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The Strange Case of the “Editing and Out of Date” Status

I get a lot of screen shots of InCopy UIOs (Unidentified Interface Objects) sent my way. “What does this thing mean?” is the usual message in the e-mail. Here’s one that I get at least once a month — you may have encountered it yourself — and at first glance, it seems impossible:


Now, how could a story be out of date (the triangle icon) if you’re editing it (the pencil icon)? No one has a more up to date version of the story than you, right? And no one else could have saved changes to the story while you were working on it. So the icon makes no sense. Yet there it is, staring at you. What gives?

After having been on the receiving end of this question one too many times, I sent it in to my friends on the InCopy workflow team at Adobe. Hallelujah, they weren’t laid off, and answered me promptly with one easily reproducible reason the icon might appear. But before I explain it, it would help if we first reviewed the normal workflow statuses.

A story’s status starts out as “Available,” signified by the globe and paper icon.


When you check it out, its status changes to “Editing” (a pencil icon) for you:


And “In Use By” (pencil with a slash through it) for anyone else on your team working on the same document:


As you edit the checked-out story, nothing changes, icon- or status-wise, for anyone. It’s only when you save changes to the story  (File > Save Content in InCopy, or File > Save in InDesign, if you’ve checked it out in ID) that the story’s status changes. Saving changes to the contents of a file also changes the file’s last modification date and time — aka its timestamp — as is true for any file on a computer.

On your end, the story you’re editing should still show a pencil icon and nothing else. After all, you can see your changes that you just saved, so it’s not out of date.


For anyone else working on the document, your story’s status changes to “In Use By and Out of Date,” usually within a few seconds of your save action, depending on how fast the network is.


How does it know when the story is out of date? During its periodic checking of the linked files on the server, your colleague’s copy of InCopy or InDesign detected a new timestamp for the story, newer than when they first opened the layout or assignment. When the timestamps don’t match, the workflow adds the yellow triangle icon to the story, cautioning users that what they’re seeing is not the latest version. They could ignore it, or they could choose to Update Content if they want to see those changes you’ve just saved, as I’ve done below.


So, Update Content means, “Get me the current contents of the InCopy file linked to this frame.” Or if you want to get technical about it, “Synch the timestamp of the file on the server to my preview of it.”

The Mystery Icon Revealed

Now that we’re all experts on InCopy status icons, let’s take another look at this bad boy:


You know that the out of date icon means that your preview of the InCopy story does not match the timestamp of the story on the server. But you’re in control of the story, you’re editing it. What you see as you edit should always be up to date. Assuming the server and our computer’s clocks are synched, how could this happen?

Here’s what Adobe said: It can happen because you saved changes, then chose Edit > Undo, bringing the preview to a state prior to the Save. You may not even be aware that’s what you did, but chances are likely that’s the culprit. Try it for yourself!

Some people think that choosing Save “clears the decks,” and so the Undo command only applies to things you did after you saved. That used to be true, but not for most design and editorial programs these days.

After you check out a story in InDesign or InCopy, every one of the edits you make to the file is noted behind the scenes. Choosing Save Content (or Save in InDesign) writes those changes to the linked story on the server, but it doesn’t erase the history of your changes during the active session. You can still Undo your edits, even if you were saving every five minutes, all the way back to the state the file was in when you first checked it out.

It’s only when you check a story back in (note the “Can’t Undo” alert) or close the file (clicking Yes when it offers to check the stories in) that the Undo history gets erased. Your editing history also gets erased when you choose Save As to an InDesign layout or a standalone InCopy file.

As you know, choosing Save also changes the timestamp of the file on the server. As soon as you Undo to a state before the most recent Save, your preview is of a state prior to the one on the server. The timestamps are out of synch, and you get the yellow triangle icon on the story — even if you’re currently editing it.

Fixing It

It’s not something to be overly concerned about, actually. As soon you once again choose Save, the out of date icon goes away. Where people get in trouble, though, is when the try to update the story — out of force of habit, I’m thinking, in reaction to seeing the Out of Date yellow triangle. Choosing Update Content is fine for stories that are out of date and Available or In Use By someone else, but not for stories you’re editing.

