10 [More] Killer Dropbox Tips and Tricks

We recently rounded up 15 Awesome Dropbox Tips and Tricks, which was accompanied by a giveaway. Entries required a comment with your favorite Dropbox tip, trick or hack you use. From that massive collection of entries we bring you 10 [more] killer Dropbox tips and tricks to make the most of this amazing app.

The First 15

Our first Dropbox post included 5 Creative Uses for Dropbox, then we added 10 Awesome Tips and Tricks to that list. Here’s a “quick” list of those tips and tricks.

10 [More] Killer Tips and Tricks by You!

We’ve read through all 400+ comments of all your favorite uses for Dropbox and here are our top ten picks.

1. Sync .torrent Files and Auto-Start Downloads

One of the most popular uses for Dropbox, submitted by you guys, was to sync .torrent files from one system to another, which would then automatically download them. Those of you not already doing this might be wondering how this is accomplished, well here’s how.

You need to first setup a BitTorrent client capable of automatically loading .torrent files from a specified directory. Snag a major client (BitTorrent, Transmission, uTorrent, Vuze) and you’ll be good. Once you’ve setup a capable BitTorrent client, you’ll need to set it to watch for torrent files in a specified directory. I’ve selected the main Dropbox directory in the screenshot below but you may want to specify a sub-directory.

Transmission Autostart Downloads

Transmission Autostart Downloads

Your client may be a little different but they’ll all have similar settings. Note that I’ve also selected the option to delete the original torrent files once they’re no longer needed. Now you’ll be able to start your .torrent downloads at home while you’re at work, school or elsewhere.

2. Automatic Screenshot Sharing with Hazel [Mac]

Perhaps my favorite new trick with Dropbox is combining the power of Hazel to create some very helpful workflows. I share screenshots frequently in my day to day workflow and a simple Hazel rule will copy screenshots I create into a folder I specify within Dropbox, then copy the public URL to my clipboard to quickly share with others.

You’ll need to download Hazel if you haven’t already and create a new rule. If there’s a Windows equivalent of Hazel, let us know in the comments and I’ll update this section with the Windows version as well.

Once you’re in Hazel, create a new rule. I’ve named mine Auto-Screenshot Upload [Dropbox]. Create two conditions that will recognize the screenshot(s) on your desktop, followed by three actions.

  1. Copy the file to the Screenshots directory, located within your Dropbox’s Public directory.
  2. Rename the file with a custom pattern (I’ve set the date created and extension).
  3. Run an AppleScript that will copy the uploaded screenshot URL to your clipboard. You’ll need to replace the user ID in the URL with your unique ID (replace the “XXXXXXX” with your ID). To find your ID, view a file’s public URL; your user ID directly follows “https://dl.dropbox.com/u/”.
Auto-Upload Screenshots with Hazel

Auto-Upload Screenshots with Hazel

You can easily use Hazel to monitor a Dropbox directory and execute tasks based on files you add to Dropbox remotely!

3. Sync XAMPP/MAMP Directories for Testing and Development

If you’re a web developer, you likely work with multiple platforms. I personally develop for the web on a Mac, but testing is also done on Windows. Many developers use apps like XAMPP and MAMP for development but it takes extra time to copy over your testing files from one system to another. Let Dropbox do the work and sync your files while you do more important things.

To accomplish this, simply change the location of XAMPP and MAMP’s default root directory to be located within your Dropbox directory. As you work on your files on one system, the changes will be accessible on other systems you’ve set this up for. You’ll be able to easily jump on your Windows/Mac system and test your new website.



A big benefit to a setup like this is you’ll always have access to your development files via Dropbox’s web interface.

4. Version Control

One of Dropbox’s greatest features is version history. With a free account you’ll get 30 days of file version history, plenty for most people. If that’s not enough though, you can get unlimited file version history with paid accounts. You’ll never have to worry about loosing progress again!

