Why I Always Work in a Dropbox Folder and Why You Should, Too!

“I accidentally saved over a file and I need to get the old version back…
HELP ME, PLEASE!”

I see it all too often in the User-to-User forums. A frantic cry for help from someone who saved over a file or deleted one by accident and was desperate to get it back. My answer is always the same, if you have no back up, you’re pretty much out of luck. This scenario is even sadder given how simple it is to avoid.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve already heard of Dropbox. This is only my third post and the second one that involves using it. It’s that important a tool for me.

Before I go any further, I’m going to make a couple of assumptions:

  • You already have a Dropbox account. (If you don’t, you can register for a free 2.5 gigabyte account here)
  • You’ve installed the desktop app which will enable you to sync your files using Dropbox.

If by some chance you’re not familiar with Dropbox, you can learn about it here

Unfortunately too many Dropbox users only think of it as a file sharing service and therefore only save files there if they’re sharing them with someone else. And while Dropbox certainly is a wonderful way to share files with others, it’s also a great way to maintain version control and to restore lost files on solo projects.

By saving your files in a Dropbox folder, those files are automatically uploaded to Dropbox servers. From there you can access them from the web or from any other computer in which you’ve installed the Dropbox desktop app. While you’re working, Dropbox is syncing your desktop version and updating the version on the server to match. But what happens when you’ve made a few changes that you don’t want to keep, but you save anyway? Or even worse, you accidentally delete the file?

As I said, Dropbox is continually syncing your desktop files with its servers, but it’s also keeping a record of every version. So, if you need to go back in time and find a previous version, it’s very nice to know that you can. Here’s how:

The first thing you need to be aware of is that this a web based procedure so log into your account at dropbox.com and find the file in question. Right click and choose previous versions.

Screenshot of right click menu on dropbox

Right clicking your file in the Dropbox web interface gives you the option to reveal previous versions.

When you click Previous versions you’ll be presented with a 30 day history of the file:

Every version for the last 30 days is available.

Every version for the last 30 days is available.

Choose the version you’d like to use and click the Restore button. Depending upon the speed of your internet connection and the size of the file, every synced device will be updated to that version within seconds. Unfortunately there’s no preview function so you may have to do this more than once to zero in on the right version.

But what if you’ve deleted the file all together? No need to panic. Again, in the web interface, browse to the folder that held the file and click the Show Deleted Files button.

One click and any deleted files can be restored.

One click and any deleted files can be restored.

Once you’ve un-deleted the file, all of the previous versions will also be available and the most current version should show up in your desktop folder in a matter of seconds. In either scenario you’ll be back to work without missing a beat.

Other options

The free version of Dropbox gives you two gigabytes of storage space. If you sign up through a referral link you’ll get an extra 500 megabytes and Dropbox will give you more space if you refer your friends. But if you’re like me, even that won’t be enough. You can get 100 gigabytes of storage for $99/year which I happily pay.

With so many choices in free and paid back up applications, there's no excuse to not to use them.

With so many choices in free and paid file sharing applications, there’s no excuse to not to use them. They’re free or very inexpensive insurance.

If you work on projects long term you may be interested in Dropbox’s Pack Rat feature which will allow you to restore files in perpetuity for an additional $39.99/year. Personally, I’ve passed on that option but I can see where it might come in useful.

There are other services as well, such as Box (formerly Box.net), Microsoft SkyDrive, and Google Drive. They all offer desktop syncing and version control and they also have free versions (version control in Box is only available for paid accounts). All are worth checking out.

You may find it worthwhile to sign up for all them just to have enough free space to work on projects without fear of losing an awful lot of work.

Set it and Forget it

Ron Popeil

Rotisseries aren’t the only thing you can set and forget. Once you save your files in a Dropbox folder, you can forget all about the headaches that come with losing files.

Dropbox and other file sharing services can be a lifesaver not only if you’ve messed something up but if a file you’re working on has become corrupt or unstable.

Having a recent version at your finger tips is a good way to sleep better at night. And the real beauty of this is that you don’t need to do anything different once you’ve chosen a Dropbox folder as the location for your files.

But remember, nothing I’ve discussed here will work if you don’t use it. Please get into the habit of creating a folder for projects in your Dropbox folder instead of your Documents folder. I’m sure, like me, at some point you’ll be happy you did.


24 Comments

  1. Hi, Bob
    I am using Dropbox for second month now, and I am amazed. It has changed my workflow entirely – now most of my comms with customers and partners is done via Dropbox. have already tripled my free volume – it’s 7.8 GB now, and I have already used twice the old versions feature.

