Migrating a WSS 2.0/3.0 site to SharePoint Online

So you have a customer with a Small Business Server 2003 environment that has set up and used Windows SharePoint Services (WSS) 2.0 or 3.0 and wants to retain the data when they move to BPOS.
As SharePoint Online (like many other hosted SharePoint offerings) doesn’t provide you with command line access to run stsadm.exe, what can you do?
The simple answer (in the case of WSS 3.0) would be to use SharePoint Designer (SPD) 2007 to simply backup and restore the site. While this sounds good in theory SPD has a very well known bug that prevents it from exporting more than 25MB (if your site is more than 25MB).
You could also use SPD to export & import the parts of the site you want using Personal Web Packages, but this can be time consuming depending on how many lists & libraries you have.
Or you could spend a small fortune on migration tools in the market like Metalogix or MetaVis, however I’d prefer a method the customer can afford.

So please join me on this journey of migrating a WSS 2.0 or 3.0 site to SharePoint Online. The WSS 3.0-specific instructions begin at Step 5.
(note: while this has been reproduced several times in various production environments, it is not perfect and can be thrown off by data corruption or issues with the environments)

Step 1 – Perform a backup of the existing site in WSS 2.0 using command line
stsadm -o backup -url http://(sitename) -filename c:temp(filename).dat

Step 2 – Set up a WSS 2.0 environment and copy across the newly created backup
I’d recommend either Microsoft Virtual PC or VMWare Workstation for ease of use. Also make sure that your new WSS 2.0 installation matches the source server version. This page will help you determine what service pack level to install.

Step 3 – Restore the WSS 2.0 backup to your new environment
Ensure that you’ve created a blank site in IIS and created this as a web application in SharePoint Central Admin. The run the following command:
stsadm -o restore -url http://(sitename) -filename c:temp(filename).dat -overwite

Step 4 – Perform an in-place upgrade of WSS 2.0 to 3.0
After installing WSS 3.0 SP2 make sure you run the configuration wizard. Once the databases have completed the upgrade process make sure you go into SharePoint Central Admin and select ‘Finalize Upgrade’ under the Operations tab. When all is done load your site and ensure that it appears the way it should (with all content intact).

Step 5 (or Step 1 for you people who are not doing the WSS 2.0 part) – Export the site to Content Migration Package (CMP) files
stsadm -o export -url http://(sitename) -filename c:temp(filename).cmp -includeusersecurity -versions 4
(the additional switches will ensure that the metadata comes across as well as all of the version history)

Step 6 – Import the site to SharePoint Online
Once all of the CMP files have been exported you will now need to import them using SharePoint Designer. Simply connect to SharePoint Online from within SPD and click on Site -> Administration -> Restore Web Site, point to the first CMP file created and go find something to keep you busy.
Something important to note with this step – SPD will upload the CMP files to the SharePoint Online site first, then extract them. Make sure the site collection is big enough to handle twice your current site size as it will be storing both the CMP files and the extracted content at the same time.

Once the restore has completed, log in and make sure the destination looks like the source and contains the same content.
Some points of note:
– If the same usernames existing in the customers BPOS profile as in the on-premise SharePoint environment – you will find the created/modifed by fields will retain the original names
– The Last Modified field of all of the lists and libraries will be counted from the time they were created in SharePoint Online

I hope this all makes sense, and if you need any help or have feedback – please don’t hesitate to ask us!


  1. Thanks for this excellent guide, I look forward to trying these steps out. Question: If the same usernames exist in on-premise and BPOS, will permissions to various areas of the site, as well as permissions on document libraries, be preserved?


    1. Unfortunately when the username goes across it takes with it the domain attribute – so while the created by / modified by looks like it did on the source server, it’s actually not helpful as the BPOs user with the same name doesn’t actually exist within the system.
      Specifically on permissions – I found that I had to remove the domain-based usernames and put in the new BPOS accounts before permissions would work.
      Annoying and confusing, I know. 🙁

  2. Seems to work – more or less.

    I get this error when restoring the old site to BPOS.

    Error occurred while importing the web https://….sharepoint.emea.microsoftonline.com/xxx/xxx. Item does not exist. It may have been deleted by another user

    Most part of the this site has been restored, but some documents are missing??

    1. Interesting results. Did you have any errors when performing the export/backups?
      Also are you going from WSS 2.0, or 3.0?

  3. Manage to do transfer to test enviroment, complete upgrade and backup, but restore to BPOS coming with an error “Operator does not have web administrator access to import location”.

    BPOS support suggested to use account other than default Admin and also transfer Site Collection Permissions, but it doesn’t work with another account either.

    Any idea ?

    1. Majo is the issue occuring for you at step 6? Are you using SharePoint Designer 2007 (you should be)? Also do you have the sign-in tool installed and signed in on the machine you are using to connect (you shouldn’t)?

  4. Hi, am looking to migrate to bpos. A few questions. Do we need to create an empty site first in online environment to store to?
    Saving permissions, means permissions and accounts will be carried over in sharepoint groups? I take it we wil need to migrate accounts from host environment AD to online AD first?
    Not sure what you meant by, “If the same usernames existing in the customers BPOS profile as in the on-premise SharePoint environment – you will find the created/modifed by fields will retain the original names
    – The Last Modified field of all of the lists and libraries will be counted from the time they were created in SharePoint Online”

    Say you have a publishing portial (corporate intranet) and all your team sites are stored under http://publicPortal.com/sites

    Just export the _root (portal site) in the stsadm command and use the subsites param to save all the team sites as well? The create a blank site (making sure the size is big enough to take portal site and subites then) restore to blank site via online admin interface like you stated?

    1. Hi Darren, in the previous reply I state that you need to create a new blank site before you can import.
      If you have a Publishing Site, then you’ll need to enable the Publishing Infrastructure in SharePoint Online, then enable the feature – then you should be able to import your site (that you’ve exported at the root level).

  5. Hi,

    I’ve followed the steps and I’ve encountered with the error “Error ocurred while importing the web XXX. The file cannot be imported because its parent web XXX does not exist”.

    After some investigation, I’ve detected the reason: be sure that you use a “Site collection Administrator” for both EXPORT and IMPORT operations.

    Hope this helps

  6. Hi Loryan,

    Excellent guide, i am trying to do this from point 5 as we are using WSS 3.0 but when running the command, it starts to chew up disc space on the C drive, from running a search it is creating a load of .DAT files in this location:

    C:Documents and SettingsAdministratorLocal SettingsTemp

    My cmd was:

    stsadm -o export -url http://eanet -filename d:SPsharepoint.cmp -includeusersecurity -versions 4

    I don;t have much space on the C drive and any help would be very much appreciated.

    Many thanks

  7. While this might work with BPOS, It doesn’t seem to work with Sharepoint Online 2010. I was able to easily create the .cmp files however when using Sharepoint Online 2010, you have to use Sharepoint Designer 2010 which no longer allows for importing .cmp files. Do you have any suggestions for how to get around that? Many Thanks.

    1. The article heading does indicate that it’s for WSS 2.0 & 3.0 – not SharePoint 2010 or SharePoint Online.
      For migrating sites I’d suggest using a 3rd party product like MetaVis or Metalogix. Well worth the money.

  8. I am about to undertake a project that involves migrating Sharepoint lists and libraries including their versions into BPOS Sharepoint
    Just needed to know if your method is what i should try in my case.


    1. It is if you’re going to BPOS, however BPOS has been shut down as of October 31st so I’m not sure how successful you’ll be.

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