Have you ever been working on your laptop and realized you need to access a file that’s stored on your desktop computer? Without physically being at your desktop, you’re out of luck unless you’ve already set up remote access.
That’s where Dropbox comes in. It acts as a “magic pocket” where you can keep files to access them across devices. Read on as we explain what Dropbox is, how to sync files using it, and everything else Dropbox can do.
What Is Dropbox?
At its core, Dropbox is a cloud storage provider. It allows you to store your files on Dropbox’s servers, which gives you access to them on all your devices. Think of it as a flash drive in the cloud.
In case you’re not familiar with what “the cloud” actually means, this term refers to computing services that run over the internet instead of on your local machine. In Dropbox’s case, “the cloud” is Dropbox servers that hold your files. As long as you can log into your account, you can reach those files from any device.
What Is Dropbox Used For?
Most people use Dropbox as a place to keep their most important files. Not only does this allow them to reach those files from any device, but doing so also acts as a sort of backup. This is because data in Dropbox is reachable even if your computer or phone dies.
However, Dropbox has other uses. For instance, it makes sharing files with others easy and offers simple mobile backup for photos. We’ll explore both of these shortly.
Getting Started With Dropbox
Let’s walk through how to get started with Dropbox so you can try out its features for yourself. To begin, visit the Dropbox Basic homepage and sign up for a free account.
Dropbox’s Pricing Plans
To start, Dropbox offers a Basic plan that includes 2GB of space at no charge. If you need more space, you’ll need to take a look at Dropbox’s Plans page. Individuals can choose between Plus and Professional.
Plus costs $10/month when paid annually and includes 2TB of space, in addition to some extra features like Smart Sync and remote device wiping. Professional is $16.58 per month and includes 3TB of space, plus even more functionality like shared link controls and watermarking.
Dropbox also offers Business plans, but we’ll focus on individuals in this guide.
Installing Dropbox on All Your Devices
Once you’ve signed up, you should proceed to install Dropbox on all the devices you use regularly. This might be your desktop, laptop, and phone, for instance. However, note that Dropbox Basic limits you to three devices. If you need more, you’ll have to upgrade to a paid plan.
Use the below links to download Dropbox. You can also log into Dropbox’s website to access your account from anywhere.
How to Use Dropbox: The Basics
Now that you’re ready to go, let’s look at the fundamental instructions for using Dropbox.
The Dropbox Folder
Once you install Dropbox on desktop or laptop and sign into your account, you’ll see a new Dropbox folder under your user directory. This is the “magic folder” that’s at the core of the Dropbox experience. Anything you place in this folder will sync to your Dropbox account and become available everywhere you’re signed in.
You can use this folder however you’d like. Maybe you’re working on a big paper and want to move all your drafts and materials inside. Or perhaps you start using it as storage for your most valuable photos—it’s up to you.
Keep an eye on the icons that appear next to the contents of your Dropbox folder:
- A green check signifies that the file has synced the latest changes successfully.
- The blue circle with arrows means a file is currently syncing.
- If you see a red circle with an X, something is wrong, and Dropbox can’t sync the file/folder. This is usually due to an invalid filename, permission error, or because you’ve run out of Dropbox space.
Using the Dropbox Menu and Preferences
Click the Dropbox icon in your System Tray (Windows) or menu bar (Mac) for a hub of information related to Dropbox. Here you can check the syncing status, pause syncing, see recent file changes, and a lot more. Click your profile icon and choose Preferences to open Dropbox’s settings panel.
Of note here is the Start Dropbox on system startup option on the General tab. We recommend keeping this turned on; otherwise you’ll have to have manually start Dropbox to sync your files. Under the Bandwidth tab, you can change the number of network resources Dropbox uses for uploads and downloads.
One of Dropbox’s most useful features is Selective sync, located on the Sync tab. This allows you to choose only certain folders to sync to your current device. Doing so will save space on your computer, and you can always access everything else at Dropbox.com.
If you have a paid plan, you can use the Smart Sync feature instead. This allows you to see everything in your Dropbox from your desktop without taking up hard drive space. When you click to open a file, Dropbox syncs it on the fly.
Using Dropbox on Android or iPhone
On mobile devices, you can access your files using the Dropbox app. Because most phones don’t have as much storage space as computers, Dropbox doesn’t sync all your files automatically as it does on your desktop.
Instead, you can browse everything in your account and open content as needed. It’s fairly similar to the Dropbox web interface. Use the Files tab on the left sidebar (Android) or bottom bar (iOS) to browse everything in your account.
Tap a file to preview it and use the three-dot Menu button to see more options. The Star option is handy, as you can use it to tag your most important files.
Saving Mobile Files Offline
Also of note in the overflow menu is the Make available offline slider. Enable this to access the file even when you’re without an internet connection.
Unfortunately, you’ll have to do this for every individual file with Dropbox Basic. Saving entire folders offline is a Plus-exclusive feature. However, you can always use the Export button to save a copy of the file to your device.
Dropbox Camera Uploads
One of the best features of using Dropbox on your mobile device is the Camera Upload function. This allows you to automatically sync all pictures you take to your Dropbox account. Since photos are one of the most treasured forms of information on our devices, this makes for an easy way to protect them.
Open the Photos tab on the left sidebar or bottom navigation bar of Dropbox to review its status. You may have to turn on Camera uploads under Settings (Android) or Account (iOS) if it’s not on already. This lets you choose whether you also want to upload videos and if uploads can run in the background.
Dropbox isn’t the only app that has this functionality. If you have lots of photos to back up, check out the best ways to sync Android photos to cloud storage and our comparison of Dropbox, iCloud, and Google Photos on iPhone.
Dropbox’s Advanced Features
That’s all you need to know to use Dropbox, but there are additional functions that make it even more useful. And this isn’t even getting into third-party Dropbox apps!
Sharing With Dropbox
Whether you want to make a folder available to the public or need to share a large file with a friend over email, Dropbox makes it easy to share anything that’s in your account.
To do so, just right-click a file or folder in your Dropbox folder on desktop or hit the Share button on the web or mobile interface. From there, you can choose to share it with a specific email address or create a link that anyone can use to access it.
You can set their access to Can edit for full control or Can view if you don’t want others to make changes. The former is great for long-term collaboration.
In addition to sending files, you can also use Dropbox to receive files from others. This works even if people don’t have a Dropbox account. It’s handy for collecting photos from people at an event, entries for a contest, and similar submission-based scenarios.
To use it, click Files > File requests on the Dropbox website. This lets you set up a new file request. Only you will have access to the received files by default.
Dropbox allows you to restore an earlier version of a file in case of accidental edits or other errors. To do so, click the three-dot button on the file in Dropbox’s web interface and hit Version history.
Here you’ll see all the changes made to the file in the past 30 days. Click one to view it, or choose Restore to make it the current version.
If you’ve deleted the file recently, click the Deleted files entry on the Files sidebar. Here you can restore items erased in the last 30 days.
Dropbox offers its own collaborative document editing tool called Paper. It’s a bit like Google Docs mixed with a note-taking service like OneNote or Evernote, as it allows you to create documents, brainstorm, and work with others.
You probably won’t like it more than your current tools for this job, but it’s worth a look if you want to dive fully into the Dropbox ecosystem.
A Dropbox Guide for the Rest of Us
Hopefully, this Dropbox user guide helped you! Of course, Dropbox has a lot more to offer, especially in its paid plans. It’s a powerful platform for anyone who works with many devices and needs to send files to others often.
Of course, it’s not the only service of its kind. Check out our comparison of Dropbox, Google Drive, and OneDrive for other choices.