Turns out Google imposes a hard limit on the number of files you can upload to Google Drive, its cloud storage service—despite a lack of clear documentation that outlines the restrictions. That magic number? Five million.
Update, 4/5/23: Google is removing the file count limit for Drive accounts. In a tweet on the Google Drive Twitter account, the company says that it has reversed its policy while seeking other ways to improve performance for the service. The Google Drive team has also promised to inform users in advance about changes to accounts. Our original story follows below.
This hidden count only became apparent when users started running into it. As reported on Reddit and shared by CNET, users discovered this cap the hard way in February. In a post on Google’s IssueTracker, both individuals and businesses noted that uploads had stopped working on their accounts, but without a clear explanation for the failures, leaving users confused while scrambling to deal with broken automated integrations and backup systems. Upgrading the account to a higher amount of storage also did not fix the problem.
In early March, Google’s customer service agents revealed the hard ceiling in individual replies to account holders, stating they could not exceed 5 million documents—even when the total storage used was under the plan’s limits. A Google Workspace spokesperson confirmed this policy in a statement to CNET, saying individual users were limited to 5 million total created items to “maintain strong performance and reliability.” However, the rollout of this limitation appears to be inconsistent, with others on the IssueTracker thread hitting the restriction at the 1 million mark. If you’ve encountered Error 403 (“The limit for the number of items, whether trashed or not, created by this account has been exceeded”), you may have tripped into this issue.
Mention of this restriction on file count remains missing from Google’s documentation, too. At the time of this article, only a help page covering individual file limitations (with surprisingly fine detail) exists. Meanwhile, shared drive accounts have their file limits clearly listed as a maximum of 400,000, and competitor Dropbox has no limitations on the number of files uploaded; same for Box, which the company confirmed to CNET.
Affected users now face a hard decision: Switch accounts (either to a rival service or within Google), or begin deleting files. Neither task will be simple for those part of wide organizations (one person described this limitation affecting “tens of thousands” affiliated with their org) and folks who had used their accounts for cloud backups. Backup software can create multiple small files as part of incremental backups, which can add up over time—as was the case for the Redditor who alerted r/Google to this issue.
In response, other Redditors pointed out a temporary workaround—adding all documents to a few zip files. (Never change, Reddit.)