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Box Best Practices and Tips

This page provides best practices and tips to help you get the most out of your Northwestern Box experience.

Using Box and Box Apps

Make sure Box is the right place for your data

Be sure you understand the security specifications your data needs. If you are handling sensitive and legally or contractually restricted data, you will need to use a Box SAFER share, which is similar to a Box Organizational Account, but for files that require a higher level of security.

Types of Data Some Possible Examples Northwestern Data Classifications (as listed in the Data Access Policy) Recommended Box Storage Approach
Basic Administrative Roster of conference attendees, event planning communications, course descriptions Public or Internal Box (without SAFER) or Box + SAFER
Sensitive Administrative CTECs, faculty recruitment documents, tenure review cases, salary budgets, student records, HR files Internal or Legally/Contractually Restricted Box + SAFER only
Research Large media files, interview transcripts, survey data, complex data sets, data visualizations, (for data set high performance computing, please see Quest) Public, Internal or Legally/Contractually Restricted Research Data Storage (RDSS) or Box + SAFER ( note the Box file size limit)
Regulated Personal health information, student records, personally identifiable information, HIPAA, FISMA, FERPA, PHI, PII Legally/Contractually Restricted Research Data Storage (RDSS) or Box + SAFER

Note: Because Box has a file size limit, Box Organizational Accounts may not be appropriate for groups with excessively large files. Please see the File Sharing Overview for more information about non-Box storage offerings.

Tip: Be aware of these known issues with certain files in Box:

  • Microsoft Access databases in Box cannot be edited at the same time. If they are, Box Sync and Box Drive will create duplicates of the file. See Avoid File Duplication below.
  • If a cell in an Excel spreadsheet links to another Excel spreadsheet, this linking will not work when uploaded to Box. There is a workaround using Box Sync.
  • While any file can be uploaded to Box in the web interface, some file types are unsupported by Box Sync and Box Drive.

Box Sync: Unsync, don’t delete files!

Any changes you make to files in Box Sync affect files in the Box website. This includes deletion! If you want to remove a folder from your Box Sync folder, go to the Box website, right-click the folder and choose More Actions > Unsync.

Tip: You can see all of the files synced to your Box Sync folder in one place by clicking the Synced to Desktop link on the left side of the Box webpage.

Avoid file duplication using Lock File and Microsoft Office Online

If you are collaborating on a file and want to avoid anyone else overwriting your changes, signify that the file is being used by using the Lock File option. This prevents others from editing the file, but still lets them preview it. Once you are finished using the file, you can Unlock it.

Tip: The Lock File options also allow you to disable downloading for the locked file and set an expiration for the lock.

For highly collaborative Microsoft Office files, use the Open in Microsoft Office Online feature. This allows multiple people to edit a file at the same time, without causing duplications or overwriting work.

Tip: Also avoid these common causes of file duplication in Box:
  • Modifying files while installing Box Sync
  • Creating a folder with the same name as one that already exists in your Box account
  • Creating or editing content at the same time as another collaborator, outside of Microsoft Office Online

Use Version History to restore previous file versions

Version History allows you to quickly find and restore previous versions of your content. When you save or upload a new version of a file, Box overwrites the old version, saving it in the Version History. You can restore the last 10 versions of the file, and download up to 100 old versions.

Retrieve deleted files from the Trash for up to 60 days

Any files deleted in Box Drive, Box Sync, or the Box website, are stored in the Trash for up to 60 days. After 60 days, the items in the Trash are permanently purged. You can recover files and folders on the Box website.

Working Together

Use a Box Organizational Account for departmental and team files

If an individual leaves the university, others may lose access to files in their account. For this reason, we suggest that shared content be stored in Box Organizational Accounts.

Box Organizational Accounts are for storing data that needs to be accessed by a group such as a department or lab, or for data that belongs to a role that transitions between users. The content never expires, and anyone can be granted access.

Tip: If a user has left the University, HR approval is required to change ownership or grant access to their files or folders. Contact for assistance.

Use Box to collaborate inside and outside Northwestern

You can share a folder with another Northwestern Box account by typing the person’s name or email address. Invites sent within Northwestern are accepted automatically.

