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How to use Google Drive: Everything you need to know
Google Drive is an immensely popular cloud storage service, and one of the most generous free tools on the market. It’s powerful and easy to use, but learning how to use Google Drive can be overwhelming if you’re new to cloud storage and have never used competitors like Dropbox or Box.
To help, we put together this beginner’s guide on using Google Drive. Feel free to use the jump links below to skip to the most relevant part for you. If you don’t already have it on your phone, click the download buttons below to download the app for Android or iOS.
Learning how to use Google Drive is quick and simple. Create an account and start uploading your files to the cloud. Let's talk you through all the steps and extra guides.
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What is Google Drive? How does it work?
We won’t get too technical here, but Google Drive is Google’s cloud storage solution. It allows you to store your media and documents on Google servers to free up space on your hard drive and access them from just about any device with an internet connection.
Before we dive into all the features and show you how to use Google Drive, let’s talk about a few basic things you have to know. The first is that you need a Google account to use the service. It’s free of charge and can be set up in a few minutes. The account gives you access to all of Google’s services, including Drive, Gmail, Photos, YouTube, Play Store, etc.
You can access Drive on the web by heading to drive.google.com or the free Android app. You can also view all your files via the Drive folder on your PC with Google Drive for Desktop, but you need to download the software first.
You can get the software by visiting Drive’s website. From there, you click on the Settings cog in the top right, then Get Drive for desktop. Follow the installation instructions, then launch the program and go through the setup process, after which you’ll see a Google Drive icon under the Favorites tab on Windows.
Download the Google Drive desktop tools:
- Go to Google Drive’s website.
- Click on the Settings cog icon.
- Select Get Drive for Desktop.
- Follow the installation process and sign into your Google account.
Google Drive pricing
Regarding storage, you get 15GB for free, shared between Drive, Gmail, and Photos. That’s enough for most people, but you can add more for a monthly or yearly subscription fee. This subscription is part of Google One and gives added benefits beyond just storage, like rebates in the Google Store and sharing storage with family members.
We’re just focusing on Google Drive pricing here, so let’s look at the raw storage. A 100GB plan will set you back $1.99 per month, the 200GB plan runs $2.99 monthly, and the most extensive 2TB plan goes for $9.99 monthly. It’s also worth noting that you can save money by paying annually. Those savings work out to about two free months of service on each plan, compared to subscribing month-to-month.
Read also: Google One vs. the competition: Dropbox, OneDrive, iCloud, and more
One essential thing to remember is that Google Photos storage now counts towards your Drive storage limit. If you plan on using Photos (and most Android users do), this may be enough reason to upgrade to a paid plan.
Types of supported files
Storage space is the primary concern for most cloud storage solutions, but file type limitations may also be significant for many users. Thankfully, Google Drive supports many file types, including .jpeg, .png, .gif, mpeg4, .mov, and .avi — see the full list here.
There are also file size limits in place, but they won’t cause problems for most users:
- Documents: Up to 1.02 million characters. If you convert a text document to Google Docs format, it can be up to 50 MB.
- Spreadsheets: Up to ten million cells or 18,278 columns for spreadsheets created in or converted to Google Sheets. The same limit for Excel spreadsheets
- Presentations: Up to 100MB for presentations converted to Google Slides.
- Google Sites: Up to 15,000,000 characters per page, 40,000,000 characters per site, 10,000 pages per site, and 15,000 images per site.
- All other files: Up to 5TB.
Additionally, individual users can only upload 750GB a day. If a single file is larger than 750GB, the user won’t be able to upload more that day.
How to upload and download Google Drive files
You first need to upload your files via the web, PC, or mobile client to access your files on Google Drive. First, we’ll talk about the web version, where there are two ways to upload files to Drive.
Upload to Google Drive using a browser
The first is the drag and drop method: select a file you want to upload from your PC, drag it to Drive in a browser window, and drop it. This works for both individual files as well as folders. A small window in the bottom right will show the upload progress.
The second option is to click on the New button in the website’s top-left corner and select File upload or Folder upload. Then choose the files or folders you want to upload, click Open or Upload, then sit back and wait for the upload to complete.
- Using a browser, go to the Google Drive website.
- Click on the New button in the top-left.
- Select File upload or Folder upload.
- Choose what you want to upload.
- Click Open or Upload.
Upload to Google Drive using the desktop client
An even easier method of uploading to Google’s cloud server is to take advantage of Google Drive for Desktop. This tool creates synced Google Drive folders on your computer. Just drag the documents you want to upload and drop them into the Drive folder. It works the same as transferring files from one folder to another on your computer, although it may take a while for the files to sync.
