External users can't open documents in desktop application

Copper Contributor

Hi all! We are having issues with external users not being able to open a shared doc in the desktop program - they can only edit/view in the browser. The "Open in Xprogram" button isn't even an option anymore! We are sharing with edit privileges and have external sharing turned on for our tenant. We have disabled anonymous links and only use "share with authenticated users" turned on. When we share, we select Specific People, type in the email address and share. The external user has access, they are just not able to open in the desktop application, even if they have it already or already 365 users in their own organization. This suddenly happened for us in August and we can't find a solution. Any ideas?

51 Replies

This was working before?


I ask because in our experience, opening in the desktop apps has never worked with external users.

Indeed it works and if that's not the case, open a support ticket. By the way adding here @Stephen Rice and let me explain how it should work (I just shared a folder yesterday with an external user using the "Sharing with specific people" option and giving Edit worked well):

- Share the folder / file with an external user using the "Share with specific people" option and check the "Allow Editing" option

- The external user will receive a message and will be asked to provide/sign with the e-mail the file/folder was shared with

- The external user will see a message indicating that an access code has been sent to that e-mail

- The external user enters the access code and can edit any Office document (I'm assuming here the user has a valid Office licence)

it's never worked that way using just specific people with external users since the new sharing dialog has been around, only back with the old way would it work. The only way I know to get it working using desktop apps is if you use the old school invite method to the SharePoint site / file where the user is actually added as a guest and added to the SharePoint site where they show up in people and groups etc. 


This is a known issue by the OneDrive team and they have said that they are looking at this and to stay tuned so that it can hopefully work with normal Sharing should the users have office clients installed.


But as of now you have to get people invited to your site first, which is getting harder by the day with all the sharing changes over the past few months. 

Yes, it used to work for us, I've seen it, and it currently works with our IT consultants who also use SharePoint. I would say it stopped working at some point in July/August out of nowhere. It worked exactly as Juan described it. I also can't find any definitive documentation from MS that says it won't work - I have already opened a support ticket and even they can't find documentation or remedy the situation. It is 3 weeks later and there is no resolution. I've asked to have it escalated to higher tier of support.

Mostly I was curious if this was happening to other users because I can't find much on the internet. @Deleted can you explain the "old school invite method"? I'm not sure what you mean. And can anyone verify if this would work if we used anonymous links?

Many thanks!

None of the new link generated or specific people options work that way as everything is done via links and the client will not be able to edit files.

Bottom line is, the users must authenticate using a MSA/Work account into your tenant and be listed as a guest in azuread in order to use the client, if they do not have to login by using anon link / specific people with code option, they will not be able to use the client.

I think what is happening is your tenants have been updated awhile back so the specific people option now uses the codes and you just now have invited people that haven't been invited to your tenant yet and seeing the side effect of that change?

Anyway, hopefully Microsoft has a fix to just allow client no matter what soon!
best response confirmed by Karen Pierson (Copper Contributor)

Hi all,


This behavior is expected (external users not getting the "Open in Office" option) whenever the external user is authenticating via the new one time passcode (OTP) method. You can see a better overview here: Documentation


There are two states an external user can be in today: If they are authenticating via OTP, then they do not have a real AAD account and thus cannot open in clients. This occurs when you share a file or folder with an external user who is not in your directory (i.e. they have never been shared to before).


Inviting a user to a site or a group or using the Azure B2B platform will create an account in AAD for the guest user. These users must have an MSA or AAD account to sign-in with to accept the invitation. They can use Office apps.


This is definitely something we're looking to improve and I definitely suggest you check out the "What's new in External Sharing & Collaboration with OneDrive & SharePoint" talk at Ignite next week ;)

I will be there front and center :P. Be nice to meet after seeing you around in these forums this past year!

Absolutely! I won't be giving that particular talk but I'll be around for the brief Q&A at the end. It's probably a bit below your level of expertise but we've also got a "Quick and Easy Sharing with OD & SP" session (that I am giving) that will cover a lot of sharing basics as well!


Stephen Rice

OneDrive Program Manager II

Just swinging by to say hey. But then again you'll probably be at the OneDrive booths in the expo/community center where all the Microsoft booths will be often I assume?

Yep, I'll be there throughout the conference as well. We've got a handful of booths for OD & SP. Looking forward to chatting with you!


Stephen Rice


@Stephen Rice Thank you very much for clearing up the confusion here! I really appreciate it. In 2 days I got more information from this group than MS support in 3 weeks, sadly.


I have to be honest that I’m pretty disappointed with this outcome, however. I can look into the Azure B2B solution but I'm not sure it will work for us. We are a B2B firm where our consultants work on multiple clients at one time, in multiple teams at one time, with a lot of crossover. Trying to manage who gets invited to sites/folders/docs, and having to explain why they need to create yet another account on yet another platform to clients over and over doesn’t seem feasible for us. We were told when we decided on SP that sharing externally would be very easy, just a few clicks and everything would work like we are able to access things. I’m frustrated this is not the case.


Alas, I won't be at Ignite, but I will be at SharePoint Fest in Chicago in December. It looks like I can live stream some things from Ignite so I will be sure to see about that session.


Thank you all for your help!

Hi Karen,


Glad I was able to help! I'll pass this along to our support folks so we hopefully can solve this faster for other people who have the same types of questions.


And I totally understand your frustration. The whole reason we embarked on this "OTP" experience in the first place was to eliminate the "account overload" frustration that you're describing. Rest assured that our goal is make this experience even better in the future (including the ability to open in office applications).


I believe they are streaming or recording all sessions so you should have no problem catching it after the fact. If you have any other concerns after the talk, feel free to tag me again! Thanks!


Stephen Rice

OneDrive Program Manager II

@Stephen RiceJust ran into this problem with a client - looks like its been 9months... any progress on allowing external users to "open in word" from a sharepoint site?

External users can open using desktop Applications fine, you just have to not use anonymous sharing links. Invite them direct to the file and they should be able to use desktop.
If that doesn't work right for you, more integration is coming with the B2B OneDrive / SharePoint roadmap item here which just got updated as "In Development" so that means it won't be terribly long before it shows up:
It didn't seem to work that way, we invited external users to a site (not a document) with edit permissions using 'only users with the link' option. They could edit in word on line but not open in the desktop app until we added them to a O365 group so that they were upgraded from an external user to a guest. We don't want them to be group members however as that gives them access to the entire sharepoint site, not just the folder we wanted to share.

Hi all,


As Chris points out, the new Azure B2B integration is coming soon (in fact, you should expect to see a preview here this summer). Once enabled, sharing to anyone who has a Microsoft account (consumer or business) will be able to edit using the Office desktop applications. There are still cases (such as when a user does not have any account in the Microsoft ecosystem) where the user will be limited to Online only and this is something we'll continue to look at for future improvement. Hope that helps!


Stephen Rice

OneDrive Program Manager II

Thanks @Stephen Rice .  Unfortunately, we're still seeing the problem originally raised below.  We've shared a folder in a modern SharePoint site with an external user using the Share > 'Specific people' option and they do not see the option to open in the Desktop app.  I've also tried using the 'Grant access' option under 'Manage access' and the result is exactly the same.  We've used their business email address and their Office license is 'Microsoft Office 365 ProPlus - subscription product'.  Are you able to provide any guidance please?

@Oz Oscroft 

Try upgrading them from an 'external user' to a 'guest' I was able to do this by adding them to a group and then they can be treated more like an internal user and be able to use the desktop apps. Just watch what other folders they may gain permissions too. 


-let me know if it works!