10 Tips for Managing Shared Files on Google Drive

This is one of those times when I want you to jump right to the bottom of the page. Google Drive was at work with three authors from three corners of the US. The three authors had one hour to write and collaborate over a short story. They succeeded. That’s real-time partnership at its finest.

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Sharing with collaborative cloud platforms like Google Drive isn’t novel anymore. Giants of the tech world are fighting the wars over enterprises and consumers. The dust isn’t going to settle anytime soon. It’s good news for us consumers as we improve our workday with shared files, folders, and teams.

So, I have to ask you – is it still super easy to share files with Google Drive? Or are you still getting the hang of it? Either way, these ten tips should help you to manage shared files just a bit better from today.

Note: If you’re sharing sensitive files, be sure to enable client-side Google Drive encryption 3 Useful Tools to Improve Google Drive's Security and Privacy Is Google Drive's integrated encryption enough to keep your private files safe from theft and intrusion? Let's find out. Read More !

The Basics of Sharing

It’s all about creating the right kind of share permissions and the level of sharing. You can share any file or folder on Google Drive. The two-minute video sums up the process.

As the owner, you can give others complete ownership of a file, or some level of viewing and editing access.

  • Can edit: The collaborative spreadsheet you are working on with your team.
  • Can comment:  The book draft you are writing. Others can view and add comments to the file, but can’t edit it. Folders don’t have comments.
  • Can view:  The weekend party invitation you just made with Presentation.

Here’s a chart that compares the access for a viewer, commenter, editor, or owner:

Comparison sheet for Google Drive sharing & access

Source: Google Support

1. How to Disable Copy, Download, and Print Shared Files?

You can disallow downloading, printing, and copying of shared files. The advanced information rights management feature removes these options from the menu of the viewer. This is another layer of control over your documents.

Open Google Drive. Select the shared file and click the Share icon on the top right.

On the Share with others dialog box, add the name of the collaborator and click on the Advanced option located on the bottom right.

Disable copying in Google Drive

Select the Disable options to download, print, and copy for commenters and viewers box. Click Save changes.

Google Drive - Disable option

Viewers will see a “Export options disabled” notification at the top of the File and Edit menus for the specific documents, spreadsheets, and presentations.

Export options disabled in Google Drive

Do note that those with “edit” permissions will still be able to download, print, and copy your file, even if this setting is on.

2. Share a Folder with Non-Google Users

Your friends and colleagues don’t need a Google account to view a Google Drive folder or document. This is one of the little known abilities of Google Drive. You can send an invite to their email address. Or use a shareable link.

Sharing from Google Drive with non-Google users

Choose between Can view or Can edit or Can Comment. Click the Save button.

You can go into the Advanced sharing settings and choose other sharing options. The person who receives the invite does not have to register and log-in with a Google account to view on the file. But, they will need a Google account to edit a file or to comment.

Sharing from Google Drive with non-Google users

Sharing via a link is a security risk How Secure Are Your Documents In Google Drive? Read More for sensitive documents because anyone with the link can access the file.

3. Download an Entire Shared Folder

Google Drive lets you download the entire contents of a shared folder as a ZIP archive. This is useful for saving local copies of shared documents. The folder structure with any sub-folders is retained in the archive.

Go to Shared with me On your Google Drive. Right-click on the folder and choose Download.

Download Google Drive Folder

You can also use the triple dots icon in the toolbar to download the folder.

Right Click for download option

If you download a Google Doc, Sheet, or Slide, it will download as an Office document. All other files will download in their native format.

4. Transfer Ownership of Files to Someone Else

There are many reasons for transferring the ownership of documents to someone else. Maybe someone else is taking over a project. Maybe someone fired you. On a better note, you are going on a vacation and just want to hand over responsibility of the shared documents. The process to digitally “hand over” Google Drive documents and folders is easy.

Transfer Ownership of Files to Someone Else

Open Google Drive. Select the shared folder or file in Docs, Sheets, or Slides and click the Share icon on the top right. When the presumptive owner does not have share access…invite by typing the email address in the “Invite people” field. Then Save.

Click Advanced in the bottom-right corner of the sharing box. Click the drop-down menu next to the name of the person you want to own the file or folder. Select Is owner. Click Done.

Your role is swapped from an owner to an editor after you transfer ownership.

Do Note: You can’t transfer ownership of a synced or uploaded file (like a PDF or an image file).

