How do I repair SharePoint data

Recover deleted and damaged data in SharePoint Online - options and limitations

SharePoint users are generally well armed against data loss - the magic word for this is version history. The rules of the game have changed slightly for SharePoint Online / Office 365 when it comes to restoring damaged, lost or deleted data. With conventional SharePoint Server 2007 to 2016, the internal IT department usually manages the systems and has full control over them. This means that users usually have "watertight" backups at various points in time.

In contrast, SharePoint Online and all data are hosted by Microsoft. Customers are relinquishing control here - especially when it comes to restoring sites, libraries, and files.

Anyone who, as a cloud customer, thinks that they can simply ask IT to restore it in the event of damage must expect unpleasant surprises - especially if help from Microsoft support is required.

What should I do first if I lose my data?

Basically, a complete recovery in the event of damage is also possible with SharePoint Online. But you should consider some special features. This can make the process very time-consuming and complicated. The Office 365 tenant administrator is responsible for the implementation, who must contact Microsoft support. Before you take this path and request external support, you should always use the integrated mechanisms that are described below:

1. Use the integrated version history (versioning)

Best for: damaged files, unwanted changes

Whenever a file is damaged or contains unwanted changes, restoring a previous version can elegantly solve the problem. With the version history, SharePoint has a powerful function that can be used by any user with editing rights (or higher). While a file is being edited, copies are constantly being made in the background. This means that there is always a selection of past versions that can be restored. Incidentally, if a document turns out to be damaged, it is advisable to delete it immediately so that no other user tries to download and repair it.

In order to be able to use versioning, it must be activated in the respective library. This is the case with SharePoint Online by default, with a total of 500 major versions being saved. If necessary, a site owner can increase this number.

The disadvantages of versioning:

  • One of the problems with the version history of SharePoint Online is the unclear storage intervals when working with Word, Excel, Powerpoint and OneNote files. Microsoft itself speaks of 30 minutes, but this could not be verified in tests. The user does not have any control options when saving, because no corresponding button is available. As a makeshift, the check-in-check-out trick can be used or the corresponding Office client can be used to force a new version to be created.
  • Even though every SharePoint Online library has versioning turned on automatically, there are cases where it is turned off. For example, if a library was migrated from an older SharePoint version and the version setting was also adopted. For this reason, version management should be activated for all libraries after a migration, and the currently used libraries should be checked afterwards to be on the safe side.

2. Using the website trash

Best for: Accidentally deleted or missing files, items, folders, libraries and lists

If something has been deleted in SharePoint Online, it always ends up in the trash first. This is particularly useful in the event of accidental deletion. The way to the recycle bin leads either directly via the left navigation column or via website content at the top right via the options cog. The trash can icon is located in the top right under the search field.

When a file that has version history is restored, all previous versions are automatically restored as well. In the event that a file is deleted and then the library in which it was located, the library must first be restored and then the file must be restored. If, on the other hand, a file is restored from a deleted folder, the folder should also be restored automatically.

Deleted items stay in the trash for 93 days, after which they go to the site collection's trash.

3. Restoring a site collection recycle bin

Best for: Accidentally deleted or missing files, items, folders, libraries and lists

Even in the event that something has been deleted twice in SharePoint by 1) deleting it from a website's recycle bin or 2) leaving it there for 93 days, nothing is lost by a long way. Because every site collection also has its own recycle bin, which gathers the contents of all sites' recycle bins, plus any items deleted from the site recycle bins.

There is also a secondary recycle bin at the site collection level. Everything that has been deleted from a website or site collection trash goes here. However, only the site collection administrator can access it. If necessary, this person must be contacted for recovery. There are a few restrictions on what can be restored.

It is important to know that items in the secondary recycle bin are only retained for 30 days. They are then permanently deleted from SharePoint. This means that the lifecycle of a deleted item is a maximum of 123 days: 93 days in the Recycle Bin, and 30 days in the secondary Recycle Bin of the site collection.

4. Recovery with the help of Microsoft support

If all else fails, Microsoft, hosting SharePoint Online, can help with the recovery. However, this way also has several disadvantages:

Who helps? Only Microsoft can perform such restores, and only an Office 365 tenant administrator can initiate this through the support contact points.

What will be saved? Only complete site collections can be restored. Individual pages, libraries, lists, files, folders, and so on cannot be restored individually or outside of a site collection. If a single file is to be retrieved, the entire site collection must be included.

Where is the data located? Site collections can only be restored to their original location. An old site collection cannot be created as a new copy, for example to copy the required file from it to the existing site collection.

When is it backed up? Microsoft makes backups every 12 hours. This is far from a solid backup plan considering that a problem has started eleven hours since the last backup. In addition, as a user, you don't know when the last backup took place as long as you haven't got in touch with Microsoft. To make matters worse, it takes Microsoft a few days to complete the recovery process.

Why are there restrictions? As far as we know, Microsoft does not offer any reliable recovery options because it is likely to be difficult to set up and perform.

Overall, the entire recovery issue through Microsoft support proves to be very complicated. For the reasons listed, we seriously advise you to only follow this path if you are aware of the consequences. It is often much easier and more efficient to forego the process of giving up the lost data and starting over.

Conclusion: consider external help well

In some situations there is no avoiding contact with Microsoft support to restore data from SharePoint Online. However, there is some effort and potential trouble lurking here. You should be aware of this and therefore weigh up whether the effort is justified. Before doing this, you should always use the easily accessible options described, such as version management and the recycle bin. The ratio of effort and benefit should be the best here.

Additional Information:

Microsoft has official documentation on the subject.

The original English version of the article can be found here:

Matt Wade is a professional ‘SharePoint Geek’, trainer and power user. He avoids coding and doesn't trust SharePoint Designer. He disapproves of Visual Studio, as well as PowerShell and any other non-SharePoint tool that allegedly improves SharePoint. Instead, he prefers SharePoint out-of-the-box. Motto: "Just a few hours of training and a little trial and error and you can be a SharePoint master too." Matt lives in St. Thomas, US Virgin Islands. +++
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