How many people can edit the same document



This may come as a surprise to many of you, but yes it is true. Excel always allowed editing in Shared mode – but that was from a file share. Not from a SharePoint site. Now Word, PowerPoint and OneNote documents can be edited simultaneously.

This brilliant feature has been available since 2010 if you store the files in SharePoint or on SkyDrive (which is now called OneDrive). Editing can be done on a PC with full product, on a browser or iPad – in any combination. Excel can only be browser and iPad.

In this article, we will explore this facility in detail. We will use Office on iPad as the context for this exploration.

What can be done where?

All these features work when you store the documents on one of the following places:

  • OneDrive
  • OneDrive for Business (a SharePoint based document library on Office 365)
  • On-premise SharePoint (2010 onwards, 2013 recommended)

Word, PowerPoint and OneNote can be edited by multiple persons using Full products on a PC or browser (Office online) or iPad.

Excel documents can only be edited simultaneously using browser or iPad version. Full Excel editing requires the file to be stored on a file server (not SharePoint)

Practical usage scenarios

  1. Time bound documents which require quick response from multiple contributors is the most compelling scenario
  2. Assembling a presentation with multiple persons providing different pieces of information is also a common activity
  3. The same person may edit the same document on multiple devices (scenario described below)The steps

Create a document and store it on OneDrive. Click on the options button and choose Edit. Share the link with other parties and ask them to edit it as well.

That’s all there is to it.

Everyone is informed that multiple persons are editing the document.

On the full version, status bar shows the number of authors as well as their details. You can even chat with them using Lync. Navigation Pane (Document Map) shows the position of each person editing the document and also integrates with Lync.

image image

In Word, to avoid confusion of two persons editing the same paragraph, it gets locked automatically. You can edit it but others cannot.

On iPad, it shows the status on top right corner…

Multiple persons to edit the same document

To see each others changes – Save the document

The changes themselves are shown live in browser based editing. But if you are using iPad or full Office, then to see the changes you must save the document.

If you miss the fact that others have saved some changes, you will see notification in the status bar or on the top bar (in iPad).

Simultaneous editing by multiple persons

On iPad, most commonly used Office features are included. Except – simultaneous editing. The ability to edit the presentation simultaneously by more than two persons or multiple devices is not commonly known and used(at least as of now).

But Microsoft has implemented this feature beautifully.

Imagine what this means – you could be editing it on iPad – and your colleague is sitting in your head office on a PC – you want to insert some latest picture or chart which you don’t have… you can ask your colleague (using Lync) to open the same presentation, add a slide and insert the picture / chart / etc. When she saves the presentation and when you Save and Refresh, then you get it. No more sending the files by email and then manually inserting.

Overlapping changes

In Word, overlapping changes are PREVENTED. When you start editing a paragraph, it is automatically locked – it is yours. Till you save next time.

Others will automatically see that you are editing there and even if they try to edit in that area, they cannot. It is like only that paragraph has become read only! It is a brilliant implementation.


This type of locking works on all editing modalities – PC / iPad / browser.

In OneNote, PowerPoint and Excel, editing is completely simultaneous. If two persons change the same item, the last person generally wins. If it is a formatting change made by two persons on the same object, you will get a conflict resolution message.

It will show you both the changes and ask you to choose which one to keep.

On the PC there is a special ribbon for handling such conflicts…


AutoSave is not available in simultaneous editing mode

On iPad, AutoSave is on by default. This is a good thing. On browser, AutoSave is always on. But on iPad, AutoSave is disabled as soon as multiple persons start editing. A message is shown. To refresh changes, you must go and save manually – periodically.

Simultaneous editing by the same person

That sounds confusing – but it is not only possible – in some cases it may be the only way.

Same person can edit the same presentation on multiple devices using multiple methods – e.g. – edit the same presentation on iPad, edit on PC using full version of PowerPoint, edit on a browser (PowerPoint online). Amazing but true.

Why would you want to do this?

Here is a practical scenario. While I was writing this article on my laptop, I wanted screenshots of the iPad version of PowerPoint. The screenshots are stored in Camera Roll. I tried connecting the iPad to the USB drive of the laptop. Which worked fine. But it exposes the pictures which I have already captured. If I capture more screen shots WHILE the iPad is connected to the PC, those images are not shown. Due to this issue, I had to plug the iPad out and in many times.

Then I though of using this great feature. I created a blank presentation. Saved it to OneDrive for Business and opened it on my PC as well. Now it has become easy. I capture a screenshot on the iPad – use Insert Picture to add it to a new slide – and press Save on both iPad and PC. That’s it – I can now get the images seamlessly.

YES – I have to press Save on iPad first and then on PC – then I get to see the updated presentation with newly added photos.

Business benefits

This method changes the way we work. Traditionally, any such interaction would have happened using loads of emails with heavy attachments floating around – cluttering our mailboxes and minds.

But now we can work together in a more efficient way.

The primary benefit is that you will be able to create complex documents faster even if multiple persons have to provide inputs. You don’t waste any time in accumulating changes, copy pasting multiple documents into one and keeping track of document versions by different people.

More importantly, the QUALITY of the document will be better. Because everyone can see what others have written, the iterations to finalize the document are reduced. There is more clarity and visibility. This leads to less confusion, reduced changes and comments and reviews.

What happens if you edit offline?

In the article 4 methods of using OneDrive for Business I have discussed the synchronization feature where you can edit the documents offline.

Now, if you edited the document while working offline and someone has made changes to exactly the same place online – you will not even know about it. What happens next?

When you connect – the synchronization will be tried automatically. If there is a conflict, you will receive the conflict message as shown above and you can take corrective action.

Phone versions

I tried it from an Android phone. Simultaneous editing is not supported as of now. If you try to edit a document which is already being edited by others, your changes are not saved. you get a message like this. I have not tried it on Windows phone or iPhone. But I am assuming that the behavior is same.


Try this yourself

Just get a free OneDrive account or get a free trial of Office 365 and try this out. Refer to the article How to evaluate Office 365 for details.

Red rose

3 Responses

  1. I am trying this out for the first time. Why is it that the “edit” button does not seem to be functional? It is greyed out.

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