File sharing in Google Drive when 'There is no Google account associated with this email address'

PUBLISHED 4 Feb 2023

Be careful when sharing Google Drive files with contacts who don't have a Google account associated with their email address. There are some quirks to be aware of, and one of those means you might end up giving them the 'Editor' role by mistake.

Google Drive is Google's cloud storage service for Google Docs, Sheets and Slides as well as any files you upload from your local device such as images. As you might imagine, Google makes it easy to share files via Drive for collaboration purposes, with several access roles available - from 'Viewer' to 'Editor'.

You can share files with others whether or not they themselves use Google Drive (for which they need a Google account). However the sharing mechanism differs depending on whether the person you're sharing with has a Google account associated with their email address or not. And if they haven't, there's a small quirk with the Google Drive UI which means you could give them the wrong level of access by mistake.

Let's look at both of these points.

Learning to share

To share a file in Google Drive (with any user), either right click on it in My Drive and choose the Share menu option, or open up the file and click Share. For a Google Doc or Sheet, this will be a big coloured button at the top; for other types of files, such as images, it might be hidden under the 'More actions' option.

However you get to it, you'll then be presented with this 'Share' overlay:

Google Drive Share Document

Click in the Add people and groups field. Now you can do one of the following:

  • select one of your existing Google contacts from the dropdown list that appears
  • start typing the name of an existing contact (and let autosuggest do the rest)
  • enter the email address of a brand new contact

Too Google or not to Google

Without you even being aware of it, your contacts will fall into two camps. Some will have a Google account associated with their email address. This will be true of anyone with an email address. But it also applies to those people who - like me - use Google Workspace for their business email (, or who have followed the process to create a Google Account using an existing email address.

Conversely, other contacts won't have a Google account associated with their email address and may never have used Google Drive before. But it isn't possible, just by looking at an email address, to say definitely that its owner has not associated it with a Google account.

This difference affects how the sharing process works.

Sharing with Google account holders

If the recipient has a Google account associated with their email address, the shared document will appear in their Google Drive, within the 'Shared with me' section:

Shared with me, in Google Drive

The sender can also choose to notify the recipient via email at the same time by ticking the 'Notify people' tickbox (call it a checkbox if you must):

Notify people tickbox

Why wouldn't you want to notify your contact that you've shared a file with them? Well, perhaps they are a business conctact and you would prefer to let them know as part of a wider piece of communication. Or perhaps you have a large number of files to share with your contact and you don't want them to be bombarded with notifications.

Sharing with non-Google account holders

Now, if your contact doesn't have a Google account associated with their email address, the shared document won't appear in their Google Drive - because they don't have Google Drive. Instead, they will receive an email containing a link to open the document:

Shared a document email

What about that 'Notify people' tickbox in the 'Share' overlay? In this case, you need to tick it. After all, if the only way the recipient can access the document is via a link in an email, and the email isn't sent, the process won't work. In fact, try to share a document with 'Notify' unticked and Google pops up an error message:

Must check 'Notify people'

So to summarise:

If the recipient's email address is associated with a Google account...

  • The 'Notify people' tickbox is optional when sharing
  • The recipient accesses the file in their Google Drive, 'Shared with me' section

If the recipient's email address is NOT associated with a Google account...

  • The 'Notify people' tickbox is mandatory when sharing
  • The recipient accesses the file via a link in the email notification

An unexpected change of role

Now here's where that sharing quirk comes in. Let's say I have an important document I want to share with a contact. I enter their email address and choose the 'Viewer' role for them, as I don't want them to be able to edit the document. I untick 'Notify people', because I'm planning to contact them separately about it. I click to share - and that's when I discover that my contact doesn't actually have a Google account associated with their email address.

So I clear Google's error message, tick 'Notify people' and hit 'Send':

Google Drive Notify people

Job done! But wait... take another look at the screengrab above. In between my first and second attempts to share the file, the 'role' field reverted from 'Viewer' back to the default 'Editor'.

I've now accidentally given my contact the ability to make changes to my document, and I didn't notice because I was too busy trying to sort out the issue with the notification.

It would be better if the role didn't revert to the default, and safer if the default role wasn't 'Editor' but 'Viewer'. I'm sure plenty of Google Drive users have fallen foul of this - without even being aware that they have done so!

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James Clark
Hi! I'm James Clark and I'm a freelance web analyst from the UK. I'm here to help with your analytics, ad operations, and SEO issues.
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