    I really can’t imagine going back to old routines…

    Regards,
    Tomek

  2. Bob – thanks for the reminder.
    I use Time Machine on my Mac, so I already have a backup, and I have a paid dropbox account so I get over 100GB (I have shared folders with over a dozen different clients). Still, I didn’t know about the time-machine aspect of the backups, and I’m sure that many of my clients don’t have reliable backup schemes in place. So, even the mac users who haven’t kept their time machine up and running can benefit – I will remind them of this!

    • Forgot to add – another GREAT thing about dropbox is that you can use it as a server for a remote Incopy workflow. We work on Indesign files directly in dropbox folders, and the Incopy files are in the Links folder in the same shared folder, and so the editors can work on the Indesign file with Incopy at the same time and we don’t have to email assignment files around. Works really well!

      • Hi Matt,
        I would love to know how you do this. I am trying to set up an InCopy Workflow using Dropbox. My work is done from home on a MAC and the InCopy users all work for the same company but at different locations. I need to set it up and train them how to use it. We have been using a workflow over the company’s server up until now and the Lynda.com tutorial didn’t completely explain how to set it up. Do we all need to be on the same account? Should I just share folders and files with them? Can I still use assignments or does the InDesign file need to be available to the InCopy users?

        I tried uploading my InDesign file (via the web) to the company dropbox but it would open once I did that. Just gibberish. My magazine is 80 pages with lots of photos so the file(s) can get very large. What do you suggest?

        Thanks so much,
        Holly

        I have an extended account and they are all on an account created for them from the office.

  3. Hi Holly,

    One person should set up a dropbox folder and then use the sharing feature to share that folder with the rest of the group. After that it’s really no different than using a local server. I use shared folders with colleagues and clients constantly and it’s a great way to work.

    Once you’ve shared the folder there is very little reason to revisit the web interface.

    • Thank you Bob. I have tried that and it doesn’t seem to work. I must be doing something wrong. Should the editor I am sharing with have same dropbox account, or a different one? I have tried it both ways and the shared folders don’t show up if I use a separate account. I got the stories to work when using the same account but I can’t do that from home because I already have a dropbox account and you are not allowed to have two. I can’t save directly to the web version.

      It seemed so easy in the Lynda.com tutorial but it doesn’t work that easy for me.

  4. Holly,

    Make a shared dropbox folder for the magazine. Everybody should have their own account, but share the folder with them.

    Package the Indesign file into the shared folder, including the links and Document fonts folder (you can omit the fonts folder if you aren’t allowed to share those, as long as everybody has them.) The Indesign file should be linked to the art in the Links folder that is on the dropbox. And, you work on that file, in the dropbox. The key is that only one INDESIGN user can open the file at a time. However, several different Incopy users can access the file at the same time as the Indesign user. If you have multiple designers needing access to the Indesign file, then either break it up into articles or just communicate and say “I’m done for now, it’s your turn” etc.

    You don’t need Incopy assignments. Just export the stories for Incopy into the Links folder – make sure you use the one on the dropbox, always. Never move or rename the files once you do this, or you’ll have problems. Incopy is really picky – it likes things to stay in the same place and the same name.

    The Incopy users should open the Indesign file via Incopy. The should NOT open the files in the Links folder directly. After they’ve made changes, one of the Indesign users will need to update the links for their edits to show up in the file.

    If you have lots of art for a magazine, remember that each person with a free account only gets about 2 GB of space, and that space is for all of their dropbox folders, not just yours. So, you may need to pay for a team account, which gives more space. I have a paid account because I have shared folders with about 20 different clients. Many of them have free accounts and it’s enough for them.

    Hope this is helpful . . . If you have more questions, just ask!

    • Thank you Matt. Is the shared folder supposed to just show up in the InCopy users dropbox or do they have to do something to see it?

      I publish an 80 page book quarterly. Lots of pictures and links so it is large. There are about 7 editors all in different locations around the city. They are all on PC’s and there is only on InDesign user, me, and I am on a MAC. We have been working with InCopy for a few years over a network but I am trying to work from home now.

      My drop box account is separate and I have purchased enough space on it for the magazine. The editors are sharing the same dropbox account which my TS person says will work. He actually thinks its best if I am on that same account but I can not get that to work because I already have an account.

      I will try what you suggest on Monday.

