Syncing and Backing up files with free Dropbox

by [Published on 10 Aug. 2010 / Last Updated on 10 Aug. 2010]

How Dropbox helps to sync and backup files.

Introduction

I have the same application on every computer I own. I consider it a "must-have" application. Dropbox is the tiny and free application that syncs files, backs them up to the Internet, and shares them with friends, over the Internet. The best thing about this is that all of this is super-easy and requires almost no configuration.

Why do I need Dropbox?

Here are 4 reasons that you need Dropbox:

  1. You have multiple computers - at the same or different locations.
  2. You want to protect your files from disaster
  3. You want to share files or photos with anyone, on the Internet.
  4. Share files between operating systems because DropBox works on Windows, Mac, Linux, and even iPhone.

Downloading and Installing Dropbox

DropBox comes in a 3 different levels but the lowest level is totally free and it allows you to do perform all the same features as the higher levels but limits you to 5GB of storage in your Dropbox. Still, 5GB is a LOT of storage if you limit yourself to keeping just your most important files on it. No, you don't want to store ripped DVDs or home movies but, very likely you can store almost everything else.

DropBox is downloaded from DropBox.com. It's a tiny 12MB file and it can be installed in just about any version of Windows (and as I mentioned above, it also comes in Linux, Mac, and iPhone versions).

From the Download DropBox link on the homepage, I clicked Run, when prompted. From there, the install began. As you can see in Figure 1, there is only one choice to proceed, click Install.


Figure 1: Installing DropBox

If you don't already have a DropBox account, you can set one up at this point. If you do have one, you can enter it here.


Figure 2: Adding your DropBox account

As I already had an account, I entered it and named this new computer (actually, my second computer being added to this account).


Figure 3: Entering your Account

From there, I opted to skip the tour and, in the final screen of the install, I verified the location for the DropBox folder. The default was to store it in the logged in user's My Documents folder, under My DropBox. This was exactly where I wanted it (which I cover more in the section below) so I took the default.

From there, my DropBox folder was opened for me in a new Windows Explorer window. As you can see below, in Figure 5, DropBox creates a Public and Photos folder. These will be used to share those items on the Internet (covered more in the last section of this article).

As this was the second computer on this account, immediately, the DropBox folder started filling up with the folders and files that I had already synced from my first computer, as you see in below.


Figure 4: New Folders Created and Sync'ed with DropBox

Yes, this is the new folder, that was just created 1 minute ago - DropBox is fast!

Syncing and Backing up Files with Dropbox

As I covered above, DropBox works by creating a folder, called My DropBox, and then anything in that folder is copied up, over the Internet, to the DropBox servers on the Internet. Thus, anything in that folder is "backed-up". Also, if you had another computer (either on your local LAN or at another local, over the Internet), you installed DropBox on it, and you used the same account, and the files from the first computer would be downloaded to the second (new) computer. Also, vice versa, if you make create new files on the second computer, they will be sync'ed to the first computer. You can take that even further by picturing yourself having 4 computers (like I do), with those 4 computers divided across two different locations, and DropBox syncing files across all 4 computers.

To make this easier, I use the default to my advantage. I let DropBox install it’s My DropBox folder in the My Documents folder. This way, anytime I go to save something, I have the option to place it in My Documents (which wouldn't be backed-up as it is local on my hard drive) or the sub-directory, My DropBox (which would be backed up, automatically, using DropBox).

So what do I put inside My DropBox?

  • Any important files that I wanted backed up, offsite, in case my computer is stolen, the hard drive goes out, or there is a disaster and my computer (and any local backups) are lost.
  • Redirected data files for important applications. For example, Quicken data, license files, etc
  • Family photos (limited to your storage size)
  • Documents that you might want to share publicly by placing them in the Public folder (more info below)
  • Basically - anything that is important!

Summary

DropBox is a super-cool and free application that allows you to backup your files to the Internet, sync files between multiple computers, share files and photos on the web. It's really amazing that they offer clients for Windows, Mac, Linux, and iPhone. Finally, did I mention the best part, that it's free? (with a 5GB limit, of course)

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