Sync v Shortcut to OneDrive. What's the difference?

Copper Contributor


After much experimentation, I fail to see the difference between Sync and "Add shortcut to OneDrive". Does anyone know why you would use one over the other?


I've created 3 document libraries in SharePoint:

DocLib_01: I've used Sync for this library

DocLib_02: I've used "Add shortcut to OneDrive" for this library

DocLib_03: I've set the advanced setting "Allow items from this document library to be downloaded to offline clients?" to No. This makes the Sync option disappear in the menu, but the "Add shortcut to OneDrive" option remains. I've used "Add shortcut to OneDrive" for this library.


My OneDrive Sync client is configured for "Files on Demand".


In File Explorer the file status is as follows:

DocLib_01: Blue Cloud (i.e file only exist on SharePoint, even though files are synced)

DocLib_02: Blue Cloud  (i.e files only exist on SharePoint, this makes sense as I'm only linking to this library)

DocLib_03: An error appears when trying to access this folder (downloading isn't allowed, why am I allowed to create the link in the first place?)


If I edit a file in DocLib_01 the file is downloaded to my local drive and the status icon changes to a Green Tick. I'd prefer the download to be automatic but would have to turn off Files on Demand.

If I edit a file in DocLib_02 the file is downloaded to my local drive and the status icon changes to a Green Tick. I don't want the file to be download, I'd like it just to exist on SharePoint.


In other words Sync/Add shortcut to OneDrive appear to do exactly the same thing.

If I turn off the "Files on Demand" Feature the sync client appears to start downloading Files to DocLib_01 and DocLib_02.


This makes no sense to me. If I sync a folder I'd expect that folder always to be available even if I'm offline. However, if I use "shortcut to OneDrive" to reference a folder I would expect that folder to only ever be available when I'm online. If both options work in exactly the same way what's the point in having them? Additionally, with regard to DocLib_03, why am I allowed to create a "shortcut to OneDrive" link when that link will never work. Surely that option should be hidden just like sync is?


Some background, my employer is getting rid of our on-prem file servers and moving all our files to SharePoint. Our users still like to work in File Explorer to manage their files however. I assumed that the "Add shortcut to OneDrive" option would act like a traditional network drive mapping of old, i.e files would not be available when off-line.


I think my requirement is pretty simple - I should be able to see all SharePoint Files in File Explorer when I'm online. If I open these files via File Explorer, they should stay on SharePoint and not be copied down to the local device (in my view, this is what "shortcut to OneDrive" should do). If I have files that I'm currently working on, I should be able to make them automatically available offline (sync does this if Files on Demand is turned off).


Am I missing something here? I actually preferred the old WebDAV/Internet Explorer solution which allowed you to map SharePoint document libraries easily in File Explorer. The OneDrive Sync client has a lot of flaws and is irritating to use IMO. :(

6 Replies

@John Sellars : I absolutely agree with you and share your frustration. Users would want two options:

1) keeping a copy on local harddrive to be used when offline - the "Sync" option

2) working directly on the sharepoint file without any local copy - what one would expect "Add shortcut to onedrive" to do - but unfortunately that's not how it works. The term "shortcut" is misleading as it indicates its merely a link to the underlying datafile, whereas it in fact brings a copy onto your workstation while working on it.

@John Sellars There is a great explanation and recommendations from the product team about which one to use in this recent episode of the Intrazome podcast.

I wish Microsoft would explain this in writing in plain language.I do not want to have to listen to a podcast or wade through the conversational niceties on a transcript to understand how these features work. I really want to understand the thinking behind sync and shortcut. The way things work now don't fit my mental model for either function.

@John Sellars  Thank you for the very eloquent and clear articulation of the confusion Microsoft has created in this space.  I share your frustration entirely. It baffles me how Microsoft releases illogical and baffling explanations of what these functions are and then an army of so-called MVPs proceeds to regurgitate exactly the same nonsense under the guise of clarifying the issue.


My expectation from the terms "Sync" and "Shortcut" is exactly the same as yours but I was beginning to doubt my sanity on googling this and finding post after post of "Microsoft Speak".

@John Sellarsand others, what I've come to realize is:


The sync and shortcut functions work the same. Only the menu gets downloaded to File Explorer, and individual files are downloaded as accessed.


The difference is...sync is slightly more device specific. If you are syncing files, the files work back and forth between the device you're syncing to and the cloud. On my laptop, synced folders appear in my file explorer as a separate list. If I edit a synced file, it syncs to the cloud. If I work on a document in the cloud, it syncs to my laptop computer. For a time -- documents that aren't accessed eventually stop being synced. Fortunately, the little icon by the file name changes to reflect the unsynched state.


Shortcut works the same, except the "shortcut" folders appear as shortcuts in OneDrive and thus are accessible anytime you are accessing OneDrive, from any device.


It's not what I expect. I expect synched files to always be being synced. And I expect shortcuts to be shortcuts to where the files live online -- and I expect I need to be online to access them. So in rolling these functions out, Microsoft is changing the meaning of both sync and shortcut. They are basically merging the functions.