I have a requirement to setup a permission level, where user can only see the document and see the associated metadata columns but cannot download or open the document. We have a permission level "View Only" which differs from "Read" . In the "View Only" , Open Item is unchecked. This doesn't seem to work at all. People with "View Only" can download the documents and see the source. I saw many articles pointing this works and some say its a bug. Any confirmation on above?

  • One area of ambiguity that renders this discussion incomplete is the definition of "view" this is hardly clarified here or in SP guides. Does "view" indicate you can "open" the document and "view" the contents (not able to edit) or just "view" the files in the list/library?
    – user60867
    Oct 11, 2016 at 21:09

6 Answers 6


If John has “Read” permission level to a document named sales.docx, John is able to search and find this document and view it either in Office Web App on the server (in the browser), or in Office client on his computer.

If John has “View Only” permission level to sales.docx, John can browse to the document library and see the document, however John cannot open the document in Office Word client on his computer. Lucky John, if Office Web App is installed, John is able to see the document online.


The built-in documentation seems to indicate the difference:

  • Read
    • Can view pages and list items and download documents.
  • View Only
    • Can view pages, list items, and documents. Document types with server-side file handlers can be viewed in the browser but not downloaded.

Neither of which is sufficient for your requirement I'm afraid :/ You could try to dig into the possible permissions for a new permission level, for example, only using

  • View Items
    • View items in lists and documents in document libraries.

And see if that excludes the "Download" part of the permission.

You can create a new permission level by going to the site collection > site permissions > permission levels > add a new permission level

  • It seems that we have an updated description from Microsoft. support.office.com/en-us/article/… "View Only View pages, items, and documents. Any document that has a server-side file handler can be viewed in the browser but not downloaded. File types that do not have a server-side file handler (cannot be opened in the browser), such as video files, .pdf files, and .png files, can still be downloaded."
    – Tam Dao
    Jan 5, 2017 at 10:05

After researching for quite sometime,i came to a conclusion that there is no real difference b/w these two when it comes to downloading of the document. Both just allows.


Did you check this blog post : http://www.sharepointblog.co.uk/2012/11/interesting-difference-between-view-only-read-permission-levels/

It seems like you'll get you answer : View Only has some impacts on search for example.


Read only allows the user to view pages and list items and to download these list items. On the other hand, View Only allows the user to only view pages.

We cannot view list items and download them using view only permission in SharePoint.


As others have already suggested that neither will do what you want - as they both allow to view or download in some capacity.

A suggestion would be to create a new column in your document library and copy the file name to this "text only" column using, say, a workflow or calculated column to populate the column. You can then create a new view for your document library that removes the actual "link to file" column so your user only sees a flat view of the document library, but can still see their required columns.

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