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SharePoint Online: Complete Overview

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SharePoint is a powerful collaboration platform developed by Microsoft. It allows sharing and editing documents by multiple users simultaneously, and storing the needed documents in a shared location. What is SharePoint Online? How to use SharePoint? This blog post answers these questions and provides an overview of Microsoft SharePoint Online with a short SharePoint tutorial.

What is SharePoint Used for?

SharePoint is a collaboration and content management platform on which multiple users can simultaneously store, share, and edit documents. A web interface is provided for all Microsoft SharePoint and Microsoft SharePoint Online users. If you prefer to use a command line interface to manage SharePoint software, SharePoint Online PowerShell cmdlets are provided for this purpose. Organizations use SharePoint when functionality of traditional file servers and shared resources (available via SMB or NFS protocols, for example) is not enough. SharePoint Online is a cloud-based version (runs in Microsoft data centers) of SharePoint Server (runs in local data centers). All maintenance tasks are performed by Microsoft and updates are installed automatically when they become available. SharePoint Server and SharePoint Online features are almost identical.

How to Create a SharePoint Site

Let’s start our SharePoint tutorial by opening the web interface of SharePoint Online. To open SharePoint, open your web browser and enter the address like https://yourcompany.sharepoint.com using the name of your company domain used for Office 365 (I’m using https://nakivo.sharepoint.com to access our SharePoint portal).

Enter your credentials (a username and password) and a confirmation code (if multi-factor authentication is used) to log in.

If you logged into SharePoint as an administrator, you see a screen like the screen displayed on the image below.

Let’s go over the main interface elements. There are SharePoint management elements that allow you to create new content, manage existing content, download, upload and edit documents, recover deleted items from the Recycle Bin, open subsites, etc. The Notebook link located in the left pane opens the OneNote application used to edit text files by multiple users together. The newsfeed is used to discuss work tasks with other users.

What-is-SharePoint-Online-viewing-a-team-site

Click SharePoint in the top left corner to open a page on which you can create a new SharePoint site. On the opened page click + Create site.

Using-SharePoint-and-managing-SharePoint-sites

Choose the type of the site you want to create – a team site or communication site.

A team site is a place where you and your team can store files, share documents, and edit shared documents together. Create lists, links to important files or web pages, news, and other content on a home page of your SharePoint team site. A team site is usually created to use inside an organization and to be accessed by a limited group of people.

A communication site is a place that is usually used to show information to external users and customers. You can demonstrate the final result of your team work on a communication site without revealing the working process and files that are available on a team site.

Let’s create a team site in this example. You can create multiple sites on your main SharePoint site.

Using-SharePoint-Online-creating-a-new-site

Enter the needed parameters, for example:

Site name: Blog Team Site

Group email address: BlogTeamSite

Site address: BlogTeamSite (https://nakivo.sharepoint.com/sites/BlogTeamSite)

Site description: What is SharePoint?

Privacy settings: Private – Only members can access this site

Select language: English

Click Next to continue.

Creating-a-new-site-in-Microsoft-SharePoint-Online

SharePoint supports creating a site collection by administrators. A site collection is a group of websites in SharePoint. A site collection allows you to combine sites into a hierarchy, by creating a structure.

Adding owners and members

Add members who can access your SharePoint site to a group by entering the name or email address of each user. Group members will receive an invitation by email. You can add additional owners for this site. Owners have full control privileges for a SharePoint site and can manage access to content, change user permissions, edit content of a site, etc. Hit Finish to complete site creation.

Adding-members-and-additional-owners-for-a-new-site-in-Microsoft-SharePoint-Online

A team site is now created, and in our case, the site can be accessed using this link:

https://nakivo.sharepoint.com/sites/BlogTeamSite

The main page of a recently created team site looks like a template that should be customized and filled with content.

How-to-use-SharePoint-a-new-site-is-created

Users of your team can now use a team site to store files and other types of content.

Using-SharePoint-to-store-documents

You can create different types of content on a SharePoint Site:

  • A document library
  • A list
  • A page
  • A plan
  • An app
  • A news post
  • A news link

Let’s have a more detailed look at each type of SharePoint content.

Creating a New Library

A library is a location on a SharePoint site where users can store documents and other files, share them, and open documents to view and edit them together with team members. Information about last modification date and about the user who edited a document is displayed in SharePoint libraries. You can create libraries for different purposes. For example, you can create a library to store marketing documents, a library to store financial documents, etc. Libraries are customizable – you can track file versions, configure who can access files, and set the access level.

