This post is part of a series that revisits some of our readers’ favorite articles from the past that still contain awesome and relevant information that you might find useful. This post was originally published on April 5th, 2011.
Dropbox is one of those tools that spends most of its time sitting in the background, and yet has become an essential app for users on just about every platform. Dropbox as cloud storage, as a syncing solution, and even as a way to host a website is an incredibly useful tool.
That utility isn’t lost on app developers. Software that works with Dropbox is springing up everywhere — sometimes as a built-in function, and other times as a user hack. Either way, it makes life among many gadgets easier to have certain files accessible anywhere, anytime.
Here are some apps that you can start using to take advantage of cloud storage even more.
Dropbox integration in text editors and word processors has become common in recent times, and it’s all thanks to the iPad. Given that users aren’t able to look around for files on the iOS filesystem, making sure documents are easily available for later use requires developers to come up with their own solution.
Often, that solution is Dropbox. Here, we look at OS X apps that sync to Dropbox for the sake of working with iPad apps, and iPad apps that use Dropbox to sync back to the computer.
Writer is an iPad app created by iA, a firm that specializes in user experience design. Writer is an app written to make focusing on the writing easy.
Like many iOS apps, Writer has built-in Dropbox support to get around the constraints of the operating system’s file system and make sure it’s easy to get to your work.
Setting up Writer to sync with your Dropbox account is easy. Simply tap on the folder icon in the app’s top left corner, and then tap the “Link Dropbox” button at the bottom of the window that pops up. Follow the prompts from there.
Remember to synchronize when you’re finished writing so that your work is up-to-date in Dropbox.
PlainText is an iPhone and iPad application for text editing that is designed to emulate working with paper.
The application is minimal and the developer intends to keep it that way. Building the app around simple Dropbox synchronization rather than working with other, messier ways to sync certainly helps keep the app loyal to the minimalist philosophy.
To set up PlainText with Dropbox, tap the cog button to enter Settings, then tap Dropbox. Here you’ll need to specify the folder you want PlainText to sync to before you link your Dropbox account, and then it’s simply a matter of tapping “Link to Dropbox Account” and filling in the blanks.
Notational Velocity is sort of like an Evernote-lite for the Mac. It features a very simple interface, half of which can be seen on the right side of the image above, and can synchronize natively through Simplenote or with a bit of a workaround using Dropbox. You can configure the Dropbox sync to work well with PlainText and iA Writer.
To set up Dropbox sync, go to Preferences and select the Storage tab. Under “Store and read notes on disk as” select any option except for Single Database–most likely you’ll want Plain Text Files, particularly if you want to sync with PlainText or iA Writer. Then, drag your Notational Velocity data folder from ~/Library/Application Support/ over to your root Dropbox directory. Notational Velocity will know where you’ve moved the folder, and will be able to sync with other computers once you set them up.
To set up other computers, configure the Storage preferences exactly as you did on the first computer, and then go to Notes tab in the preferences window. Once there, click the “Read notes from folder” dropdown and choose Other. From there, select the Notational Velocity data folder in Dropbox and click OK.
Popular novel writing software Scrivener 2.0 supports a few types of sync, including a folder sync that’s appropriate for use with Dropbox. Scrivener uses text files for this, rather than the app’s own format, so that you can work on your Scrivener projects from the plethora of Dropbox-based text editors for iOS like those covered above.
Go to the File menu and, under the Sync sub-menu, select Folder Sync. Select the Dropbox folder you want to use to sync a particular project with and use your own judgement to set the remaining settings.
Task managers have been around as long as personal computers have been, but the expectations are quite different these days. If a task manager doesn’t sync to your many devices and multiple computers, it’s considered as good as useless — and let’s be honest, the way we use technology these days, that’s a fair call.
Unfortunately, some of our preferred task managers don’t have sync features built in. Below, we’ll show you how to set up those that do, and work around those that don’t.
Things doesn’t really work with Dropbox–not in the sense that there’s built-in support for Dropbox-based sync. But, since Things hasn’t released any syncing functionality in its years of existence, enterprising users have used Dropbox as a syncing workaround.
Create a folder in Dropbox where you’ll put your Things database. Go to ~/Library/Application Support/Cultured Code and you should see a file called Database.xml. Copy (don’t move, in case of problems) this file to the Dropbox folder you just created. Now, hold Alt/Option as you open Things, and you’ll be asked to select an existing database. Navigate to the file in Dropbox and select it, and you’re good to go on the first computer.
For additional computers, start from the last step–hold Alt/Option while opening Things, navigate to the right place in Dropbox, and select the file as your database.
The downside: you can never run two synchronized instances of Things at once, and you can’t open Things on system startup as Dropbox won’t have time to sync.
The Hit List
Setting up The Hit List‘s Dropbox sync trick is pretty much identical to setting up Things. Navigate to ~/Library/Application Support/The Hit List and move The Hit List Library.thllibrary to a new location in Dropbox.
Hold Alt/Option while opening The Hit List, and you’ll be asked to specify a new location for the app’s library. Navigate to Dropbox and select the file, hit Okay, and you’re good to go. Repeat this process of holding Alt/Option and selecting the file for each computer you’ll be working with.
As with Things, you need to quit the program before using it elsewhere, and you need to let your Dropbox folder sync on startup before you open The Hit List.
