Sharing a Google Doc with a non-Google user

Published by | Saturday, September 15th, 2012

You’ve just completed a Google spreadsheet with charts, formulas, and data galore. Now you’re ready to share your spreadsheet with your colleagues and you realize that you don’t know whether or not they have a Google account. The good news is that there are many ways to share a Google Doc with a non-Google account holder.

The easiest solution is to simply ask your colleague(s) if they have a Google account. But in this case, we’ll assume that you either don’t have time to ask, you need to share a document with several colleagues under deadline, or it is a situation in which you simply can’t get that information ahead of time.


In this post, we’ll discuss three of the most common scenarios for sharing a Google Doc with a non-Google account holder, but first we should probably get clear on some vocabulary.

A Google account is not a Gmail account. A Google account is a unified sign-in system that gives one access to Google products like Docs, Groups, AdWords, and so on. A Google account can be associated with any email address—not just Gmail addresses. It’s very likely that the person you are trying to share a Doc with already has a Google account that they have created at one time or another.

A Doc is a Google document, spreadsheet, presentation, drawing, or form. Docs can only be edited within the Google Docs application. A Google account is a user name and password that allows a person to sign into Google Drive. This may be an @gmail account, a Google Apps account, or any email address associated with a Google account. You can associate any email address in the world with a Google Apps account.


Three scenarios for sharing a Doc with a non-Google account holder

Scenario one: You’ve created a document, spreadsheet, or presentation and you need to share the completed version with a non-Google user.

In this case the best thing to do is send the document as an email attachment. With the Doc open, click the File menu and choose Email as attachment. A dialog box will appear where you can adjust the format for the file, enter the email address of the recipient(s), and send a message along with the Doc.


You can send your Docs in the MS Office format, as text files, as HTML files, or even as PDFs.

This is the best option if you are sending a completed file, like a report. However, if your recipient makes edits to the file in Microsoft Excel or Word and sends it back to you, you can always convert the file from MS Office format back into a Google Doc to edit.

Scenario two: You need to share a doc with a group of people who do not have Google accounts and you would like them to make edits to the doc.

If this is the case, the best thing to do is to change the visibility options of the Doc to Anyone with a link. You can change the visibility options by opening your Doc, then clicking the Share button at the top right and selecting Change under the Who has access portion of the Sharing settings dialog box. This will bring up the Doc’s visibility options. Select the second option, Anyone with the link, and then select Can edit from the dropdown menu by Access. Finally, click Save to keep your changes.


Note: If you are a Google Apps users and you do not see the option Anyone with the link it may be that your Google Apps administrator has disabled this type of sharing. If this is the case, you should move on to scenario number three, below.

Once you click the Save button you will be back at the main sharing screen. Copy the link in the Link to share field. This is the link you should share with people who need to make edits to the Doc. Once you share the Link to share link, your editors will be able to access the Doc in edit mode without being asked to sign in. Do not share the URL you see in your browser’s URL menu because that is a private link only for you.

If you are in the Doc at the same time as another person, the people that do not have Google App accounts will show up as Anonymous User You’ll also see these non-Google people show up as anonymous users when you look at the revision history.


The anonymous users with which you share your Google Doc link do not automatically become what Google calls collaborators, so be aware that you will not be able to use the Email collaborators function (as mentioned in scenario one) if you share the Doc using the supplied link.

It should also be noted that it is a best practice to change the visibility settings of the Doc back to Private when people are done editing and the Doc is complete. That way, no one can use the link you shared to come back into the Doc later and make more changes.

I would not consider using the Link to share functionality a best practice for sharing confidential Docs because this system of sharing creates a link that anyone can access. If you need to share a confidential Doc, see scenario three, below.

Scenario three:You need a non-Google user to edit your Doc and you don’t have the option to change the Doc’s visibility settings to Anyone with the link. Or you need to share a confidential Doc with someone who does not have a Google account.

If you want to share a private Google Doc and you want to use the Google Doc editor to edit the file, and the Google Doc list to manage the file, then you should ask your contributor to create a Google account.

