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Dropbox: Painless and Free Backup

If you use several computers, sharing files between them is a pain but Dropbox takes the pain away--for free.

At home, you use Linux. At work, you use Windows. How do you share files between them? If you said, “USB drives” or “CDs” or “DVDs” there is a better way: Dropbox. Dropbox provides you with the ability to sync files between computers via a daemon. Additionally, they’re available on the web for those times when you don’t have physical proximity to one of your computers but you still need access to your files.

Dropbox also provides you with a reliable backup solution. In its simplest implementation, you have your local copy and an online copy of every file in your Dropbox folder. In more complex scenarios, you can keep files synchronized between several computers and an online copy.

Installation

Open your favorite browser and point it to http://www.dropbox.com. Click the Download Dropbox button. Based on your distribution, the recommended version of Dropbox appears above the list of available Dropbox packages. As always, for you purists, a link to the source is also in the list. If you use a Debian-based or an rpm-based distribution, download and install the recommended package.

When attempting to install Dropbox, you might receive a message about dependencies that you’ll need to meet before you continue with the installation. This nautilus extension installation is part one of two steps required to install Dropbox on your system.

$ sudo dpkg -i nautilus-dropbox_0.6.3_i386.deb

The installation begins at the command line but launches a graphical dialog box that helps you finish part one of the installation. Click Next, when the dialog box shown in Figure 1 appears.

Figure 1: Dropbox Setup - Starting Dropbox
Figure 1: Dropbox Setup – Starting Dropbox

Then, restart Nautilus as directed in Figure 2.

Figure 2: Dropbox Setup - Restart Nautilus
Figure 2: Dropbox Setup – Restart Nautilus

Close the dialog box after Nautilus restarts.

The first time you start Dropbox, from the Applications Menu, you’re prompted to complete the installation by downloading the Dropbox daemon. Click OK on the dialog to continue.

Once the Dropbox daemon downloads to your system, the installation begins automatically and steps you through a series of prompts to continue. The first prompt welcomes you to Dropbox and asks if you have a Dropbox account. For this demonstration, you’ll select I don’t have a Dropbox account as shown in Figure 3. Click Forward to continue.

Figure 3: Create a Dropbox Account
Figure 3: Create a Dropbox Account

Complete the form as shown in Figure 4 and click Forward to setup your new Dropbox account.

Figure 4: Enter Your Dropbox Account Data
Figure 4: Enter Your Dropbox Account Data

Figure 5 prompts you to choose the free 2GB Dropbox or select from two larger (50GB and 100GB) paid subscriptions. Select one and then click Forward to continue.

Figure 5: Select Your Dropbox Size
Figure 5: Select Your Dropbox Size

The next few screens (not shown) include a tour of Dropbox and how to use the service. Take the tour or click Skip tour and finish. You’ll see the final screen shown in Figure 6 to select the location for your Dropbox folder or to accept the default location (/home/khess/Dropbox). Click Finish to set the location, create your Dropbox folder and use Dropbox.

Figure 6: Choose the Dropbox Folder Location
Figure 6: Choose the Dropbox Folder Location

Using Dropbox

Your Dropbox folder is now ready for use and opens automatically to display the default folders (Photos and Public) and one file (Getting Started.pdf). Within each of the folders, are files to teach you how to use those folders. The Photos also contains a sample photo album folder and three pictures. See Figure 7.

Figure 7: Dropbox Folder Details
Figure 7: Dropbox Folder Details

To use Dropbox, you can create files directly in your Dropbox folder. You can create new folders too. The Dropbox daemon keeps you in sync with the online file store that you setup earlier. You can also drag and drop files and folders to the Dropbox folder.

Dropbox also allows you to share those files with other computers that you use. Install Dropbox on any other computer (Windows, Linux, Mac), login to the account you setup previously. The Dropbox daemon on each of those computers keeps everything in the Dropbox folder in sync with your online file store and your other computers.

For example, if you create a new file named Resume.txt on your Ubuntu system, Dropbox copies that file to your online 2GB space. The Dropbox service on your other computers copy those files to their local Dropbox folders too. Your files are always in sync and stored in multiple locations. The Dropbox daemon attempts a sync each time it starts (system start). For subsequent syncs, the daemon “watches” the Dropbox folder for changes and updates the online store immediately so that your files are always backed up.

If you delete your online account, don’t worry, the files on your computers aren’t removed. They are permanent copies.

