OneDrive Sharing: Internal and External

August 25, 2023
5 min read

When it comes to OneDrive internal and external sharing, some common questions inevitably pop up:

  • Can I share with external people?
  • Is it sufficient that my external partner can only access the files via a browser?
  • Does the sharing link automatically expire?
  • Can my external recipient share the link?
  • Can I use one link for internal and external people?

All these questions have straightforward answers once you understand the rules of internal and external sharing.

The Scenario

Sharing Internally

We have two users, Hans and Julian, in the company who are working on a new concept with several Office documents. The content of the concept is still new and requires some collaborative work, so Hans has created a folder in his OneDrive for Business that contains the documents. He shares the folder with Julian, so Julian can also synchronize this folder with the content on his device. This saves the annoying step of having to search through the shared files.

Sharing Externally

We have two users, Franz and Julian. They work in different companies. Franz has some documents in a folder and wants to share this folder with Julian so that Julian can synchronize the data on his local device.

Note: When sharing a file to the Windows Explorer of the receiver’s device, you must share a folder with the file in it! Sharing a single file does not work.

Share With Anyone

Alt: The Picture shows that the Recipient can forward the link without permission.
Figure 1: When you share the folder as an anonymous link, each recipient can share the link.
Alt: The picture shows what is possible or not possible when you share a folder with the anyone Link.
Figure 2: Link Folder: Anyone (or anonymous)—what is possible with internal vs. external sharing.

When sharing with anyone who has the link, several things are worth highlighting. One is that the link is automatically closed after a preset time—something that most users don't care about, but for administrators, it is a definite plus. For the time restriction, i.e., the life cycle of the link, administrators can set a default (with a maximum of 730 days, i.e., 2 years), which the user cannot exceed but can set below. The link receiver also may work in a browser.

On the negative side, recipients can forward the link. This may be ok within an organization, but many administrators do not want links being shared outside their organization, resulting in them prohibiting external anonymous links. Unfortunately, neither classic Sync nor "Add Shortcut to OneDrive" are available when sharing an anonymous link externally. You can read here about the differences between those two methods.

In sum, sharing an anonymous link works OK internally, but externally should only be used if you are OK with users having to work within a browser.

Share With People You Choose

Alt: The Picture shows what is possible or not possible when you share a folder with the People you choose Link. You control the recipient.
Figure 3: When you share a link folder with specific people, the recipient cannot forward the link.
Alt: The Picture shows what is possible or not possible when you share a folder with the people you choose link.
Figure 4: Link Folder: People you choose—what is possible with internal vs. external sharing.

Let's start with the few negative points of sharing with people you choose. There is no time restriction, which means that the link (even the external one) stays open until the user closes the access. For administrators, this is a downside, and it would be nice to see downloadable Excel report lists to at least monitor this problem. Forwarding the link is possible, but leads nowhere, because the link cannot be verified. The last negative feature is that the new Add Shortcut to OneDrive method favored by Microsoft is not available.

As for the positive features, it should be noted that classic Sync is not only available internally, but also externally for synchronization. This means that the recipient can use the link to synchronize on a device. However, this must be done manually for each additional device. Also, when the user is done with a file or folder, they must manually stop synchronization on each device. After stopping, the remaining data, if any, must also be deleted. In Add Shortcut to OneDrive, the function is called Remove, which takes care of that on all devices, including mobile devices with iOS or Android as operating system, as well as the deletion of any data. (Microsoft should retrofit that for external links as soon as possible.) And finally, you can work internally as well as externally in the browser with the provided files.

If the link should be made accessible to a new user, internally or externally, the link must be added again. So, it depends on the scenario if this is necessary.


When sharing with specific people, you can use the same link for internal and external sharing. The external receiver can use the classic synchronization but should be aware of the procedure to stop synchronization and afterwards deleting the data. Users who share the link should master the process of closing the link.

Please log in and leave a comment if you would like me to explain in more detail how to manage sharing for SharePoint and OneDrive.


Hans Brender

Hans Brender

Hans Brender is a Collaboration Specialist and has been a Most Valuable Professional (MVP) in Germany for 11 years. Most people around the world know him as Mr. OneDrive. For the last 11 years he has been talking about OneDrive and collaboration around the world at conferences like Microsoft Ignite, Microsoft Build and local community events. These days he is networking, mentoring, leads a monthly live show about M365 news and gives workshops to the community, mid-size- and Enterprise companies.

In addition to the social profiles below, you can find Hans at: