How to use Google Workspace visitor sharing

Collaborate securely in Google Docs, Sheets, Slides, and more with anyone who has an email address–no Google account required.

Illustration: Andy Wolber/TechRepublic

Google recently launched visitor sharing to allow secure collaboration with anyone with an email address. The new system, which relies on email to receive a Google validation code, allows people to collaborate on Google Docs, Sheets, Slides, Sites, Google Drive folders, images, and PDFs, as well as Word, Excel, and PowerPoint files stored on Google Drive.

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Visitor sharing means there’s no need for collaborators to sign up for a Google account. Historically, you had two options when you wanted to collaborate with others in Google Docs. The most secure way required that each collaborator sign in with an email address associated with a Google account. A less secure method required that you adjust the access settings to allow Anyone With The Link to access a file or folder. Both of these methods served as a barrier to collaboration–especially between people who used different office suites, such as Microsoft 365 (formerly Office 365) and Google Workspace (formerly G Suite).

Here’s how Google visitor sharing works for document owners/editors and recipients, as well as how a Workspace admin may choose to allow or prevent such sharing.

SEE: Google Sheets: Tips and tricks (TechRepublic download) 

How to share to an email address

If you are an item or folder owner or editor, you may choose to give access to the item to collaborators who have an email address.

  1. In Google Docs, Sheets, or Slides, select Share. Alternatively, from drive.google.com, with an item selected, choose the icon of a person with a + next to it, in the upper-right corner area.
  2. If desired, adjust the intended level of access (e.g., Editor, Commenter, Viewer).
  3. Enter the email address for your collaborator. The system will send the person an email to notify them of offered access (Figure A).

Figure A

Screenshot of Google Doc "Share" dialogue box, with awolber@protonmail.com address entered and given editor access.

Google Workspace apps now lets you share and collaborate securely with anyone who has an email address, without the need for a Google account.

How to gain access to a shared item

If the person’s email address is associated with a Google account, the recipient will be prompted to sign in after they click on the share link in their email. They’ll need to walk through the standard Google account sign-in process to gain access. Otherwise, the recipient will get an email and then need to follow these steps (Figure B).

Figure B

Screenshot of Email from Google offering access to a shared Google Doc, with a link button ("Open in Docs")

A recipient who uses email that is not associated with any Google account will need to click on the link to begin verification.

1. If no Google account is associated with the person’s email address, the system will display an additional screen with a Verify Your Email screen. 
2. The recipient should select Send (Figure C).

Figure C

Screenshot of verification prompt screen, with Send button to trigger validation code email.

People who do not have a Google account linked to their email address will be prompted to select Send to receive verification code.

3. Next, the recipient should return to their email inbox and look for a verification code email (Figure D). Copy the verification code provided.

Figure D

Screenshot og email with Google Verification Code, in this case a 6 digit code.

The system will send a verification code to the previously accessed email address.

4. The recipient must enter the code in the verification screen, then select Next (Figure E).

Figure E

Screenshot of "Enter the code" prompt, with box for verification code entry.

Enter the verification code received in email, then select Next. The system will then provide access to the shared item.

5. After verification, they may access the shared folder or file. 

Note: The recipient may need to repeat the verification process periodically (typically every week or so) to maintain authenticated access.

Workspace admin console controls

A Google Workspace administrator may manage sharing settings for the entire organization. To do this, an administrator signs in at https://admin.google.com, then navigates to Apps | G Suite | Drive And Docs | Sharing Settings | Sharing options.

In most cases, an administrator will want to make sure to allow people to send sharing invitations outside of the organization’s domain. This makes it possible for people in the organization to collaborate with people outside of the organization. For this setting, choose On (within Sharing Options), and select the checkbox next to Allow Users In [Your Domain] To Send Sharing Invitations To People Outside [Your Domain] Who Are Not Using A Google Account (Figure F).

Figure F

Screenshot, with arrows pointing to Sharing Settings that allow external sharing and enable visitor sharing to non-Google accounts.

In most cases, Google Workspace administrators will want to allow files to be shared outside of your organization, including with people who do not use a Google account (as shown).

Alternatively, an administrator could choose to restrict sharing to specific organizations. This might be selected for organizations in sensitive sectors, such as healthcare. For example, an administrator at a physician’s practice that uses Google Workspace might allow sharing of information with people at a local hospital. 

For this setting, choose Whitelisted Domains, which you might otherwise think of as “allowed domains,” and select the checkbox next to Allow Users In [Your Domain] To Send Sharing Invitations To People Outside Of [Your Domain] Who Are Not Using A Google Account. With this option selected, the administrator will need to save the settings, and then specify the allowed domains (Figure G).

Figure G

Screenshot that shows sharing options restricted ONLY to allowed domains specified by an administrator, but with visitor sharing allowed to people with email in those domains.

Organizations with specific security concerns, such as regulatory compliance (e.g., healthcare organizations, schools, etc.), may prefer to limit sharing to email addresses from allowed domains.

How does visitor sharing support your work?

If you use Google Workspace, how has the addition of visitor sharing simplified collaboration with people outside your organization? If you’re an administrator, have you enabled external sharing as a result of the availability of this feature? Let me know what your experience with visitor sharing has been, either on Twitter (@awolber) or in the comments below.

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