5. How to Request Access to Shared Files?

When you try to access a file via a shared link, you might see a message that says “You need permission.”

Request access to Google Drive

Sometimes, owners share a link before they have set the permissions. Also, you might want to open the file with an alternate Google ID. It is easy to request access with a single click.

On the desktop:

  • Open a link to the file.
  • Click Request access.

On Android:

With the Drive for Android app you can request access with a single tap when the “Unable to access document” message pops up. Requesting permission will send an email to the owner from inside the app. File owners immediately get a notification on Android and iOS. The mobile app has been updated with this feature recently.

6. Search for a Collaborator

Sharing a document with 10 members is easy. Sharing it with 50 calls for more planning. Managing shared files also means tracking which collaborator is working on which document.

Go to View Details (Click the “I” icon on the toolbar). Browse the Activity tab to quickly see which files you have shared, recently.

Activity in shared folders.

Click on Shared with Me in the left menu of Google Drive. You’ll get a list of all the documents you share access to.

Use the Power of Google Search Filters. The productivity benefits won’t come as a surprise for those acquainted with Gmail filters.

Use Google Drive filters for a power search.

Use the search box at the top of Google Drive. Google Drive’s search also searches the body of the document. You can search the first 100 pages of any text documents or text-based PDFs that you’ve uploaded. You can also search for text found on the first 10 pages of any image PDFs. Instead of digging through folders use this powerful feature to quickly get to a file.

While in Google Drive press the forward slash key to place your cursor right in the search box. Click the little dropdown arrow on the search box to reveal the basic search filters. Learning a few manual parameters can save you time.

For example: To find documents you shared with someone use to:bob@gmail.com.

Google Help has the complete list.

7. Simplify sharing by Creating Contact Groups

With email contact groups you don’t have to set individual document permissions for your team members.

Log into Google Contacts. On the left sidebar, click New Group.

Use Google Drive contact groups

Give it a descriptive name according to the team project. Or anything else which makes them easy to remember. You can name groups by permissions to make them easy to remember.

For example: project.view@gmail.com or project.edit@gmail.com.

Populate the New Group with the email addresses of the team members.

Use these specific contact groups in the file or folder sharing settings.

8. See The View Count of a Shared Document

Google maintains a version history, but there is no way to see how many times a shared document has been viewed. I got the answer to this question from a Stack Exchange discussion.

Submit your document link to the http://goo.gl URL shortening service and share that URL only. This service provides information on how many times that link was clicked, which is about as close as you can currently get to knowing how many times your document was accessed.

This is useful in cases where you might want to share a document publicly and check the response. Note that public docs and files show up in search results.

Some ideas for sharing publicly:

  • Upload and share an eBook.
  • Test the initial response to a creative product.
  • Release a Slides presentation for public viewing (like SlideShare).
  • Find open educational content.

Tip: You can use a simple Google Site Search to search for public documents. E.g. keyword site:drive.google.com

9. Share with Slack

Slack is the new workplace or the office’s digital water cooler. If you aren’t working with Slack yet, it’s time to introduce it to your team. There are many ways to make your favorite services work with Slack. Google Drive integration is among the popular ones.

Slack lets you import Google Drive files and share them via Slack. All imported Google Drive files are also indexed by Slack for easy searching and reference. The files are not stored on Slack – they continue to remain in your Google Drive folders. Slack acts as a conduit.

Slack and Google Drive

A small example: Paste a link to a Google document in the Slack chatroom. Slack displays a snippet of content from the file below the link once it is integrated. This is more helpful than just sharing blind links.

Slack Help Center shows how you can connect your Google Drive to Slack in two easy ways.

10. Share Google Docs from Microsoft Office

Google Drive vs Microsoft Word Google Docs vs. Microsoft Word: The Death Match for Research Writing Online solutions are becoming the norm. We decided to see how Microsoft Word stacks up against Google Docs. Which one will do the better research paper? Read More might be a daily bout of two office suites, but the two powerhouses are finally playing nice. You can now open Word, Excel, and PowerPoint files stored on the Drive, work on them in Microsoft Office and share them back via Google drive. It’s all thanks to a handy plug-in that’s imaginatively named as — Google Drive plug-in for Microsoft Office.

The plug-in works with Microsoft Office 2007, 2010, 2013, and 2016.