As mentioned aboved, a Google account is not a Gmail account, but rather a unified sign-in system that gives one access to Google products like Docs, Groups, AdWords, and so on. A Google account can be associated with any email address—not just Gmail addresses—and it’s likely that the person you are trying to share a Doc with already has a Google account that they have created at one time or another.

When you share a private Doc with someone they’ll be sent a link to the Doc via email. When they click on the Doc link they’ll be taken to a sign-in page where they can enter their Google account user name and password. If they don’t have a user name and password, they can click the Sign Up link to create a new Google account. With a Google account created, the person can now access the Google Doc that you have shared with them. They can receive email notifications about the file, and based on your permission settings, they can now edit the file online. When they have the Doc open, you will see their user name appear in the upper right-hand corner of your Doc, rather than the Anonymous User moniker that appears for non-Google editors.


These are the three best ways to share a Google Doc with a non-Google user. I would also keep in mind that as more and more people are using Google products in one way or another, it is very likely that many of the people you need to share a Doc with will already have a Google account.

To learn more about Google Docs and Google Drive, check out Google Drive Essential Training on

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42 Responses to “Sharing a Google Doc with a non-Google user”

  1. V says:

    Very nice post.

  2. Newspaper Coordinator says:

    I found this helpful for getting some of our older, Google-resistant editors connected by adjusting the privacy settings to not require sign-in.

    Thank you!

    • Susan Metz says:

      I’m glad you found this helpful!

    • mihlub says:

      i have PROBLEM using the share type by anyone with thelink can VIEW AND THE public SHARE THOSE TWO SHARE METHOD HOWEVER I TRY IT IT KEEP ASKING THE USER/VIEWR TO login WITH A GOOGLE ACCOUNT which defeat the purpose of sharing it on google DOC/DRIVE

      • John Fish says:

        I have the same problem, using ‘anyone with the link’ but the link recipient is taken to a google sign-in page – this is useless.

  3. Tom says:

    This is the best discussion I have seen on this topic.
    I have some reservations about method 1, sending as an attachment. This is due to the process of converting Google doc to Microsoft Office and visa versa easily resulting in a loss of formatting. It would seem if attachments are used and accuracy is needed, the Google doc must be converted to a PDF, which is an option. Of course, doing this removes the possibility of the recipient editing the document.

  4. jp says:


    Right click the name of the file
    click ‘Share’ from the menu
    Click ‘Change’ (to the right of the padlock symbol) select ‘Anyone with a link’
    Copy the link and send it.

  5. Very energetic article, I enjoyed that bit. Will there be a part 2?|

  6. Pete says:

    Does anyone else have this issue?

    I share the document as an email attachment but there is no record of it in my “Sent” folder in Gmail? Is this usual?

  7. Susan Metz says:

    Pete, That is the expected behavior.

  8. cc rider says:

    For a document that is shared with “anyone with the link”, do you know if the document can potentially be found via google search, say if someone happened to search on an uncommon string of words in the document using the google via “advanced search” function ?

    • Susan Metz says:

      A document shared with “anyone with the link” is not searchable by the search engines. It should have a special tag in the html that blocks the search engines.

  9. Lee Barstow says:

    When sharing my form with anyone who has the link, there is no choice but “can edit.” I.e., no drop-down as you show above. The text “can edit” is colored blue, but is not a hyperlink. I want recipients to be able only to fill out the form, not edit it. Thanks for any thoughts. — Lee

    • Click ‘Send Form’. Then share the link in the ‘link to share’ section. Recipients/viewers of that link can only submit responses.

