OneDrive: Differences in synchronization

OneDrive for Business: differences in synchronization

Currently there is the classic synchronization at SharePoint Online document libraries and the new possibility called "Add shortcut to my files". There are advantages and disadvantages for both methods and significant differences. In this article everything refers to OneDrive for Business and not to OneDrive Personal.


Synchronizing SharePoint libraries

  • Manual triggering of synchronization by clicking on the Sync button +
  • Automatic triggering via group policy +
  • The group policy always affects the root directory, so it’s all or nothing
  • Restriction by filter only conditionally possible, because faulty
  • If synchronization is cancelled, data remains on device
  • Synchronization must be executed on every device
  • Unsynchronization must be executed on every device
  • Renaming of root order not possible
  • Fragmentation of the structure

Add shortcut to my files

  • Only manual triggering of synchronization
  • No Group Policy
  • Synchronization in OneDrive +
  • Synchronization in all devices including mobile devices +
  • Shortcut can be renamed +
  • When the shortcut is dissolved, the data is deleted on all devices ++
  • Quickly created, only designated folder, then again resolution +
  • Only applicable within an organization

Details about synchronizing SharePoint libraries

You log in to Office 365 with a browser. You change to a SharePoint library, where you of course also have access. In the browser you will see the link "Documents" on the left and after the click the Sync button appears in the upper menu. This button only appears if you are in the root directory and no folder or file has been selected. With the click the synchronization is started. In organizations usually several SharePoint libraries are implemented. Because "marketing" data usually has nothing to do in the "finance" library. This is a common mistake when network drives are migrated to SharePoint Online. Of course, a SharePoint Online library can fit 30 million documents, but the OneDrive Sync Client (OneDrive.exe) on Windows has a maximum limit of files (300000) that the Sync Client is able to synchronize. For me, the question is always whether we always need all of these files on the client, but more on that later.

What can always be done manually, can also be automated. By means of group policy. But the restrictions of the sync engine remain. The group policy can also not implement a filter, so all or nothing. A filter can then be created manually by the user to hide folders. Unfortunately, there is still a bug in the filter for quite some time, which makes the filter thus unusable. If the user has multiple devices, he must perform the manual synchronization multiple times if the administration does not provide a group policy. Even if the synchronization is cancelled, it must be done on each device individually and the files are not deleted after the cancellation on the device.
Exception: files on demand, where only the file name is displayed, and which are only in the cloud, are removed immediately when the synchronization is cancelled.

Another disadvantage is that renaming the root folder is not possible. If there are many SharePoint libraries in the synchronization, the file explorer looks very fragmented for some users.

Add shortcut to my files

So, looking at the drawbacks of classic synchronization, don’t be surprised to see Microsoft initiate the next generation with "Add to OneDrive". First, the synchronization is initiated as above. But then a folder must be selected, and then the menu item "Add shortcut to my files" must be clicked in the top menu.
Then several things happen: In OneDrive for Business, a folder is displayed with the Shotcut icon. The same thing happens on every device of the user, even on the smartphones, both Android and iPhone. But there is no group policy, so the ShortCut must always be triggered by the user. This is a good thing, because it is up to each employee to select exactly the right folder to work with the subfolders and files it contains.
If you have ever worked with Windows Shortcuts, you know that a ShortCut can be renamed there. This is also true here. The origin is not changed. This way I can also cleverly sort the files in OneDrive for Business. If the files are no longer needed, they can be removed from any device. So in the browser within OneDrive, in Windows Explorer or in the smartphone. The files are then deleted on all devices, but not in the origin. This is fast and the synchronization process is much faster because fewer files have to be synchronized.

However, it is necessary to consider how the document libraries on SharePoint Online must or should be structured in the future in order to ensure optimal work by different employees. Here, even in the case of a possible migration, it must be considered beforehand how and where the documents are to be migrated.

And last but not least a few hints:

It is not possible to synchronize twice. So, if you already use the classic synchronization, you can’t use the same library and the "Add link to my files" function right away. First of all, you need to stop sync on each device, don’t forget to delete the files as well. As said on each Windows device of a user. Only after that, the "Shortcut to my files" method can be used.

