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Perhaps Not the Biggest Problem for OneDrive to Solve
Featured in the set of OneDrive announcements at the Microsoft Ignite conference in November 2021, the ability to move a OneDrive shortcut from the Files root to a public or shared folder is now rolling out. The change is described in message center notification MC316147, first published on January 19 and updated on March 4.
The original announcement limited movement to private folders, and this is also the case in Microsoft 365 roadmap item 82166. However, something obviously changed since November because MC317147 explicitly states “when moving a shortcut to a folder into a shared folder, the short cut does not change its sharing permissions. People who don’t currently have access to the shortcut won’t be able to access its content but can rename or remove the shortcut.”
Originally launched in 2020, OneDrive shortcuts are a useful way to add pointers to folders that users commonly access so that they appear in OneDrive for Business. The shortcuts might be to folders in SharePoint Online document libraries or other OneDrive folders. When OneDrive shortcuts first appeared, I thought they were pretty good and used them for a while, but then I ran into a problem that still lingers today.
The OneDrive sync client is a critical component for users who keep files in the cloud. The sync client synchronizes files from cloud folders to local copies, and that updates made to the local copies synchronize back to the cloud. The original OneDrive sync client (Groove.exe) wasn’t very good, but a rewrite to create a new client fixed the problems and the current client is very stable. Interestingly, while the OneDrive sync client takes care of synchronization for non-Office files, to enable features like autosave and co-authoring, the Office apps perform the synchronization when actively working on documents.
The Office 365 for IT Pros eBook team depend heavily on the OneDrive sync client to synchronize changes made to the source Word documents used for book chapters. These and other files for the book are stored in a SharePoint Online document library. The OneDrive sync client makes sure that changes made by authors on Windows and Mac workstations synchronize with SharePoint Online.
Synchronization Problems with OneDrive Shortcuts
Which brings me to the synchronization problem with OneDrive shortcuts which stop me using shortcuts. Everything works well if you create OneDrive shortcuts and then set up synchronization with SharePoint Online. However, if you use the OneDrive sync client to synchronize both OneDrive for Business and SharePoint Online folders and then add a OneDrive shortcut to a folder in the same document library, it creates a sync issue.
Figure 1 shows a SharePoint Online folder in a document library. I don’t synchronize this folder to my workstation because it contains large book files. However, I synchronize other folders from the library. I also synchronize my OneDrive for Business account.
If I take the option to add a shortcut to OneDrive, SharePoint Online creates the shortcut and adds it to OneDrive for Business (Figure 2). Everything looks good and I can use the shortcut to access the files in the SharePoint Online folder.
However, the OneDrive sync client reports that it has a sync issue (Figure 3) saying that it cannot sync the shortcut because it conflicts with other folders. The client reports that the fix is to stop syncing two folders, both of which come from the same SharePoint Online document library.
The sync client offers to fix the problem by unsynchronizing the conflicting folder. Do not do this. The action breaks the connection between the local copy on the workstation and the cloud files, which means that you’ll have to re-establish synchronization afterwards, which could involve a lot of work to make sure that local copies are accurate.
However, the issue is only a warning about a single file (the OneDrive shortcut) and doesn’t affect synchronization for any other file. Changes made locally continue to upload to the cloud and updates made to cloud files by other workstations flow down to the local copy on my workstation.
The solution is simple. Go back to OneDrive for Business and remove the offending shortcut. The sync client is happy immediately and the warning disappears.
The problem doesn’t occur if you create a OneDrive shortcut to a SharePoint Online folder when no folders from that document library are synchronized. However, if you attempt to synchronize a folder from the document library, OneDrive fails and says that it can’t synchronize the folder because you’re already syncing a shortcut to a folder from this shared library (Figure 4).
I can’t imagine that this is the kind of experience that Microsoft would design into OneDrive shortcuts. What’s more, the problem has been in place since the introduction of shortcuts, so perhaps no one has complained too much.
Moving of Shortcuts Not The Biggest Problem
The clash between OneDrive synchronization and OneDrive shortcuts is the reason why I won’t use shortcuts. Although it’s great that Microsoft has done the work to make it possible to move shortcuts, it’s odd that they haven’t sorted out the obvious clash between two OneDrive components. When they do, I’ll consider using shortcuts again.
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