Install the add-on and give it permission to access your Google Drive folders. The add-on appears as an extra tab on the Ribbon and as a new location in the Save screen.

Google Drive Plugin for MS Office

Office document stored on the Drive are also version controlled. You can track previous versions of an Office file, or go back to an older version. When you want to work on a Google document, it opens in the appropriate Google Drive program in a separate browser window.

Isn’t Sharing Wonderful!

You can’t go it alone in the 21st Century. There are a number of benefits when you collaborate in real-time Team Working: 10 Tips For Effective Real-Time Online Collaboration Read More . There are challenges as well. But reduce the number of hoops to just share a piece of information and good things will happen.

The writing project video demonstrates how more can be achieved with less when collaborative synergy happens.

Spend some time with the collaborative features of Google Drive. The harmony of teamwork depends on it. Take Google Drive beyond a file storage system with the many tips and tricks that it offers on all platforms. Tell us about the role of Google Drive in your connected world.

Do you actively use it to pull each other together around a common project? What is the one tip you would like to share that makes Google Drive management a bit better for us? Or even a complaint that’s holding you back?

Image Credit: jigsaw puzzle by Rido via Shutterstock

Explore more about: Cloud Storage, Collaboration Tools, File Management, File Sharing, Google Docs, Google Drive.

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  1. Mark
    October 4, 2019 at 9:57 pm

    Any permission settings you make, as the owner of the document, a recipient can still share that access link with anyone.

    There are no settings in your Google Drive account, whether to the folder or file, that stops recipients from sharing with others unknown to you. Even the setting, "Prevent editors from changing access and adding new people" does not stop people with a Google Account from still sharing your file/link. This creates a huge problem against privacy, of any document or file you share.

    People with no Google account cannot share, there are no options in browser window viewing the file, to allow a "Non-Google" user to share, but if they sign up for a Google account, then they can share the file with anyone.

    This also means, if you only wanted to provide a file for downloading only, there are still many options to the Google account user, as sharing, copy to their Google drive, downloading, etc. Changing from "can edit" to "can view" for the recipient permissions, changes very little at the recipient end.

    Google needs to revamp this share system, make it more secure and allow the owner to add more restrictions to how their file is shared (or not) and accessed.

  2. Sandy
    August 9, 2018 at 4:13 pm

    I don't want to share with anyone. I think it's creepy when I get an email from someone I don't even know wanting access to one of my work files. How do I lock the whole thing down?

  3. Berto
    March 11, 2018 at 7:15 am

    Hi Saikat, very good article.

    I have a question:
    My hdd will already be corrupted, can i copy files from shared drive (I'm not the owner) to new hdd, then sync to new hdd, so sync process does not have to download files from the google drive cloud.

    Thank you.

  4. Pim Holtz Mediservices.nl
    April 1, 2017 at 5:33 pm

    Hi Saikat,
    thanks for the nice overview.
    For collaboration, i have a folder with a lot of files in google drive. Collaborators will put comments in them. When I solve them, i hit solved/close on the comment. Sometimes I miss out some comments (lot of files in folder, lots of comments in file). Do you know of a way to list the files that still have comments not yet closed, or even better: to list comments per file?

    Thank you!

    • Saikat Basu
      April 4, 2017 at 4:52 am

      There doesn't seem to be a straightforward solution right now. You could of course, click the comments button on top and see ALL the comments on the file to check for the unresolved ones (opens up a list summary of all comments). But that is headache inducing. A workaround could be to tag the Gmail notifications with an "unresolved" label while trashing the rest.

      Also, look into the Comment Save Drive extension and see if it solves the problem somewhat.

  5. Ellen O'Keefe
    March 4, 2017 at 2:32 pm

    Great article, and excellent descriptions. Easy to understand. Really enjoyed it!
    Thank you!

    • Saikat Basu
      March 5, 2017 at 2:46 pm

      Thanks Ellen. Glad it helped :)

  6. andrew
    February 9, 2017 at 1:35 pm

    Love using Google docs and sharing a big report for others to update at the same time.

    But if you are working at the 'bottom' of a report, while others are working at the 'top' the text can jump around so you keep seeing a different part of the text. There are up to ten of us working on the report. Any ideas?

    • Saikat Basu
      February 12, 2017 at 4:37 am

      Google has had this problem for some time (as discussed in their Product Forum).

