There’s a feature of all document libraries in SharePoint that I just can’t live without. It’s a non-descript little button in the SharePoint ribbon called “Open with Explorer”. That little button opens your library in a File Explorer window that looks and feels just like you were using a shared drive or your hard drive.
Sure, I’m a SharePoint evangelist, but even I prefer File Explorer once in a while. You’ll find the button in the library tab of the ribbon in SharePoint 2013, 2016, and Online (assuming you’re in classic mode).
But it’s just a button until you do something with it. So here are three ways to really put it to good use.
Upload stuff without barriers
Thankfully, drag and drop was introduced with SharePoint 2013. Finally, you could drag a file from your desktop, a folder, a shared drive, a flash drive, or wherever, and quickly place it into a library in your browser and it would upload.
But use that enough and you’ll discover you can’t upload folders. Open with Explorer lets you upload anything you want. A folder full of files, a folder with folders in it, doesn’t matter. Go nuts.
Open weird file types with ease
Non-Office files don’t tend to open well if you try to do so directly from SharePoint in the browser. Think Photoshop files, multimedia files, zip files, and executables (.exe, etc.). This is especially frustrating for me when I try to open source files when creating videos, learning modules, and similar large multimedia building objects that eventually get compiled into a finished product.
When working in the browser, if you click to open one of these “weird” files (weird, at least, to the world of Microsoft proprietary file types), your browser likely downloads it to your local downloads folder, which negates the reason for keeping it in SharePoint to begin with. You’re no longer opening the file, you’re downloading a copy, editing it, and forcing yourself to have to upload your updated version. Yuck.
Use “Open with Explorer” to open the file directly because File Explorer knows which software your files should open, as long as you’ve opened files like that before. That includes zip files: your zip will extract and open as it should rather than downloading locally (forcing you to have to rezip and upload later).
Transfer stuff between libraries
Until SharePoint Online’s modern document library experience incorporated the new “move” and “copy” functions from OneDrive for Business, there was no other way but this way to move or copy a file from one library to another.
Frankly, those new buttons are still clunky to use and may take more clicks to find your files’ new home if it happens to be buried deep in a folder structure or sub-sub-sub-sub-site.
It’s super easy to do a transfer with Explorer, whether you want to copy or move. Simply open both document libraries using “Open with Explorer”. Place the two Explorer windows next to each other, and drag the files from one place to another.
If you want to do a move, simply drag and drop the file from its old home to its new one. If you want to do a copy, you have to select your file(s), press Ctrl (Cmd on a Mac), then drag and drop your files. (Note: the use of the Ctrl button is a universal File Explorer thing; it’s not specific to SharePoint.)
As with anything SharePoint, there are some catches. Be aware of these:
- The button only works with IE 10 and 11. Chrome, Firefox, and, inexplicably, Edge on Windows 10 don’t support it. (Note that since IE isn’t available for OS X anymore, this feature essentially does not work on a Mac unless you install Windows as well.)
- The “Open with Explorer” button doesn’t exist in the new “modern” document library experience in SharePoint 2016 and SharePoint Online. Presumably it will make a return soon (since OneDrive for Business supports it), but for the time being, it’s a no-go. You must “return to classic SharePoint”.
- When you move or copy files using this method, their version history is not retained. As far as the destination document library is concerned, it just received a brand-new file. Update: the “move” button in the new modern ribbon retains version history; the copy button does not.
- If you copy files from one library to another, they are not connected in any way. Making changes to the new one won’t affect the old one and vice versa. As far as SharePoint is concerned, the new file is a brand-new, independent file.