Unable to share with external users: SharePoint Online

The SharePoint application is widely used by businesses for storing and sharing files. However, an issue that’s been mentioned to me time and time again is that users cannot share content with people outside of their organization — AKA external users. This is an issue that lots of users have, as you’ll see if you have a look around online:

User (Rmarkus917) — on the Microsoft forums — claims, “I have tried searching around for a solution to this problem but have not been able to find anything.  Recently (within the last month or so) both our internal users have been unable to send links to external users.  We are using SharePoint Online.” This shows the recurring issues users have with sharing data on SharePoint.

If you’re seeing a message similar to the one below when you try and share content with external users, this is because of your external sharing permissions and is easily fixed.

The main reason for users being unable to share data with external users is the due to the new Microsoft 365 Teams site which are set to “New and Existing Guest” by default. It can also be due to your organization’s sharing settings. The steps below will walk you through checking both:

  1. Navigate to Office.com and sign in using your Microsoft 365 credentials
  2. Open the admin application using the app launcher
  3. Click Show all > Open the SharePoint admin center
  4. Under Sites, click Active sites
  5. Select the site where the content you’re trying to share is stored > Click Sharing
  6. Select Anyone or New and existing guests > Click Save
  • Get SharePoint from $6.00 per month with Microsoft 365 Business Basic.

The steps above will fix the issue 99% of the time, because the inability to share a site’s content is usually due to the external sharing settings at site level. That being said, organization level sharing settings can also prevent external sharing.

If you’ve followed the steps above and you’re still unable to share content from a site after 10 – 15 minutes, follow the steps below to change your organization’s external sharing settings.

  1. Navigate to Office.com and sign in using your Microsoft 365 credentials
  2. Open the admin application using the app launcher
  3. Click Show all > Open the SharePoint admin center
  4. Under Policies, click Sharing
  5. Set the SharePoint slider to either Anyone or New and existing guests
  6. Click Save

Please note you must be a global or SharePoint admin to follow the steps given above. You’ll be unable to complete the steps if you don’t have the correct privileges assigned to your user.

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Enabling external sharing at site level in SharePoint Online

If you’re unable to share with external users, there are typically two causes: external sharing settings at site level or external sharing settings at organization level. People with admin privileges (either global or SharePoint admin) can follow the steps below to enable external sharing at site level for SharePoint Online sites.

  1. Navigate to Office.com and sign in using your Microsoft 365 credentials
  2. Open the admin application using the app launcher
  3. Click Show all > Open the SharePoint admin center
  4. Under Sites, click Active sites
  5. Select the site where the content you’re trying to share is stored > Click Sharing
  6. Select Anyone or New and existing guests > Click Save

I’m going to demonstrate the steps given above including screenshots along the way. You can easily follow along.

1. Navigate to Office.com and sign in using your Microsoft 365 credentials

First, navigate to Office.com and sign in using your Microsoft 365 credentials. Remember that you must be either a SharePoint admin or a Microsoft 365 global admin to follow the steps given in this blog post.

2. Open the admin application using the app launcher

Click the menu settings which illustrates as nine dots in the top left corner of the Microsoft 365 dashboard.

Click Admin to open the Microsoft 365 admin center, where all the individual admin centers are contained.

3. Click Show all > Open the SharePoint admin center

After clicking Show all, the full list of Microsoft 365 admin centers you have access to will appear. If you’re a SharePoint admin, only the SharePoint admin center will be displayed.

If you’re a global admin — as I am — you will see all the individual admin centers as you can see in the screenshot above.

4. Under Sites, click Active sites

Open the Sites dropdown, then click Active sites. After clicking Active sites, you’ll get a full list of the sites within your organization.

5. Select the site where the content you’re trying to share is stored > Click Sharing

Select the site from the list where the content you’re wanting to share is stored. After selecting a site, a few more options will appear on the menu. One of the options that appears is Sharing — click that.