Dropbox doesn’t know what to do when you’re editing a file from two locations at once, which is what makes Dropbox sync for Things and The Hit List a fiddly hack that requires you to remember to close the app before using it elsewhere. Fortunately, productivity stalwart OmniFocus has built-in capabilities for handling cloud synchronization.
In OmniFocus, go to Preferences and head over to the Sync tab. There are several options here, including MobileMe, Bonjour, Disk and Advanced. You want to choose Disk. Click the Choose button next to Location, and navigate to Dropbox, preferably in a folder you created specifically for OmniFocus.
Press Sync Now to get started. For additional computers, the setup process is the same. With this approach, you won’t need to close the app on other computers before you can use it–OmniFocus takes care of conflict resolution for you.
If you like to enjoy all your media on the move, most solutions are either expensive or tricky. When I upgraded to the iPhone 4, it was because the 16 gigabytes on my old 3G was infuriatingly insufficient (that’s an example of expensive).
Dropbox can alleviate some of that. You’re not going to want to sync huge media libraries this way, but if you’ve got a good connection and enough time, it can be done with smaller libraries.
If you’ve got a small media library or you’re paying for one of the Pro plans that gives you 50-100GB of data storage, you can actually sync your iTunes libraries by hosting them on Dropbox.
Unfortunately, iTunes handles libraries on Windows and Mac differently, so if you’re a multi-platform user you’ll have to pick one for the synchronization to work.
Copy your iTunes library folder over to Dropbox, and then go on vacation for one or two weeks. I’m mostly kidding there, but how long all your music and movies take to upload will depend on the size of your library. Mine would probably take longer than that if it could even fit, but this might be more practical for you.
Launch iTunes while holding Alt/Option so that it gives you the option to specify a new location for your library, and direct it to your iTunes folder on Dropbox. Now you can log in to your other computers and take another vacation while they grab the files from the cloud, and the redirect them to the new library location.
Unfortunately, you won’t be able to use iTunes on more than one computer at a time. Fortunately, for most situations where you’d want to do that, iTunes itself now has you covered with features like media sharing and AirPlay.
Like iTunes, your iPhoto library can be synced through Dropbox. The process is largely the same. Copy the library, located in ~/Pictures, to your Dropbox folder. Hold Alt/Option while opening iPhoto so that you can point the app towards the new location, and rinse and repeat for each computer you want to sync.
The golden rules apply here: never have iPhoto open on more than one computer at once, and always make sure Dropbox has an up-to-date sync before opening the app.
You can follow the same process if you’re an Aperture user.
Information managers are the apps where we keep our most important data — the serial numbers for expensive software, passwords, perhaps even your spouse’s birthday, just in case. This is the information that Dropbox is most often used to keep available everywhere we go. Here’s how to set up Yojimbo and 1Password.
Yojimbo is an app for storing and organizing information — a bit like Evernote, but with better organizational tools. Unfortunately, the app has been left behind a bit by the developers in comparison with Evernote thanks to the lack of a sync feature and lackluster iOS versions.
To get our work-around Dropbox sync going, make sure Yojimbo is closed and run these Terminal commands:
mv ~/Library/Application\ Support/Yojimbo ~/Dropbox
ln -s ~/Dropbox/Yojimbo ~/Library/Application\ Support/
In short, that’ll move your Yojimbo library and tell Yojimbo where to look for it in the future. Test Yojimbo to make sure everything’s working and you’re ready to set up other computers — after Dropbox has finished syncing on those, of course.
You’ll run that second command on each computer you want to sync up with the original library:
ln -s ~/Dropbox/Yojimbo ~/Library/Application\ Support/
And then you’re good to go! Unlike other apps where we used workarounds, you don’t risk corrupting your library by using the app in two places at once — only because Yojimbo will refuse to launch when the library is in use elsewhere.
Popular password manager 1Password makes keeping unique, super-strong passwords for all your accounts easy. But what happens when you’re out of the house and you can’t get into an account because of those super-strong passwords? Though never re-using passwords and keeping them all as long as possible with a mixture of letters, numerals and punctuation marks is best for security, it can make getting into accounts without 1Password a problem since you won’t (and probably can’t) memorize the passwords.
Dropbox is the perfect solution to this problem. With 1Password, it’s also incredibly easy to set up.
Go to Preferences, and on the General tab you’ll see a button labeled Move to Dropbox. Click that button, and it’ll take care of everything for you.
On the computers you want to sync with, it’s as simple as going to your Dropbox folder, ensuring everything is synchronized and up-to-date, and then double-clicking your 1Password file. It’s usually called 1Password.agilekeychain. No need to ensure that only one instance of 1Password is in use at a time — the developers have taken care of the quirks of Dropbox syncing for you.
Back Up Before You Proceed!
As you’ve no doubt noticed, there are just as many unofficial, risky ways to sync your data via Dropbox as there are supported features that the developers intended. It’s very likely that you’ll lose information while you’re playing with those DIY methods. I lost a huge chunk of my Things library this way when I first tried the method a few years back. It was stupid and unnecessary, so do yourself a favor and learn from my mistakes.
Get your data backed up before you proceed, for all of these apps, but especially for those where the methods are unsupported work-arounds. You’ll hate yourself for it if you don’t take a few seconds to make copies.
Dropbox has made it so much easier for millions of people to work between multiple computers with minimal disruption. Even the free plan provides more than enough space to do away with a whole bunch of daily inconveniences.
There are more and more great apps that support Dropbox synchronization coming out all the time. Let us know about your favorites in the comments!