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Difference between View Only and Read permissions in SharePoint

The question often arise on "View Only" permission about using this permission for restricting document download. And also on the difference between "Read" and "View Only" permissions. This post is to explain the difference between the two. Though my screens are taken from SharePoint 2010, it applies for SharePoint 2013 as well.

Let us first quickly look at these two permissions as seen in SharePoint:
As you can see from the description, users with View Only permission cannot download the documents, and this is applicable for document types with server-side handlers. What it means is, if you have enabled Office web app, Office documents such as Word, Excel, and PowerPoint are rendered in the browser itself. So, when user clicks on the document, it is rendered within the browser without getting downloaded to client. What it also means is, if the document is of type Text (.txt) or PDF, it is rendered in client (it is actually downloaded to user machine).

What is the real difference in these two permissions. It's actually only one difference as shown below. For View Only permission, "Open Items" is not checked.

Now, let us see some action.
When user with Read permission clicks on context (ECB) menu of the document, this is how it looks like:

As you can observe under Send To, Download a Copy link is visible. User can click this and download the document.

When user with View Only permission clicks on ECB menu, this is how it looks like:

Here, Download a Copy is not available, hence user cannot download the document. Also note that, "Other Location" option is also not available here.

Search and View Only permission:
Some users reported that search does not work for View Only users. However, when I tested search pretty much works and it indeed showed results. However, when clicked on document URL, it showed Access Denied message. Looks like, it tried to download the file with client application (MS Word) instead of opening within browser.

Summary: Download option is not available for "View Only" users provided Office Web App is configured in the farm. This is applicable only for Office Documents which is supported by Office Web App. Download option is available for non office files such as .TXT, .PDF etc.


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