Canvas: Published and Unpublished Content

How to publish content in Canvas and confirm that it is accessible to students

Unpublished Content in Canvas

Students will not be able to view or access content in a course until it is published. If they try following a link to unpublished content, they will be met with an "Access Denied" message:

Canvas Access Denied message

Canvas attempts to minimize the likelihood that students inadvertently access content they are not supposed to. As a result, students may accidentally not have access to content that instructors meant to enable. This page provides an overview of how to publish content and confirm that it is accessible to students.

Checking Access Using Student View

If you are ever unsure if content is viewable by students, the quickest way to check is by entering Student View. If you are met with the "Access Denied" message while in Student View, then students won't be able to view it. Conversely, if you can access content through Student View, you can be confident that it will be accessible to your class.

Please see this Instructure documentation for more information on entering and using Student View.

Pages, Assignments, and Quizzes

When a page, assignment, or quiz is published, it means that students will be able to view when they follow a link to it. 

By default, a page, assignment, or quiz is unpublished when first created. After editing the resource, you can either Save it (and keep it hidden from students) or Save & Publish it (making it immediately viewable to students). 

When a resource is published, there will be a green Published button in the upper-right hand corner of the screen. Hovering over the button will give you the option to Unpublish it. 

An image of the Published and Unpublish buttons


When a module is published, it means that students will be able to see the module and any published content within it from the Modules menu. 

In the example below, the module is unpublished (as indicated by the Ø sign next to it), but all the content within it is published. This means that students will be able to view the published resources if they have a URL link directly to them, but they will not be able to access them from the modules page because the module itself is unpublished.

A screenshot of an unpublished module

If a module is published but it contains unpublished content, then students will only be able to see the published content.

An screenshot of a module with an unpublished discussion

If you publish a module that is currently unpublished, then all content within it will become published by default. You can unpublish content if need be by clicking the green check mark next to the resource. However, if you unpublish a module that is currently published, then the content within it will remain published (but it will not be accessible to students through that module, since they cannot see unpublished modules).


Files hosted on a course site must be uploaded through the Files menu within the course. Once they have been uploaded, they can be accessed directly through the file viewer, linked to or embedded on pages, and linked to in a module. 

You can change the publication status of a file either through the Files menu or through the Modules menu (if the file has already been added to a module). To do so, click the symbol next to its name, select the new publication status you want, and click Update.

An image of the editing permissions for a file in Canvas

Unlike other elements on Canvas, files have four different publication options:

  • Published: The file is visible to students in modules, in the file viewer (if enabled for students), and through links that take them directly to it.
  • Unpublished: The file is not visible to students. If they try accessing it using a direct link, they will receive an "Access Denied" message.
  • Only available to students with link: The file is visible to students in modules and when it is linked to on a page, but it will not appear for them in the file viewer.
  • Schedule student availability: The file will only be accessible to students within a certain time frame. The file name will be visible to students in modules and through links on pages, but if they try accessing it before it is available, they will receive a message that the file is locked until a certain time or date. This option can be useful if you want students to download exam questions directly from Canvas but do not want them to be able to look at the questions before the exam starts.

Note: If a file is published but is inside a folder that is unpublished, students can see the file in modules but cannot access the file itself. If they try to access it, they will receive a message reading, "The folder 'FOLDER NAME,' which includes this file, has been locked."

To address this issue, navigate to the folder from the Files menu and publish it as you would publish a file. 

Enabling and Disabling Menu Items for Students

Instructors can control what menu options are viewable by students in the course settings. Controlling what menu options students can access and the order in which they appear can help keep your course site organized and intuitive for students to navigate. For example, if you intend for students to access course content through the Modules interface, then you may wish to disable the Pages menu option so that students do not accidentally access content out of order. (If you are unsure how to structure your course, you can view this video tutorial and utilizing pages versus modules.)

To change what menu items students can see, go to the Settings page for your course, then select the Navigation section.

An image of the menu navigation settings in Canvas

The Navigation menu shows two banks of items. The top bank lists the menu items that are visible to students and the order in which they appear. You can drag items up or down to change their order on the menu. 

The bottom bank lists the menu items that are not visible to students. You can change the visibility of menu items by dragging them between the top bank and bottom bank.

Note: After making adjustments to the menu, scroll down to the bottom of the Navigation page and click Save. Changes will not go into effect if you do not save them.

As an instructor, you will be able to see all menu items. Items with an eye with a line through it are not visible to students.

An image of a Canvas menu in instructor view

Keywordscanvas, publish, unpublish, "student view", viewable, access, accessible   Doc ID124844
OwnerChristina S.GroupSchool of Information Sciences
Created2023-03-14 15:06:18Updated2024-06-03 09:57:37
SitesUniversity of Illinois School of Information Sciences
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