The SharePoint Administrator’s Guide to Finding Lost Files

This one goes out all the SharePoint administrators and those managing permissions for your organization’s SharePoint tenancy – you’re the real heroes!

Chances are, you’re fielding support requests when end users can’t find their files in SharePoint Online, especially if your organization recently went through a migration. Regroove wrote another post helping end users self-serve with some tips for locating files post-migration. Once the end user has tried troubleshooting and the support request has made its way to technical support, we’ve created a handy checklist of things to try.

Recycle Bin

The first thing you’ll want to do is look in the secondary recycle bin on the SharePoint site in question. If the file was deleted in the past 93 days (random, we know), it should show up there. Restoring the file for the end user from the recycle bin is quite simple.


Check the user’s permission at the site, library, folder, and file level, especially if your organization typically implements a complex permission structure.

Content Approval

If content approval is turned on, the file may be hidden from everyone except the person who uploaded it and the people with managing permissions who are responsible for approving new content.

Check-Out Status

If the file is checked out or does not have a checked-in version, that may prevent the end user from seeing the file.

Required Metadata

In older sites or sites created in classic mode, if a file is missing required metadata, it will cause enforced checkout. This may hide the file from end users until someone with managing permissions fills in the required metadata.

Required metadata can cause a lot of headaches. If you’re noticing issues with metadata on the site in question, we recommend checking it’s not happening elsewhere.

Audience Targeting

If audience targeting is used, it may be preventing users from finding links or pages they would normally use to locate their files. In SharePoint, audience targeting can affect navigational links, pages, news, highlighted content, quick links, and events web parts.

If you’re in the midst of a migration to SharePoint Online, there are a couple things to be weary of where audience targeting is involved:

  • List and list item audience data will not migrate from SharePoint on-premises to SharePoint Online. Audience targeting data will not migrate either.
  • Any site configured as “No Access” (locked) in SharePoint on-premises will be skipped in the migration to SharePoint Online.

Lastly, when dealing with audience targeting, it’s important to note that incomplete audience compilation can affect audience targeting functionality. Adding or removing users, for example, changes the status from ‘compiled’ to ‘uncompiled’. Compilations are completed on a weekly basis, so if you make changes, it could be up to a week before it starts working again.

Migration Limitations

If you’ve recently undergone a migration, there are some migration limitations that may affect end user ability to locate files, including:

  • Size – there’s a 250GB cap on the size of files you can upload to OneDrive as of 3 March 2021
  • File names and extensions – there are names and extensions that are not permitted for files and folders, including:
    • .lock, CON, PRN, AUX, NUL, COM0 – COM9, LPT0 – LPT9, _vti_, desktop.ini, and any filename starting with ~$
    • “_vti_” cannot appear anywhere in a file name
    • “forms” isn’t supported when the folder is at the root level for a library
    • You can’t create a folder name in SharePoint that begins with a tilde (~)
    • .aspx, .asmx, .ascx, .master, .xap, .swf, .jar, .xsf, and .htc can be uploaded but only if custom scripting is allowed
  • Path length – the maximus path length is 400 characters, which includes /sites/library/folder/subfolder/filename.extension
    • If you have a lot of subfolders, the changes are high you may run into this issue
    • For a quick fix, you can move files into the parent folder or library so that the end user can access it
    • If you’re running into this issue, you’ll need to reassess your site and folder structure to limit the number of necessary sub-folders
  • Characters – certain characters are not permitted in file or folder names:
    • SharePoint in Microsoft 365: ” * : < > ? / \ |
    • SharePoint Server 2013: ~ ” # % & * : < > ? / \ { | }
    • Leading and trailing spaces in file or folder names also aren’t permitted
    • In some organizations, using # and % in names might not work (this can be enabled if you’re a global or SharePoint admin in Microsoft 365)
    • In Office 2010, the ampersand (&) can’t be used for file and folder names


If you’re still unable to locate the end user’s file, we’d recommend checking the pre-migration backup of servers of hard drives, locating the file, and manually uploading it to SharePoint Online.

If you’re certain the file was uploaded, or the files are there but are not corrupted, we recommend restoring the OneDrive or the location where the files were migrated from and moving the files into SharePoint Online manually or re-running the migration software. All else failing, you can also contact Microsoft support!

Looking for assistance planning or running your organization’s migration to SharePoint Online? Get in touch with us at