What is an external user?

An external user is a person who has been granted access to your SharePoint Online site, but who is not a licensed user within your organization. External users are users who are not employees, contractors, or onsite agents for either you or your affiliates.

You can grant access to external users by using the Share command to send them an email invitation to a document or site. For more information about how external sharing works, see Share sites or documents with people outside your organization.

While external users can be invited as extended project members to perform a full range of actions on a site, they will not have the exact same capabilities as a full, paid, licensed member within your organization. This article explains what rights an external user has, how customer use rights transfer to external users, and what features of the SharePoint Online service are not available to the external user.

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What an external user gets rights to do

  • External users can use Office Online for viewing and editing documents. If your plan includes Office Pro Plus, they will not have the licenses to install the desktop version of Office on their own computers.
  • External users inherit the use rights of the Office 365 customer who is inviting them to collaborate on a site. That is, if an organization purchases an E3 Enterprise plan, and builds a site that uses enterprise features, the external user is granted rights to use and/or view the enterprise features within the site collection they are invited to.
  • An external user can perform tasks on a site consistent with the permission level that they are assigned. For example, if you add an external user to the Members group, they will have Edit permissions and they will be able to add, edit and delete lists; they will also be able to view, add, update and delete list items and documents.
  • External users will be able to see other types of content on sites. For example, they can navigate to different subsites within the site collection to which they were invited. They will also be able to do things like view site feeds.

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What can’t an external user do?

  • External users cannot create their own personal sites (what used to be referred to as My Sites). This means that they do not have their own OneDrive for Business document library.
  • External users cannot see the company-wide newsfeed. They also cannot edit their own profile, change their photo, or see aggregated tasks.
  • External users do not add quota to the overall tenant storage pool (this is determined by licensed users only).
  • External users cannot be an administrator for a site collection. However, you can designate an external user as a designer for your Public Website. This restriction also does not apply to scenarios where you have hired a partner to help you manage Office 365.
  • By default, external users cannot access the Search Center and will not be able to execute searches against “everything.”

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Learn more about external sharing

If you are planning to use the external sharing feature, it’s a good idea to think about:

  • In what sites or site collections you want external sharing enabled. You, as admin, can control this.
  • What people in your organization will have permission to share sites or documents with external users.
  • Who you want to invite as an external user.

For more information about how external sharing works, as well as some best practices for managing external sharing, see the following articles:

For information about planning your SharePoint Online sites, see the Planning Guide that is relevant to your plan:

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Applies to:
SharePoint admin center, SharePoint Online Enterprise (E1), SharePoint Online Enterprise (E3 & E4), SharePoint Online Midsized Business, SharePoint Online Small Business