Version History

Version History

5. OneNote Sync & Collaboration [Win]

The OneNote users out there will be happy to hear it’s a snap to sync and collaborate on OneNote notebooks using Dropbox. To do this, create a new notebook, set the folder location within Dropbox, set the sharing type to be used with multiple people in a shared folder on “this computer”. You’ll want to select this option so OneNote will display changes made from any computer on the fly.

With this setup, you can move from computer to computer (that has this setup) and edit your OneNote notebook(s), even if you leave the app open on another computer. You could also use this setup to allow others to collaborate with you live.

6. Synchronize Text Expansion Snippets

Among the plethora of apps people use Dropbox to sync settings, resources and files, my most recent favorite has to be synchronizing text expansion snippets. I recently took a short trip away from home and shortly after leaving I realized I hadn’t copied over my text expansion snippets to my laptop. I was horrified because I rely on these to speed up productivity quite a bit. With Dropbox that’s no longer an issue.

I’m using Typinator but many other text expansion apps can be easily setup with Dropbox. Simply change the location of your libraries to a location within Dropbox. Some, like TextExpander, even support it natively!

Typinator and Dropbox

Typinator and Dropbox

7. Synchronize Design/Development Resources (Photoshop Presets, etc.)

Many of us are designers and/or web developers, and as such we use a huge amount of varying resources over time. Working on multiple systems, especially in distant locations, can make it a pain to keep all those resources always accessible.

Throw Dropbox into the mix and you can easily keep your graphics, app preferences and other resources in sync between your systems. For example, many of us use Photoshop and likely piles of related presets. To keep these in sync between systems, simply copy your Photoshop Presets directory over to your Dropbox directory and create a symbolic link to it named “Presets”. Place this symbolic link in your Photoshop app directory in place of the original Presets directory.

Presets Sync

Presets Sync

Now when you make changes (like adding or removing brushes), they’ll be identical on all the systems you’ve set this up on. You’ll have to repeat the setup process for each app you want this to work for but it only takes a second!

8. Shutdown, Restart or Sleep Your Computer with Hazel [Mac]

You can easily control your Mac remotely using Hazel, Dropbox and a touch of AppleScript. Create a new Hazel directory to monitor and create a new Rule. I’ve named this rule Shutdown.

Control Computer with Hazel - Shutdown

Control Computer with Hazel - Shutdown

We set Hazel to recognize a specific file name, run an AppleScript, then delete the file once complete. The next time you forget to shutdown or sleep your computer, or maybe you just need to restart it remotely, you can simply drop a file with a specific name to accomplish this. I’ve created three rules for each action.

Computer Action Rules

Computer Action Rules

9. Public Link to Avatar For Quick Changes

If you frequent several forums or other sites that you use an avatar with, you’ll likely know it can be a giant pain to change your avatar on each site. Put your avatar in your Dropbox Public directory and use the public link to it on the sites you frequently visit. Any time you want to change your avatar you can easily swap it out in Dropbox and it’ll change across all your sites.

10. Synchronize Chat Logs

If you’re a big chatter you’ll likely want to access your chat logs on whichever system you might be using. I personally use Skype in my day to day workflow so I’ll use that as an example here.

Before you start, make sure Skype isn’t running. Next, you’ll need to move Skype’s “main” chat history files into the Dropbox directory. Then create a symbolic link to your Skype history files (now in the Dropbox directory) and place that in place of the files you just moved. On your additional systems you’ll then remove the Application Support directory for Skype and replace it with a symbolic link to the files now in Dropbox.

It’s not recommended to run Skype in multiple locations at once, which can cause file conflicts.

The Power of Sync

Of all the fantastic ways you can use Dropbox to enhance your life, it all comes down to one main feature — powerful and reliable synchronization. Dropbox is one of the best apps for this and its web interface only enhances the power of its sync capabilities.

If you have any other tips or tricks you’d like to add, please leave a comment below. I also have a few more tips and tricks up my sleeve that I’ll cover in how-tos in coming weeks.