      Another < a href="https://productforums.google.com/forum/#!topic/docs/GLYnLs6Qqvk">thread had this to say and it is what we usually notice too when a lot of us are working on the same document.

      Unfortunately, if you're both in the document at the same time and making significant changes, such as adding or deleting large amounts of text, this will happen. The best way to deal with this is to wait until the bulk of the additions are complete and then access the document again to make your changes.

      • Andrew
        February 13, 2017 at 8:41 am

        Thanks for sharing that link, it confirms what our team have been seeing.

        I'm surprised that this is the case though. Clearly if the software tracks where you are from the top of the document, or which page number you are on, then this is going to happen. If instead the software had the option to track where you are in terms of which paragraph you are on (even if it is one moment say paragraph number 30, then say becomes paragraph number 32 because maybe someone just added 2 paragraphs above where you are viewing) then the problem would go away and sharing google docs would be massively improved. I admit I am hoping for a document feature change that would really make a difference!

        • Saikat Basu
          February 14, 2017 at 4:48 am

          I am surprised too. And I agree with your point. But, it is far more smooth now that it has ever been. I haven't noticed this in any other collaborative environment. I could be very wrong but I also used to think that the problem was due to team members using different bandwidths and latencies. Someone on a slower connection while others where on a speedier one.

  7. Sakshi
    February 1, 2017 at 2:38 pm

    Thank you very much for the reply!.... And one more thing, is it possible to block one person with whom we have shared a file from seeing other people with whom we have shared the file. I mean in the g-drive if we select a file and select " details " , it shows all the people with whom we have shared the file. Is it possible that others cant see who else we have shared with...If possible, could you kindly tell me how to do so...

    • Sakshi
      February 13, 2017 at 9:32 am

      Is there any way to do so?

  8. Tina Morales
    January 30, 2017 at 10:59 pm

    Once I have shared a document with someone, can I restrict their access to that document?
    A.k.a. block them from seeing the document anymore.

    • Tina Sieber
      February 1, 2017 at 10:23 am

      Yes, if you still own the document and didn't make them the owner, then you can remove their access.

      Open the document, go into the *Share* menu (top right of the document), click on *Advanced* in the bottom right of the "Share with others" menu, and either change their editing rights or remove them by clicking the *X* on the far right.

      If they have copied the document, however, you can't undo that.

  9. sakshi
    January 28, 2017 at 9:01 am

    Can i withdraw the rights to edit from someone? I gave that person the right to edit by mistake while choosing the option...

    • Saikat Basu
      January 29, 2017 at 3:18 pm

      Yes. Just change the permission.

      • Sakshi
        January 30, 2017 at 9:29 am

        Could you please tell me how to do so? I searched for such an option but couldn't find it...

        • Tina Sieber
          February 1, 2017 at 10:23 am

          Sakshi, see my comment above in response to Tina Morales.

  10. semper_eadem@hotmail.com
    December 20, 2016 at 5:29 am

    How to display all the folders I've shared to the world that's what I want to know??? That's just shows how Google cares about you google drive security.

    Oh wait but if you are looking for a place to see the files someone else shared with you with there is a button for that.

    And because I'm at it I'm also going to complain of gmail conversations. Which is in my opinion the worst google invention we were forced into by Google. The interface was so good and available in all client that we really didn't have any choice. Hey Google! I just want to see my last message I received on top of the page!! Why is so complicated??

    To be fair google has amazing products and done amazing stuff. Like ads technology :)

    If you prove me wrong there is a way to fix this I'll take back everything I wrote.

  11. emilia
    November 18, 2016 at 5:01 pm

    i created a folder in google drive so I am the owner, and I invited someone to share the folder with me so they can see all the files and add their own files. I get notified when they make any changes or add anything, but they do not get notified when i add something to my own documents, because I am the owner. Is there a way we can both be owners or that she can be notified of all changes in the folder, whether the changes are made on her documents or mine?

  12. veeknesh
    August 31, 2016 at 8:42 am

    hi. can i know if it is possible to disable one from opening the same file at different platforms in a single time. For example if computer A has the file x opened, computer B should not allow that shared file x to open until computer A closes the file.

  13. Jimbo McFly
    July 11, 2016 at 4:07 pm

    Using groups in Contacts is fine for populating permissions initially, however if you delete someone from the group, they remain authorized under Drive. So you can't "manage" access using Contacts.