      When creating a form, under the confirmation page part you get three check box options:
      - Show link to submit another response
      - Publish and show a link to the results of this form
      - Allow responders to edit responses after submitting
      (None of these options will allow recipients/viewers to edit your form)

      If you click ‘Send Form’ then click the ‘Add Collaborators’ link your only option is to allow them to edit the form since the only reason you would share this is to have them help you add questions or edit your form in some way. This is separate from the form results spreadsheet you can create. The results spreadsheet has the same sharing options as a regular Google Spreadsheet, which you can review at

      You can find more Google Form help information at

      • Chris Rogers says:

        Is there a way to send a form and allow a non-google account to fill it out? I can do it with the response spreadsheet and can allow a non-google person to edit the survey, but they still can’t fill out the survey and submit a response without an account? Any ideas?

  10. Nikos Rous says:

    I’ve shared a presentation, setting that anyone with the link can edit. The problem is that they are not able to insert images, as the insert image option (menu or button) doesn’t appear. Any suggestions?

  11. Courtney says:

    Mega, learnt a lot from this. Make some more articles like this guys. Will be back for more.

  12. Juergen says:

    > I would not consider using the Link to share functionality a best practice for sharing confidential Docs because this system of sharing creates a link that anyone can access.

    The link is username + password for the file. You cannot guess the link, so it is safe. The link is as secure as sharing username + password in a mail. But the link is better, as it is per document.
    Still better were if you could create several links for the same document.

  13. Russ says:

    I have created a Google spreadsheet with setting “anyone with link can edit”. From you post above I understood that invitees didn’t have to be logged into their Google accounts to be able to edit. But although they can all view the spreadsheet, none of them, nor I can edit. Is there a reason for this?

  14. KIrsten says:

    I have tried sharing a folder with “anyone with the link” and allowed them to edit. As a test, I tried from another computer to access the file. It is sending to the google sign-in page instead.

    Any suggestions?


    • Jay says:

      Yes, same exact scenario for me. I want to give access to a folder with files to a non Gmail, non-Google user.

      • Susan O says:

        I’m having the same issue. Set the share settings so anyone with the link can edit but my colleague was sent to a sign in page when she clicked the link.

    • mihlub says:


  15. TS says:

    If the non-google user makes edits with track changes in Word, will those redline edits then show up in google docs?

  16. Vero says:

    Thank you! so helpful!

  17. just me says:

    thank you, it was very useful.

  18. HarryTechIT says:

    I’ve encountered issues before when attempting to share Google doc to non Google user. It was a mess but managed to solve the problem. Fortunately this step by step instructions has been created to help just anyone to do so. Very useful and easy to understand.

  19. gaby says:

    thanks, this was very very useful

  20. Cheers for this. Have had to share a document with someone this week (who has to edit it), and I feared making him sign up for a Google account would be too taxing. It’s not so much that he’s technically challenged; he just hardly uses the internet.

  21. KJ says:

    Useful article indeed. Has anyone come across a situation where they had to share a Google doc with an user in China. China has blocked Google docs and I see no alternative than to use other products like Zoho or so. Anyone with any other suggestion to get the China user access Google doc (other than VPN)?

  22. valencia says:

    I would like to know how do I view the document after someone had seen the document and left comments/ made edits.

    I sent off a paper, they made comments and I cannot see any of the comments/ changes. PLEASE HELP


  23. Sean Shepherd says:


    This post was very clear, concise, and yet thorough in its description of all of the options and possibilities for sharing with others. The scenarios you described were extremely inclusive. In short, you rock and thank you for your help in this area. I have bookmarked this page and plan to visit your Google Drive Essential Training at



  24. Freddy Lam says:

    Hi Susan,

    Is there a way to share a protected google document with non-google users giving them the ability to view, but not the ability to comment and edit?

  25. Matt says:

    Thanks very much Susan, this was very helpful, well-written, and easy to understand! :)

  26. Deepak says:

    Thanks Susan, that was very informative and useful. :-)

  27. Sara says:

    Is there anyway to share a google doc using a tablet?

  28. Aminu says:

    Thanks Susan. I just tried sharing for the first time 2 days ago and got a lot of scorns for sharing something that required people to open google accounts/gmail accounts. This is so helpful. I bet I won’t get the scorns anymore now!

  29. Mark says:

    Nice advice! Very easy to understand and follow!

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