Open the needed SharePoint site, click New, and in the opened menu select the needed type of content you would like to create. If you need to create a new library, select Document Library in the menu accordingly.

Enter a library name and description, select the “Show in site navigation” checkbox, then hit Create. Similarly you can create other types of content on your SharePoint site.

Adding-new-content-on-a-site-in-Microsoft-SharePoint-Online

Upload documents from your disk to a library or create a new Microsoft Office document directly in a SharePoint library. To create a new document in a SharePoint library, open a library on a SharePoint site, click the New button, and in the menu that opens, select the needed document type, for example, a Word document. To upload items to a library, hit the Upload button, and in the menu that opens, select Files, Folder, or Template.

Creating-a-new-document-in-a-library-of-Microsoft-SharePoint-Online

Click a document that is already stored in a SharePoint library, and this document will be opened in the appropriate Office 365 application online in a web browser. For example, if you click a DOCX file stored in a library, this document will be opened in Microsoft Word Online in a new tab in your web browser.

If you click three dots near the document, a context menu with additional options opens. The available options are: Open, Preview, Share, Copy link, Manage access, Download, Delete, Automate, Rename, Pin to top, Move to, Copy to, Version history, Alert me, Details, More (Properties, Workflow, Compliance details, Check out).

A-menu-with-available-options-for-a-document-stored-in-a-SharePoint-library

Version history is a useful feature that allows you to access previous versions of a document. It is especially useful if unwanted changes were saved in the latest versions of the document.

Alert me allows you to receive email notifications if any changes are written to the document by any user.

Workflow is used to configure automated actions that are performed when users edit or save a document.

Check out is used to lock a file for editing by another user. The appropriate notification message is displayed to other users who try to edit the file.

Creating a SharePoint List

A list is a shareable collection of data in Office 365 SharePoint used to organize information for co-workers flexibly. A SharePoint list is simply a table on the web. Lists allow you to track information and contain columns and rows that are customizable. Different types of data can be set for columns, for example, date, text, or currency. A list is created the same way as a library on the team site page. In the screenshot below, you can see an example of a new list created on a SharePoint site.

How-to-use-SharePoint-lists

The advantages of using SharePoint lists instead of usual text files or spreadsheets are features such as versioning and content approval. In order to enable and configure these features and other useful features, open a page with your SharePoint list, click the Settings icon in the top right corner, and in the menu that opens, hit List settings.

What-is-SharePoint-list-settings-in-Microsoft-SharePoint-Online

A web page with list settings opens. There are many settings for a SharePoint list. Let’s hit Versioning settings.

What-is-SharePoint-Online-list-settings

In the right pane of the page that opens, you can configure SharePoint list settings, as shown in the screenshot below.

Using-SharePoint-versioning-for-lists-in-Microsoft-SharePoint-Online

Creating a SharePoint Page

SharePoint allows you to create pages the same way as you create pages on traditional web sites. SharePoint pages are used to notify users about important things, for example, you can create a page with information about departments in your company, scheduled events, publish company rules, etc. Multiple columns are displayed on a SharePoint page by default. Click them and type the needed information in the appropriate blocks. Once you have finished creating a SharePoint page, hit the Publish button.

A-notification-page-in-Microsoft-SharePoint-Online

When you save a page, additional options are available:

  • Add a page to navigation
  • Post as News on this site
  • Email
  • Save as Page template

A page address is displayed and can be copied to clipboard.

How-to-use-SharePoint-and-create-a-new-information-page-on-a-site

Creating a news post is similar to creating a SharePoint page.

Creating a News Post

Publish news on your SharePoint site to notify colleagues, team mates, and partners about important updates in your working process and achieved results. On the SharePoint team site click New > News post, select the needed template, and fill in the needed information. A news post is displayed in the News web part on a SharePoint page or site.

Creating-a-news-post-in-Microsoft-SharePoint-Online

A news link can be inserted when a news part of a web page is created. After entering the URL, a news article is imported to your SharePoint site.

Adding a New App

SharePoint apps are small standalone applications that extend functionality of a SharePoint site for specific business needs. Apps can be used to perform document-based tasks, display information about expense tracking, display information from other websites, connect to social networks, etc. Apps help you make a SharePoint site more dynamic. Programmers in your organization can develop custom SharePoint applications for internal use. It is possible to buy SharePoint apps created by other developers in the SharePoint Store. Only site owners can add apps for team sites in SharePoint.

