Copy Or Move Documents Within SharePoint Online


SharePoint is widely used for its content management capability. We generally start by creating a Document library to store the related documents. Over time everyone starts creating new documents in SharePoint or uploading the content. The lifecycle of the document does not end here. As time passes, we like to have the documents logically placed together. The need of copying or moving the documents to other document libraries, sites or even other site collections then arises.

The documents cannot be downloaded to the local drive and moved to other places as the metadata associated with the documents will get lost. The metadata includes creational information about the document as created by, created date, etc. Also, metadata includes any field information attached to the document inside SharePoint.

Options to Copy or Move Documents

There are numerous ways to copy or move documents within SharePoint.

  1. Content and Structure
    It is very much limited in functionality and offers moving or copying the content within the site collection. It's available to users with at least Contribute permission. This option only works with publishing features enabled sites.

  2. Open with Explorer
    It is almost the same as copying documents from the local drive and losing out on Metadata and version history. Works with classic SharePoint and requires 32 bit Internet Explorer. 

  3. Third party tools
    There are a variety of third party tools available in the market for content migration in SharePoint. Examples are Sharegate, Metalogix, AvePoint and many other. They perform excellently, but they are paid.
“Copy to” and “Move to” options in SharePoint Online

Microsoft has recently made available the Copy to and Move to options to seamlessly copy or move the documents within the SharePoint tenant. That means the document can be copied or moved within the site, within a site collection, to other site collections, or even to the Modern Teams site.



Points to consider

Point 1 - Available on Modern experience only

Please note this option is only available on Modern experience and works with documents only and is not available for list items.

Using this option we can copy or move:

  1. A single document
  2. Multiple documents
  3. A folder with multiple documents in it

Point 2 - Available with Document, Pages, Picture and Assets library

There are some limitations while moving or copying as below,

Document libraryAny Document library in tenant
Pages libraryCopy only within same Pages library. Useful to create a similar page. Move option is not available
Picture and Assets libraryCopied to itself. Moved to other Document libraries in tenant

Point 3 - Copy or Move within a tenant

Documents can be copied and moved within a tenant anywhere except limitations specified in Point 2.

Point 4 - Copy or Move within SharePoint Online and OneDrive

Documents can be easily copied or moved with SharePoint online and OneDrive.


Point 5 - No Admin Privileges required

The user need not be an administrator to move or copy a document. The below table depicts the minimum permissions required for each operation.

CopyRead +Contribute +
MoveContribute +Contribute +

To copy a document, user needs at least contribute permission on target site.

To move a document, user needs at least contribute permission on source and target site.

Move and Copy option is not available to the Guest users. 

Point 6 - Originator information during Move and Copy

Move operation will keep the created by, created date time, modified by and modified date time information from the source document.

Copy operation will keep modified by and modified date time information from the source document, however, created by will be the name of the person who performed copy operation and created date time will be the time of copy.

Point 7 - Version history during Move and Copy

Move operation moves the document with all versions, while Copy operation will copy only the latest version of the document to the target location.

CopyVersion 11.0Version 1.0 (Latest version from source)
MoveVersion 11.0Version 11.0 (with all versions maintained)

Point 8 - Warning Scenarios

You will receive warnings in the below scenarios:

  1. When folder already exists at the target location
  2. When target location has a higher version of the file than source location.
  3. When target location document has more properties or metadata associated with it than the source location document. 

Move to and Copy functionality is simple to use and does not need any specific privileges. However, this option is only available with Modern UI. While on classic sites switch to Modern experience to use this feature.

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