Upload to Google Drive using your smartphone
Uploading files from your mobile device is equally accessible. Open the Drive app, tap the + icon in the bottom-right corner, then tap Upload and select the file you want to send to the cloud. You can also quickly upload files by opening them, tapping the Share button, then Drive.
- Open the Drive app on your smartphone.
- Hit the + icon.
- Select Upload.
- Tap on the files you want to upload.
Downloading files using a browser
Downloading files from Google Drive is also fast and easy on any device with an internet connection. If you’re using Google Drive for Desktop, anything you upload can be copied to any other folder on your computer, just like any other file. You can also download files from the web client by right-clicking and selecting Download. This works for both individual files and entire folders.
Downloading files using the smartphone app
It can be more convenient on mobile devices to leave the files in the cloud and open them when you need them, but there are some situations where you’ll need to find that Google Drive download button. You need to find your file in the Drive app, tap the three-dot menu button on the right, then Download, and you’re good to go.
- Open the Drive app on your smartphone.
- Find the file you want to download. Tap on the three-dot menu button next to it.
- Select Download.
How to organize and delete files on Google Drive
You can organize the files in Drive the same way you would on your PC. You can leave them all in one place (My Drive by default) or put them in different folders and subfolders. No matter how you organize your files, you can always search for them from the search bar at the top of the screen.
Creating a new folder on the web
To create a folder in the web client, click the New button and select New folder. You can also right-click in the Drive folder on your computer and create a new folder like you normally would on Windows. On mobile, tap the blue + button and select Folder.
- Go to the Google Drive website on your computer.
- Click on the New button. Select New folder.
- You can also right-click anywhere and select New folder.
- Name your folder and hit Create.
Moving files on the web
To move files into a folder on the web, use the drag and drop method for the web client and the Drive folder. You can also right-click on any file and select Move To. Then navigate to where you want to move the file and select Move here.
- Go to the Google Drive website on your computer.
- Right-click on the file you want to move.
- Select Move To.
- Navigate to the folder you want to move the file to.
- Select Move.
Moving files on the mobile app
Dragging and dropping also works on mobile, but in my experience, it’s faster if you tap the More actions icon (three vertical dots) next to a file, select the Move option, and then choose the new location for the file.
- You can drag and drop files around to move them.
- Another method is to open the mobile Drive app.
- Find the file you want to move and tap on the three-dot button next to it.
- Select Move.
- Navigate to the new location.
- Hit Move.
How to delete Drive files on the web
Since storage space is at a premium in the cloud, it’s essential to know how to delete Drive files to clear up space. The easiest option on the web is to right-click on the file or folder and select Remove.
How to delete Drive files on the mobile app
To delete a Drive document from your mobile device, tap the More actions icon next to the file (three vertical dots) and select Remove. Then confirm by selecting Move to trash.
- Open the Google Drive app on your phone.
- Find the file you want to delete. Tap on the three-dot menu button next to it.
- Hit Remove.
- Select Move to trash.
More details: How to delete files from Google Drive
How to share files on Google Drive
Sharing files on the web
One of the best things about Drive is sharing files with others. These can be single documents as well as folders. To share a Google Drive file or folder, right-click on it and click the Share option, modify the settings, then click on Copy link and share the link with the people you want.
Note that you have some control over what people can do with your link. The default Restricted mode means only people you explicitly add can see the file. You can change this so that Anyone with the link can view, comment, or edit.
- Go to the Google Drive website on your computer.
- Right-click on the file you want to share.
- Select Share.
- Change the preferences to your liking.
- Select Copy link.
- Share the link with others.
Sharing files on the mobile app
The process is similar for mobile devices. Tap the More actions icon (three vertical dots) next to a file and select Manage access. You can now manage the sharing settings and hit the chain icon to copy the link. Go and share the link with anyone. Alternatively, you can tap Add people to send the link to an email address.
- Open the Drive app on your smartphone or tablet.
- Find the file or folder you want to share.
- Tap the three-dot menu button next to it.
- Select Manage access.
- Modify the options to your liking.
- Tap on the chain link icon to copy the link.
- Share the link with others!
How to use Google Drive with third-party apps
Drive is connected with Google’s office productivity suite (Google Workspace), including Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides, rivaling Microsoft’s Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. Although these three services have their dedicated websites, every document you create is automatically saved in Drive. Drive also supports other Google services like Google Forms, Google Drawings, etc.
You can create a document straight from Drive’s web interface or the mobile app, taking you to that Google Doc’s dedicated page. How exactly? Click the New button in the top-left corner of the website and select Google Docs, Google Sheets, or Google Slides. On mobile, tap the blue + icon and choose one of the three options mentioned in the previous sentence.
- Go to the Google Drive website or open the mobile app.
- Select the New button.
- Pick Google Docs, Google Sheets, or Google Slides.
