User photos flow in Office 365

User photos in Office 365




The user photo story in Office 365 is not so straight forward. Photos are stored in Active Directory (AD) on-premises, Azure Active Directory (AAD), Exchange Online (EXO), SharePoint Online (SPO), and at first appearances possibly elsewhere as well (where does my Delve profile picture live, what about my Skype for Business (SfB) avatar?).

I have put together a flow diagram to represent how this actually works. It aims to demonstrate where user photos are stored and where different applications fetch user photos from (if they don’t store the images), and leads to some recommendations about user photo synchronisation.

Please note the date of this article (August 2016) and be conscious that Office 365 is changing rapidly and the following recommendations may have changed (e.g. Prior to the Delve user profile page, the SharePoint user profile page referenced images stored in SharePoint rather than Exchange. Changes such as these will continue to evolve).

User photos: the diagram

User photos flow in Office 365
User photos flow in Office 365

Where applications store and fetch user photos

Photo Location

Comments

Size

Is source?

On-premises AD DS in the thumbnailPhoto attribute

100Kb maximum

Recommended to be

96×96 or 48×48

Yes

Azure AD in the thumbnailPhoto attribute

100Kb maximum

Usually synced from AD DS via Azure AD Connect

Recommended to be

96×96 or 48×48

No.

Sync from AD

Exchange Online as property of the mailbox

500Kb

Provided manually by users or a bulk import can be scripted if source photos can be located and named appropriately.

If not provided, Exchange will reference the AAD thumbnailPhoto in some instances but only if the thumbnailPhoto is less than 10Kb.

Does not sync back to AD

Recommended to be

648×648

Yes

SharePoint Online ‘User Photos’ library

Three renditions of the EXO photo are automatically created in SharePoint after upload to EXO.

It generally takes up to 72 hours to see changes to EXO photo here. Sometimes we see that a user must ‘touch’ their profile before the sync will be performed.

NOTE: Updating user profile photo via Delve profile is actually updating EXO profile photo and not performing any actions directly in SharePoint Online.

Small is 48 x 48,

Medium is 72 x 72,

Large changes depending on the source image but is always square. I have seen as small as 120 x 120 and as large as 300 x 300. PnP image upload solution uploads these as 200 x 200.

No.

Sync from EXO

Skype for Business

Does not store any images

Uses the high resolution Exchange image if available, otherwise uses the AD thumbnailPhoto

EXO image or AD thumbnailPhoto

No.

Read from EXO

Delve user profile

Does not store any images

Uses the high resolution Exchange image if available, otherwise uses the AD thumbnailPhoto

EXO image or AD thumbnailPhoto

No.

Read from EXO

Yammer

Also stores its own photo. Out of scope of this discussion for now.

Yes

Likely issues and resolutions

Issue

Resolution

Exchange Online user photo is low quality (and in turn so is the SPO photo and SfB photo)

The source image coming from AD was/is low quality.

EXO user photos can be updated by users individually or if high res source photos are available this import can be scripted.

Source images should be jpg of 648×648 (resizing and compression can also be scripted)

Exchange Online user photo is high quality but SfB photo is low quality

High resolution photos from Exchange will be used as long as both Exchange and Sfb/Lync are of new enough versions (2013 or greater) and SfB is configured to allow all photos (not just those from AD).

NB. If a user doesn’t have a mailbox (e.g. not licenced) then they will be displayed using the AD photo

There is no Exchange Online user photo (and in turn there is no SPO photo or SfB photo)

A photo has not been imported to the user’s EXO mailbox and the AAD thumbnailPhoto either doesn’t not contain an image or that image is greater than 10Kb.

Import of photos up to 500Kb to EXO mailbox can be scripted (the source images could be on a file share, or AAD).

Changes to user photos are reflected quickly in Exchange and Skype but take days to replicate to SPO

Exchange to SPO synchronisation is a periodic process and can take up to 72 hours.

A custom solution can perform this replication on demand (e.g. at the same time EXO user photos are set)

User photos changed in other systems which update AD are not reflected in EXO, SPO, SfB.

E.g. A user in an on-premises SharePoint farm updates their user photo

When AD is updated, it is synchronised with AAD but that is as far as it gets as the “sync” from AAD to EXO is one-off import rather than a Sync.

Unlikely to be desirable to create a custom sync relationship here as users will want to be able to update EXO directly and won’t want their photo’s overwritten

User photos updated in EXO aren’t replicated to other systems which share an AD.

E.g. An on-premises SharePoint farm

The user photo in EXO is not synched back to AD – it can’t be consistently as the AD thumbnailPhoto attribute only supports photos up to 100Kb where EXO supports larger images.

Potential for a custom solution to sync images back to AD after having resized/compressed them to <100kb – However general recommendation is that AD thumbnailPhoto optimal size is 10Kb and 96×96.

Recommendations

Use Exchange user photos as the master. Allow users to update their user photos but pre-populate their user photo if possible and before end users are provided any access to the system.

If high resolution photos are available, script import of high resolution photos (648×648) to Exchange Online (see Set-UserPhoto and this). These will then be visible in Exchange, in Skype, and, once processed, in SharePoint Online. In a dispersed environment this may have to be managed by many teams rather than trying to compile a single list of all user photos.

Users may then update their user profile photo directly via Outlook or indirectly via their Delve profile.

If synchronisation back to AD is required in order serve other applications (e.g. an on-premises SharePoint farm) then a custom solution could provide synchronisation from EXO to AD but this process should compress and shrink images as the recommended size of thumbnailPhoto images is only 96×96 and 10Kb.

Paul.





3 thoughts on “User photos in Office 365”

  1. Hi Paul,

    Thanks for the post, it sumarises the not so logical processes behind the user photo sync. The part I’m struggling with is that even after uploading an image to Exchange online the users still need to visit their my profile page for the SPO picture to render. Did you find any way to get around/automate this?

    Thanks,

    Katerina

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