A common criticism of the G Suite of applications is that they're accessed through a web browser. This means that you can't use Google Docs, Sheets, or Slides when you don't have an internet connection. Right?


Actually, it IS possible to use Docs, Sheets, and Slides when you're offline, but, like with Gmail Offline, it takes a little preparation in advance and (of course) comes with a few disclaimers. This article will walk you through how to set-up offline access to the G Suite of applications, how to use Docs/Sheets/Slides when you're offline, and identify some disclaimers and issues you'll need to be aware of.

Setting Up Google Docs/Sheets/Slides Offline

1. First of all, you'll need to do these set-up steps while you're still online AND using the Chrome web browser; Google Docs Offline won't work with any other browser besides Chrome.

2.  Navigate to docs.google.com and click on the three-lined 'hamburger menu' in the upper-left hand corner. Then, click on the 'Settings' menu:


3. The Google Docs settings menu is beautifully sparse. You shouldn't have any trouble finding the link to "turn on offline sync", which you should click:


3. You may be prompted to install the "Google Drive web app", depending on whether you have this installed or not. If you need it, go ahead and install the app.

4. After you've installed the web app, you'll need to click the blue button to enable Offline editing. Note: this will work for text documents (docs), spreadsheets (sheets), and presentations (slides) simultaneously; you don't need to enable each of the three G Suite apps individually.


How it Works

1. Google Docs/Sheets/Slides works offline by storing a copy of your most recent documents on your computer's hard drive. To access your recent documents, open Chrome when you're offline and view your installed apps. You can do this by typing Chrome://Apps in the search bar or by clicking on the tiny link labeled "Apps" in the Bookmarks toolbar:


2. Click on the app that you need to use offline (Docs, Sheets, or Slides). In this example, I'll use Docs:


3. You'll see a list of your most recent documents. Double click on the one you want to edit.

4. Now you can edit your document offline. You'll be able to tell you're offline by seeing the lightning-bolt icon next to the document's title (see example below). Make whatever edits you'd like; your changes will be synched the next time your computer connects to the internet.


Saving Specific Documents for Offline Access

If there's a particular document that you know you're going to edit offline, you can also pick and choose specific Docs, Sheets, and Slides to be available offline.

1. Go to docs.google.com (or sheets or slides). Don't use the main Google Drive interface, as it won't work properly.

2. Locate the document you want to access offline. You may need to use the search box.

3. Click on the 3-dot menu in the lower right hand corner of the document to see its quick menu. Toggle the 'available offline' switch to enable offline access:

Disclaimers and Gotchas

As you might expect, there are a lot of caveats that come with using Google Docs (or Sheets or Slides) offline. Here are some of the most important ones:

  • When using Google Docs offline, there are some network-dependent features that won't work. These include: spell check, importing images from the web, inserting Google Drawings, and voice typing, to name a few.
  • Google Docs offline don't work well with documents that you're actively collaborating on or documents that other people are frequently editing. If both you and other collaborators make edits while you're in offline mode, you'll end up with different versions of the same document that will need to be reconciled when you reconnect.
  • Which documents will Docs Offline actually sync to your computer? I couldn't find a clear answer on this, but in my testing, it looks like it's about two or three weeks-worth. I could imagine that changing based on how big your hard drive is and how many documents you're opening. The bottom line is that you should open a copy of every document you expect to edit offline right before you depart for 'no-man's land'. This will ensure you have an updated copy of the documents that you need.¬†
  • If you use the Google Drive sync app on your PC, you'll be able to open any G Suite document that's being synced to your computer.