Best Practices for Sharing in Google Drive

Table of Contents


When you share from Google Drive, you can control whether people can edit, comment on, or view your file. ITS recommends using caution when you choose permissions for your files and folders in U-M Google Drive to ensure the privacy and security of university data. This is especially true when collaborating with people outside of U-M. You are responsible for appropriately sharing data with only those who should have access to it. This document provides best practices for sharing files and folders in Google Drive.

‚ÄčImportant: Only individuals who own U-M content should fully control who can access it.

Sharing Files in Google Drive

There are two methods to share content within Google Drive:

  • People with access: Grant access to specific individuals you want to collaborate with on the file.
  • General access: Grant access to anyone with the file link.

We recommend only sharing your files with those who need them. If the list of users grows too large, we recommend using an MCommunity group to help manage permissions. To learn more about using MCommunity with Google, refer to Google: Working with MCommunity Groups.

People with access

When you share a file with an individual or group, you can choose what they can do with it:

  • Viewer: They can view but can't change or share the file with others.
  • Commenter: They can make comments and suggestions but can't change or share the file with others.
  • Editor: They can make changes, accept or reject suggestions, and share the file with others.

New Google Drive sharing dialog box with new "People with access" and "General access" headers

Tip: Within shared drives, you can review who you've shared a file with outside your shared drive membership. Once shared, you can view these individuals under the Guests tab.

Warning: When granting Editor access to files in My Drive, you automatically allow individuals the opportunity to change the sharing settings of your document and share it with anyone they desire. This includes changing the access levels of individuals or removing them from it altogether. Use caution when deciding who to give Editor access to your file. However, you have the option to turn off the abilities of Editors to change permissions and sharing. Click the gear icon in the sharing dialog box of your file and uncheck "Editors can change permissions and share." This ability is not available for files in shared drives.

General access (i.e., shareable links)

Shareable links can be used to share files with a broader audience or specific people. These links are accessible and customizable under General access in the sharing dialog box. When you click Copy link, a shared link is copied. Link sharing is useful for sharing non-sensitive files that require immediate attention or with large numbers of colleagues who need access to a file. If link sharing is used, this link is set to Restricted by default, so only people you've shared the file with can access the link.

Important: We recommend using link sharing with access set to the "University of Michigan" only as needed. If link sharing is used, ensure appropriate file permissions are in place, particularly with external collaborators.

When you share a link to a file in My Drive or a shared drive, you control how widely the file is shared:

  • Restricted: Only specific people you share the file with can access it.

Note: This is the default setting in U-M Google Drive.

  • University of Michigan: Anyone at the University of Michigan (with a U-M Google account) can access the link. Link access can be set to Viewer, Commenter, or Editor permissions.
  • Anyone with the link: Anyone on the internet who has the link can access your file without signing in to a Google account. Link access can be set to Viewer, Commenter, or Editor permissions.

Tip: Expiration dates can be set for individuals with whom you share your files. To learn more about expiration dates, visit the Google Workspace Learning Center

Sharing Externally to Collaborators Without Google Accounts

It is recommended that external collaborators either use or create a Google account, as it is the most secure way to collaborate with them.

If you want to share with someone who does not use a Google account and is unable or unwilling to create one, there are two options:

  • Visitor sharing: Invite them as a collaborator to the file with PIN-based sharing.
  • Link sharing: Set link sharing to "Anyone with the link" and share the link with them.

‚ÄčNew Google Drive sharing dialog box with warning stating you are sharing the file with an external, non-Google email address

When sharing with a non-Google account, we strongly recommend using visitor sharing. With visitor sharing, you can share items with non-Google accounts, enabling them to view, comment on, or edit content in Google Drive (My Drive and shared drives) and Sites using a secure PIN code. As a file owner, you can view detailed activity on your files and revoke access from the Drive sharing dialog at any time.

GIF: In browser, basic, unidentifiable email client design shows someone received an email with a PIN code. They then take that code and enter it into a Google verification page to access the Google Doc. 

Note: Visitors can edit, comment on, or view your files for seven days after they verify their email address. After seven days, they will need to reverify using the original shared link in their email invite, so it's best to remind them to save the email!

If a visitor would like to upgrade from a visitor session to a Google account with the same email address, they need to delete their visitor session and create a Google account. Visitors can refer to Google's Delete your visitor session for more information.

Last Updated: 
Thursday, November 10, 2022