Make a file available offline with the Google Drive Desktop Client

Google Drive generally makes it really easy to work with files offline, especially if you’re using the Chrome web browser. But if you don’t use Chrome (I prefer Firefox), what can you do? Fortunately, there’s always the official Google Drive Desktop Client (available for macOS and Windows — Google, we need a Linux version, stat!) to help you do that.

But why would you need offline access to files in a world that is constantly and consistently online? There are a number of reasons. First, you might go on a business trip and have to work with certain files on the plane. Another reason (at least when using the Google Drive Desktop Client) is to quickly access those files from a central location (more on that later). However, most of the time it involves accessing certain files when no network connection is available.

Streaming vs Mirroring

One thing to consider is that you have two options for Google Drive syncing with the desktop client. Those options are:

  • Streaming: All files are stored only on your Google Drive cloud account and are accessible from a virtual drive on your computer. This method consumes very little space on your local disk.
  • Mirroring: All files are stored on both your Google Drive cloud account and your local machine, giving you offline access to all files (without taking any additional action). This option does consume a lot of local storage space (depending on how much data you store in Google Drive).

Most users go for the streaming option as it takes exponentially less space on a local drive. For those who prefer to protect their local storage (especially if you’re dealing with a laptop with a smaller SSD), there’s another way around this, which is by making individual files available offline. This method does not require the use of Google Chrome, so users of Firefox, Safari or Edge can enjoy the feature (as long as you use the Google Drive Desktop Client installed).

Let’s see how it’s done. Fear not, for those with less than ideal computer skills, the process is very simple. And part of the beauty of this (as long as you already have the Google Drive Desktop Client installed) there is no configuration required. This works out-of-the-box on both macOS and Windows. The only caveat to using offline access through Google Drive Desktop Client is that you cannot make .gdocs, .gsheet, or .gslides files available offline (they must first be converted to MS Office or an open format (such as . odt , .ods or .odp).

Let me show you how it works.


For this to work, you need a Google Drive account and the Google Desktop Client installed on macOS or Windows. I will be demonstrating on macOS Monterey.

Mark a file as available offline

1. Open Finder and locate your Google virtual drive

Open the macOS file manager, Finder. In the left navigation, you’ll see an entry for your Google Drive virtual folder (Figure 1

The macOS Finder window with the Google Drive virtual link in the sidebar.

The Google Drive virtual directory is called Google Drive.

Image: Jack Wallen

2. Find and make the file available

Navigate to your virtual Google Drive and locate the file you want to make available offline (these files can be found in a subfolder called My Drive). Once you find the file in question, right-click on it and select Offline Access > Available Offline (Figure 2

The right-click menu of Google Drive Desktop Client in macOS Finder.

Mark an .odt file as available offline.

Image: Jack Wallen

Access your offline files

Now that you’ve made a file available offline, how do you access the file? Simple. You can either open it directly from the folder in the virtual Google Drive in Finder or click the Google Drive Desktop Client icon in your top bar (or Notification Area in Windows) and then click Offline Files (figure 3

The Google Drive Desktop Client pop-up menu.

Access offline Google Drive files through the Google Drive Desktop Client drop-down menu.

Image: Jack Wallen

In the resulting window (Figure 4), click Offline Files to view all the files you have made available offline.

The Google Desktop Client offline file manager.

All your offline files can be accessed from here.

Image: Jack Wallen

And that’s all there is to making a file available offline, using the Google Drive Desktop Client. Enjoy that new flexibility while working with your Google Docs on your local computer, whether you have an Internet connection or not.

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