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How file access works in shared drives

Google Workspace productivity guide

Shared drives are a great way for teams to collaborate and reference the same files in Google Drive. But it can be confusing trying to tell who can access a file or folder in a shared drive, what permissions they have for that item, and what to do if you want to change access.

On this page

Member permissions on files and folders

  • All members of a shared drive can view all files and folders in the shared drive.
  • Members may have more permissions, such as comment or edit access, depending on what access level they have.
  • Members with Manager access (also called “shared drive managers”) and Google Workspace admins can add other people as members and set their access level. Requests for membership to a shared drive are sent to all Managers.

For a complete list of what each access level allows, review the following table:

  Access level
Permission Manager Content manager Contributor Commenter Viewer
Can view files and folders
Can comment on files  
Can edit files    
Can create and add files, can create folders  ✔*    
Can add and remove people and groups on specific files    
Can restore files from the Trash (up to 30 days)    
Can move files from My Drive to a shared drive    
Can move files and folders to the Trash      
Can move files and folders within a shared drive      
Can add or remove people and groups on specific folders in a shared drive ✔**      
Can move folders from My Drive to a shared drive        
Can move files from one shared drive to another shared drive        
Can add or remove members of a shared drive        
Can change member access levels        
Can permanently delete files in the Trash        
Can rename or change theme        
Can delete the shared drive        

* In Google Drive for desktop or files in the Chrome OS Files app, Contributor access gives only read access to files. To allow users to create, upload, and edit files in a shared drive in Google Drive for desktop and Chrome OS, give the user Content manager or Manager access.

** Administrators or Managers can prevent Content managers from sharing folders.

Access control to shared drives

Members with Manager access and Google Workspace admins can control access to the items in a shared drive. In addition to setting up members, they can set restrictions on sharing as follows:

  • Prevent sharing files with people outside your organization
  • Prevent sharing files with non-members
  • Prevent members with Content manager access from sharing folders
  • Prevent members with Commenter or Viewer access from downloading, copying, or printing files

These restrictions override file and folder sharing (described in the next section). If a shared drive Manager changes a shared drive’s restriction settings, access privileges for files in the shared drive are updated.

For example, if a file in a shared drive is shared with an external person and then the shared drive settings are updated to prevent sharing with people outside your organization, that external user can’t access the file anymore. However, their permission on the file stays in place. If the setting is changed to allow sharing with external users again, any external users who the file was already shared with regain access to it.

Learn how to set sharing permissions

Share files and folders in a shared drive

Unless prohibited by the sharing settings for the shared drives (described in the previous section), members with Manager, Content manager, or Contributor privileges can share files with people and groups, the same as other files in My Drive. They can also share with people who don't have Google Accounts through visitor sharing (if allowed by their administrator). 

Managers and Content managers can share folders with people and groups. However, administrators or Managers can prevent Content managers from sharing folders.

Who gets access requests?

  • When someone requests access to a shared drive or membership, the request is sent to all Managers.
  • When someone requests access to a file or folder, the request is sent to the item's creator. If that person doesn't have permission to share the file or folder, the request goes to all Managers.

How sharing a folder in a shared drive works

If you have Manager or Content manager access to a shared drive, you can share a specific folder with other people and groups. However, administrators or Managers can prevent Content managers from sharing folders.

Sharing folders instead of the entire shared drive can make sense when everyone needs view access, but only certain people need edit access. For example:

  • For a marketing department, you can make a shared drive accessible by all internal employees, with a specific folder for advertising materials that’s also shared with an external agency.
  • For a shared drive used to prepare for a specific event, you can give all members view access to all files, while providing each specific team with edit access to the documents relevant to their part of the event.

You can’t make the access to folders more restrictive than the shared drive itself. For example, a member with Commenter access can’t have only Viewer access to a folder in that shared drive. If access to a file or folder is made more restricted, then access to the shared drive is also restricted to the same degree.

Change permission on parent folder.

When you share a folder in a shared drive with someone, they get a notification and can find the folder in the Shared with me section in Google Drive. They can organize shared folders in their My Drive using shortcuts.

In Google Drive for desktop, shared drives and folders shared directly with you don’t automatically appear unless you have Manager access. If you don't have Manager access, create shortcuts in your My Drive to the shared folders or shared drives. This way you can easily access them in Drive for desktop.

