I believe this is something that will most likely come up for most organizations using the approval process on SharePoint publishing sites. I had a requirement from one of my client to allow users that have read-only permissions to be able to view unpublished versions of pages. These users would only get read access to them, they won’t be able to edit or approve any of its content. This may sound fairly easy to begin with, but you need to make sure you follow the proper steps in configuring the access, otherwise the users will be presented with an old version of the page, or worst a 403 access denied page. The following process explains how you can setup each publishing site within your organization to allow read access to draft pages.
Step 1 – Add the Users to the Visitors Group
By default, the visitors group will get Read access. You need to make sure the users you want to grant read access to your draft pages are in that group.
Step 2 – Enable Minor (Draft) Version of Pages
Sounds trivial, but in order for people to view drafts, you need to activate the drafts functionality within your pages library. By default, you are given 3 options under the Versioning Settings for a specific Document Library: “No Versioning”, “Create Major Versions”, or “create major and minor (draft) versions”. The 3rd option is what you want.
Step 3 – Allow all Authorized Users to View Draft Items
By authorized users, we mean users having the Read right or higher. In the Draft Item Security section of the Versioning Settings page, make sure you select “Any user who can read items”. This is probably the main reason why things don’t work. People always forget to turn this on.
Step 4 – Submit your Drafts
Step 1 to 3 above let you configure your site to allow Read-only users to view drafts, however, as a publisher, you need to make sure the page you want them to view is Checked-in. If the page is not checked-in, then you are the only one being able to view the changes. By checking your page in, SharePoint will let you know in the notification area that the page is visible by authorized users.
The only down side of the approach described here, is that this configuration has to be repeated to every site where you want Readers to view drafts.