No matter which option you choose, you’ll always be able to access all created documents from your PC, mobile device, and the Drive folder on your computer. That is, provided they are connected to the internet.
Google Drive also integrates with many third-party apps. These include:
- DocHub (signing PDFs)
- Pixlr Express (photo editor)
- Draw.io (diagrams)
- and many more
You can check out the complete list via the web interface. Click the New button and select More, followed by Connect more apps. When you see something you like, click on it and select the Install button to integrate it with Drive.
Using Gmail’s Drive integration
One of the best and most useful integrations is between Gmail and Drive. In fact, unofficial support for using Gmail for storage predates Google Drive as a service. Fans created a Gmail Drive program that allowed you to use Gmail as a storage medium. Once Google Drive and Drive for Desktop were released, Gmail Drive was no longer necessary and is no longer supported.
Read also: How to set up a Gmail account in less than 2 minutes
Inserting Drive file on Gmail for web
To share a Drive file in Gmail, start composing a message and click the Drive icon at the bottom of the screen. You can then navigate to the file and select Insert. On mobile, click the Attach icon (the paperclip) at the top of the screen, then Insert from Drive. This is also an easy way to share large files shared as links rather than attachments.
- Go to Gmail.com.
- Select Compose.
- Write your email and fill in all the required fields.
- Select the Google Drive icon. Find the file, and select Insert.
- Send your email.
It’s also easy to save Gmail files to Drive. Just hover the cursor over the attached image or other media file and click the Add to Drive icon. On mobile, you have to find the attached file and select the Drive icon.
Inserting Drive file on Gmail mobile app
- Open the Gmail app.
- Hit Compose.
- Tap on the paperclip icon.
- Select Insert from Drive.
- Find the file you want to send and hit Select.
- Send your email.
It’s worth noting that files on Gmail count toward the same storage limit as files on Drive (just like photos uploaded to Google Photos), so you aren’t saving any space this way. You are, however, making them easier to search for in the Drive interface on the web, mobile, and desktop clients.
How to use Google Drive offline
Having your files online is excellent for accessing them from multiple devices. It can also mean you won’t be able to see or edit them without an internet connection. Fortunately, Google Drive gets around this limitation with an offline mode. It allows you to access files while not connected to the internet. You can view and edit files, including Google Docs, Sheets, and Slides. All the changes synchronize automatically when an internet connection is established again.
Using Google Drive offline on the web
You have to turn on offline access individually for each device. On a browser, go to Google Drive, click the gear icon, and hit Settings. Enable the Offline mode option. Also, make sure to download the Google Docs offline Chrome extension. Once that’s done, you can visit Drive’s website to view or edit your files. Remember that you must use the Chrome browser for this to work. You can also open files via the Drive folder on your computer, which will then open up in Chrome.
- Go to the Google Drive website.
- Click on the Gear icon.
- Select Settings.
- Enable Offline mode by check-marking the box next to it.
Using Google Drive offline on the mobile app
Things are a bit different on mobile devices. You must open the Drive app, tap the More actions icon (three vertical dots) next to a file, and select Make available offline. Alternatively, you can long-press on a file and select additional files. Follow the same procedure to enable offline mode for multiple files simultaneously.
- Open the Drive app.
- Find the file you want to make available offline. Hit the three-dot menu button next to it.
- Select Make available offline.
Yes, you can add Google Drive to your desktop. This will allow you to sync files from your computer to Google Drive automatically.
Yes, Google Drive is a free service provided you only need the base 15GB of storage. If you surpass that level, you will have to pay a monthly subscription for additional storage.
Go to Google Drive and locate the file you want to download. Right click on the file and select the download option.
A 100GB Google Drive subscription will cost you $1.99 per month.
Your Google Drive may stop syncing for a number of reasons. The most common reason is that you are offline. Check your connection settings and restart your Google Drive.
Don’t worry. Google won’t delete all your uploaded files if you cancel your Google One subscription. If you go past the free 15GB, though, you won’t be able to upload anything else. This can be a problem, given that most of us use our Google accounts for daily use. You want to have at least some space in there.
There are plenty of cloud storage solutions out there. You might even like some of them better than Google Drive. Check out our list of the best cloud storage services. And if you want to save money, you can also look into our favorite free cloud storage providers.
Technically, yes. Google Drive might cancel your account or delete your content after two years of inactivity. Granted, it’s very hard to stay inactive for two years, but make sure you go into your Google Drive now and then.
Drive is a safe and secure option for file storage and sharing. That said, no amount of security can overcome human error or recklessness – so you should still be responsible when downloading and sharing files or sensitive information.
If you’ve made it this far, you should have a good idea of how to use Google Drive. To learn more about other Google services, check out our other guides on Google Docs, Sheets, and Photos.