How to Sync Your Desktop PC with Google Drive (and Google Photos)

Google Drive open on Google Chrome
Hannah Stryker / How-To Geek
  1. Install the Google Drive for Desktop application from the Google website
  2. Add the files and folders you want synced to the virtual drive Google Drive creates
  3. Right-click additional folders and select “Sync or Backup This Folder” to add it to your Google Drive

Google has been doing its part to make sure everyone has a backup of important data, and it even offers a desktop client for Google Drive. Here’s everything you need to know about how to set up Google Drive for Desktop on your PC.

What Is Google Drive for Desktop?

Drive for Desktop is a program that automatically syncs specified folders on your PC to your online Google Drive account. You can use it to automatically back up files and photos to the cloud, synchronize files between devices, and interact with cloud-based files in a way that feels more like you’re working on your local PC.

You can set Google Drive for Desktop to store files both locally and in the cloud. However, files created with Google Docs, Google Sheets, or any of their other programs are not editable (or even readable) without an internet connection.

It is exceptionally useful if you frequently find yourself moving between multiple computers and need access to files on every device. Even if you don’t need it, it is always nice to know that important files are automatically saved.

RELATED: How to Search Google Drive Directly from Chrome’s Address Bar

Download and Install Google Drive for Desktop

Naturally, the first thing you’ll need to do is actually download Google Drive for Desktop. Make sure to grab the appropriate download for your device (Mac or PC). If you already have Google Drive installed, don’t worry—this tool will automatically replace it, no uninstallation necessary.

It should download pretty quickly — the file is only a few hundred megabytes. In most browsers, you’ll see the file name displayed somewhere on the screen once it is done downloading. Just click that to launch the installer.

Drive for Desktop will take a minute or so to install, and then you may be prompted to restart your computer. It probably isn’t necessary, but it won’t hurt either.

Drive for Desktop installing.

If you previously had the Google Drive app installed, you’ll probably automatically log into your Google Account. If not, you’ll need to log in using your browser.

You must sign in to Drive for Desktop with your browser.

After that, a quick small popup will let you know what the app is all about: Backing up your stuff.

Google Drive syncs some files automatically.

By default, Drive for Desktop won’t actually download any of the files you have stored online to your PC. It just creates a virtual drive that you can access through File Explorer. The files on the cloud will look and act just like any other file you have on your PC.

It walks like a hard drive, it quacks like a hard drive, but it is actually a link to a location in the cloud.

Note: The total volume of the virtual hard drive will be the amount of cloud storage space you have available.

The virtual drive Google Drive created.

Choose Which Folders Will Get Synced from Google Drive

It is possible to get Drive for Desktop to store local copies of your files, instead of just providing a link to them in the cloud. There are two ways to do this: you can store a local copy of all of your files, or you can select which files and folders you want to be downloaded.

How to Sync All of Your Google Drive Files to Your PC

Click the Google Drive icon on your taskbar, click the gear icon in the top right corner, then select “Preferences.”

Select the “Google Drive” tab, then tick the bubble next to “Mirror Files.” All of your files will be available in File Explorer, even if you’re offline, once they finish downloading. You still won’t be able to open or edit Google Doc or Google Sheet files offline, however.

Warning: You could easily have tens of gigabytes of files stored on Google Drive. If you’re on a metered internet connection or are low on storage space, be careful.

Select the "Google Drive" tab, then pick "Mirror Files."

How to Sync Specific Files or Folders to Your PC

Maybe you have entirely too much stuff on Google Drive to sync the entire thing to your PC, or maybe you just don’t need it all. Luckily, there is a much more efficient way to get only the files you need to automatically sync.

Open up File Explorer and navigate to the virtual drive or folder that Drive for Google created when it installed. In our case, that is the K:\ drive.

The virtual drive Google Drive created.

Browse through your files and folders until you find one that you want to synchronize, right-click it, go down to “Offline Access,” then make sure “Available Offline” is selected. If you do this with a folder, every file and subfolder will take that setting as well. If you do it with a file, only that individual file will be affected.

Choose Other Folders on Your PC to Sync to Google Drive

There are two easy ways to sync another folder to Google Drive. The first uses the Google Drive app directly, the other uses the right-click context menu. Once you sync a folder, you’ll need to choose how you want Google Drive to treat it.

Google Drive can handle folder syncing in two different ways:

  • Option 1: Uploads every file and folder to Google Drive, and changes to those files (either via the web portal or your PC) are automatically synchronized.
  • Option 2: Only uploads photos and videos to Google Photos, and file changes are not automatically synchronized.

Option 1 is ideal if the files and folders are files you tend to work with across multiple devices. Option 2 is aimed at being a long-term backup solution that protects you against data loss. The fact that changes are not automatically synchronized means that an accidental local deletion won’t hurt your long-term backups.

You can select both if you want, but you’ll wind up storing photos and videos redundantly. That will eat up more of your cloud storage space.

The Settings for the folder made available offline.

Add a New Folder from Your PC to Google Drive with the Drive App

To add a new folder, click the Drive app icon on your task bar, then click the gear icon and go to “Preferences.”

Make sure that “My Computer” is selected on the left-hand side and click “Add Folder,” then just browse to your desired folder.

Add a New Folder from Your PC to Google Drive via Right-Click Context Menu

The Google Drive for Desktop app adds multiple options to your right-click context menu by default, and that is what we’re using here. Right-click the folder you want to add to Google Drive, then click “Sync or Backup this folder.”

Note: Some right-click options are only applicable within folders that have already been synchronized with Google Drive.

How to Stop Syncing a Folder with Google Drive

To stop syncing a folder with Google Drive, click the Drive icon on your taskbar again, then click the folder you want to remove.

The folder visible in the Drive for Desktop user interface

This is where you can adjust the sync settings that are applied to the folder. In this case, we want to make sure both boxes are not ticked, then click “Done.”

Click “Stop Syncing” on the popup to confirm your choice.

It is important to note that there will be online copies of all of the files and folders that were previously synchronized, though they won’t update further. If you want to remove them, you’ll need to access Google Drive through your browser and delete them manually.

Tweak Your Photo Uploading Settings

You can also change your photo upload settings. There are two options:

  • High Quality: Compresses your images a bit to reduce the amount of storage requires.
  • Original Quality: Upload the images exactly as they are. This is the best option if you have lots of free storage left or care about ensuring no quality is lost when your images are uploaded

Modern compression algorithms are pretty good, and you’ll likely see a significant size reduction with minimal quality degradation. If there are any pictures you particularly love, however, you should consider backing them up elsewhere in full quality.

To change your image upload settings, head to the configuration page, then click the gear icon in the upper-right corner.

Scroll down until you see a section titled “Google Photos.” Select the setting you want, then click the “Done” button in the bottom corner. You can also choose to omit screenshots and RAWs if you want. RAW images are fantastic if you’re planning on processing it in some way (like color or contrast correction, for example), but they’re enormous compared to JPGs. RAW images can easily be 10 megabytes per picture and larger.

Google Drive is convenient — especially with a desktop client — and its cloud-based applications are rivaled only by Microsoft’s Office 365. However, it isn’t the only contender in the cloud storage arena. If you only need storage space without the apps, it is worth taking a look at some of your other options, too.

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