The Ultimate Guide to Using Google Drive

Google Drive is currently one of the most popular cloud storage and syncing services.

Created on the backs of the successful Google Docs, Drive takes many of this service’s best features, fine-tunes them, and adds in an array of powerful new features.

So, what exactly makes Google Drive tick? And how do you effectively use it anyways?

We answer both of these questions and many more below in our ultimate guide to using Google Drive.

Top Features

Top Features

  • Free and Paid Plans
  • Intuitive Interface
  • Advanced Data Sharing
  • Simple Real-Time Collaboration
  • Seamless File Syncing
  • Two-Factor Authentication

Let’s take a brief look at each Google Drive top feature in more detail:

Free and Paid Plans

The base Google Drive service gives you up to 15GB of storage for free. In-service files like Docs, Sheets, and Slides don’t count towards this limit – only uploaded photos and videos do.

Upgrade to 30GB at any time for just $5 per user per month. An unlimited plan is also available for $10 per month for up to 5 users.

Intuitive Interface

A highlight of using Google Drive is the intuitive interface. Both the web app and desktop app are incredibly user-friendly. Even tech-unsavvy users will be able to pick up the basics in little time at all.

Advanced Data Sharing

Sharing files and data with others is easy with Google Drive. You can make files/folders publicly viewable, accessible by co-workers only, or only allow certain people to view them.

Furthermore, you can select whether each of these people is simply allowed to view the file/folder, or if they’re allowed to make edits and changes to it as well.

Simple Real-Time Collaboration

Changes are saved automatically. Access previous versions of your documents with a simple click.

Leave in-line comments for others and tag them, so they receive an email notification. A built-in chat feature enables you to communicate with team members even more quickly.

Seamless File Syncing

Set up file syncing so select files automatically sync between your computer and your Google Drive account. Change download and upload rates for more control over file syncing.

Two-Factor Authentication

Google Drive takes your security seriously by offering two-factor authentication.

Go to the security page in account settings and follow the instructions. You can select whether your code is sent to you by text message, voice call, or mobile app every time you log into your account.

How to Use Google Drive

How to Use

It packs in a lot of features, but using Google Drive is remarkably straightforward, especially for basic tasks.

We cover how to use both these basic tasks/features and more complex tasks/features in our in-depth guide below.

The information we cover includes:

  • Signing Up/Accessing
  • Desktop App
  • Creating New Files
  • Uploading/Downloading Files
  • Sharing Files
  • Real-Time Collaboration
  • Additional Syncing Options
  • User Permissions
  • Retrieving Deleted Files
  • Backing Up Files

Signing Up/Accessing

If you have a Google account (such as a Gmail account), then you already have Google Drive.

If you don’t have a Google account, signing up is easy. Sign up for a standard Google account for access to Drive (even if you don’t plan to use Gmail and other services).

Desktop App

You can use Google Drive on the web app only or in conjunction with the desktop app.

The web app accomplishes most tasks with ease. The only exception is if you want to upload a large number of files all at once. The desktop app is a better choice, in that case.

Download the desktop app by clicking the “Get Drive” preset option at the bottom left-hand side of the web app.

Creating New Files

Create new Google Drive files on either the desktop or web app.

Options for new files include Docs, Sheets, Slides, Forms, and Drawings. Creating one of these new files is easy by clicking the “New” button at the top of the app. Select the type of file you’d like to create from the drop-down menu.

Remember that all of the files you create in Google Drive don’t take up any storage space.

Uploading/Downloading Files

There are a handful of different ways to upload files to Google Drive.

  1. Drag the file/folder you want to upload Google Drive from your computer to the main pane of the web app and drop for an instant upload.
  1. Right click in the main pane of the web app and select “Upload files” or “Upload folder.”
  1. Click the “New” button at the top left of the web app and select “File Upload” or “Folder Upload” from the drop-down menu.

After using one of the three methods to start your upload, you can view your upload’s progress at the bottom-right side of the web app.

What about downloading files from Google Drive? Well, that’s just as easy. Here are your options:

  1. Rick-click on the file/folder you want to download from Google Drive to your computer and select “Download.”
  1. Select the file/folder you want to download (so it’s highlighted in blue) and click the three dots icon on the toolbar at the top of the web app. Then select “Download” from the drop-down menu.

Note that all files/folders downloaded as ZIP files from the web app.
A way around these ZIP files is to download files to your computer through the desktop app (rather than the web app).

Sharing Files

Sharing Files

Share a file/folder with another Google Drive user by selecting the file/folder you want to share (so it’s highlighted in blue) from the main pane in the web app.

Click the link attachment option on the toolbar at the top of the web app. You can then copy the auto-generated link and email it to certain users. Or you can enter the emails you’d like the file/folder to be shared with, and they’ll be automatically notified.

