Use Google Drive for desktop

About Drive for desktop

Drive for desktop is Google’s desktop sync client that lets you easily manage and share content across all your devices and the cloud. This application enables you to access your files and folders in a familiar location. 

You can use Drive for desktop to keep your files in sync between the cloud and your computer. Syncing is the process of downloading files from the cloud and uploading files from your computer’s hard drive. After syncing, the files on your computer match the files in the cloud. If you edit, delete, or move a file in one location, the same change happens in the other location. That way, your files are always up to date and can be accessed from any device.

In Drive for desktop, you can manage how much local storage you use and where your content is located by configuring Drive to stream or mirror your files and folders.

What it means to mirror or stream your files

Mirroring and streaming are two ways to sync your files. In both cases, any changes you make to your files on one device will be reflected everywhere.

With mirroring, your files are stored in the cloud and on your computer, which takes up hard drive space. You can access your files at any time, even when you don’t have an internet connection or the Drive for desktop app running. You can access files through a folder on your computer.

With streaming, your files are stored in the cloud. Hard drive space is only used when you open files or make them available offline. Files that are not available offline can only be accessed when you’re connected to the internet. All files, including those available offline, can be accessed only when the app is running. You can access files through a mounted drive on your computer. 

Important: Recent versions of macOS may have a slightly different streaming behavior. Learn more about streaming behavior with macOS.

While you can choose whether to mirror or stream your My Drive files, other folders on your device can only be mirrored. Additionally, files from shared drives, other computers, and backed-up USB devices can only be streamed.

Options for syncing My Drive

You can stream or mirror My Drive, depending on your preferences.

Configure My Drive for streaming or mirroring

  1. Open Drive for desktop.
  2. Click Settings Settings and then Preferences.
  3. On the left, click Folders from Drive.
  4. Under "My Drive syncing options," select Stream files or Mirror files.

Switch from mirroring to streaming

When you switch from mirroring My Drive files to streaming My Drive files, the location of your files on your computer changes. The folder where you previously mirrored My Drive files will remain on your computer but will no longer sync. To avoid data loss, make sure that data has finished syncing before cleaning up these folders.

On Windows, you will need to quit Drive for desktop before removing the folder from your computer.

Switch from streaming to mirroring

When you switch from streaming to mirroring, My Drive will no longer appear in your Google Drive streaming location. (Shared drives, other computers, and backed-up USB devices will still appear.)

Your My Drive files will be downloaded to the folder you choose when configuring this option. If there are already files in the selected folder, the application will attempt to not duplicate files that match what’s already in the cloud. Files that are not present in the cloud already will be uploaded.

Options for other folders on your computer

Configure other folders on your computer

  1. Open Drive for desktop.
  2. Click Settings Settings and then Preferences.
  3. On the left, click Folders from your computer.
  4. From this menu, you can Add folders to sync with Drive and backup to Photos, and you can edit preferences of folders that are already synced.

Sync to Google Drive and back up to Google Photos

You can sync a folder with Google Drive or back it up to Google Photos.

  • If you sync with Google Drive: Everything in the folder will be mirrored. All changes will be synced between your computer and Google Drive. You can access all your files from any device at drive.google.com or via the Google Drive app. 
  • If you back up to Google Photos: Only photos and videos will be uploaded. Changes will not be synced between your computer and Google Photos. You can view your photos and videos from any device at photos.google.com or via the Google Photos app. 
Important: If you are storing photos and videos, we recommend only backing up to Google Photos. If you choose to store your files in both places, photos and videos in the folder get uploaded twice, which uses more of your Google account storage.
Give macOS permission

macOS requires applications like Drive for desktop to ask for permission to access certain folders and devices including your Desktop, Documents, and Downloads folders, removable and network volumes, and your Photos library. 

Drive for desktop will only ask to access folders or devices you choose to sync with Google Drive or back up to Google Photos. Drive for desktop will also ask for access if you choose to use the Real Time Presence feature or a Bluetooth key to sign in.

If you deny access, but want to continue syncing a folder or device, go to System Preferences and change your privacy settings. You might need to restart Drive for desktop for changes to take effect. 

Troubleshoot errors

In Drive for desktop, you might see a “Some errors occurred” banner under “Activity.” You can view the list of errors by clicking the link in the banner or by clicking Settings and then Error list. Learn more about how to fix errors.

Sync with the Computers tab in Google Drive

If you sync folders on your computer with Google Drive, those folders will appear in Google Drive under “Computers” on the left of Drive for web and on the Drive mobile app. If you add, edit, move, or delete items from these folders on web or mobile, those changes will also be made on your computer.
Content cache for streaming files

If you stream My Drive files from Google Drive to your computer, file data is stored in a local cache on your hard drive.

  • If your cache directory path is unavailable, you can't use Drive for desktop.
  • The directory stores data about files you open and make available offline.
  • The cache allows Drive for desktop to open your files faster.
You can find all files that are available offline and view how your hard drive space is utilized. To see this info:
  1. Open Drive for desktop.
  2. Click Settings Settings and then Offline files.
  3. You can unpin files or remove temporarily downloaded files to free up hard drive space. To remove automatically cached files from this dialog, click Clear.

Advanced: Change the location of your local cache directory

While you can change the location of your local cache directory, we recommend keeping it in its default location. If you need to change the location, you can follow these steps:

  1. Open Drive for desktop.
  2. Click Settings Settings and then Preferences.
  3. Click Settings Settings.
  4. Find “Local cache files directory” and click Change.
  5. Select a new cache location.
  6. Click Change.
Apple Photos System Photos Library

You can only back up your System Photos Library to Google Photos. Other Apple Photo Libraries can be synced with Drive. If you choose to sync an Apple Photos Library with Drive, everything in the library will sync, including thumbnails and other metadata. 

Your System Photo Library is the only library that can be used with iCloud Photos, Shared Albums, and My Photo Stream. If you have only one photo library, then it's the System Photo Library. Otherwise, the first photo library that you create or open in Photos will become the System Photo Library. If you’re currently using macOS Catalina or later, hard drive space will be temporarily used to download photos and videos from your iCloud and upload them to Google Photos.

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