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Google Drive


Google Drive

What is Google Drive?

At its simplest, Google Drive is a cloud-based file storage system. But there is more to it than just storage space:


Google Drive can be used to create a range of online documents

Integrated within Google Drive are the core Google Apps:

There's also other Google file types you can create from within Google Drive, including:

Other document formats can be uploaded to Google Drive (eg Word, PDF), and may be converted to the Drive equivalent where such an equivalent exists. In some cases they can even be edited in the Google apps.


Google Drive can also be used to manage and share files

Items on Drive (be they uploaded files, documents from the native Google Apps, or whole folders) can be shared with individuals and Google Groups.

Like all aspects of the Google Workspace, Drive is accessed using your University of York email address and password. Because the University has its own instance of Google Drive, sharing permissions within it are able to recognise who is or is not a member of the domain: in other words, you can restrict access of a document to within the University.

Key points

  • Drive is more than simply an online filestore
  • The Google applications are a suite of tools: one of the main strengths is the interaction that can occur between them
  • While you can use Drive, Docs, Mail, Calendar etc in the same way as you'd use Windows' file manager and Microsoft Office, the best results can be achieved by going beyond this model and taking advantage of the 'cloud' approach.

As with all elements of the Google Workspace, Drive challenges us to take a fresh look at our way of working and discover new approaches that exploit the strengths of the new models.

Living in the cloud

What makes Google Drive any different to the sort of networked drives we've been using for decades?

A filing cabinet full of files full of documents...

Here's a filing cabinet. Each draw contains a number of hanging files, each of which may contain a number of documents. When we started using computers, we took this model with us to create the sort of file structure you'll have on the computer you're using now: documents arranged in directories or folders. But the filing cabinets in a computer could play with space in a way that physical filing cabinets can't: on a computer you could have filing cabinets within filing cabinets! You could have a file-path of nested folders, allowing some impressively complex organisation.

A network drive icon, and a folder containing two Office documents

A network drive is just a computer that lots of people can access, in the same way that lots of people might be able to access a shared filing cabinet. But the files tend to work in a very similar way in both cases: if I take a document out of a filing cabinet, only I can see it and interact with it; if I open a document on a network drive, it's locked for editing and the only way anybody else can look at it at the same time is to make a copy (or come to my computer and look over my shoulder).

A filing cabinet full of kittens

Both the filing cabinet and the network drive are examples of shared working spaces. In contrast, Google Drive is a collaborative working space: it's still essentially just a computer we can all access, but it's one where we can all be editing the same documents at the same time. It's a bit like if we were all on the one computer, only with less fighting over who gets to use the mouse. Or it's a bit like if we were all in the filing cabinet together...

Making sense of Drive

Everything is just a link — the structure of Drive

Google's most famous product is, of course, a search engine. They've applied the same approach to Google Drive.

Don't expect Drive to look tidy. It won't. By its very nature there's no real structure to Google Drive: it's just a big pot of files. Yes, you could impose some order by adding files to folders, but this does not actually change the underlying structure. Every file has a unique ID which forms part of its web address, and (unlike with a Windows filepath) this address remains the same regardless of any folder location you may try to impose. Indeed, because the documents you see in your Drive are essentially just web links; it makes it possible for files to be linked to from multiple folders. In other words, the same file can appear in more than one location simultaneously.

Alternatively, a file could sit in no folder at all. It would still be discoverable via its web address, and via the search box.

What's more, because of the collaborative nature of Google Drive, you could share access to a document without sharing access to the folder structure around it. Therefore, you can't rely on a folder structure to a) give context to a file, or b) help other people locate it.

Sharing a link

Since all Drive files and folders are essentially just links, you can use the web address to bookmark items in your browser, or send the link to others by copying and pasting. You will, of course, also need to have granted them appropriate access permissions to the file in order for them to actually see it once they've followed the link.

Finding documents

Given the fluid nature of Drive, there will be times when you are not sure where a document is located. Files may appear in multiple locations, or no location at all. Don't rely on a folder location to tell you what a file is. Even if you can see a folder structure, other people may have access to the file without having access to the folders. File names are therefore particularly important if people are to be able to find files via the search box.

Some tips


Make it easier to find documents you are currently working on by adding a Star


Find recently edited documents in the Recent list


Use the search options dialogue (accessed via the toggle to the right of the search box) to search by file-type, date, owner, and more:

Search options

Use sensible names for files to make them easier to locate by searching! Try to second guess your future self who is desperately trying to find the file you're creating.

Google Docs and Drive

A look at using Google Docs and Drive effectively for collaborative working and file management. We look at how to choose between using Drive or Shared drive (formerly Team Drive) for collaborative work, and how to manage file ownership. We also look at the details of using sharing permissions to work with others, organising files and Drives, and using cloud features when moving files and sharing links, as well as key features of Google Docs.

'My Drive' and 'Shared Drive'

Drive has two bits to it, giving you two different ways to collaborate:

My Drive

  • Files and folders have a defined owner, which may mean a lot of admin if someone leaves and the files are still needed.
  • There's a full range of sharing permissions: folder permissions are inherited by the files in that folder, making it easy to share new documents with existing collaborators and to extend access to many files; you can also fine-tune access at a file level if you want that file to be shared differently to the others in the same folder.


  • Owner – every file has one, though they can transfer ownership to someone else;
  • Edit – modify the document and its name, share more widely, and make use of the version history;
  • Comment – add comments, suggest changes, copy, print, and download;
  • View – view the file, copy, print, and download.

Shared drives

  • Files and folders are 'owned' by the Shared drive itself, meaning there are no complications if someone leaves.
  • Shared drives are designed for teams or project groups where everyone needs the same level of access to the same collection of documents; you can still share individual items outside of the Shared drive but there's much less breadth of control in terms of being able to customise the way in which those files are shared.


