I have been searching the web, but clearly I don't know what I am looking for because I have been unable to find it. Basically, if I have Google Drive for Business and I am using the Google Drive File Stream service in the Windows environment, when I open a file (for example, a .pdf) through a Windows Explorer window, does it download a local copy to open this file?

Would really appreciate an understanding of this process, and to be pointed to the literature to deepen this understanding, if there is any!

  • 1
    Anything that exists online and you want to access is downloaded in one form or another. You cannot access a file that is not on your system, so in order to access a remote file, a copy has to be stored on your computer. Streaming in the sense of a video or audio is also the same process, except in that case, only a small portion is downloaded at a time in order to be able to view/hear part of the file without requiring the full version of it present on your system.
    – LPChip
    Jun 2, 2019 at 19:11
  • @LPChip:  Your comment feels like an oversimplification (although that may just be a symptom of the question being too broad) and, arguably, self-contradictory.   Certainly, data must be on the local PC in order to be displayed on the PC, but that doesn’t mean that an entire PDF file, an entire spreadsheet or an entire email message needs to be local for the user to be able to access it.   And — as you, yourself, pointed out — it’s possible to display streaming media without downloading the associated file. Jun 2, 2019 at 21:02
  • @LPChip , yes I agree with your comment, as this makes logical sense how any cloud based service would work. However, there doesn't seem to be anything within the Google FIle Stream help files that suggests this logic (process), hence my uncertainty.
    – Dean
    Jun 3, 2019 at 5:47
  • @G-Man thanks for the addition. So in essence, what you're saying is that a local copy of, for example an Excel doc or PDF file does NOT download before opening on the local? Is there a possible link to a site that confirms this please?
    – Dean
    Jun 3, 2019 at 6:55
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    There is one other difference when it comes to google docs. If you use their web environment, you open a file through their web interface, and although you still view the file, it is only the HTML output that you see, the file itself is not downloaded locally.
    – LPChip
    Jun 3, 2019 at 7:55

1 Answer 1


From Google help for administrators:

"How it works

With Drive File Stream, you stream your Drive files directly from the cloud to your Mac or PC, freeing up disk space and network bandwidth. Because Drive files are stored in the cloud, any changes you or your collaborators make are automatically updated everywhere. You’ll always have the latest version.

You can also make Drive files available for offline access. These cached files sync back to the cloud when you're online, so the latest version is available on all your devices."

This uses the word 'stream' to describe how Google Drive files are brought to your computer. It is not clear from the documentation that the entire contents of the files are placed on your hard drive so that you can access them. However, if you look in the cache folder while you are online you will see the whole file being downloaded to your cache folder if you access that file. It would appear from experimentation that the word 'stream' refers to each discrete file being placed in the cache on demand and not to partial files. This is consistent with Google's claim that File Stream allows you to "Stream terabytes of files from the cloud, thereby using hardly any disk space".

You can also choose whether a file is available for offline use and this uses the same cache folder. In Windows the files are stored in C:\Users\<username>\AppData\Local\Google\DriveFS although they appear to reside in a separate G: drive.

Google provide a syncing/streaming tool to make this happen and it resides in C:\Program Files\Google\Drive File Stream\<versionnumber>.

If you are interested in the parameters that can be configured by administrators see this Admin help document.

  • Hi @Daniel K, I have read the synchronisation section for the File Stream and this does not supply the answer to my question unfortunately. The 'Available Offline' status is irrelevent to this.
    – Dean
    Jun 3, 2019 at 5:45
  • @Dean I have modified my answer.
    – Daniel K
    Jun 3, 2019 at 18:28

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