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Add Yours
  • Thanks for another bunch of tips. I love Dropbox and not sure how I’d cope without it some days!

  • Wow, that’s a really smart usage of Hazel! I love both Hazel and Dropbox, but it didn’t cross my mind to combine the two. Thanks!

  • Love the world of syncing, especially in our working environment. Keep ’em coming!

  • Dropbox is so powerful. Dropbox must specify these uses on its website too.

  • Great tips for Dropbox! I love integrating it with Hazel. For Windows users, Lifehacker created a Hazel clone called Belvedere; it’s not as powerful, but check it out!

  • Another great feature (future tip?) is the fact that all files on the entire dropbox server are interconnected. For instance, if you upload a file, such as a program or update, and someone has already uploaded it to their dropbox, you don’t have to wait for that file to upload, it will be complete and available for download almost instantly. This is great for really large files.

    • That’s a very cool tip! Thanks for sharing. :)

  • Great tips.

    Similar to the avatar suggestion, I also use Dropbox to keep my email signatures sync’d. I just point Thunderbird to a TXT file in my Dropbox folder containing my sig.

    I also keep online passwords available inside a TrueCrypt volume in Dropbox.

  • I use dropbox for iPhone to send photos from my iPod Touch to my MacBook. Its pretty much wireless sync and I don’t have to start iPhoto to extract my photos. I heard its even tougher for PC users. Dropbox just uploads the photo and it on my MacBook. Simple. Just remember to change the quality setting so dropbox doesn’t compress the file upon uploading.

  • Regarding the XAMPP/MAMP trick (number 3), does anyone have a solution for syncing the databases as well? Syncing the htdocs folder is only doing half the job when you use databases.

    • i really wanna know if there is a solution to the database trick

    • All you need to do is move the “db” directory into your Dropbox directory somewhere, then create a symbolic link to it (named “db”) which you’ll place back into your MAMP directory. Then place the symbolic link onto any other systems you need to access the “db” directory. Hope that helps!

      • Jarel,
        I’ve got parallels & Mamp installed on osx 10.6.6 with about 5 different versions of windows installed for testing- each with xamp installed inside dropbox.

        Can you please explain more about the process
        – How to create & connect the mysql db system links?

      • Opps – I mean ‘symbolic links’

      • I’m trying to run my xampp through dropbox as well. I cant figure out what “symbolic links” are… please help me with that!

  • Nice tricks!

    One suggestion: instead of copying all your stuff into the dropbox folder and then creating symlinks for the applications do it the other way round. Keep your files where they are and just create symlinks from the dropbox directory to those files or directories.

    That way if you want to stop syncing something you can simply remove the links from your dropbox directory instead of running danger of deleting all your apps files.

  • I’ve been using dropbox for a while, i’m kinda new to a mac, and i’m wondering if i can put mi coda’s sites preferences under dropbox, so i can have the same sites between all my macs.

    I hope somebody can help me.

  • Great tips! I really loved the OneNote sync idea, i was looking for a way to do that between my PC’s! Thanks guys!

  • Don’t forget the ability to add email attachments to Dropbox via http://sendtodropbox.com

  • that was nice amount of tips and tricks

  • Another use would be to keep all your .msi or .dmg files in Dropbox so if you lose a program or a whole computer off of one of your systems it can be reloaded quickly. TrueCrypt your serials and it becomes a lockbox for your applications! Of course, all applicable licensing agreements apply — don’t be a thief.

  • Bääääääm, great collection, thanks!

  • Instead of using Dropbox for remote Torrent downloads, why not just use the torrent client’s built-in web interface, like in Transmission? That way you can kick off downloads from any device without the need for Dropbox.

  • Is Dropbox fast enough to manage a database of 40-50 Gig., that is used all the time (and including some large folders and files)?

  • do you all work at d-box or what?

  • I moved Zend Server’s htdoc and MySQL’s database folders path to dropbox. It’s really efficient and productive.

  • great tutorial im gonna have to give this a try