Taking Docs Offline

To use Google Docs offline you'll need to use the Chrome browser, and for best results you should always ensure you've got the most up to date version. It will normally update automatically, but to make sure you can go to About Chrome in the menu bar, and the app will check for any new updates and install them. And, of course, if you're using a Chromebook, your browser is already perfect to work with Google Docs offline.

ChromeAlways check you've got the latest version of Chrome

Now go to drive.google.com in Chrome and log in to your account. In the left hand column of Drive window click More. This will expand to reveal the Offline option. Click this to get started.

Install Chrome Drive app

Activating Docs Offline

There's a two-step process to activating the Offline feature. First, you need to install the Google Drive Chrome app. Click the button to begin the install process and follow the onscreen prompts. The web app is installed into the Chrome browser rather than onto your desktop, so you won't need an administrator password to do it.

Enable Offline Google Docs

Next tap the Enable Offline button. This will activate the offline feature and also begin downloading local copies of your files. Depending on how many files you have got it may take a few minutes to complete. When it's done you should see all of your files listed in the window.

Editing Offline Files

Whenever you have an internet connection Google Drive will recognise this and work in the normal way, with its usual real-time syncing. You don't have to worry about juggling online and offline files.

When you don't have an internet connection you can load your offline files directly by going to drive.google.com/#offline. This will show you only the files you have synced for offline use. 

Google Docs works exactly the same way offline as it does online. Click on a file to open it and start editing. Your changes are saved every few seconds just as they are normally. The only indication that you are offline are some missing features (see below) and a small grey Offline icon next to the document name at the top left of the screen.

lightening iconThe small 'lightning' icon shows you are working offline

Creating New Documents

Similarly, you can create files in the usual way. From the main Drive page clickCreate and select DocumentSpreadsheetPresentation or DrawingForms is not yet available offline, though, likely because a form by definition needs to be online if you hope to get any responses.

Create any document other than a form offlineYou can create everything but a Form offline

Select the type of new document you want, give it a title, and then begin editing. All the changes will be saved automatically to your computer and the file will be uploaded when you go online next.

Syncing Files

All the edits you've made and documents you have created are saved locally when you are working offline. They are synced automatically the next time you go online and are logged in to your Drive account. The files sync in their own time, and it may take a few minutes to happen. If you want to force-sync a file you can open the offline version and it will be saved immediately to your online account.

You can see which files have or have not been synced in the Offline window. Those that have been synced have their file names displayed in normal type and have thefolder they are stored in listed alongside (by default this will be My Drive). Files that have not yet been synced are shown in bold type without a folder name.

unsynced filesThe files in bold have not yet been synced

Limitations and Workarounds

Working With Spreadsheets Offline

When you first activate offline mode you may see a message stating that spreadsheets are view only. As of December 2013 this is no longer true, with a caveat: only spreadsheets created since then are editable. Older ones are view only. There is no easy solution to this other than to copy and paste the content from an older spreadsheet into a newly created one. Don't forget to delete the original one afterwards to avoid having a mess of duplicates—the old version will still be editable when online.

older spreadsheetsOlder spreadsheets cannot be edited offline

Working With Multiple Accounts

It isn't uncommon for more than one person to be using the same computer, or for one person to have multiple Google accounts. By default, you can only have one Google Docs account set to work offline per computer. 

The workaround here is to use the often overlooked Users feature in Google Chrome. This allows different users to have their own user accounts within the browser. Click the Settings icon at the top right of the Chrome toolbar then underUsers click Add New User. Pick an icon and a name and you're done. You can import bookmarks if you wish and log in to your Google account. You can now set upOffline access for this account.

Add extra user to offline google docsAdd a second user to use another Google account offline

To switch between Users in Chrome click the Users icon in the very top right corner of the window.

Switch usersYou can switch between users on the fly

Avoiding Sync Problems

The biggest issue to be aware of when using Docs offline is the potential for a file to be edited simultaneously by different users. If someone edits the file online while you edit it offline the two sets of changes will be merged when your version gets re-uploaded. This is unavoidable, and there's no 'Save As' option available in offline mode so you can't even save a separate version of the document that you have edited. 

As such it is preferable not to use offline mode for files that are being collaborated on by multiple users (or at least make them aware, or create a duplicate while you're online exclusively for your own use). It is possible to see who has edited a file and, if necessary, roll back to an older version. With the file open, go to File > See revision history to see all the changes.

Revert to older versions of filesIt's possible to roll back to older versions of a document

Missing Features

Google Docs is intended primarily for cloud use, and in most instances you will have an internet connection and so won't need to use the service offline. When you do go offline you get the core functionality of an office suite but there are a few key features that are missing, with no workarounds. These include:

  • spell checking
  • adding images
  • printing spreadsheets or presentations
  • sharing files
  • downloading files
  • add-ons