And then it works only internally, that is, on SharePoint libraries and OneDrive for Business folders of one’s own organization.
Currently, Microsoft has also prevented the synchronization of folders from external OneDrive for Business, which are shared with a user, and can then be synchronized. However, these are to be resisted shortly.


References and links

Add to OneDrive – the next step
OneDrive: Add Shortcut to My Files
Microsoft Ankita Kirti’s Blog Post
Microsoft: Restrictions on OneDrive and SharePoint


15 Gedanken zu “OneDrive: Differences in synchronization

  1. Hello, Is there a way so users can’t sync with onedrive (the shortcut) and only sync with sharepoint. In our company many users is confused and If they are disconnect at somepoint they sync with onedrive and then the sharepoint folder on the machine dissapears and you have to disconnect from onedrive and delete the sync and then resync for sharepoint :)?


    1. Add to OneDrive, or better „add a shortcut to myfiles“ is implemented form Microsoft, to reduce the a limit, many companies have:
      300000 files over all in synchronisation.

      Your question: The answer is NO. Thats a part of User Adoption. That must be done.


  2. Good information. Our users struggle with sync vs shortcut. We’ve experienced instances where staff sync, then stop sync, another user reorganizes some content, then user with halted syncs restarts them and empty folders are created where content was reorganized. This causes confusion and concern over „missing“ content.

    Would you say that short cuts would mitigate that problem that stopped/started syncs have?

    Where you state „The files are then deleted on all devices, but not in the origin.“ Does this mean the shortcut is removed from any devices on which the user created the shortcut but the content is not removed from the tenant libraries? And also, there would be no „writeback“ into the tenant libraries creating confusing over moved content in the tenant?

    Thank you in advance for a reply.


    1. Would you say that short cuts would mitigate that problem that stopped/started syncs have?
      I have no idea, why users will stop a synchronization, with some exceptions. You have to tell more

      Does this mean the shortcut is removed from any devices on which the user created the shortcut but the content is not removed from the tenant libraries?
      1st, if you initiate a shortcut, it will be done automatically on all of your devices incl smartphones
      2nd, Yes it will be removed and the content on theses devices will be deleted, BUT not at his origin, wherever it comes from
      means not at the tenant libraries. Therefore you also have a change to rename this shortcut on your machines!
      its a shortcut like the old windows shortcut.

      And also, there would be no „writeback“ into the tenant libraries creating confusing over moved content in the tenant?
      NO, If you have created a shortcut, this is not only on your machine, all changes with the files, rename, delete, changing content will write back where the origin comes from (OneDrive for Business OR document libraries)

      its like a nomal Sync, but only a small portion of the documents, not the hold library.
      Create Shortcut, Sync, work, remove Shortcut.


  3. Hello Hans. Thank you for this article. I have been trying to hunt down this information for a little while. Your explanation of the differences is very clear – thank you!


  4. Hello Hans
    Thanks for this update! It is very helpful.
    Is there any limit of Data that can been synct over Shortcuts? Or is it the same Limit as for the SP Libraries?…. In my Experience with the way over Shortcuts, we have a lot more syncing problems and it is also much slower.


    1. The Limit for all: Sum of (OneDrive Personal+ OneDrive for Business (incl. Shortcuts) + Sync of SharePoint Libraries)= 300000
      Thats one of the reason, why Microsoft implements Add to OneDrive,
      Because a user should not sync the root folder, He should only add a ShortCut for the work he is doing next view weeks months
      Thats reduce sync issues


    1. The Limit for Syncing on a Windows 10 device: 300000 files. So Microsoft can not do it with a higher priority, otherwise, you cannot work with your device anymore. The 300000 is over all: Synced files from all SharePoint Libraries, your OneDrive for Business, your OneDrive Personal. And Users think, that they must have all files with them. The Add to OneDrive function makes it easier, to handle only that part, that you are working with: f.e. Account information files are often split into years. And we work in a period of years. With this feature you may take this year, and one year back. End of year you free up space with Remove short cut from old year, and Add to OneDrive next year.

      And migration people have to realize: Not all into one site collection; they have to be reorganized. That cannot be done without the people from that department.
      Syncing is different from Network shares.


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