How OneNote Notebook Files (and Folders) Work

In my “These are a Few of my Favourite Things… – The OneNote Edition” presentation for the April meeting of the Victoria Office 365 Users Group, I shared some slides explaining how Microsoft OneNote treats OneNote files…

The key point I wanted to make here is this:

When you create a new Notebook, OneNote creates a folder that matches the name of your notebook.

WARNING: If you rename (or delete) this folder, OneNote will not be able to correct sync your data.


Within that file folder, you will find individual OneNote (.one) files – one for each section tab.


You will also find:

  • an Open Notebook file (.onetoc2) = click on this file to open the Notebook in OneNote
  • a folder for the notebook’s Recycle Bin
  • an additional Folder for each Section Group you create (if applicable)

Now, for reasons I don’t completely understand, when you create a new OneNote Notebook in SharePoint or move an existing Notebook to a location in SharePoint, things look different

For example, here’s what our IT Infrastructure Notebook, which is stored in a Site Assets library looks like:


That’s right… one file! It’s the same in SharePoint on-premise and SharePoint Online (i.e. Office 365)  So what’s going on here?

So what? Well, I didn’t want to be instructing clients to set up Notebooks that had MIA Recycling Bins… and potentially lose data… and so began the quest…

(Details to follow in my next blog post!)

12 responses to “How OneNote Notebook Files (and Folders) Work

  1. Kelly, I’ve come across your blog site via OneNote News Radar. I’m no expert in OneNote, nor other computer things, but I have been using OneNote intensively for over a year, having moved away from Evernote which I had used for about 2 years.
    I moved to OneNote when I bought one of the first W8 tablet computers (a Vivotab 810C) because I wanted to be able to draw on screen in real time and project on to the wall. I am a retired architect, but do charitable work in Africa.
    OneNote gives me a superbly organised repository for all my information and work. I have 54 notebooks at present, with some holding many sections. Each new project (a health facility, say)has a notebook with sections for each phase of the project.
    The area where I’m looking for some detailed help (you may be able to point me to existing resources)is for producing drawings. I want to use the gridded lines so I can sketch freehand with my pen to scale on screen. I already do this in realtime in a briefing meeting to test out scenarios/layouts with the group.

    Most of the info on drawing is VERY basic. I would like to be able to work in a few layers, whilst importing other drawings from another notebook/section/page, and sometimes mixing them with a photo. The problem comes when I want to resize any items when drawings start moving all over the page. Some step-by-step guidance (like the help you give for other issues) would be really helpful.

    Very sorry if I have used this contact inappropriately!

    1. Keith – Oh no, you’re welcome to ask questions via my comments section. As a OneNote MVP I’m happy to answer any questions I can and point you to others if they are better suited to answer your question. First, I need to open with an assumption – you are working with OneNote 2013 desktop.

      Side Note: I feel all my answers below are rather basic responses and likely things that you’ve probably already discovered, but I’ll write them anyway just in case as others may benefit.

      You face a few challenges working with layers in OneNote as it lacks the Grouping function that other programs have, and my go-to workaround (to screen clip the drawing and paste it on the page) flattens the image so the background is part of the image and you’ve lost the transparency. If you work from the back to the front that could allow you to layer but it’s clumsy.

      As far as importing other drawings – if you have another drawing on another page you could use the lasso tool to collect all the lines, and copy/paste it onto the page of your choice then use the Arrange button to send it forward or backward through the layers. You can also use the Arrange button to move a photo you insert after you’ve created a drawing to the back so the drawing is now superimposed over the photo.

      Now resizing items can also be tricky as I am not aware of a way to anchor a photo, image or drawing to a specific location on a page. The key for me is to make sure none of my photos or drawings are surrounded by a note container. The note containers tend to push other note containers out of their way when they expand in size.

      To clarify (just in case) the note container is created when you place your cursor on a page and start typing – they are capped by a gray top and appear when you hover your mouse over them. If you can avoid creating any of these (Text requires note containers, but drawings and images do not – if they appear – just cut/paste the image out of the container and delete it), you can avoid having things bounce all over your page when you resize.

      A lot of what I said would be better illustrated via a video. I’ll whip one up later this week to explain what I mean (as it will be useful for other readers as well).

      Please respond with another comment if you can provide any extra details to clarify your questions further if I misunderstood them.


      1. Kelly, thank you for a very quick and helpful reply. I am using Onenote 2013 desktop version. I look forward to the video demo, but your answer is pretty clear (I think), so I’ll try it out tonight. I am trying to build up my drawing skills with Onenote, rather than working in another app and importing. I’m hoping now that MS are promoting Onenote that some of the Word functionality for drawing is integrated.

        I really appreciate the detail and snippets you put into your blogs. It means those of less experienced can replicate fully. Will be following avidly!

  2. Kelly, a few further thoughts:
    1] I have downloaded Onetastic and a lot of the macros and find them extremely helpful. There are a number of image macros and I presume you are already well aware of these.
    2] I use a digital pen and often detach my tablet from the keyboard (I have a vivotab 810C with W8.1)to draw. I don’t seem to be able to replicate ALL of the functions on screen with my pen, as I can do when the tablet is docked and I use my mouse as well as the pen.
    I think it may be just a learning curve, and finding the little extra “tweaks” in your posts (E.g. drawing straight lines) are great ways to progress.

    Thanks again keith

  3. Hi Kelly,

    I have just moved to a new computer and have backed up my One Note files to be restored. These are the ones in My Documents that have the same folder names as the notebooks in One Note Desktop.

    After downloading Office with One Note included, I opened each One Note Folder’s ‘Open Notebook file (.onetoc2)’
    file to restore the Notebooks to One Note.

    In the past I have not synced to the online version of One Note and wanted to do that now. However, there are many syncing glitches, notebook sections that seems corrupt and ones that won’t sync at all.

    I am not sure how to go from here as everything seems to be a big fat mess now. At least on the desktop only there were no syncing problems and now nothing seems to be working OneNote wise.

    Also, is the online version supposed to be a carbon copy of the desktop one. It seems the colourful pages don’t come across and the outlay of navigation panes are not in the same places, so looks totally different.

    Any advice at all?

  4. okay, so i renamed the original file with office365 one note. now i cannot delete it. how do i rename it back to what it was if i don’t remember the original file name?

    1. What original file did you rename? The folder, the .one file, or the .onetoc2?
      How do you know you cannot delete it – what do you see that indicates that?
      Finally where is the file stored in Office 365? In OneDrive or OneDrive for Business/SharePoint Document library? If it’s the later, you may be able to use Version History to revert your changes.

      A screenshot would be really helpful. If you can, send me one to and I’ll see what I can find out.

  5. Can other documents that I don’t want actually in my OneNote document but need to keep with the group be saved in this sub folder without causing errors?

  6. Kelly,
    My company is moving to Office 365 and is encouraging people to store their OneNote notebooks in OneDrive for Business so they can access their notes from anywhere. My company has a three year retention period applied to OneDrive for Business. Do you know how automatic deletion treats OneNote notebooks and files? Does it look at the modified date of the notebook, or does it look at the modified date of each note within the notebook? Thanks in advance.

  7. Help! I opened up my OneNote this morning and all of my notebooks were empty! I tried finding the backup files on my PC but those too have disappeared. I contacted our helpdesk and they said my desktop app was corrupt and wiped everything out. I logged into OneDrive and can see all of my folders and information. My question is….can I sync from OneDrive to OneNote (desktop)? If so, how?

  8. Good morning! What if I’m a knucklehead and deleted the OneNote folder? Can I recreate some way? Thanks so much!

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