Monday, March 10, 2014

Google Drive Multi-Foldered File Snafu

Recently, Google Docs became Google Drive.  Google Docs was already a useful tool for authoring and collaboration, with new features being added all the time.  Along with the name change to Google Drive came the ability to sync a special Google Drive folder on your Windows computer with the GD cloud.  This sounds great, and it is great, but things can go wrong - sometimes very wrong.  The purpose of this article is to get you thinking about what could go wrong, notify you of some file management and other pitfalls and offer some solutions to problems you may run into.

Most of the things that can go really wrong have to do with discrepancies between the way that GD and Windows treat files and folders.  This info, to the best of my knowledge, is correct right now (12/02/2013) but may be fixed or changed in future versions of Google Drive’s cloud and computer interfaces and applications…  Windows is not likely to change the way it deals with files, and I believe Apple OS’s file manager functions in largely the same way, so it’s really up to Google to make the necessary changes.

  • GD = Google Drive
  • WE = Windows Explorer
  • GD folders - Within the GD cloud, “folders” were previously called labels, but now the icon is a folder, so we’ll be calling them folders even though they’re not
  • Multi-Foldered Files = files in the GD cloud that appear in multiple folders/locations in GD and WE
    • These files are treated differently by GD and WE

Multi-foldered files are really the main source of the problems we’ll encounter here - you’ll see that by simply organizing your files you can inadvertently and permanently delete them.  Intrigued?  Read on...

How GD works with files and folders:
  • One file can be in many folders
  • Duplicate filenames are allowed in the same folder
    • When GD syncs with your computer these same-folder-duplicates are renamed with parenthesized numbers
  • Characters (such as / and .) are allowed in file and directory names
    • When GD syncs with your computer the characters windows does not allow are replaced with underscores (or other characters)
  • Deleting (Removing) a folder deletes all files in the folder and also deletes the files from every other folder they are in
  • Deleting a file deletes it from all folders it is located in
  • Deleted files and folders go to the Trash
  • Files restored from the Trash go... (I'm not really sure where they return to, because I forgot to make a note of what happened in my testing, but my guess is that they would be re-multi-foldered)
  • Sharing is restored

How Windows Explorer (WE) works with files and folders:
  • One file can be in only one folder (generally speaking)
    • Duplicate filenames are not allowed in the same folder
  • Characters such as / and . are not allowed
  • Deleted files go to the recycle bin
  • Files restored from the recycle bin go into the folder they were last deleted from

When dealing with files in Windows, if you move a file from a folder in WE to another folder that contains a file of the same name, WE asks you if you want to overwrite the file.  Normally this is okay, but if those files are actually multi-foldered files within the GD cloud both files end up getting deleted!  If your multi-foldered file is in 5 folders in the GD cloud, all 5 are deleted when you instruct WE to overwrite the 1.  This make moving, organizing, and deleting files iNcReDiBlY dAnGeRoUs!

Supposition on what I think is happening:
  1. One file overwrites the other in WE (the user allows it)
  2. The GD sync program notices that a file is gone (in this case moved) from a synced folder and orders its deletion from the GD cloud
  3. The GD cloud deletes the file and all copies of it (which weren’t really copies) from other locations (labels/folders) in the GD cloud
  4. The GD sync program checks in with the GD cloud, notices that the file is gone from all locations, and orders WE to delete the other "copies" off of your computer.

You can recover from this error by restoring the file from your recycle bin, where WE puts deleted files by default - unless you’ve disabled the recycle bin or run out of space in it, and only if you realize it's happening.  I’m not sure at what point this type of file restore becomes unavailable for google document types (gdoc, gsheet, etc.), but remember - we’re talking about cloud computing here...  The google document is not on your computer - it’s a symbolic link to a file that is in the cloud (usually, maybe).  GD won’t keep deleted files in the cloud forever, so this type of restore should be done as quickly as possible.

It takes time for changes made on one side of the sync to be reflected in the other.  Sometimes, if you have multiple WE windows showing your Google Drive folder they will have scary x’s, which is meant to inform you that there was a sync error, but maybe there wasn’t.  

If you think you’ve messed something up, try these things first:
  • Refresh the browser window or tab that has the GD cloud web application
  • Pause and resume the GD sync application
  • Quit and restart the GD sync application and wait for a resync
  • Close and re-open any Windows Explorer windows
    • Try to keep only one WE window open on your drive at a time...

There are many situations where you may have multi-foldered files within the GD cloud.  If you have been using GD for many years, back when it was Google Docs, you may have multi-labeled your files.  If someone has shared a folder with you, its possible that they put documents you shared with them in that folder, too… You may not even know that this is the case, but you’d better take some time to find out.  

To check to see if a file is in multiple 'folders' within the GD cloud:
  • Login to the GD cloud - docs.google.com
  • Look  to the right of your file names
    • If the files are shared, it will say so
    • If the files are in other folders they will be listed there
  • Right-Click each file and choose Move To
    • Uncheck the folders until the only one that’s checked is the one you want the file to be in

  • Multi-foldered files can be turned into less volatile files quite easily, but the best (only?) way to do it safely is from the GD cloud interface.  
  • If you have any multi-foldered files in GD and you're using GD sync on WE (or other platforms) to organize your data, you may be inadvertently, silently, and permanently deleting files when you think you're only moving them.

Here's a link to a Demonstration if you're so inclined.  At the time of this writing it's not a great demo but I may update it in future.  Please comment below if you've experienced the aforementioned problems.