How link sharing in a shared drive works

Unless prohibited by the sharing settings for the shared drives, you can share files and folders by link instead of directly with users and groups. However, link sharing can’t be less restrictive for files and folders in a folder already shared with a link. If you share a folder in a shared drive with the option Anyone in this group with this link can view, you can't share any file or folder inside with the option Anyone with the link. To work around this limitation, try the following workarounds:

  1. First, share the item with the option Anyone with the link, then share the parent folder with the option Anyone in this group with this link can view.
  2. Ask your admin to use the Drive API to share the child folder after the parent.

Learn more about sharing items in shared drives

Move files or folders into a shared drive

 Compare My Drive to shared drive.

When a file or folder is moved into a shared drive, it keeps its sharing permissions, but access privileges may change if sharing settings for the shared drive are more restrictive. If access privileges on the file are more restrictive than the shared drive, they aren’t relaxed. For example, if a file owner sets their file to prevent downloading, copying, and printing, it stays like that after it's moved to a shared drive, even if those actions are allowed by the shared drive.

Moving files into a shared drive does not affect sharing permissions or user roles, such as Editor or Viewer, set directly on the file. However, file permissions inherited from the folder the file was in aren’t copied. For example, if someone had a folder in My Drive shared with them, but not a file, if files from that folder are moved to a shared drive that person can lose access unless they’re a member of the shared drive.

When you move a file you created into a shared drive, you’re still the creator but no longer the owner. If the shared drive's access permissions change, it’s possible for you to lose access to a file you created.

Moving folders into a shared drive can create broad changes to content access. Therefore, only users who have Manager access to the original and target locations can move folders into or between shared drives. If you move a folder to a shared drive:

  • All members of the shared drive can view the contents of the folder, including previously hidden files. (Hidden files occur in My Drive when you share a folder with someone but remove access to a specific file in that folder).
  • Users who had a folder directly shared with them before the move can still access the folder. Users with Editor access to the folder before the move have Content Manager access after.
  • Users who had indirect access to a folder and its contents through access to a parent folder may lose access to the folder. Indirect file permissions inherited from parent folder permissions aren’t copied.

Move Google Sites files into shared drives

Moving sites into a shared drive doesn’t change the visibility of a published site, but it can change who has access to the site file:

  • If the original owner of the site is in the same organization as the shared drive, the Sites file associated with the site is still accessible to users who it was previously shared with.
  • If the original owner of the site is in a different organization than the shared drive, the site file is not accessible to people who aren’t members of the shared drive, even if it was previously shared with them.

Learn more about moving files

Move files out of shared drives

If you have Manager access to a shared drive, you can move files and folders out of shared drive to My Drive or another shared drive. To move files from a shared drive to another, you need Contributor, Content manager, or Manager access in the destination shared drive. To move folders from one shared drive to another, you need Manager access in the destination shared drive.

Just like moving files into shared drives, access privileges on files and folders are reassessed when they’re moved out of a shared drive. If a file or folder is moved out of a shared drive to My Drive within the same organization:

  • The shared drive’s sharing settings no longer apply and the file’s original sharing settings take effect. Some users might gain or lose access. For example, you have a file in the Sales team shared drive, and all members of the Sales team have Viewer access to the shared drive and the file. The document was also directly shared with five Sales team members to give them Editor access. If the file is moved out of the Sales team shared drive, most of the Sales team loses their access, but the five people it was directly shared with still have Editor access.
  • File-level restrictions stay in place unless specifically changed or removed from the file. For example, if a file owner sets their file to prevent downloading, copying, and printing, it stays like that after it's moved out of a shared drive, even if those actions are allowed by the new location.

Remove access to files and folders in shared drives

Just like in My Drive, you can remove someone’s access to a file or folder in a shared drive that’s directly shared with them. (For details, go to Unshare files or folders.) However, all members of the shared drive can still at least view the file or folder. To remove access for shared drive members, you need to move the file or folder out of the shared drive, which requires Manager access.

Note: When you remove a member from a shared drive, they also lose access to any files and folders in the shared drive that were directly shared with them. 

 


Google, Google Workspace, and related marks and logos are trademarks of Google LLC. All other company and product names are trademarks of the companies with which they are associated.

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