Delving Deeper Into Dropbox

We all know and love Dropbox, the amazing online file storage, backup, syncing and sharing service. It allows you to keep all of your computers in perfect harmony, your documents, music and more in each location.

That’s great, but what if you wanted to remotely control a computer, synchronize passwords, or sync your to-do lists? Dropbox offers a range of extra functionality that isn’t immediately obvious, and today we’ll be showing you how to achieve some of this interesting functionality!

dropbox

Do you love your Dropbox?

NB. Thanks to Dropbox for the comics!

Advanced Syncing

Spreading your time across two computers can be a real challenge. After only a day or two of use, you run into the question “where did I save that file?” That’s the main problem solved initially by Dropbox. Right out of the box, it creates a folder that is mirrored across each of your computers. This Dropbox becomes the replacement for your USB flash drive, and avoids duplicate files.

Syncing

Syncing

However, nowadays we have become accustomed to using more advanced applications, such as task managers, photo libraries, and music libraries, that require access to a file-based database. For instance, Things, my to-do list application of choice, saves everything into its own XML file. This would make my life complicated if I had different versions of that XML file floating around across different computers.

This can easily be remedied by quitting Things, and moving it’s Application Support folder (Username/Library/Application Support/Cultured Code/Things) into your Dropbox folder. Then simply hold down the option key when launching Things and point it to your newly moved folder. Repeat this step for each of your Dropbox-enabled Macs, but remember to only have one version of Things open at the same time or you could run into some major issues.

This can be done with several other applications, from 1Password (see the section labeled: Automatic Syncing without MobileMe) to other to do list applications such as OmniFocus and The Hit List. Just search for an online guide for your application of choice, if you aren’t completely sure how to navigate through your Library folder.

I also recently wrote an article that covers syncing your iTunes library between computers, however, with the new iTunes 9 you can just turn on Home Sharing to keep your iTunes library in check.

Home Sharing

Home Sharing

Photo syncing is also a great option. A guide to syncing your iPhoto library across multiple computers can be found here.

Multiple Instances of Dropbox

If you’re looking for a way to run multiple instances of the Dropbox app, a solution is available! But be a little wary, as it involves the Terminal. Just copy and paste this command into Terminal and a second version of Dropbox should start right up.

HOME=$HOME/.Dropbox-alt /Applications/Dropbox.app/Contents/MacOS/Dropbox

There is even a way to get this to do it every time you log into your computer – just check out this article. That said, we don’t advise the use of multiple Dropbox accounts to bypass the 2GB free user cap.

There is a slightly simpler way to have all your different Dropbox accounts (maybe one for work collaboration and one for a school based collaboration) together. Simply create a shared link to the main folder of your Dropbox and invite your other account to share. More information about sharing things between Dropbox accounts can be found at the Dropbox site.

Hosting a Web Site

Using the Public folder inside your Dropbox, you can host your own personal website, with 2GB of storage and a nearly unlimited bandwidth cap. Create a site folder inside the Public folder, then copy across your website files. Place an index.html file in there, and set your domain to redirect to the index’s public URL. Ta Da! You have an easy to operate site that is simple to update.

Obviously this only works for basic HTML content, and doesn’t replicate the functionality of a real web host – it’s a useful trick to know though!

Backup Your Computer Completely

One of the easiest way to back up your computer is to connect an external hard disk. Utilizing Time Machine is great, but if you use software like Chronosync, you could kill two birds with one stone: on-site fast backup, and remote, off-site backup. This is how:

Backing up with Dropbox

Backing up with Dropbox

Set up an external hard disk and either move or install your Dropbox onto that hard drive. Tell Choronosync to back up your entire hard drive to the Dropbox folder, and sure enough you soon have a great backup solution. Or just mirror some of your folders, like your Documents and Pictures. Dropbox’s prices aren’t out of this world, but you will probably need a paid account to make the backup work as planned.

Undelete

Time Machine might have been the most compelling reason to switch to Leopard, but could we apply the ability to choose which version of a file to restore to our Dropbox folder? Sure!

You could use Time Machine to do this, or you could use the built-in “undeleter” on the Dropbox web interface.

Undelete

Undelete

Simply log into with your account information at the Dropbox site. Then select to “Show deleted files”:

Show Deleted Files

Show Deleted Files

Select the folders you want to restore.

Select Folders to Restore

Select Folders to Restore

And click “Restore Folder” under the “More Actions” menu.

Restore Folders

Restore Folders

There you have it – your files are back safe and sound. With a free Dropbox account you get 30 days worth of versioning and undelting goodness, allowing you to revert to a version created up to 30 days ago or a file deleted during that time frame. With a paid account you can choose to add an additional feature that will allow you to store an unlimited number of files and versions.

Conclusion

There is plenty you can do with a simple Dropbox account. From syncing your to do lists across multiple computers to running a website, Dropbox is a great web based file management solution.

Don’t feel confined to synchronising only files – let your imagination wander, and you’re like to find a guide for almost any app with a quick Google search.

I’d love to hear any other inventive syncing ideas in the comments!


  • http://www.thesorianodiaries.com Rickey

    Awesome! I didn’t know these things could be done. Thank you!

  • Daniel Hertlein

    GREAT article. I suspected some of those things could be done but that and having them all neatly presented in one handy guide will be the difference between implementing them now and getting around to it someday.