You can also share files with your friends without allowing them to access all of your files. If you use the Public folder, each file you copy to it receives its own hyperlink to share with whomever you wish. Those users don’t have to have a Dropbox account to access the file.

Sharing photos is easy too. Copy albums to your Dropbox folder under the Photos folder. Provide the link to your friends to the album. You can only share folders under the Photos folder, not individual files.

Congratulations, if you decide to use Dropbox. It’s secure, feature-rich and exciting to use. 2GB isn’t much but it might be enough to keep your most precious files safe and synchronized. With Dropbox, your files go with you even when you’re empty-handed and that’s a lot of comfort at no charge.

Comments on "Dropbox: Painless and Free Backup"

eshneto

Ah ah ah! It is 1 cent cheaper to get two 50GB storage services than simply get 100GB. Those *9.99 prices are so ridiculous, don’t you think?

Reply
giangiammy

Hi all,
just a line to refer about an interesting project: http://cloudusb.net
It uses Dropbox as a online storage, with all its advantages, but in a configuration which sends only crypted data online: get the advantages of distributed storage while keeping the control on your data privacy!

bye
giammy

Reply
alecclews

I keep a small Git repo on my dropbox that contains my .dot files. As these files can contain confidential information such as passwords I don’t want to keep them on GitHub.

The trick is to define two repos. A normal Git repo on the local file-system. This is your working repo. A second bare repo on the Dropbox directory.

When you make changes to your files
a) Do a check in
b) Do a push

The benefit of the bare repo is that it makes it easy to have multiple machines

Couple of additional tips

1) Create a Git branch for each of your platforms or machines. That way you can manage differences between them
2) Have a post-commit hook that automates the push (step b above)

I can’t remember where I saw this originally, but it’s not my technique.

Reply
nimityssj

I have mixed feelings about Dropbox. It’s usability and service model are excellent. I wish the data was end-to-end encrypted somehow, but friends and I just create a quick Truecrypt volume and share the password over Pidgin-OTR if it’s sensitive data. Most of its just BS we’re sharing so we just throw it in there.

I did encounter a severe bug when I used it about six months ago. On my Linux system, it would regularly make me reinstall it. My hard drive had three partitions: Windows; Linux; DATA. Keeping the data separate helped with backups and OS installs/uninstalls. Due to some issue with mounting, Dropbox on Linux would think it was just installed, make me log in, create a home directory, etc. It occasionally wiped things out. I had to manually start it after everything was mounted, but it still occasionally happened. So, I turned to more reliable options.

Soon as the bugs are worked out, I plan to switch to dropbox again for non-sensitive transfers. I’ve also been thinking about building a compatible version with better security.

Reply
littlepeon

i to think that the data should be encrypted by them somehow, but there are MANY work arounds–nimityssj just named one. i have had no other issues with dropbox (unlike ubuntu-one which was buggy out of the box, and i still will not trust any data on) but it seems as if nimityssj’s issue was a mounting/install bug and not an issue with dropbox. i have also used other cloud components (ubuntu-one, spideroak, etc) and have found dropbox to be the easiest and most dependable–good job guys.

Reply
dsf

Binfer is a great alternative to transfer large files directly from Linux to any other computer, without uploading to a server. You can send hundreds of files of any size with a simple drag and drop. Binfer will manage the transfers with auto resumes, encryption, notifications etc. Check it out: http://www.binfer.com

Reply
john@ukgillies.com

Just a note to remind people that there is a superb app that sets up Dropbox in KDE.

Go and see http://kdropbox.deuteros.es/
- beautifully integrated Dropbox into KDE.

May be changing it’s name to Kfilebox as some people as getting possessive and their name.

Reply
mparillo

What about Ubuntu One? It works for me on Ubuntu 10.10, and I can download individual files on MS-Windows, though I have not tried the MS-Windows client.

Reply
spade

This kind of tools should be absolutely reliable. As nimityssj noticed, Dropbox is everything but reliable. As it is claimed by people (sect gurus ?) on their forum, it is more a sync tool than a backup tool.I still can’t understand how it can achieve the first objective without the second one. The result is that it may overwrite original files and directories with “conflicted” ones on your hard drive and you may lose your important data instead of backing them up. The GUI is very well done, but there is something rotten in the kindom of this soft and it is impossible to trust it.
So far I prefer using SpiderOak.

Reply

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Reply

Very neat blog post. Really Great.

Reply

Very polite guide and superb articles, very miniature as well we need.

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