Sharing & Group-Editing Documents in Box

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This is part of a series of articles that will appear over the next few months as part of the Go Paperless initiative at Indiana University.

Today, we’re going to be exploring two core functionalities of Box, Sharing and Collaborating. First of all, there is a distinction that needs to be made between the concepts of sharing and collaborating in Box.

  • Sharing – Sharing is a one-way action. For example, I have created a document and I want you to see it. This is the purpose of sharing. There is no conversation, no group-editing, no return functionality with sharing. It’s a broadcast, pure and simple.
  • Collaborating – Collaboration in Box is a two-way street, as the name suggests. Using collaboration, you can group-edit a single document. You can assign individuals specific capabilities, e.g. the ability to view, or edit, or both. Collaboration allows for the assigning of tasks and commenting on a document.

The “killer feature” for Box is collaboration. This article will focus first on using the collaboration features, then we will discuss the myriad of ways you can share in Box.

Before we get started, if you haven’t done so yet, check out the comparison of different cloud services and what kinds of data can be stored in them

Brace yourselves, it’s going to be a long ride!

Essential Applications

Box, first and foremost, is a cloud-based collaboration platform. A platform is a series of tools that enables others to expand and build upon existing functionality. A strong example of this is the Internet. The Internet is a collection of protocols, computers, operating systems, and applications that enable us to read, communicate, shop, watch, and otherwise enable our modern lives. As a platform, Box has several applications that have been created to perform or assist in certain tasks. The most critical of them is Box Edit. It is so critical that this article will be assuming the use of Box Edit to perform editing tasks. If collaboration is the “killer feature” of box, Box Edit is its “killer application.”

For more information about Box Edit and to download and install the application, see the Box Edit application page on

A Quick Note about Best Practices

In order to keep this article on task and concise, we will not be discussing best practices for setting up defaults and using Box at IU. To read more about these best practices, see the Knowledge Base article Best practices for Box at IU. We will, however, be focusing on the best practices for collaboration & sharing in Box.


As I mentioned before, collaboration is the killer feature of the Box platform. Box has robust tools available for controlling who can do what to which documents and folders. We will discuss several of those tools, but first, let’s talk about the first step in collaboration, inviting collaborators.

There are two ways that you can invite users to collaborate using Box, individual invitations or a self-inviting link. Let’s look at individual invitations first.

Inviting Individual Collaborators

By default, when you create a folder in Box, the folder is private:

Image of a private Box folder. It has a manila-colored, plain file folder icon.

The plain, manila-colored file folder indicates a private folder. The first step of collaboration is to invite people to the folder. There are several ways this can be done, including inviting when creating the folder. The most straight-forward way is to click on the folder to go to the folder in Box:

Folder view in box with three documents and no collaborators.

From here, to invite others, simply click on the Invite People button. When you do, you’ll see the “Invite to <Folder Name>” modal box:

Screenshot of the Invite to Folder modal in box.

You can see from the toggle at the top that you can invite people as well as get an invite link. Inviting is relatively simple from here. Simply enter the email addresses in the Invite field, choose a permission level for the users, add a personal message if you would like, and click Send. The following screenshot shows the permission options and how they break down:

Image of a table containing all of the Box permissions and the capabilities associated with them.

Once you have invited people to your folder, you can begin collaborating. A collaboration folder in box has an different icon than a private folder:

Internal collaboration folder in Box. Blue file-folder icon with avatars on it.

Additionally, since Box is not an IU-only service, you might be collaborating with people outside of the university, if you are, the icon will be slightly different:

External collaboration folder. Icon is same as the internal collaboration folder only gray instead of blue.

A few things to note about inviting people to collaborate on a folder in Box:

  • You cannot invite an entire ADS group by sending an invitation to the group’s email address. Instead, you must invite users individually.
  • Every user in the Invite field receives the permission in the Invited Permission field. If you need multiple different levels of permission for different users, you need to send multiple invitations.
  • In order to truly group-edit a document, invitees must be given at least Viewer Uploader permissions.

Inviting Using an Invite Link

Let’s look at the other option available in the Invite to <Folder Name> modal, Get Invite Link. This is a good option for people or groups who are inviting a large number of people to collaborate on a single folder. Instead of inviting each user individually, you can create a link that, when clicked, will add whoever clicked the link to the folder at the permission level specified. If you click on the Get Invite Link tab, you will see this modal:

Image of the Invite Link modal in Box.

Simply set the Access role and copy the hyperlink. Once copied, send it in an email to any number of people. Just a few notes about inviting in this way.