For example, let’s say you’re working on a story that’s overset, looking for something to cut. You spot a not-totally-necessary subhead and delete it. Then you save your changes with File > Save Content, and look for something else to cut.

If you change your mind — Oh, let’s keep that subhead in, find something else to cut — and choose Undo, the subhead reappears as expected. But now the story carries the Editing and Out of Date icons, because you’re at a state prior to the most recent save.

If you choose Update Content, InCopy or InDesign will obligingly replace what you see in the frame with what’s on the server; which, if you haven’t been paying close attention, could be quite different than what you were looking at. What’s on the server is what you last saved — in this simple example, the story without the subhead. Imagine if you had been doing some heavy editing after your Undo-before-the-Save, and an hour later noticed hey, why’s the triangle here … guess I’ll Update Content … yikes! All your edits would get wiped out as soon as you chose Update Content.

Luckily, Update Content is also undoable.

So when you see the Editing and Out of Date icon, what should you do? Simply choose File > Save Content (or in InDesign, File > Save).  Your most recent edits are saved to the file on the server, and the Out of Date icon disappears from the story. Nothing changes on screen.

It can get confusing, I know. The basic thing to keep in mind when you’re editing a story is this: Do you like what you see in front of you? If yes, choose Save. If not, choose Undo, as many times as necessary to get back to your starting point. If you’re not sure, keep the file open and checked out to yourself while you mull it over.

But very seldom, if ever, should you choose Update Content for a story you’re currently editing.

Anne-Marie Concepcion

Anne-Marie Concepcion

Anne-Marie “Her Geekness” Concepción is the co-founder (with David Blatner) and CEO of Creative Publishing Network, which produces InDesignSecrets, InDesign Magazine, and other resources for creative professionals. Through her cross-media design studio, Seneca Design & Training, Anne-Marie develops ebooks and trains and consults with companies who want to master the tools and workflows of digital publishing. She has authored over 20 courses on on these topics and others. Keep up with Anne-Marie by subscribing to her ezine, HerGeekness Gazette, and contact her by email at or on Twitter @amarie
Anne-Marie Concepcion

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6 Comments on “The Strange Case of the “Editing and Out of Date” Status

  1. More the reason to tell people to ONLY use Check in/Check Out.
    I always teach in a final workflow, specialy the InCopy users that save is off limits, do only the check in/out thingie!

  2. No, realy I’ve done a lot of workflow installments here in the Netherlands for the InCopy workflow (newspapers and magazines, some with datbase connection some with Woodwings Smart Connection Pro, most with the ‘out of the box’ Adobe plug-ins) and they all work well the last years, and all have learned to use check out/check in only.

    I find the check out/in (and cancel check out as Undo) to be the most reliable.
    So no: I don’t think they should use Save and I learn them not to ;-)

    (of course there is the versioning problem some want, save content as or using Version Cue, but as a rule I use not save, only check out/in)

  3. Anne-Marie: Have you ever gotten any other explanations for this phenomenon? We are in probably the mid-stages of implementing an IC workflow and we have had several users encounter this. All insist they did not “Undo” anything before it happens. They are just working along and all of a sudden for no apparent reason they start getting this icon combo every time they make a change. I watch it happen to a user this morning. She was working in InDesign (but last week I had an IC user with the same thing). She was going through the index italicizing the items that needed it, and every single time she made something italic it would tell her the story SHE HAD CHECKED OUT was out-of-date. I told her your trick of saving rather than agreeing to update content, which works, but what a pain in the neck. You should not have to save after literally every change. Also, when she was done and went to check it back in, it told her she was trying to submit an older version. We are working off a server as recommended. Do you have any ideas at all? (If you have questions/need more information, just let me know.)

    Thank you!

    Joanna Beyer

  4. I’m very glad to have found this thread, because I’ve been having real problems with just this issue. I work freelance, and ‘Save content’ doesn’t work – probably because I’m not directly linked to a server – but I’ll now proceed by Checking in/out, and NOT Save-ing. Goes against everything I’ve been taught about computers and saving work, but hey – I can adjust while using InCopy. I do love it, when it works.

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