Dropbox Tips and Tricks

I honestly don’t know how I would survive without Dropbox. I literally use my Dropbox at least 4 or 5 times a day. In this post, I am going to share my favorite tips and tricks for getting the most out of your Dropbox.

1. Sync Files between Computers

This is the most basic function. When you install Dropbox, you automatically get 2 GB of free space. This means that you can automatically sync up to 2 GB of files between your computers for free. And this isn’t only the case for desktop computers and laptops. If you have a smartphone or tablet, you can also download the Dropbox application for Android or iOS, and you will also be able to sync your files between your mobile device and your desktop computer. This is such a handy app because hardly anybody nowadays uses only one operating system (I personally sync all my files between 6 different operating systems). It is even useful if you only have one operating system, because if you have it installed on your computer, you can access those files on the Dropbox website from anywhere that has internet access.

Is 2 GB not enough space for you? Don’t worry! You can often get free space when you participate in various promotions that Dropbox offers. Lifehacker has also published a great post on how to get free space on Dropbox.

2. Share Files with Family and Friends

Sharing files over Dropbox is very easy. Just create a file in your Dropbox that you want to share with somebody. Then go to the Dropbox website and select the Sharing option. Here you will see all the folders that you are currently sharing. Just hit the New Shared Folder option and select the file that you have already created and add the email addresses of the people with whom you want to share the file. One thing to pay attention to, however, is that after you have shared your file with someone, they have full access to all the files that it contains. Any changes that they make to the files will change in your file as well. So don’t put your only copy of something in a folder and share it with somebody. It is probably better to make a backup copy of the file somewhere on your desktop computer before you share it with somebody.

3. Automatically Upload Photos to Dropbox

I am not a photographer by ANY means, but I do have a Smartphone which has a decent camera. As in, the photos that I take on the camera of my smartphone are more than sufficient to post on my blog. And I don’t need to take pictures for anything else. But I find it really annoying to have to plug my Smartphone into my computer and move them manually. Samsung phones are especially annoying, because you need to install special drivers to be able to access your phone. Last year in Venice, I discovered that I didn’t have the drivers that I needed to load my pictures onto my laptop. So I decided to try sending them to my laptop via dropbox. It turned out to be extremely easy. If you have Dropbox installed on your phone, just view the picture you want to add to your Dropbox. Then select the share option and select Dropbox in the menu that pops up (these instructions are for Android, but I assume that iOS uses a similar system). Then you can select the folder that you want to upload to and you are good to go!

After figuring this out, I decided that I wanted to upload them automatically. I used an app I found in the appstore (Dropsync) to upload automatically, but the good news is that there is now an official Dropbox app for syncing your photos automatically! And you can even get free space for trying it out! So now, you don’t even have to remember to upload your photos. Instead, as soon as your phone finds an internet connection, it will automatically upload them into your Dropbox and you can view them anywhere!

4. Sync Your Music Over Several Computers

I love this function of Dropbox, but it does require you to have a bit more space than just 2 GB (unless you only have 2 GB of music). I have over the past couple of years or so, acquired around 16 GB of space (I just got 5 by testing out the photo upload software), so for me, space isn’t that much of an issue. If you do have the space, it is actually really easy to set this up. Just create a folder in your dropbox for storing all of your music. Then just drag and drop your music library over to this folder. If you have a really big music library and a really slow internet connection (like I do), it could take a while for the Dropbox on your different computers to upload and download all the files (it usually takes a day or so for me to sync a couple of gigabytes of information. But that is because my internet connection is HORRIBLE. It doesn’t actually reflect badly on Dropbox at all. On my work computer, which has a really nice wired connection, my Dropbox can download a couple of gigabytes of information in around 10 minutes or so).

Once your music has been uploaded to the Dropbox server and downloaded to all of your computers, all you need to do is reset the default location that your preferred music player uses for its library. Usually, you just have to go to some location like File > Import Media… and select the file in your Dropbox where your music is saved. This is really cool, because now when you just want to add a song to you music player on one computer, you can just throw it in your Dropbox folder and it will automatically sync and you will be able to listen to it on all of your computers.

5. Use ifttt.com to Upload Your Internet Activity Into Dropbox

This is one of those cool little tricks that I decided to try out just because I can! The web application ifttt.com allows you to connect a whole bunch of your web “channels” (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) and interact between them. One of the channels is Dropbox, and there are a whole bunch of cool things you can do using ifttt.com to interact between your Dropbox and your other web “channels”. Here are a couple of cool “recipes” that I found on the site:

  1. Download your starred Google Reader items as a .pdf file into your Dropbox
  2. Download the photos from a starred Google Reader idem into your Dropbox
  3. Backup all the photos you upload to Facebook in Dropbox

Those are just a couple of the options. Playing around is really fun!

6. Use Your Dropbox as Your Desktop

By this I mean that instead of saving everything that you do on your Desktop or your Documents folder, use your Dropbox folder. When you download your homework for the week, instead of saving it to a homework directory on your harddrive, you save it to the homework directory in your Dropbox. Then, when you want to look at the .pdf file that you downloaded two weeks ago on your laptop, you can just open the Dropbox that you have installed on your tablet and view the .pdf from there without having to worry about anything. This is the main way that I use my Dropbox, and this is the reason that having to use a computer without Dropbox would irritate me to the extreme. I’ve gotten so used to saving everything that I am currently working on to Dropbox, so I never have to worry about not having the file that I need for school. This is especially useful for me because for university I always have to download lots of .pdf files every week (the class script files and homework sheets), and now, when I get a minute, I can just spend 10 minutes or so and download all the files and upload them into my Dropbox. Sometimes, I do this from my work computer, sometimes from my home computer, sometimes from my tablet, etc. But the point is, that as soon as I have downloaded them, I can access them from all of my computers.