  • You can email this to the email address associated with an ADS group to invite everyone in that group.
  • Users have the option to not invite themselves if they do not want to collaborate in that folder.
  • Each hyperlink is associated with one access role. If multiple access roles are needed, multiple links need to be generated.
  • When collaboration is finished, simply un-check the Enable invitation links check box to turn off the invitation links you created.

Locking a Document

Now that we have added people to a collaborative folder, let’s explore one of the most important parts of editing collaboratively, locking a document. When a document is locked, other users cannot open the file for editing. Box has many options available for us when it comes to locking a file. To begin locking the file, click the drop down associated with the file you would like to lock.

Drop down indicated on a file in Box.

You will see the menu options for that file type expand. To lock the file, just click on the Lock option:

Drop down menu with the Lock File option highlighted.

You will see the available options for locking a file:

Image of the Lock File modal dialog box.

The most important part of locking a file in this way is the ability to set an expiration for the lock. This allows you to set a time limit so you don’t forget to unlock the file when you’re done editing. If you are working on a document in a shared folder, it is the best practice to lock the file you’re editing. A locked file has a lock icon next to it in Box. When you point to the lock with your mouse, it will show you information about who locked the file and when the lock is set to expire:

Locked file in box showing who locked the file.

Now that we understand how to prevent others from making edits to a file we’re currently working on, let’s look into how to use box Edit.

Using Box Edit

THE Box application, Box Edit allows you to open any file stored in Box in whatever application you have indicated to open that file type on your computer. Any changes to the file are saved to Box when the file is saved. This is an important feature because it allows you to not have to keep multiple copies of a document. Instead, you can keep the one version that is stored in Box, complete with version history, and edit it when needed. There are two ways to edit a document in Box: the drop down list or the preview toolbar. Both are equally easy, let’s look at how they work now.

From the file’s drop down menu, with Box Edit installed, you will be able to click on the Edit in <Application Name> option to open the file on your computer:

Edit In PowerPoint option highlighted in the file drop down  menu.

You can also click on the file name to launch the Box preview of the document. From there, you can click the edit pencil in the upper right corner of the preview window to edit the document in Box:

Box Preview Toolbar with Edit pencil highlighted.

A few notes about editing documents on Box:

  • This is only possible if you have followed the link earlier in this article, downloaded, and installed Box Edit.
  • If you have not manually locked the file, using Box Edit will ask if you want to lock the file.
  • Saving creates a new version of the file in Box.


Now that we’ve talked about the collaboration features of Box, let’s explore the sharing capabilities. You can share folders or individual files. You can set expiration dates for a link, create custom URLs, embed a shared file or folder in a web page, or have Box email a share link to users. Let’s start with generating a share link.

Sharing a Link

Sharing a link to a folder in Box is done by clicking on the Share this Folder button at the bottom of the right sidebar. When you do, it will expand into this:

Share button expanded to show sharing options.

The Who can access drop down allows you to determine who can use the above link. The options are:

  • People with the link – This is the public option. Anyone who has the hyperlink can see the folder (or file).
  • People in your company – Anyone at IU can see this folder (or file). This means you will have to authenticate with CAS before being able see content.
  • People in this folder – Only people that are in this particular folder will be able to see the content that’s being shared by the hyperlink.
  • Remove link – Disables the share link for the folder.

To access the sharing options for an individual file, select the Share option from the drop down or click the Share link for the file. The same options are available to both files and folders.

That’s the extent of control you have over sharing. There are other ways to share (email and embed), but as far as permission, that’s it. Let’s see how to get box to email people a link next.

Emailing with Box

The next two options, emailing with box and embedding on a web page, are accessed by clicking the link settings gear:

Share Folder Options gear pointed out.

When you click on the settings gear, you see the Link to <Folder or File Name> modal box:

Sharing options modal.

The first thing you notice is the ability to set a custom URL or a link expiration for sharing a link. You can use these options to customize sharing further. To have box send an email, click the email toggle at the top of the modal:

Email modal dialog

If your link is not set to be available publicly, you will see a warning that indicates that in the email options. From here, enter email address, personalize the message and click Send.


Embedding on a Web Page

Lastly, and probably one of the most interesting ways to share in Box is by embedding a folder or a file into a web page. An example of that output is below. The folder I’ve been using to demonstrate today is embedded.

From the embed toggle, you can set various options for embedding the file or folder. The embed window looks like this:

Image of the embed modal options.

Simply copy and paste the embed code onto your web page and you will see whatever you have decided to embed on the page.

That’s it! That’s the extent of the sharing functionality in Box.

For more information, including a detailed step-by-step demonstration of a lot of these features and a discussion of other capabilities of Box, see the recorded webinar Box: Access Files, Share and Collaborate from Anywhere.

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