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introduction to working with Drive while offline

Arguably the only downside to telecomputing is being unable to access our account when we lose our internet connection.

Fortunately: Google provides two ways of enabling us to overcome this dilemma. Installing and syncing Drive on our devices, or letting our browser keep our files open when we lose our connection.

This guide is intended to detail the latter and explain its nuances to help you continue working when the internet goes down.

As always, with their all too often updates and crashes, Microsoft will always be the fly in the ointment. Aside from using a different operating system, such as Mac or Linux, there’s little we can do to totally rid ourselves of this burden.

Another option is to use a Chromebook, laptop or a Chromebox, a desktop with the Chrome operating system. However: this is a topic for another day,

As we don’t have to install anything on a Windows machine, the offline browser option, while having it's limitations, at least manages to decouple us from the disaster that is Windows as much as possible.

Preparing your Drive for offline work

I must emphasize that this method only works with files and folders that are either already already open when connectivity is lost, or those that appear in your recent activity listing.

It won't make them available if you weren’t already active in your Drive account.

This is a two step process and I assume you’re already familiar with accessing Drive and creating folders.

The first part requires that you install the Google Docs offline browser extension from the Chrome webstore.

The Chrome extension is free and installation is only a few clicks away. After which we can return to our Drive and allow offline access and editing.

Sign in to your Google account or follow the create a Google account guide. If you’ve followed previous guides to getting started with Google and the Chrome browser, when you first open your Chrome browser, it may open in a preconfigured website.

Dcreenshot of Chrome browser with Drive icons showing

Open up a new empty tab and click on the apps icon in the top right. The dropdown that opens up will give you access to all the areas of your Google account. Feel free to drag and drop any of the app icons to place them nearer the top.

Find and click the Drive icon. This will open up your Drive root folder. If you followed the previous Drive and folders guide, you’ll see the folders we created earlier.

Screenshot of Chrome browser with Drive icons showing

As we’re online, all the folders and their contents will be accessible. We’ll have a play around with those later. In the meantime let’s enable offline functionality.

Note the gear icon highlighted in the picture. Click on this and select Settings. A popup will open.

Settings dropdown showing where to turn offline functionality on and off

Making sure you’re in the General tab, scroll down to Offline and check the box. If there aren’t any more settings you wish to change, click Done at the top of the popout.

We’re now ready to work on and offline. Any files, and folders we’d previously opened before our connection was interrupted, will still be accessible.

This underlines the importance of keeping any project you may be working on in one parent folder. If you often endure interruptions, it may be a good idea to open all folders that you may need access to at least once, while you have a connection.

Limitations to using the Chrome offline extension

There are a few caveats to this method of using the Chrome browser to access Drive files and folders when your connection is interrupted.

How do I know if I’m offline?

If you’re editing a file when your internet goes down, you’ll need to be aware that the spell check doesn’t work. However: any errors will be highlighted once connection is restored.

Google also gives us two notifications: one in the toolbar, and the other in the bottom left corner.

Document toolbar showing working offline
popup that appears when a connection is lost

Aside from these, if all you’re doing is editing files, you may not even know you’re offline.

What files can I create and access when offline?

This method only gives access to certain file types while in offline mode. These are:

  • Documents
  • Sheets
  • Slides
  • Drawings

While you can create and edit these file types, any you do create will appear in your root folder. Not in the folder you create them in.

At the top of your Drive root folder there is the Suggested section. This area contains shortcuts to recently created or edited files. All of which are accessible while in offline mode, even if the parent folder is inaccessible.

Files contained in folders that have been opened in the current browsing session are also accessible. This includes folders that have been opened and then closed.

What about accessing folders when I lose my internet connection?

Firstly: you won't be able to create new folders without a connection, but there are workarounds to ensure we can access an existing folder’s contents.

If the folder is open at the time you lose connection, or you’ve opened it in your current session, you still be able to access the folder’s contents.

Usually: when an interruption occurs, the folders will still be visible in your root folder, but the folder names will be greyed out and you won’t be able to open them.

View of Drive folders when online
View of Drive folders when offline

Upon refreshing the browser while offline, I’ve noticed a couple of peculiarities. Firstly the Suggested section disappears. Secondly: none of the folder names are greyed out and can be opened.

Unfortunately: that’s where the story ends. We won't be able to view the contents, instead: all we see is a warning telling us we’re offline and that some items may not be available.

View of inside a Drive folder when offline

Summary of working with Drive when offline

As we’ve seen, the Chrome browser solution to internet disruptions isn’t perfect, but being aware of it's limitations at least helps us to continue working through internet disruptions.

The best advice I can give is to keep all project files in one folder, and to ensure access to the most recently created or edited files, refrain from refreshing the browser while there is no connection