I'm not sure exactly how to describe what I'm looking to do, so this title may not be clear, and I may go overboard with the example, but here goes:

I'm currently looking to migrate my company's files to SharePoint Online from another service we've been using for a few years (ShareFile from Citrix). The vast majority of our company files are shared with all employees, one or two folders are shared with all our clients, and there are a few folders that we share individually with each of our clients (monthly reports, day-to-day shared files, etc.) For client access with our current setup in ShareFile, we have clients login to the web interface, and they can see the highest level of all folders shared with them. Here's an example of what some of our setup looks like:

  • Client Folders
    • Client 1
      • Client 1 Docs Shared (shared with Client 1)
      • Sign-on Info
    • Client 2
      • Client 2 Docs Shared (shared with Client 2)
      • Sign-on Info
  • Reports
    • Client 1 Month-end Reports (shared with Client 1)
      • August 2020 Reports (shared with Client 1 by inheritance)
      • July 2020 Reports (shared with Client 1 by inheritance)
      • etc.
    • Client 2 Month-end Reports (shared with Client 2)
      • August 2020 Reports (shared with Client 2 by inheritance)
      • July 2020 Reports (shared with Client 2 by inheritance)
      • etc.
  • Resources
    • In-house Resources
    • System Resources (shared with all clients)
    • Training Resources (shared with all clients)

So, in ShareFile, someone from Client 1 would login, and they would see the following folders:

  • Client 1 Docs Shared (the highest-level folder shared with them from "Client Folders," even though it's three levels deep)
  • Client 1 Month-end Reports (the highest-level folder shared with them from "Reports"—only this highest level folder shows, not all the shared subfolders)
  • System Resources (the highest-level folder shared with them from "Resources")
  • Training Resources (another highest-level folder shared with them from "Resources")

I figured it would be easy to replicate this in SharePoint Online, where we could just give clients a link to our main document library, and they would easily be able to see the folders within that are shared with them ... but it's turning out not to be easy at all.

We could give each client separate links to the folders that are shared with them, but that's pretty messy and inconvenient, and I would like the clients to be able to view all their folders within a single document list so I can make it part of a communication site page that can act as a sort of landing page for our clients, where we can post news and give them login access to our primary software system, all in one place.

I've had a variety of ideas about how I might manage things, but I'm hesitant to completely rearrange our folder structure so that our staff isn't confused, and a pure metadata approach isn't going to fly because 1) many of both our staff and clients are just too entrenched in folder-style organization to handle this without me becoming a villain and 2) I want to use OneDrive to give File Explorer access to files rather than only web interface, and custom metadata doesn't seem to be something that can flow through there.

So, I'm hoping someone might know a fairly straightforward way to provide the view like I described or have a better idea about how I can manage the situation.

1 Answer 1


In SharePoint Online, the clients can be added to the organization directory as guest users after they have accepted the invitation you share and created a Microsoft account to be used in this tenant. Then you will be able to grant permission on site/list/item level for them as internal users.

This folder structure can be easily replicated in SharePoint Online. After you grant permissions to the clients with the mentioned method, you will need only one link to the document library for the clients to access the contents within. Every other folder/reports they do not have access to will be invisible to them.

  • Thanks for the answer! I'm not having trouble giving outside users access (I've setup external users via the same steps you describe), but the problem I'm having is with the external user's ability to view all the items shared with them. Logged in as a guest user with access to some deeper-level sub-folders, if I go to the link to the main document list, I see nothing, presumably because none of the top-level folders are shared with my test user—only subfolders are shared. With a direct link to a shared folder, I can access it, but that only shows me that folder, not all shared items. Aug 25, 2020 at 14:30
  • @KristinYoung Sorry I should have expressed more clearly. What I meant was, once the clients have valid accounts in this tenant, you can manage their access to the folders as normal users (give or remove permission on the Permissions page via Library settings > Permissions for this document library). Instead of using a guest link, clients can access and see all the folders and documents they have access to by using the URL of the library directly. That would be an easier way. Aug 26, 2020 at 2:36
  • I'm not finding that my test user can see all shared folders from the main library link. I believe this is because I'm not sharing any top-level folders. In my example setup above, I'm not sharing the top-level "Client Folders" with the user, only the sub-subfolder Clients Folders>Client 1>Client 1 Docs Shared. If I share a whole top-level folder with my test user, I can see that top folder from the main library, but when I'm only sharing folders buried deeper in the setup, the main library page looks like I have nothing shared. Aug 28, 2020 at 13:48
  • @KristinYoung Yes, this is the default behavior in SharePoint when you set unique permission to objects under the current level. When you enter the Permission page, it shows a warning message “Some items of this list may have unique permissions which are not controlled from this page” instead. By clicking the “Show these items” link you can be redirect to the item list with unique permissions. Aug 31, 2020 at 9:05

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