  14. John
    June 23, 2016 at 9:48 pm

    I've got a link to a shared evil file on gdrive and it activates a pop up blocker that stumps most chumps. Can you stop that feature? Does Slack activate a Pop Up?

    June 16, 2016 at 12:12 pm


  16. Danny Lambrechts
    May 29, 2016 at 8:27 am

    Some information in the chart in your intro is not well indicated. Users with editor rights can definetly mess up documents and folders of owners. Perhaps not actually delete them but make it very difficult to recover them. The owner in fact does not get a message when a document of his has been deleted by a user with edit rights. This document not even ends up in the trash but in uncategrorized items which not even is reachable via the searchwizard in Drive.

  17. Victoria S
    May 22, 2016 at 8:00 am

    The Google drive that I have shared with others will be constantly updated. Will users see all the updates automatically? Do I need to re send the link after I have added more files. Thanks

    • Saikat Basu
      May 25, 2016 at 7:33 am

      Yes, it is automatically updated and all those with the share link will see the changes.

      • JED
        May 26, 2016 at 9:19 pm

        No, it is not.
        I shared a folder in the drive, people got notified only at that moment.
        Any new file uploaded to that folder did not trigger anything to keep them informed.

      • JED
        May 31, 2016 at 9:05 am

        Do you ever check-in here?

  18. Josh
    May 18, 2016 at 8:30 pm

    I'm not sure your chart above item 1 is accurate. If someone has Can Edit rights, they can delete folders. We just had this happen. I was set as the owner of a folder, and another user had ONLY Can Edit access. They accidentally deleted the entire folder and all the contents within.

    I just finished a chat with Google, and they confirmed this.

  19. tho
    May 8, 2016 at 4:06 am

    hey , i use google drive to upload videos and embed them into my blog , but , it's always show push-botton : "open new window " and IDM easy to catch download file.
    I use wordpress for my blog , anyone know how to hide all video link , only view but cannot show or download.

    Thank you so much

  20. joanna recine
    April 26, 2016 at 10:33 pm

    twice,i was sent doc to share (view/download) and twice i did not find them in my google drive..and looked all over.. what can be wrong? Aren't their settings correct? Since they send me the document in the first place? thanks

    • Saikat Basu
      April 27, 2016 at 3:46 pm

      Did you check the Shared With Me section?

  21. Patrick Cloughley
    April 20, 2016 at 12:37 am

    Benedictus, that won't work I'm afraid. What's described here is sharing of Google docs, sheets etc. They have been specifically designed to allow real time collaboration, but packaged as software as a service. The important point is that it is two or more people working in the same file simultaneously.

    I think you want something rather different, which is to allow an application (an Access database front end) to connect to the back end database over the Internet. That's effectively different people working on different instances of the application which in turn connect to a single file in the cloud. The technology involved is very different. I know nothing about it, but doesn't Access allow you to publish forms to the web so you can commit data to the database through a webform? Or is that for read only?

    Either way, good luck


  22. temps
    April 14, 2016 at 11:44 am

    I want to disable the download of the shared files. However I do not get the 'Disable options to download, print, and copy for commenters and viewers' option in the advanced settings. How do I disable the download of the files?

  23. Benedictus Freyer
    April 14, 2016 at 10:59 am

    I shared a link of a MS Access DBase file with my colleagues who are in other towns.
    They have proper email and internet connections. They downloaded the file through the link and saved it under Dropbox.
    Now that they started to put in new data, that data is not being updated to the main file which is with me.
    What should be done to get the link working? Or did I not understand the sharing properly? Will the updates by my colleagues not update the main file?
    Please assist me how to do the sharing correctly or explain to me any mistake I might have done, which causes the updates not reflected on my file.
    Thank you.

  24. George Alexopoulos
    April 7, 2016 at 7:27 am

    Is there a way to prevent users from working on a file at the same time? Something like a read-write status??

  25. Mark
    March 31, 2016 at 5:11 am

    Is there a way to get an easy to remember URL for my drive?
    This would make sharing so much easier.

  26. Imran Ahmad
    March 29, 2016 at 2:26 pm

    is there a way to do this in bulk?

    for e.g. I have 100 pdf files that I want to share publically

    they are all in a single folder

    is there a way to make them all public shared with "can view" permission and get the sharing links of all the 100 files respectively (in order)?