Use Google Drive for desktop

Drive File Stream is now called Google Drive for desktop. We’re unifying our sync clients to bring features from Backup and Sync to Google Drive for desktop and create a better user experience. For a list of features, learn more about the change to Drive for desktop

What it means to sync files and how it works

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 choose to stream or mirror My Drive files. Your files are found in different places on your computer based on whether you choose to mirror or stream them.

What it means to mirror or stream your files

With Drive for desktop, you can access files stored in Google Drive from your computer.  Any changes you make to your files will be synced. All files in shared drives, USBs, and other computers will be streamed from the cloud to your computer. You can choose to mirror or stream your My Drive files.

When you mirror files, all of your My Drive files are stored in the cloud and on your computer, which takes up hard drive space. All of your files will be accessible at any time, even when you don’t have an internet connection or the Drive for desktop  app running. Files can be accessed through a folder on your computer. 

When you stream files, your My Drive files are stored in the cloud. Hard drive space is only used when you open files and 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. Files can be accessed through a mounted drive on your computer. 

Important: These options don’t apply to any folders on your computer that you sync with Google Drive. Folders on your computer sync to the Computers tab in Google Drive.

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. With streaming, you can access files via a virtual drive on your computer. The folder where you mirrored My Drive files will remain on your computer but is no longer syncing, and therefore can be removed to avoid losing any changes. 

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

Important: In order to stream files from Google Drive to your computer, Drive for desktop uses a virtual drive. The size of this virtual drive depends on the space available on your computer.

Options for folders on your computer

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 uploaded. 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, back up to Google Photos, or both. 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.

Stream with FileProvider

FileProvider is a way that Drive for desktop streams files from the cloud to your computer. FileProvider chooses the location on your computer to stream files. This location can’t be changed.

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.

Change the location of your local cache directory

When streaming files from Google Drive to your computer, a local cache directory is created.

  • The directory stores data about files you open and make available offline.
  • The cache allows Drive for desktop to open your files faster.
  • If your cache directory path is unavailable, you can't use Drive for desktop.

To change the location of your local cache directory:

  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.
Removable devices

You can backup folders stored on removable devices, like an external hard drive. 

A removable device can have more than one folder. During migration, you’ll need to connect removable devices to continue syncing or backing up those folders. These devices should remain connected throughout migration. 

Important: USB devices won’t be migrated.
Backup folders to Google Photos

If your folders contain more than 95% photos and videos, you can choose to backup your files to Google Photos only. 

  • If you were previously syncing with Drive and backing up to Photos, you can save storage by uploading photos and videos to only one location.
  • If you were previously syncing only with Drive, you’ll still save storage because only photos and videos will be uploaded. If syncing with Drive, everything, including thumbnails and metadata, will be synced.
  • If you were previously syncing with Drive, your files will remain in Drive.

Important: USB devices won’t be migrated.

What happens if you stop syncing a folder

If you stop syncing a folder, any new or edited files won’t be synced between your computer and the cloud. This means that if you added new files or modified existing files, those changes won’t be uploaded to the cloud.

If you want to upload everything, continue syncing the folder. 

Drive for desktop tabs

There are three main storage locations within Google Drive: My Drive, Shared drives, and Computers. These locations are shown as tabs in Drive. 

Folders on your computer that sync with Drive can be found in the “Computers” tab. The Computers tab groups folders by computer, so you might find previously synced computers.

Folders in the “My Drive” tab can stream or mirror to your computer. You can access these folders through the virtual drive on your computer.

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. When moving your account, Drive for desktop might not know the full size of your iCloud.

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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