Exporting Your Files From Google Drive

drive_export_graphicSummer is almost here, and the seniors are about to walk out the door for the last time. That used to mean throwing both their paper and digital items into their respective recycling bins. Now, with their physical and digital lives becoming more and more intertwined, students want to hang onto data for their digital portfolios or to use as a reference moving forward. Whether you are a senior in high school taking the next step, or a staff member moving to a new organization, the ability to separate your data from your current Google account may be very important to you.

You may have asked yourself “Why don’t I just make a personal Google account (or use my existing one), then share all my files with the new account, and change the ownership?”  Well…

  • If you are using a Google Apps domain account (an account that is part of an organization) and not a personal Google account, you won’t be allowed to change ownership of files to an account outside your organization.
  • Even If your situation does allow a change of ownership solution, your first thought will likely be “I’ll just put all my stuff in one folder then change ownership on that folder.”  Unfortunately ownership changes are not applied to child objects.  Eventually I plan on writing a script that allows the use to propagate ownership changes using setOwner() (or more likely someone will beat me to it (or already has)).
  • It is technically possible to share all your files from your domain account to a personal account and then make copies of all the files, but that only works if your organization allows you to share outside the domain.  If you are able to utilize this method, this is usually a better option than exporting (if you plan to subsequently import back into another Google account that is).

star_smallTip: If you decide to used the share and make copies method, your inclination will be to put everything in one folder and then share the folder with the account you are transferring your files to.  This will work just fine, but it is important to note that when you make copies in any shared folder that you have “Can edit” access to (as you would in this example), the copies will be created within that folder (which is on the Drive of the account you are trying to get the data off of).  You’ll need to drag and drop the items into “My Drive” on the account you want to move the data to.

Depending on your situation, exporting your data may makes the most sense.  Before you go down that path, here is what you need to know:

Exporting Pros:

  • Your Google Documents will be converted to standard formats (Microsoft or OpenDocument) so you’ll have versatility with your data moving forward.
  • There are two ways to export your data, they are both really easy to use, and can be used in combination to best suit your needs.

Exporting Cons:

  • Neither export option supports the download of Google Drive file types in their native form. (hopefully this is coming soon – hear me awkwardly ask for it at #io13)  Features unique to Google Drive such as revision history, comments, and sharing settings aren’t supported in the exported formats, so they will be discarded.
  • You are converting your files.  In my experience, converting files back and forth between Google Docs and Microsoft Office (or OpenDocument) works well.  However, anytime “converting” is part of a process, there is potential for problems.  Most of the problems I’ve seen however tend to be easily fixed layout problems, not problems retaining text or images.

Exporting Directly From Google Drive vs. Exporting With Google Takeout

Both methods produce the similar results.  When complete, you’ll have a compressed (ZIP) file containing the items from your Google Drive.  Google Document types (Documents, Drawings, Forms, Presentations, and Spreadsheets) will be converted to the format you selected, while other file types in your drive (PDF, Photoshop, JPEG, etc.) will be left in their original format.

Exporting Directly From Google Drive

The advantage with this method is that it is much easier to export items under “Shared with me” than with the alternative method. The downside is, that you can’t download more than 2 GB at a time.  There is no way to automatically separate your files into multiple downloads, but it is possible to do so manually.  Check out the following video outlining the process.

Exporting With Google Takeout

Google Takeout is a product made by a group of engineers at Google who call themselves the data liberation front.  What is nice about Takeout is that it exports more than just Drive data; it will give you a single zip file containing all (supported) Google data.  The downside of Takeout, specific to Drive, is that your export won’t include files under “Shared With Me”.  Many users only want a couple of items from shared anyhow; they can always just make copies of those specific items and place them in their Drive before they export.  Check out the following video outlining the process.


If you are not permanently breaking up with Google, the best way to get your data out of Drive is to not get it out at all.  If the task of changing ownership or sharing and making copies of your files is both realistic and possible, you should take that route.  If you need to export your data from Drive, I’d suggest using the Drive interface.  I believe the interface is less intimidating for the average user, and coupled with the ability to easily export “Shared with me”, the advantages outweigh the 2GB export limitation.  If you want more Google data than just what is in your Drive, use Takeout in addition to the Drive interface.s  You can export Drive data using the Drive interface, then use Takeout to export your additional data.  They can be used very effectively in combination.

Bonus Round: I’ve Got My Data Out, Now What?

So now you have one or more zip files containing all your converted and downloaded data.  You have a couple of options, and you don’t have to decide now.  If you aren’t prepared to commit to a new home for your data, just put the files in a safe place like a flash drive or cloud storage service (or both!).

If you are planning to use the data on your personal computer in its current Microsoft or OpenDocument format, extract the data from the zip drive and file it away on your computer.  If you have a personal Google Account, or access to your Google Account at your new school or business, you could upload the data there, and convert your files back to Google Drive formats in the process.

  1. Log into your “new” Google account and go to your Drive.
  2. Check your upload settings.  If you want to convert your data back to Google Document types, make sure your upload settings are set to support that.
  3. Extract the data from your zip file and locate the folder containing the data you want to upload.
  4. Finally, upload the folder containing your data.

I hope you found this tutorial helpful.  Let me know if you have any questions or comments below.

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