore sharing with external users by selecting a sensitivity label which permits this action.

Removing the Outlook Sharing Option

Message center notification MC237377 (updated February 19) says that the Outlook sharing option (send the sharing link via email) shown in Figure 1 is being withdrawn in March 2021. The logic is that the option adds no value. It works by creating a sharing link that’s inserted into an OWA compose window with a message addressed to the recipient entered in the Send link dialog. Microsoft says that much the same happens if you go through the normal process of creating and sharing a link. However, some differences do exist:

  • The sender can change the message title. Instead of receiving a message with a subject like “Tony Redmond has shared SharePoint Sharing Errors with you,” the sender can change the subject to make it more impactful.
  • The sender can enter more text to set context for the sharing link. SharePoint limits the text that a sharer can insert to 500 characters. When a link is inserted into an OWA message, the sharer can use the full editor available in OWA to insert whatever text, graphics, objects, and formatting they choose. Or even make sure that their carefully-crafted corporate autosignature is in the message (Figure 2).
  • The sender can set message properties. OWA offers many possibilities for a sender to set properties of a message. For instance, they could use the Encrypt-only feature or add a sensitivity label to protect its contents.
An OWA message created to share a sharing link
Figure 2: An OWA message created to share a sharing link

The workaround is to copy the sharing link to the clipboard and paste the link into a message. The advantage of this is that no dependency exists on OWA. You can use the email client of your choice to format the message to sharing recipients in whatever way you choose.

Debatable Choice to Remove the Outlook Option

It’s understandable that Microsoft would want to rationalize functionality. In this case it’s debatable if removing a convenient option is justifiable. Perhaps Microsoft’s telemetry informs them that people make little use of the Outlook option. If that’s so, the removal is appropriate, but Microsoft isn’t saying.

I think it’s a pity that Microsoft plans to remove the Outlook option for sending sharing links. Although I normally use the default method to share links with people, the option to compose a message of more than 500 characters with a full editor is useful when sharing specific documents. I guess the folks who made the decision never feel the same need.

Update March 11: In a triumph for good sense, Microsoft said “Based on learning’s from our early rings and your feedback we have made the decision to not proceed as outlined below. The Send link to Outlook sharing option will remain until further notice. Thank you for your feedback.”

The Office 365 for IT Pros eBook includes extensive coverage of using sensitivity labels for container management. We don’t cover error OSE204 or the other ten errors you can see when sharing SharePoint or OneDrive content. Something must be left out to keep the book to a reasonable size.

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