The advanced settings panel allows you to tinker with the sharing/collaboration settings. You can add new people to view it or delete people from viewing it. You can also edit settings related to who can just see the file/folder and who can edit it as well.

Social media sharing options are also available if you hope to share your Google Drive on social platforms.

You can also share files while working on them. A blue “Share” button is easily noticeable at the top-right side of the page of files you currently have opened.

You can then share this file in the same way as above (with a link or by entering emails directly).

* Select “Disable option to download or print” to make it more difficult for those you’re sharing your files with to use your data without your permission.

Real-Time Collaboration

Real-time collaboration is a very helpful tool offered by Google Drive. It enables multiple team members to easily communicate with each other while working on a file.

First off, multiple people can access a file at the same time. All changes are automatically saved and reflected on each user’s computer.

A history section is available to see what changes have been made. It’s easy to go back in time and restore a previous version of the file with a single click.

Users can highlight and comment on certain areas of the file. This makes it easy for users to point out sections of the file that need more work. You can tag another user in each comment, so they’re automatically notified about it in an email.

Google Drive also offers a built-in chat feature. This is a great way for team members to communicate without commenting directly in the file as it’s worked on.

Amazingly, up to 50 users can edit a Google Drive file in real time.

Additional Syncing Options

Two additional nifty syncing options offered by Google Drive are offline sync and selective sync.

Offline sync allows you to continue working on and saving a file while on the web app even without an Internet connection.

Enabling “Offline Sync” in the settings area of Google Drive also lets you access and edit all your files even without an Internet connection.

Your edits and changes are automatically synced and uploaded next time you have an Internet connection.

Selective sync is just as useful. It enables changes that are made to a file to be synced to both its online and offline versions.

So, for instance, changes to a file copied to Google Drive get synced, so changes are made to the file on all devices.

Another use of selective sync is to limit the amount of data you have on your computer.

Instead of having all the files from Google Drive sync to your computer, you can select only certain folders to sync to save valuable storage space.

In “Sync options” under Google Drive “Preferences” you can choose between “Sync everything in My Drive” or “Sync only these folders.”

Click “Sync only these folders” and then select the folders you’d like Google Drive to sync from the drop-down menu.

User Permissions

User Permissions

As mentioned above, Google Drive makes it easy to select different permission levels for each user you share a file or folder with.

These permission levels are:

  • “Can View”
  • “Can Comment”
  • “Can Edit”

The names themselves are pretty straightforward. “Can View” only lets a user view the file or folder shared with them.

“Can Comment” allows them to leave in-line comments on the file. “Can Edit” gives them the most freedom, allowing them to edit the file or folder however they like.

Retrieving Deleted Files

Retrieving deleted files is easy with Google Drive.

All you have to do is select the “Trash” folder to view all files that have been deleted. Select the file you’d like to retrieve and click “Recover.”

The file should now be available once again in the main pane of Google Drive.

You can also permanently delete deleted files from the “Trash” folder.

Backing Up Files

Though it’s not offered specifically as a backup tool, Google Drive can be used to efficiently back up files.

However, it takes advanced skill and know-how to do so. You have to download the desktop app, deactivate the sync option, download the intended files/folders, and then drag and drop these from Google Drive to a backup folder on your computer.

We recommend that most users select a specialized backup tool rather than using Google Drive for this function if backing up files is a chief priority of yours.

Drawbacks to Google Drive


Google Drive is a very effective cloud storage and syncing tool. Yet it’s not quite right for every user’s needs.

Case in point: Google Drive isn’t as secure as other cloud storage solutions. If privacy is a primary concern, you should consider another service.

The main privacy issue is that you can’t password-protect individual files or folders. Though you can achieve a similar effect with permissions, it would be far more convenient with a password-protection option.

While Google Drive is more than secure for the average online user, those using it for business should look elsewhere. Indeed, few businesses utilize Google Drive for cloud storage and syncing.

Another drawback to Google Drive is that it’s set up primarily for those that use its Google Docs features. If you don’t create or work on Docs, Sheets, or Slides almost every day, another storage solution might be your best bet.

The final negative to the Google Drive experience is a lack of online resources. There are few “how-to guides” online, and Google itself doesn’t offer a very thorough user guide.

In fact, that’s exactly why we created this ultimate guide to Google Drive – to help fill a surprising void in information related to this popular service.

Final Thoughts

Google Drive is a powerful cloud storage and syncing solution.

It’s essential to use it properly. Know the basics before using it, and you’ll get a much greater reward out of its use.

Though the above information should set you on the right track for using Google Drive, please feel free to ask more questions in the comment section below!


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