I’ve yet to encounter anyone who has tried Dropbox and doesn’t like it – it solves an often-complex problem of sharing large files and yet presents itself to the user in such a readily-understandable way.

It’s especially wonderful in not being limited to one operating system or brand, so you can happily keep certain files between Macs and PCs, and can even extend this to cellphones and tablets too.

Like anyone I use Dropbox for my own convenience and sharing material with others, but I’ve also been using it to test Lightroom plug-ins that I’m updating. Running them from Dropbox makes it that little bit easier to check something works on PC and Mac.

Catalogues on Dropbox?

one thing I haven’t tried was mentioned by Adobe’s Terry White at the end of 5 Ways To Take Advantage of Dropbox:

….I’m also using Dropbox to store my most frequently used Adobe Photoshop Lightroom Catalogs. This way as long as the images themselves are on my file server or in the Dropbox as well, I can go to any computer and work in Lightroom on the same files/catalogs. Although I have a nice fast Mac Pro with a 30″ display I almost never used it for retouching in the past because everything was always on my MacBook Pro. With Dropbox that problem goes away as the files are on whichever computer I want to work on and automatically sync’d when I make changes or retouch them.

I’m not sure I like this. Putting to one side that it’s not such a great idea to spread your work across a few catalogues, the method’s viability will partly depend on the speed of your own network, and on your internet connection and bandwidth. When I’m home that wouldn’t be too big a problem because my cable connection is unlimited and runs at its headline 50Mb down/10Mb up (it’s Virgin cable and I have a promo code if you’re interested). From a technical point of view, a catalogue can be kept on Dropbox.

However, the human element is the big downfall.  You have to take personal control over the Dropbox sync procedure and use your eyes to ensure that it has been properly completed on each machine. Otherwise, you can easily update an older version of the catalogue on one computer, and overwrite more recent work done on the other.

To give an example, a while ago I was trying this workflow and one day I closed LR and left the computer. I was in a hurry and didn’t notice that this computer’s web connection was down, which meant the catalogue and recent work wasn’t synchronized to Dropbox. When I reached the other location, I looked at the Dropbox button in the system tray, saw it was green, and opened Lightroom. It was only after an hour that I realised I was working on pictures which should already have been adjusted. That was enough of a timewaster, and it could be even messier.

So while in theory you can use Dropbox for your catalogue, I think the human element is the biggest risk and wouldn’t generally recommend it. If you need to swap the catalogue between computers, put the catalogue on an external drive and attach it to each computer as needed.

If you really do intend to put your catalogue on Dropbox, you must deal with the risks:

    • When you stop working on one computer, you must ensure that you remember to close LR.
    • Ensure that the catalogue’s upload to Dropbox has completed, and note the file modification time.
    • Before you open the catalogue on the other computer, ensure that Dropbox shows the correct time.

This procedure is workable if you don’t swap computer too often, but becomes painful if you do keep swapping, so is putting the catalogue on Dropbox is really practical? I’m not confident it is.

Symbolic links or aliases

One promising approach is to use Mac aliases or Windows symbolic links (a bit like shortcuts) and separate the catalogue from its previews, which can be huge. So for example, you would keep the catalogue itself in a Dropbox folder, but use aliases or symbolic links to store the catalogue’s previews  in a folder that is on your computer’s hard drive and doesn’t get synchronised. When you move to the other computer, your catalogue will be available as soon as Dropbox’s sync operation has completed, just having to rebuild its previews which are stored locally. As always, the originals could be on a network address.

Dropbox and symbolic links or aliases let you make the catalogue and presets available to multiple computers, while no synchronising the bulky previews folder. Promising though it seems, I’ve not made it work consistently.


Your presets and templates

While I can’t recommend keeping your catalogue on Dropbox, I have been happily using it to store Lightroom’s “application support” folders. These contain your presets and templates, plug-ins too, and keeping them on Dropbox means they’re always in sync on each computer.

To get this started, on your main computer move these folders to Dropbox and set up an alias or symbolic link to it. Then on your other computer simply set up the aliases or symbolic links.

  • On Mac these are stored in USERNAME/Library/Application Support/Adobe/Lightroom
  • In Windows 7 you’ll be looking at C:Users/USERNAME/AppData/Roaming/Adobe/Lightroom

For the last week or so I’ve kept the “application support folders” on Dropbox, and my Mac and PC have each been able to access the same presets, templates and plug-ins. That’s pretty convenient! There are one or two glitches:

  • On PC your preferences are stored in a Preferences folder, which would be great if I only ran PCs
  • On Mac preferences are stored in a plist file, so you can’t use the technique to share preferences between Macs (more knowledgeable Mac users may have a solution)

It’s not a true multi-user networked solution, but it’s a geeky step in the right direction!



Setting up aliases or symbolic links

How to set up Mac aliases

For Mac, see this article by Sean McCormack.

How to create PC symbolic links

I don’t particularly want to download Windows utilities such as the ones Sean or Ian Lyons mention. You never know what someone else’s utility may do, symbolic links can screw other things up, and I prefer to get my hands dirty. I prefer to use batch files such as the ones attached – Previews.txt and app support.txt (batch files zipped).

Here I’m telling Windows that the presets, templates and plug-ins for are now in my Dropbox folder

So, at your own risk:

  1. Backup these folders
  2. In Explorer, go to C:Users/USERNAME/AppData/Roaming/Adobe/Lightroom
  3. Cut the folder and paste it into a Dropbox folder
  4. Edit the batch file so it points to your Dropbox folder. To get the file path, just click in the Windows Explorer address bar
  5. Save the file with a bat extension and save it on the desktop
  6. Right click the batch file and select Run as administrator

How to remove PC symbolic links

  1. Backup
  2. In Explorer, move the folder from your Dropbox and put it in C:Users/USERNAME/AppData/Roaming/Adobe/Lightroom
  3. Delete the symbolic link to Dropbox that’s in C:Users/USERNAME/AppData/Roaming/Adobe/