HOW-TO: Use your Gmail account as a personal file server


This is a fairly simple and useful trick to score yourself a gigabyte's worth of free online file storage. If you already have a Gmail account, you can use it as a central file server that is accessible from anywhere you can access Gmail. If you don't have a Gmail account... read on. We're going to install a shell extension that will allow you to mount your Gmail account as a virtual drive on your desktop, so you can perform basic file manipulation operations without having to go through the web-based interface. Drag and drop, batch copy, create folders and delete files as you normally would in Windows Explorer, and be able to access your virtual drive from virtually anywhere.

There are some limitations and caveats associated with this how-to: Gmail doesn't support files larger than 10MB, so you won't be able to store large movie files or anything, but you wouldn't be doing that anyway 'cuz it's illegal, right? Also, the Gmail drive shell extension only functions under Windows XP, but you'll be able to access and download any of your files via any operating system and browser combination supported by Gmail.

Be advised that this trick is completely unsupported by the Google folk and so may cease functioning at any time — particularly following upgrades to the Gmail service. As far as we know this isn't illegal (we actually read the EULA for you — that's love, people), but we can't guarantee Google won't go all RIAA on us and crack down on this app, either, so use at your own risk.

Also, it goes without saying that none of you would dream of using something like this to shuttle around any illegally-obtained or un-DRM'd music, right? 'Cuz that would make you a criminal, and we can't advocate that. This is only for personal use storage of your, uh, extensive Powerpoint collection, k? Buckle in and let's roll.


  • Gmail account

  • Gmail Drive shell extension

  • Windows XP PC

  • To access your files elsewhere, a browser that supports Gmail. Here's the official list:

    • Fully supported browsers:

      • Microsoft IE 5.5+ (Windows)

      • Netscape 7.1+ (Windows, Mac, Linux)

      • Mozilla 1.4+ (Windows, Mac, Linux)

      • Mozilla Firefox 0.8+ (Windows, Mac, Linux)

      • Safari 1.2.1+ (Mac)

    • Will work with Gmail's basic HTML view:

      • Microsoft IE 4.0+

      • Netscape 4.07+

      • Opera 6.03+

First up, download the Gmail Drive shell extension. The download page says you need to have Internet Explorer 5 or higher for installation; this just refers to the fact that Internet Explorer is infernally wed to Windows Explorer and you need a version of the Windows Explorer based on the IE5+ engine. If you're running Windows XP you should be all set with this. No need to actually launch that browser — we wouldn't conscionably recommend that to anyone.

Installation is as simple as running the Setup program. When the installer is finished running, it will tell you you can begin using Gmail Drive right away, but you may actually have to restart your machine before you can access the new drive. If you don't see it in the list of locations under My Computer, just try restarting. Otherwise, you should be seeing Gmail Drive showing up just any regular storage device would:

Gmail drive icon

Double-click the Gmail Drive icon, and you will be prompted for your login information:

Gmail Drive login prompt

Enter your deets and Gmail Drive shell extension will happily enumerate your files and log you in:

Gmail drive logging in

If you already have files stored in your account from attachments you've received, etc., you will see them in the Explorer window after you've logged in. Otherwise, if you have no files or if you've just created your brand spankin' new Gmail account, you'll just see an empty Explorer window:

Empty Gmail Drive window

Let's drag and drop some files into our new virtual drive. We'll choose some image files that we shot ourselves because, as far as we know, it's not illegal to copy these yet. Just open an Explorer window with some files you'd like to store on your new file server, select them, and drag and drop them into your Gmail Drive just as you would with any regular file transfer. You'll get a dialogue window with an animation involving a cute little phone that for some reason is sending a letter — some tribute to ye olde modems of yore?

Gmail Drive file transfer

Regardless, it means Gmail Drive is whisking your files happily away and posting them to your Gmail account. When the transfer is finished, you'll see icons for your files in your Gmail Drive:

Gmail Drive with files

Fabulous. Now — if you have another Windows XP machine you use regularly — your work PC, for example — you can just set up the Gmail Drive shell extension there and have Explorer-type file manipulation on that machine, as well. This could be a really handy solution for sharing files between your two locations. But since we already know how to use Gmail Drive, let's take a look at what happens when we log in to our Gmail account from a regular old web browser.

Go to the Gmail login and enter your account information:

Gmail login

When you log in, you'll see a number of new messages - one message per file you just uploaded. Messages corresponding to files that have been uploaded via Gmail Drive appear with a "GMAILFS" prefix in the header, following by the filename and the file size:

Gmail file view

Since we've uploaded images, we can view our photos right from within the Gmail interface:

Gmail message view

From here, we can forward the images on to friends, or download them to whatever machine we are on and have instant access to them at any time. Plus, we benefit from all the handy built-in features of Gmail itself; we can easily search for our files by name and tag them to organize them however we wish. All this from the installation of one simple and free utility.

So we know that a lot of you might find this handy, but you don't happen to have a Gmail account. Well, it's your lucky day, peeps, because we have a few invites to give away. Obviously we don't have enough invites for everyone, but we'll give them away on a first-come, first-served basis until they're all gone. Just make sure you use a valid email address when you post your comment, because that's where we'll send the invite to, dig? Don't say we never gave you anything.