Let’s look at an example of adding a calendar. On the home page of your SharePoint site, click New > App (similarly as you do to create a library and other types of SharePoint content). A page with apps opens. Select Calendar in the list of available apps.

Adding-a-calendar-app-in-Microsoft-SharePoint-Online

Enter a name for the calendar, open advanced options if needed, and hit Create.

Using-SharePoint-and-adding-a-calendar

Once the calendar has been created, click the New Event button, and hit Event to add events such as a meeting or a deadline to the calendar.

Creating-a-new-event-in-a-calendar-by-using-SharePoint

When creating a new item for your calendar, enter the required information in the pop-up window. Then hit Save.

SharePoint-software-allows-you-to-create-events-in-a-calendar

Now the event is added to the calendar in SharePoint. SharePoint Online is integrated with the Outlook email client. You can add a created calendar to Outlook by selecting a Calendar tab and clicking Connect to Outlook in the web interface of SharePoint Online.

Connecting-a-calendar-to-Outlook

Creating a Plan

You can create a plan and use Microsoft Planner on your site to create boards, add tasks to your team, and assign tasks to users. Integration of SharePoint and Planner allows you to manage tasks for your project. Sort tasks by placing them into buckets, change priorities. Planner indicates stages of the development process and task progress. All these features are available on your SharePoint site for you and your team. Planner is integrated with Office 365 Groups and when you create a new plan, all related content in SharePoint is created automatically.

Sharing a Document

Users of your team who have the appropriate permissions can share documents in SharePoint with other users. If you want to share a document, right click a file or folder, and in the context menu, hit Share.

How-to-use-SharePoint-and-share-a-document

Select users who can edit a shared document or folder. Users with whom you share a file or folder will be notified by email with the link to shared files. You can write a custom notification message.

Selecting-users-to-send-them-a-link-to-access-a-shared-document

If a user has a link but doesn’t have permissions to access a SharePoint resource, that user can request permissions. In this case, the resource owner receives a message with an access request.

Requesting-permissions-to-access-a-shared-file

A user who shared the file is notified about the access request and can approve or decline the request by clicking the appropriate button in the web interface.

Using-SharePoint-approving-a-request-to-access-shared-files

A shared document can be opened and edited by multiple users simultaneously. In our example, two users have opened a Word document in Word Online for editing. Special icons are displayed near the cursor of other users who are editing the document at this time (the MB icon is displayed on the screenshot).

Editing-a-shared-document-together-at-the-same-time

Editing Site Permissions

You can also edit site permissions and add users who can access your SharePoint site after creating files or uploading files to a SharePoint library. Click the Settings icon, then click Site permissions.

Microsoft-SharePoint-Online-site-permissions

Add users to site owners or site members. Hit Invite people, Change how members can share and Advanced permission settings to configure options.

Managing-site-permissions-in-Microsoft-SharePoint-Online

SharePoint Admin Center

An Office 365 administrator can manage all SharePoint content, including users, sites, and permissions. In order to open a SharePoint admin center, you should open the Office 365 admin center (that is also called the Microsoft 365 admin center), and then in the left pane (navigation pane) in the list of admin centers, hit the SharePoint admin center. As an alternative, use the URL like https://yourcompany-admin.sharepoint.com to open the SharePoint admin center. For example, in our case we use the direct link:

https://nakivo-admin.sharepoint.com

Opening-a-SharePoint-admin-center-in-Office-365

On the SharePoint admin center page, different items are displayed. On the home page of the SharePoint admin center, you can see reports and a message center. In the left pane, also called the navigation pane, you can access options and features to configure them.

A-web-interface-of-a-SharePoint-admin-center

Conclusion

This blog post has explained how to use SharePoint Server, SharePoint Online features, and provided a short SharePoint tutorial with examples and screenshots. Using SharePoint allows you and your team to collaborate more effectively. Use Microsoft SharePoint Online to store, organize, share, and edit documents with your team, create different types of content, plan events in the calendar, and much more. When using Microsoft SharePoint Online, SharePoint software is running in Microsoft data centers with a high level of availability and reliability. As a result, you don’t need to deploy and configure SharePoint manually. However, it doesn’t mean that you don’t need to back up your SharePoint data. Having a data backup provides you more recovery options and allows you to recover data faster and with more flexibility. NAKIVO Backup & Replication supports SharePoint Online backup and is available on the official website for download.

SharePoint Online: Complete Overview
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