      • Holly,

        Let’s back up a bit. Each user needs to install the desktop software before going ahead with this. With that out of the way you would simply create the project folder within your Dropbox folder on your computer. Then go to Dropbox.com and share the folder with those other users.

        They’re receive an email from Dropbox with the invitations. Once they accept, and assuming they have the Dropbox software installed, the folder will be added to their computer and the files sync’ed.

        If everyone is using the same account, then the moment you create the folder, it would be created on the other machines.

        If none of this is actually happening I can only attribute it to human error somewhere.

  5. Ok, I will give it a try again tomorrow. It is difficult because everyone is not in the same place and I have to drive around to see what they are seeing. On top of that I don’t know the PC very well, only the MAC.

    I have a couple more questions (for now)?

    If my dropbox is my own account, that I have added extra space on to accommodate the entire book, do the InCopy users need to upgrade their accounts as well?

    If my dropbox is my own account can all the InCopy (7) users be signing in to the same account as my Tec department suggests and has set up?

    Thank you so much,
    Holly

    • Sounds like Holly may be confusing the account with the shared folder. Everybody should have their own account – that’s the purpose of sharing a folder; you share it between different people who each have their own account. If you have your own account, other people can only see the files in the shared folder.
      If the files are over 2GB, you may want a Team Account . . . I haven’t used those, so I’m not sure how that works. I’m guessing that everyone on the team gets more GB of space, but still has their own account. But I agree with Bob that having 8 people using the same dropbox account is a disaster waiting to happen. As I understand it, you can only have one dropbox account at a time on a computer. But, maybe with Team accounts, that is different. I just don’t know about that part.

  6. Thank you Bob and Matt! I will give it a go tomorrow as a shared account. It actually worked with us both using the same folder but that was just two of us, and from work. It has not worked for me from home yet. My files are well over 2G if I have to package the entire job into Dropox.

    I really appreciate the support here and how quickly you responded.

    Thanks again,
    Holly

  7. I packaged the InDesign file and put the folder in Dropbox, then I exported all the stories that have external editors. So far so good. I have one editor who is already comfortable working this way, and I see a second in there without any instruction. Thank you Bob and Matt for your suggestions and help!

    • I never used it, Sandee.

      It’s still in beta (preview) and beyond testing it to see how it worked I wouldn’t trust it for serious work. Once the new version comes out I’ll give it whirl but I’d only use to share layouts or images with clients that don’t have InDesign or Photoshop already.

  8. Hi Bob
    I have had a free dropbox account until last night. On June1 a virus deleted almost 5000 files from my dropbox location at work. Although it happened 3 weeks ago, I didn’t realize it till yesterday (I have been away.) It’s coming to the 30 day mark and am waiting for Dropbox tech support to do the restoration. I purchased (last night) the Pro plan plus packrat. My question is will doing this keep my previously deleted files (from 3 weeks ago) from being deleted in a week? It’s under the 30 day mark so I am hoping so. Or did I have to have packrat in place before the virus hit to be protected… Thanks!!!!!
    Susan

    • Sorry to hear about that virus. I’m not sure what will happen here. According to the Dropbox site: Packrat is not retroactive. If your file was deleted or changed over 30 days ago, upgrading to Packrat will not make them available again.

      It’s a bit ambiguous. Your files were deleted less than 30 days ago but when you signed up, they weren’t there. You should check with Dropbox on this ASAP.

      Good luck and please let us know what the answer is.

      • hi bob!
        dropbox restored my files! the pack rat feature only works from the moment you pay so all would have been lost (makes no sense, seems easy enough to move them to a new server)
        the nightmare is over lol whew!!
        customer service was great (Olga) still a big dropbox fan, just going to use the PAID service from now on!
        be well, and thanks again!
        Susan

    • Hi Susan,
      I just lost my job because some of the files in my company Drop box were deleted . They blamed me that I have done it on purpose , therefore they fired me . For sure I didn’t do it, I was telling them that it might have been a virus but they said that viruses don’t do that. Pls tell me more about that virus .
      If anyone else has got more info pls help me !!! Thnx a lot in advance

      • Omg that is terrible! I am so sorry!! It WAS virus on a remote computer (work) and it wiped out out all the stored files…since dropbox is just a file (that works differently where remote devices are concerned) it got wiped out. With the pay service, deleted files are stored forever, and I doubt the company relies on the fre version so what’s their problem? Just undelete the files…wow, I’m shocked. 🙁

What do you think?