What Happens When You Move a OneNote Notebook Before Closing the Notebook in OneNote 2016

When I knew that we were planning a migration to SharePoint Online at work, I read up feverishly on everything Microsoft posted about best practices. It was clear that closing Notebooks in OneNote 2016 was very helpful for a seamless experience for end users.

However, I’ve been curious about what would happen if a OneNote Notebook was moved before all the users closed the Notebook in OneNote 2016. What kind of sync error message would they see? How easy or hard would it be to get them back to a happy place? So I ran an experiment and here’s what I found.

Below is a screenshot of a Notebook (“vEvents”) that lived in a SharePoint 2013 site on-premises that was rebuilt in SharePoint Online and had all the files migrated. As soon as the files in the old site were set to read-only, the sync icon in SharePoint 2016 became a red X.

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When I checked the Notebook Sync Status screen, the Notebook gave this error:

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OneNote 2016 obviously can’t tell the difference between a moved or deleted Notebook. All it knows is when it looks in the location that the Notebook Properties says the file should be, it is not there.

I decided to try closing the Notebook to see what would happen, as I knew in this case I could not move the Notebook back to the original location or make that SharePoint library editable again.

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When you go to close the notebook, you get the following warning:

“[If you close the Notebook,]… the sections that have not synced will be moved to Misplaced Sections, at the bottom of your Notebook list.”

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Taking a risk, I pressed OK, and discovered the Misplaced Sections appeared below the Quick Notes button in the Notebook pane. When I clicked on it, a pop-out appeared showing the two sections that previously lived in my vEvents Notebook. Fortunately this was a small Notebook, but could you imagine if this was a Notebook that contained 10, 20, or more sections?

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When I clicked on the “Speakers and Topics” sections, I found all my old content. Another warning, this time was visible – this time as a yellow banner. It offered the suggestion to move the sections to a new location in another Notebook.

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So I clicked, chose my Quick Notes section in another Notebook I knew was stored in my OneDrive for Business, and chose to Merge Sections. All the pages were copied and merged with that section without issue. I was then given the option to Delete the original section.

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I chose No, and the section stayed where it was. I decided to delete the Section using the button in the right-click menu. A warning pop-up warned me that the section would be permanently deleted.

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Overall, I found the experience clear and easy to navigate. However, I would still always advise users to close Notebooks in OneNote 2016 before moving the files. It’s way less work in the end.

Tip: Wait a minute after you close a notebook to give OneNote time to sync changes back to its location before moving the file to a new location. It’s not a required step, but patience will ensure less ‘oh shoot’ moments.

More detailed instructions are documented well by Microsoft on their Support page: Resolve misplaced sections in OneNote 2016 for Windows.

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