  • http://www.macstories.net/ Federico Viticci

    Excellent post, just as always. The multiple instances thing is amazing, would use it if I had more than one account :P

    Check out my post “40 Creative Uses For Dropbox Designers and Mac Users Will Love” (http://mcstr.es/t/2j) you’ll surely like it ;)

  • http://www.marcofolio.net/ Marco

    Really a great article – loved the read and use of Dropbox. Bit of a bummer of the referral ID’s though.

  • http://www.richardjkeys.co.uk Rich

    Excellent collation of Dropbox resources. Been thinking about some of these options for a while.

    Ta!

  • http://www.twitter.com/secondfret Joshua Johnson

    Amazing Illustrations.

  • http://danwiersema.com Dan Wiersema

    Great stuff, some really good tips there. LOVE the illustrations. :)

  • Tanner

    I definitely want to try out the website one!

    Go Dropbox!

  • http://iaian7.com John Einselen

    I’ve been a big fan of Dropbox for quite some time, with one major downside discovered the other week – if one of the computers your Dropbox account syncs with runs out of hard drive space while files are being added, Dropbox will delete the files with (apperantly) no backups made or undelete possible (I couldn’t find anything at all – things were just gone). And not just individual files, but files inside collections (many file formats are little more than folders containing multiple resources). Something to be aware of if you intend to use Dropbox for anything more than a few text files!

    • http://twitter.com/kaypearl Alexis Brille

      Thanks for the tip, :).

  • Janina

    I really love the (unofficial) Dropbox service for Snow Leopard – “contextual menu entry to copy or move files into your public folder and put the public links in the clipboard.”

    http://wiki.getdropbox.com/DropboxAddons/Dropbox%20Service

    I use it all the time, don’t want to work on a Mac without it anymore.

    (Btw – anyone here without Dropbox? How about 250MB extra for free for you and me? https://www.getdropbox.com/referrals/NTg2ODY4OQ ) ;)

  • http://inspiredbywordpress.co.uk Daniel Groves

    I have been using it since it was launched with a 2GB free account. Damn awesome is all I have to say!

  • http://www.boborchard.com Bob Orchard

    I definitely loved the illustrations to go along with the post, and wanted to offer my use of Dropbox. I’ve been using it since they launched the service as a beta user, and love it.

    Since I work with multiple contractors across the world for creating websites, I have them subscribe to Dropbox so that I can keep track of their work, revisions, and backups on the fly – without the need to continually email them back and forth.

    I’ve also got it shared between my home office[http://www.flickr.com/photos/boborchard/4033215387/], office at work [http://www.flickr.com/photos/boborchard/4026731041/], and my MacBook Pro.

  • Jeff Finn

    I need to find a way to sync my Entourage database file. I’m pretty sure it needs to stay in the same location and can’t do the option + click to change anything.

    Home/Documents/Microsoft User Data/Office 200X Identities/Main Identity is where it resides, but if I could get it to sync w/ Dropbox my life would be so much easier. No more copying large database files to and from my external drive everyday.

    Any suggestions?

    • http://Quintincarlson.com Quintin Carlson

      You could try making an alias with the file. Right click and select make alias. Then move the file inside dropbox. Then make another alias on the other Mac. Just don’t have them both open at the same time. :)

    • Jamie

      Dropbox responds nicely to symlinks if you are on a Unix based system. I prefer to link instead of moving the actual folders to Dropbox

  • http://www.lastguest.com Tho

    Great article! Thanks for that!

  • http://www.lorettesamuel.be Samuel Lorette

    Thanks a lot for the great article.

    It could also be interesting to describe the way to use symbolic links (ln -s) on the mac to sync folders out of the “dropbox folder”. By exemple, I like to sync my Lightroom presets bettween my iMac and Macbook.

  • http://twitter.com/JoelDrapper Joel Drapper

    Great post. I use dropbox to sync my 1password database which means I can access it via the dropbox web interface in the browser with “1password anywhere”. It’s awesome!

  • http://twitter.com/matthewlowery Matthew Lowery

    I have Droplr AND Cloud, so I don’t really need it lol.
    The Website thing could be useful though :)

  • http://www.ethicalwebsites.com Colin D

    Dropbox is just wonderful :) – but did you know it can be used to potentially trace a stolen laptop as well?

    A while back I wrote a shell script (works on Mac and Linux) and provided instructions to allow Dropbox users to receive information back from a stolen laptop (or any other stolen Mac / Linux box) into their Dropbox account that could help reveal who the thief is. Oh and some helpful individual ported the script to a Windows batch file so now it works on all three platforms.

    You can find it all discussed at:

    http://forums.dropbox.com/topic.php?id=2892
    (and my script and the instructions to go with it is in a reply about halfway down).

    Also, how about remotely controlling your Mac if it gets stolen. Here’s something else I came up with:

    http://forums.dropbox.com/topic.php?id=11093

    Hope that helps :)

    -Colin

    • http://twitter.com/kaypearl Alexis Brille

      That’s amazing. Kudos.

    • http://www.brennanzelener.com Brennan

      That’s fantastic Colin!

      I just started using Dropbox once I read the article. Already loving it. Thanks!

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  • http://www.madewithjapan.com Allan

    I’ve been using dropbox for about 6 months now but had no idea I could use it these ways. Thank you for sharing these creative tips!

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  • Judith Bristley

    I need help, I can not seem to get my password put in Dropbox it keeps saying it is wrong. How do I cange the password?

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