13 tips and tricks to help you master Dropbox

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13 tips and tricks to help you master Dropbox
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From recovering lost files to hosting a website, there’s so much more to Dropbox than file storage.

Dropbox is one of the web’s most popular cloud services, and has now been around for more than a decade. Since its launch, it’s matured and expanded enormously – but the chances are you’re not using half of its features.

There’s no shame in that – the software does such a good job of fuss-free file synchronisation that you’ve probably never felt the need to pore over the documentation and discover what else it can do.

It’s time to put that right. In this feature we’ll help you become a Dropbox master with tips to save space and bandwidth, access files from anywhere and share files more easily. Then we’ll dig even deeper with Dropbox security and advanced tips and tricks.

1. Save space

By default, Dropbox syncs all your files across every computer on which it’s installed. That’s not a problem on a fast PC with a capacious hard disk, but it could bog down a lightweight laptop. To have only certain files and folders sync to a particular computer, open the Dropbox client on that system and navigate through its preferences to the Sync tab. Here, click “Choose folders to sync”, and untick the ones you don’t want synchronised to that machine.

Save space by choosing which files to sync locally.

Bear in mind that if you disable syncing of a particular folder across all of your computers, the only copy will be the one on Dropbox’s cloud servers. Dropbox makes reasonable efforts to protect your data, but you should never trust your originals to a third party. Make sure you have at least one other copy of every file offline, even if it has to be archived to an external drive or optical disc.

2. Save bandwidth

While we’re in Preferences, switch to the Bandwidth tab and make sure the LAN sync option is enabled. This will use your local network to synchronise files between neighbouring PCs and Macs that are logged into the same Dropbox account, which means quicker syncing and less tying-up of your internet connection.

You can limit both download and upload rates.

If you want to free up more internet bandwidth, adjust the download and upload rates, which by default are set to no limit and an automatic limit respectively.

Specifying a lower cap may allow other web-enabled services to run more smoothly on slower broadband connections. The payoff, naturally, is that your Dropbox folders will take longer to synchronise.

3. Access your Dropbox files on the move

The Dropbox app for Android and iOS lets you browse and view your synchronised files from anywhere. You can also download files directly to your device, meaning you can view and edit them in whatever app you choose to use. If you have made changes, you can normally save your updated file back to Dropbox via the Share menu.

If you’re using an iPhone or iPad, you can also access your cloud files via iOS 11’s Files app. Simply tap Edit above the list of locations and toggle the switch beside Dropbox to add it. Tap Done, then tap on Dropbox, and authenticate by logging in through the Dropbox app.

Once you’re logged in, your Dropbox files will be visible (you can also view files in Google Drive, Box and iCloud). They’ll also sync to the Recents tab – so anything you’ve been editing on another computer will appear at the top of the list on your iOS device, allowing you to quickly pick up and carry on.

4. Edit Dropbox files online

Although Microsoft Office 365 is tied to OneDrive, you can happily use it to work with files in your Dropbox. When you select an Office document in the Dropbox browser view, you’ll be prompted to authorise the Microsoft Office online apps to link to your account.

The file will then open in the relevant app and, when you exit, the updated version will be saved back to your Dropbox account. If you’re using the desktop versions of the Office applications then Dropbox also adds useful collaborative capabilities.

5. Prepare for journeys

The Dropbox mobile app makes it easy to access your files while you’re out and about, but unlike the desktop client, it doesn’t actually sync files to your phone or tablet: all it does is provide links to download them on-the-fly when requested.

To stop getting caught out by patchy signal,
make your files available offline.

This is fine until you hit a network blackspot. If you know you’re going to be travelling where coverage is patchy, tap the arrow beside each file you’re going to need and tap “Make Available Offline” to download a local copy. Local files will have a small green arrow icon. Check that any files you can’t do without have actually transferred by switching your device to Flight mode and tapping them in the Dropbox app.

6. Share files more easily

You probably already know that you can share files and folders in your Dropbox with other users via the right-click context menu. What you might not know is that you can also actively request files you don’t currently have access to.

You can actively request files you don’t have access to.

To do so, go to dropbox.com/requests and click “Request files”. Provide details of what you want to receive and choose a folder in which to save it, then either email the link that Dropbox generates or enter the email addresses of anyone who needs to send you files. None of the senders will be able to see anyone else’s submitted files, so it’s a great way to collect job applications or assignments. When the deadline’s passed, close off the request and disable any further submissions.

7. Share simpler links

A simple but useful trick: normally when you share a link to a file on Dropbox, the generated link takes the recipient to a screen on which they need to click a second time before the file downloads. Save them a step by changing the “dl=0” on the end of the link to “dl=1”: this means that, when they click the link, the file will download immediately.

Next: Dropbox security tips

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