Alumni, affiliates, temps, part-time employees, and external collaborators will need a personal Box account. When sharing a folder, enter the email address associated with the person’s Box account. External collaborators must accept invites.

For SAFER folders, SAFER suppresses the initial invite, allowing you to send your own email with custom directions on how to access handle your data in Box.

Tip: Invites are valid for 30 days by default. If you would like your invites to last longer on a SAFER folder, notify SAFER administrators, and SAFER can provide you with an extension option.

Use Shared Links for temporary collaboration or quick access

Shared Links are hyperlinks which point to content stored in Box. You can limit who can use the link, protect it with a password, and even set the link to stop working on a certain date. This makes Shared Links ideal for sharing content externally, with short-term collaborators, or with people who don’t have Box accounts.

You can also use Shared Links on a website, PowerPoint, or in an email to quickly link to Box content.

Tip: You can use Outlook to simultaneously upload a file to Box and email a Shared Link to your collaborators. Download the Box for Office Desktop Integration to use this feature.

Make folders easy to identify and distinguish

If you share a sub-folder with collaborators, they will not see the name of the parent folder, so it’s important that folder names are distinctive and descriptive, even in isolation. A folder called “Finance” is easy to confuse, whereas “Dean’s Office Finance” is much more descriptive.

Note that Box Drive and Box Sync will not work on folder paths with more than 255 characters. While one long folder name is acceptable, several nested sub-folders with long names may cause issues.

Tip: Other ways to stay organized:
  • Create custom tags . Click on a tag to filter search results or find all folders with that tag.
  • Add a Folder Description in the folder details to provide instructions to collaborators or give additional context to the documents inside.

Maintaining Access

Grant the lowest permissions necessary for someone’s role

The default permission level for a new collaborator is Editor, which includes the ability to add other collaborators, delete and modify files, and change others’ permissions. This role may not be appropriate for all collaborators. Consider the different available access levels, and grant permissions levels according to a person’s role.

Example of Collaborator Suggested Box Permission Level
Prospective students uploading resumes to your project folder Uploader
Department administrator who manages onboarding/off boarding Co-owner
Team members who collaborate on a project management spreadsheet Editor
Vendor from external company who needs to view, but shouldn’t modify, contract documents Viewer
Tip: For short-term collaborations or when sharing files and folders with many people, you can also use Shared Links! See Use Shared Links above.

If you are the Owner, Co-owner, or Editor of a folder, you can modify collaborators' access levels. If your folder is protected by SAFER, your SAFER stewards will need to modify folder access using the SAFER forms.

Tip: While SAFER stewards are given Editor access to Box folders by default, you can choose to remove them. This will not remove them as a steward.

Only grant access to the folders a person needs

Box permissions follow a waterfall model; if you give someone access to a folder, that person gets permission to everything in it, including any subfolders. Instead of sharing your top-level folder, you can share a specific subfolder instead. This avoids granting someone permissions to files they don’t need, or shouldn’t have access to.

Check out these additional tips to get the most out of Box

  • Get more powerful results with Search Filtering 
  • Use Favorites and Recents to cut through the clutter
    You can use the Favorites section to bookmark folders and files, or use the Recents section to see all of the files you’ve recently viewed or modified.
Tip: You can set Favorites or Recents as your Box home page in your Account Settings, under General Options.
  • Create an anonymous “drop-box” for files
    Create a folder and give all collaborators Uploader access, which prevents review. Note that Uploaders cannot make changes to the files they have uploaded, like moving the file or changing the file name.
Tip: You can also hide collaborators on a folder from each other using the Hide Collaborators option.
  • Prevent people from downloading a file or folder
    Send a Shared Link and disable download in the Link Settings. Alternately, give folder collaborators the Previewer permission level. Note that Editors will always be able to download.
  • Restrict Sharing to Only Known Collaborators
    • Use SAFER to ensure that only the two approved data stewards are capable of inviting additional collaborators.
    • Use the Folder Settings to prevent anyone except folder Owners and Co-Owners from inviting new collaborators. This only affects the specific folder, not any parent folders or sub-folders.

Last Updated: 20 December 2018

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