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It is (only so) well-known that an item in Google Drive can reside in multiple locations at once. There is a trace of documentation about how to place a file in a second location in the Drive Help ("Move a file or folder" -> "Save an item to multiple folders") as well as a couple of alternatives here on StackExchange: With Google Drive, how can I have a single document in multiple folders/collections?

However, the mechanics of this after a "second" file has been created like this is highly unclear.

For example:

  • Is there any difference between the "second" and the original file? In other words, does the second file behave like a soft or hard link to the original file?
  • If there is a difference, how do you find out which copy is the original one?
  • What happens to the second file if you move the original file to a new location?
  • And vice versa?
  • What happens to the second file if you rename the original file?
  • And vice versa?
  • What happens to the second file if you delete the original file?
  • And vice versa?
  • What happens to the second file if you delete a folder containing the original file?
  • And vice versa?
  • What happens if you drag and drop the second file to the location where the original file resides?
  • And vice versa?
  • What if you manipulate the files in the Google Drive client on Windows (or Linux)?
  • What if the "file" in all of the above is actually a folder itself?

From personal experience, I suspect that:

  • If there is a difference, how do you find out which copy is the original one?

It seems as if the multiple locations are shown in chronological order of creation.

I have also read this blog post, and it seems to suggest the following partial answers:

  • Is there any difference between the "second" and the original file?

It does not look like there is!

  • What happens to the second file if you delete the original file?
  • And vice versa?

It looks like both copies are deleted.

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Short answer

Adding a file to multiple folders is a "mechanism" to show the same file in multiple folders, this doesn't make several copies of the same file.

Explanation

Google Drive works in very different way than other the file management systems that many end-users are used to use on theirs personal computers and file storage devices like USB memory sticks and portable hard drives.

Google Drive is a cloud file management system meaning that files are stored in large data centers that could have many "file copies" in order to serve the files as fast as possible to the end-user and to keep the files safe from a storage device failure. This copies are not directly available to the end-user. We could call these copies as "backup copies".

When a file is deleted, no matter how many folders it was added, as it's only one file it's deleted from everywhere and "slowly" all the backup copies will be deleted too.

Side note

On the earliests versions, when Google Drive and the Google Docs Editors were a single web app, instead of folders there was labels in a similar way that occurs on Gmail until today. I personally prefer to think on "labels" rather than "folders" as a mean to organize files.

References

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