Microsoft Plans for More Intelligent Versioning for SharePoint Online Document Libraries

SharePoint Intelligent Versioning Based on Usage Coming in November

In a recent article describing changes SharePoint Online made to how it stores retained files in the Preservation Hold Library, I mentioned the effect of retention on SharePoint storage and hoped that the changes would reduce this impact. Now it appears that Microsoft plans further changes to help.

Microsoft 365 roadmap item 145802 posted on June 30, 2023 discusses proposed changes for version history limits in SharePoint Online document libraries. Today, SharePoint Online requires versioning to be enabled for document libraries and lists and uses the following values to control major versions:

  • Default: 500 versions.
  • Minimum: 100 versions.
  • Maximum: 50,000 versions.

Versioning is a critical feature for SharePoint Online. It underpins capabilities such as being able to restore a document library to a point in time, the autosave feature used by the Office apps to make sure that people don’t lose work, and updating of local file copies by the OneDrive sync client. It’s easy to accumulate a large number of versions. For instance, the PowerShell chapter for the Office 365 for IT Pros (2024 edition) eBook already has 81 versions (Figure 1) since its creation in early May. A single editing session to create this article created seven versions.

Versions for a file in a SharePoint Online document library
Figure 1: Versions for a file in a SharePoint Online document library

For these and other reasons, SharePoint Online sets the default number of versions to 500. It’s therefore not a good idea to reduce the number of versions for a document library by editing the number in Versioning Settings (Figure 2). On the other hand, increasing the number of versions retained by a document library can increase the storage consumed by the Preservation Hold Library.

Setting the number of versions for a SharePoint Online document library

SharePoint intelligent versioning
Figure 2: Setting the number of versions for a SharePoint Online document library

Moving to Automatic Versioning Management

Microsoft says that they plan to “increase version history limits” for SharePoint Online and OneDrive for Business document libraries. Site administrators will be able to choose two types of version limits:

  • Automatic mode: SharePoint Online “intelligently” adjusts the versions kept for files based on age and the probability that a version will be required for a restore.
  • Manual mode: Site administrators set version expiration and count limits for document libraries.

Tenant administrators will be able to set version limits that apply to newly created document libraries.

The big change is a movement away from simple count-based version limits (i.e., SharePoint Online keeps up to 500 versions of files) to a system where SharePoint Online manages version counts automatically depending on the usage of documents and the site.

Different Update Patterns

For instance, if people edit a document daily, it might generate ten versions every business day or fifty-plus versions a week. Under the present scheme, SharePoint Online begins to discard versions after ten weeks or so. The new mechanism might note the update pattern and decide that it should keep more than 500 versions to allow for a longer restore window than 10 weeks and remove versions after six months.

On the other hand, a static document that’s edited twice a year might have a much lower version count. And SharePoint Online might dynamically adjust the version count downwards after a document moves from the phase where people actively work on its content to when the file becomes stable and is no longer being actively edited.

All of this is speculation based on the description in the Microsoft 365 roadmap item. We won’t know the exact details about how automatic versioning management works until we see the new mechanism in practice. More will become known when the preview appears (currently scheduled for November 2023). General availability is scheduled for March 2024.

The Manual Alternative

As noted above, if site administrators believe that a document library needs to use a specific version count (and a new expiration limit), they can opt for manual management instead of automatic versioning.

Intelligent Versioning Needed

Features like Autosave mean that SharePoint Online makes heavier use of versions than the on-premises servers. This factor plus (I assume) pressure on SharePoint storage means that it makes sense to employ a more intelligent management system for versions. No file is worked on in the same way, so taking usage into account seems like the right approach. We’ll see when the preview starts in November.

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7 Replies to “Microsoft Plans for More Intelligent Versioning for SharePoint Online Document Libraries”

  1. “It undermines capabilities such as being able to…”
    I *think* you mean “underpins” 🙂

  2. The roadmap article says the manual mode will include “time-based” version expiration. I’m hoping this means we can delete versions older than x days. I’m also looking forward to know how this works if retention policies or retention labels are applied to the parent file.

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