How does SharePoint Online guest access work?

SharePoint Online guest access is a SharePoint feature that allows users without an Office 365 account or a company account to access your sites (with some limited permissions). This is generally useful for demonstrating progress to clients, whilst also allowing them to feel like a part of the development life-cycle. 

Guest access: 

  • Allows external parties to view sites with their account or anonymously 
  • External users gain access company content:
    • Email interactions 
    • File library 
    • Notebook notes 
    • Calendar (very limited) 
    • Company sites 

If SharePoint Online’s guest access sounds interesting to you, stick around. We’ll be briefing you on enabling guest access, an overview of what guests can do and why you may want to consider allowing (or not) allowing guest access. 

Quick links: 

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Enabling SharePoint Online guest access 

Step 1 – Open the Office 365 Admin Center 

  • To reach the Office 365 Admin Center, use the following link

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Step 2 – Open the Azure Active Directory 

  • Guest access must be enabled through Azure AD, not just the base Admin Center. 

Step 3 – Select Azure Active Directory 

  • From the left side panel select Azure Active Directory

Step 4 – Access external identities settings 

  • Using the side panel on the left, find and click External identities. From there, we’ll be able to access settings regarding external user’s access. 

Step 5 – Open External collaboration settings 

  • From the side panel, finally select and open External collaboration settings, from where we can enable and configure guest access. 

What SharePoint Online guests can do 

As a guest has no licence to the software in use, they’re limited to only basic collaboration features. These are as follows: 

  • Access Office 365 homepage 
  • View and edit docs online 
  • Install desktop apps (only if you assign them a licence) 
  • Configure SharePoint sites and carry out actions 
  • They will require the correct permissions in SharePoint for this 
  • View SharePoint site content like regular users 
  • They will require the correct permissions in SharePoint for this 

Should I use SharePoint Online guest access 

Why you should use SharePoint Online guest access 

  • SharePoint Online guest access promotes collaboration between organisations 
  • SharePoint guest access grants collaborators tools they may otherwise not have access too 
  • Reduced costs (less licences must be purchased when using guest accounts) 
  • You can enforce rules with your permissions as though guests were regular users within the organization 

Why you shouldn’t use SharePoint Online guest access 

  • If you’re organisation is inexperienced with SharePoint, you may have weak security, due to a bad permission setup 
  • This would allow guests to edit content they’d otherwise only be able to view, or perhaps even delete or overwrite essential documents. 
  • If you have content that must remain confidential under all circumstances, it may be too risky to leave on an externally accessible site 
  • Microsoft advises we only enable guest access for sites when they don’t expose private content 
  • Consider creating separate sites for public and private content 

End note 

Final point 

Guest access in SharePoint Online is a collaborative feature intended to grant organizations the ability to collaborate digitally. This being without the need to deal with additional licence costs. This works by providing guest accounts with limited functionality. Despite their collaborative perks, guest accounts can be seen as dangerous- due to their ability to see everything a typical user would see. Thus, they’re generally used for sites where no confidential or sensitive information is present. 


Thank you for reading this post. We hope you found it informative and useful. If you’d like to learn more about SharePoint, please consult our related articles below. If you’re having any issues, or are curious about our other guides and troubleshooting tips, we urge you to check out the rest of the site. We’re always posting new content each week, so it’s always worth a look. 

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Jack Mitchell

Jack Mitchell has been the Operations manager at telecoms and MSP Optionbox for more than 4 years. He has played a crucial role in the company, from marketing to helpdesk, and ensures that the IT requirements of over 300 clients are continuously met. With his innate passion for technology and troubleshooting and a particular interest in Apple products, Jack now delivers the most comprehensive tech guides to make your life easier. You can connect with Jack on LinkedIn.

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