But the problem with having so many folders in your Dropbox is that it can often get very unorganized. I thought that I would post a screenshot and a short description of how I organize my Dropbox folder (it works for me!):

The apps Directory

In the apps directory, I save some different programs that I use on different computers. I don’t use this directory very much, but it is nice to have. In one of the subdirectories, I have saved my favorite GNOME theme packages and my desktop picture of choice so that as soon as I have installed a version of Ubuntu (as long as it is one of the Ubuntu distributions that still includes GNOME 2). Then, as soon as Dropbox has uploaded everything for my new installation, I can immediately customize the appearance of the desktop so that I feel right at home.

I also uploaded the executables for a couple of old games like Rodents Revenge, Ski Free, and Chip’s Challenge. If there is some information that I might need to run a certain program, I also save this in here. For instance, I found a cool command line program that I use to check my ink, but I don’t actually use it often enough to remember the command that I have to enter, so I created a text document called “checkInk.txt” and wrote out some quick instructions for myself.

The Camera Uploads Directory

The Camera Uploads directory is the default directory that is generated by Dropbox when you use the official Dropbox uploader app. I hope that by the time that the official version comes out, I will somehow be able to change the name or move the directory into another directory. I would really like to move it into my uploads directory. Maybe this feature is already available. I’m just going to have to play around with it.

The media Directory

I took a quick screenshot of my media directory. This is where I save, surprise surprise, my media! I have separated it into four different subdirectories. In the ebooks subdirectory, I save the ebooks that I have found somewhere online (i.e. the ebooks that I didn’t buy on Amazon). This includes yet another subdirectory where I save the ebooks that I have found at Project Gutenberg as well as the complete collection of Asterix and Tintin comics. In the music subdirectory, I save my music as I described above. In the pics subdirectory I save some various pictures that I have picked up in various places (I’m really not much of a photographer). The torrents subdirectory is a directory that I created so that when I have my torrent client up and running on my home computer and watching this subdirectory, I can just save a torrent into the torrents folder and, once it syncs, my torrent client (Transmission) will start downloading the desired file.

The personal Directory

I consider my personal directory to be the “junk drawer” of my virtual life. I throw anything in this file that doesn’t really fit in any of the other folders. I have just a few comments on the subdirectories listed above. The names of my subdirectories are pretty self-explanatory. I save my recipes in the recipes folder, my doodles in my doodles folder, etc. I don’t really use the todo directory any more, because I discovered how awesome Evernote is (and it has completely taken over all of my todo list needs). I use my writing directory to save all of the rough drafts of the various pieces that I am currently working on. I also save a list with my telephone contacts (“contacts.txt”) in case I happen to lose the address book in my phone (which has actually happened 4 or 5 times in the past year). And I also save a list of addresses (“Addresses.txt”) of people that I like to send postcards to when I go on vacation.

The shared Directory

After you have been using Dropbox for a while, you begin to collect a large number of files that you are sharing with different people. I don’t actually use the files very often, but they somehow just sit there and clutter everything up. Therefore, I’ve created a shared directory where I have dragged all of the files that I share with different people. This puts them all in one place and I can find them easily if I need them, but they aren’t in the way.

The uni Directory

The uni directory is where I save all of the different files for my different classes. As you can see from the screenshot above, I have divided it further into subdirectories s1, s2, s3, and s4. These save the files from my first, second, third, and fourth semesters respectively (s4 is still quite empty because I haven’t started my fourth semester yet). For each of these directories, I create separate subdirectories for each of the courses that I am taking (I illustrated this by expanding s3). Both BasisIII-Literature (my Lit course) and Sprachpraxismodule (language skills course for English) were separated into 4 different sub-modules, so if you were to expand them further, you would see subdirectories for all of the sub-modules. This is how I organize all of my course work, and it is extremely easy for me to find everything. I also keep a list of the different websites for each course (“Websites.txt”) in each of the semester directories.

The uploads Directory

I am still uncertain if uploads is the best name for this directory. It pretty much contains all of the stuff that I upload to Dropbox from my Kindle Fire or Smartphone. It also contains a couple of folders for the experiments that I have done with ifttt.com. So there isn’t that much going on there.

The work Directory

Since I actually use Git or Subversion for most of the work that I actually do (and those files just stay on my work computer), the work directory doesn’t have that much in it either. I mainly keep copies of a lot of the articles that I had to find and read to try and learn what formal modelling is. I also keep my timesheets here.

There is SO much more!

There are so many lists of different things that you can do with Dropbox, that I don’t think it is necessary to go into any more detail. I have pretty much described everything that I use Dropbox for on a regular (daily, hourly) basis. Just google “Dropbox tips” and you will get thousands of articles on customizing and using your Dropbox. When I did this, I found a great article here. My all-time favorite blog Lifehacker also has a lot of great articles about Dropbox (check out the ones here and here).

Don’t have Dropbox yet? Try it now and get 250 MB of free space!

UPDATE: I just found out recently that if you are a student, you can use your university email address to get 500 MB of free space for each referral.