6. Select Anyone or New and existing guests > Click Save

Once the sharing menu loads, click either:

  • Anyone: External users and guests can access shared files and folders using a link that doesn’t require sign-in. This option is also called Anonymous sharing because basically anyone with the link can have access to the files.
  • New and existing guests: This is the default permission for new Microsoft 365 connected sites. External users and guests must sign to access the shared files or folder. They can either sign in with their Microsoft account or need to enter a verification code. The external users will be added to your Azure-AD as a guest user. You can view your guest users in the Microsoft 365 Admin center > Users > Guest Users.

If possible, set the permission level to “New and Existing guests”. This way the external users will need to login, allowing you to track who have access to what. But also, it gives you the tools to revoke permissions if necessary.

If you select “Anyone”, it’s really important to take precautions when sharing content. For example, set an expiration on the links — such as 14 days. And set the permission level to view-only (if possible) as this increases security. After all, when selecting “Anyone”, people you share content with can send the link to literally anyone!

After selecting the option that suits your organization the best, click Save. Wait approximately 10 – 15 minutes and your users should be able to share the content stored in the SharePoint site. If not, move on to the next step where I walk you through changing sharing settings at organization level.

Enabling external sharing at organization level SharePoint Online

If you found yourself unable to activate external sharing at site level because of your organization’s settings, you’ll need to enable external sharing at organization level in the SharePoint admin center. Fortunately, the process for checking and changing your organization’s sharing settings is quite simple. Simply follow the steps given below:

  1. Navigate to Office.com and sign in using your Microsoft 365 credentials
  2. Open the admin application using the app launcher
  3. Click Show all > Open the SharePoint admin center
  4. Under Policies, click Sharing
  5. Set the SharePoint slider to either Anyone or New and existing guests
  6. Click Save

To follow the steps given above, you must have the appropriate permissions assigned to your user. Your user must be either a global or SharePoint admin.

1. Navigate to Office.com and sign in using your Microsoft 365 credentials

First, navigate to Office.com and sign in using your Microsoft 365 credentials. Remember that you must be either a SharePoint admin or a Microsoft 365 global admin to follow the steps given in this blog post.

2. Open the admin application using the app launcher

Click the menu settings which illustrates as nine dots in the top left corner of the Microsoft 365 dashboard.

Click Admin to open the Microsoft 365 admin center, where all the individual admin centers are contained.

3. Click Show all > Open the SharePoint admin center

After clicking Show all, the full list of Microsoft 365 admin centers you have access to will appear. If you’re a SharePoint admin, only the SharePoint admin center will be displayed.

If you’re a global admin — as I am — you will see all the individual admin centers as you can see in the screenshot above.

4. Under Policies, click Sharing

In the SharePoint Admin center you can set the global permissions related to sharing. You will find the sharing policies in the SharePoint Admin center under Policies > Sharing.

5. Set the SharePoint slider to either Anyone or New and existing guests

Once the page loads, you’ll see the sliders where you can dictate the sharing level for your entire organization and all the sites within.

For the purposes of enabling external sharing for your organization’s SharePoint sites, select either Anyone or New and existing guests. Here’s a brief explanation of all your options — Anyone, New and existing guests, Existing guests, and Only people in your organization — and what they all mean.

  • Anyone: External users and guests can access shared files and folders using a link that doesn’t require sign-in. This option is also called “Anonymous sharing” because basically anyone with the link can have access to the files.
  • New and existing guests: This is the default permission for new Microsoft 365 connected sites. External users and guests must sign to access the shared files or folder. They can either sign in with their Microsoft account or need to enter a verification code. The external users will be added to your Azure AD as a guest user. You can view your guest users in the Microsoft 365 Admin Centre > Users > Guest Users.
  • Existing guests: With this option you can only share items with external users that are in your Azure AD as a guest user.
  • Only people in your organization: Basically, disable external sharing entirely. You can only share items internally.

The final aspect to update the share feature is to save the changes which will than allow the users to effectively secure the new changes. Once the setting has been updated the users will be able to share the content over to anyone — including external users. Note — users may be required to wait 10-15 minutes for the changes to fully update before they have the ability to share the content.

Thanks for reading and I hope you’ve found this blog post useful! Please feel free to leave a comment below if you need any more help.

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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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