How to use a ‘Link to a document’ in place of a real document in SharePoint.

From time to time you may need to give the effect of storing documents in SharePoint, without them actually being stored in SharePoint document libraries. Maybe you have a raft of documents in external systems that you want to make available by SharePoint or you have found an interesting blog post or even a video that you want to share with your colleagues.

A document can be made available in SharePoint with a few easy steps using the 'Link To a Document' content type. This post will first illustrate how this is set-up and how to create a link. Then we will consider how to distribute that 'link' with DocRead so that you can request that users read and confirm the document by a deadline.

So - let's get started:

Allowing external links to be created

Navigate to the document library where you want to add the ‘Link to document’. From the Ribbon select ‘Library’ and choose ‘Library Settings’.

Now select ‘Advanced Settings’.

Ensure ‘Allow management of content types’ is set to ‘Yes’ and click 'OK'.

Select ‘Add from existing site content types’.

Choose ‘Link to a Document’ from the list in the left and click ‘Add’ to move it into the right-hand column. Then click ‘Ok’.

Now that we have done this (you will only need to do it once per library), we are able to add ‘Links to a document’. So let’s try it!

Creating an external link to a Document

When you select ‘New Document’ from the Files tab, you will notice that a ‘Link to a document’ option is now available.

Select the 'Link to a Document' option.

Give your document a name and a url then click OK.

Note: The url can be *anything* such as a url from an Internet/Intranet web page, a document in another document library, YouTube video, document in another system and so on. In fact, as long as it can be navigated to by the end-user it can be linked to and stored in your document library. Use the link provided to test the URL details you enter.

Using DocRead to ensure the right people read it and acknowledge it

Now you have your new link set up, you may need groups of people within your organization to read the document (or watch the YouTube/training video etc.). This can be arranged really easily using a third party tool like DocRead to assign all relevant people a task.

The first step is to ensure the DocRead properties are available in the Link to Document content types. (Note: if you are already using DocRead and have other links to documents within this library, chances are that these columns are already recognised by DocRead so you can skip to step 4).

1) From the Content Types section, select 'Link to a Document'.

2) Then select 'Add from existing site or list columns'.

3) Select 'Reading Task Link', 'Recommended Audiences' and 'Required Audiences' from the Available columns box on the left hand side, then click 'Add' to move them into the right-hand side 'Columns to add' box and click 'OK'.

4) When you view the ‘Edit Properties’ screen for the link to your document, you will now see the Reading Task Link, and Recommended and Required Audiences elements (if not review the last 3 steps to make them visible)

Now you can tell DocRead which individuals or groups of people need to read it. You can achieve this by using the 'Recommended Audiences' and ‘Required Audiences’ boxes. Simply choose some groups and give them a set number of days to complete the task!

Once the link is ‘Checked In’, ‘Published’ and ‘Approved’ (if workflow is enabled), DocRead will create ‘Reading Tasks’ to all of the people in the groups specified. (e.g ‘Health and Safety Group’ and ‘United Export Members’). Each person will then be given a set number of days to confirm reading the 'Top tips for ladder safety' document before it becomes overdue (in this case 7 days). Users will receive an email notifying them that they are required to read the document. In addition to this, the DocRead web part is usually placed in a prominent place in SharePoint so that users can never avoid their required reading!

The screen below is an example of what the end user sees when they click on the new reading tasks. They can view information about the document (which is really a link), and also click ‘View Document’ to view it. So in this case, when they click ‘View Document’ a new browser window will be shown with the Ladder page on it.

Once the user is happy they have read the page, they are then required to confirm the document using the 3rd tab, by clicking the ‘I agree’ and clicking 'Confirm'


I hope this post has shown how easy it is to incorporate external sources of information to your environment and also how to ensure users read a document that’s initially stored outside of SharePoint. 

I am sure you will agree - this is a really neat way to increase the number and types of documents that can be issued and tracked with DocRead.

Why not take a more in-depth look at DocRead by taking the tour ?

Sreya - July 12, 2016

Hi Mark,

Thanks for this! Is there a way to use a URL that is not a standard HTTP or HTTPS? I’m hoping to link to files within our shared drives or internal network folders but I’m only allowed to put internet addresses into the link URL.



    Anh-Tu Pham - November 8, 2017

    Thank you! Works great!

    Brad - April 24, 2018

    I was able to connect to a network drive by following the instructions I found at two different websites. They say about the same things but word it a little differently. My available options on the ribbon weren’t the same but by using both sets of instruction, I was able to get it to work.

    The key is to make sure to add the text “file://” (without the quotes) before the actual network path you are linking to.

markjones333 - July 12, 2016

Hello Sreya

You can’t do it unfortunately, however you maybe able to to this with a redirect or a url shortening service? So you paste in a HTTP link which then redirects to a “file:///D:/yourfile”..

Mariana Kasza - September 6, 2016

Hi Mark,

I’m having the same problem Sreya.
You could detail more the solution?



zack - September 16, 2016

Is it possible to add a custom thumbnail of the linked document so that if the user searches for it, they can see what it looks like in preview mode without leaving sharepoint search page?

Russell Smith - September 21, 2016

Thanks Mark. I have a bunch of files in a folder on a SharePoint site. I have moved the files, and added a ‘link to a document’ as you have outlined, naming the link exactly the same as the document name that’s been moved. My problem is that many of the documents are Word, with links to other docs that have been moved. When I click on the link in Word, Word tells me that it can’t open the link as the item could not be found. I think it’s because the url of the ‘link to a document’ has .aspx in the URL, so despite the file name being correct, it ends with .aspx, rather than .docx (I have tried naming the link to a shortcut with a .doxc).

Do you know of a work around? I have trawled the web with no joy.

Thanks, Russ

hassib - December 17, 2017

i have qeustion can i use my own video from my pc and share to sharepoint with this method ?

thanks in advanced.

Daniel - January 10, 2019

great tip, thanks!

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