  • Manager – add/remove members, and carry out all other actions;
  • Content Manager – create/delete files and folders, plus edit access to all files;
  • Contributor – create (but not delete) files and folders, plus edit access to all files;
  • Commenter – comment access to all files;
  • Viewer – view access to all files.

When working on a group project, you'll need to collectively consider the best space for your needs. If you change your mind later, you can still move files from one space to another.

Managing documents in My Drive

Here's a few things to consider when collaborating on Google Apps documents and other files in Google Drive:


Every file and folder in the My Drive section of Google Drive must have one owner (and this owner cannot be a Google Group). The person who created the file or folder will initially be the owner. Ownership can be given away by the owner, but not taken by anyone else - the onus is on the owner to transfer ownership. The owner can also decide whether to restrict the ability of others with edit permission from being able to change sharing attributes.

Drive does not use the term delete but instead chooses remove. If you own a file/folder, remove will move the items to your bin. If you are not the owner it will simply remove it from your Drive view (but if it's in a shared folder, it will disappear for others too!).

When an account is suspended (for instance, when you leave the University), all resources owned by that user will cease to be available, irrespective of location, and so it is essential that ownership of shared documents is transferred to an appropriate individual when someone leaves.


You can delegate access to the files you create in or upload to Drive.

When you share a file/folder, you first have the choice of leaving it visible only to the defined list (default) or making it more generally available. You can also set the permission level in each case.

Visibility options

  • Share with people and groups (default) - The document is only accessible to those users or Google Groups specified in the share settings. You can customise the permission level for each individual or Group you give access to;
  • Link sharing: University of York (standard option) - Anyone signed in with a account and in possession of a link to the document can access it;
  • Link sharing: University of York (advanced option) - Anyone signed in with a account can access it and find it when searching in Google Drive;
  • Link sharing: Anyone with the link - Those who have the link to it can access it, regardless of whether they're at York - no Google account is needed to view.

Permission options

  • View - Can see it but not make any changes. By default, copying and printing are possible, but this can be disabled on a file-by-file basis
  • Comment - Can see it, add comments and ‘make suggestions’ in text documents (similar to ‘Track Changes’); can't change content permanently
  • Edit - Can make any changes to content and comments. By default can also add/remove sharing and change visibility, but the owner can remove this on a file-by-file basis

Permissions can be set to expire after a period of time - either after several days or on a specified date.

Moving files and folders

You can right-click on a file or folder in Drive and choose Move to open the Move dialog box. Multiple items can be selected using the CTRL key. Alternatively, you can drag items about the place.

Adding shortcuts

Just like with Windows, you can add a shortcut to a file or folder in a separate location. To create a shortcut, right-click select a file or folder and choose Add a shortcut to Drive, then navigate to where you want the shortcut to sit. The file itself will not inherit any permissions associated with the folder you put it in, but the shortcut link will be visible to anyone who has access to that folder (regardless of whether or not they have access to the file at the end of it).

If a file has been shared with you, you can use the same method to effectively add it to your own My Drive. You can even organise it within your own folder structure, safe in the knowledge that you won't break anything for anyone!

Folder management

Private folders and shared folders

There are effectively two types of folders in Google Drive:

  •   Private folders – allow you to organise your own My Drive
  •   Shared folders – allow you to create shared storage areas

As soon as you give access to a folder, it will get a little head symbol on it to show that it is no-longer private.


When you assign sharing permissions to a folder, all documents created in or moved into that folder will inherit those permissions.

Inherited permissions can be modified for specific files, to over-ride the inherited permissions. For instance, access might be removed or added on a particular file. File permissions trump folder permissions.

A Venn diagram: The left circle represents the folder permissions, and contains a pink triangle and a blue square. The right circle represents the file permissions, and contains an orange circle and a crossed-out blue square. The intersection contains a pink triangle and an orange circle.

In the example above, a folder (left) is shared with the pink triangle and the blue square. A document in that folder (right) has its sharing permissions adapted so that it is not shared with the blue square but it is shared with the orange circle. As a consequence, the document is shared with the pink triangle and the orange circle, but not with the blue square.

If a file is moved out of a shared folder, it retains any permissions set at a file level but loses any permissions set at a folder level. Predicting the outcome of moving files and folders is not always easy: you'll need to look closely at the file permissions to see what might happen.

If we were to move the file from our previous example out of its folder, the pink triangle would lose access and only the orange circle would be able to see it. Depending on where we put the file, it might inherit some new permissions there.

Remember, if you're worried about moving files, you can always add a shortcut instead: the file itself will not inherit any permissions associated with the folder you put it in, but the shortcut link will be visible to anyone who has access to that folder (regardless of whether or not they have access to the file at the end of it).

General points

  • If you have edit permissions in a shared folder, any rearranging you do will affect other people too - so be careful;
  • Read the messages on dialogue boxes - these tell you what is happening;
  • If a folder is shared with you, add a shortcut to your Drive for easy access;
  • Re-check sharing and permissions after any rearrangement.

Always remember: Only the owner can delete (remove to bin) a document or folder.

Managing documents in Shared drives

While many of the sharing principles from My Drive carry over to Shared drives, there are some specifics to be aware of...


Files in Shared drives are owned by the Shared drive. This overcomes the problem of what to do when somebody leaves the University.


Each member of a Shared drive is assigned an access level, which applies across all the files in that drive.

Non-members and external users can still have individual files or folders shared with them, though these options can be prohibited in the Shared drive settings (available on the right-click menu for the drive). Commenters and viewers can also be prevented from being able to download, copy or print the files, at a global level as well as on an item-by-item basis.

When sharing with non-members, you have the same sharing and permission options as you would in My Drive.

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