Background sync for iOS

Man, we really need background sync in iOS.

Scrivener is my writing weapon of choice on my iPhone. Every time I get a flash of inspiration I try to type it as fast as I can. But when I load Scrivener to do so, I have to stop and wait for dropbox to do it’s thing. And by then, half the idea has flown away.
Also, It’s the only iOS program I’ve heard of, that still asks users to "press save button to save” and “load button to load” (here, “load/save” being replaced with “sync”, but basically the same mechanical proces)

I think people would be really pissed off if their iDevice suddenly didn’t respond to anything because it was secretly syncing Scrivener in the background. Those that complain that syncing takes several minutes, how do you think they would react if their iDevice appeared locked down for several minutes?

Why don’t you simply use another app to catch those quick ideas? A simple note book app, like Drafts or something like that?

I don’t think background syncing is possible in iOS Scrivener as it requires that the iDevice runs the Scrivener software to do it. There is no built in scripts in iOS to handle it. L&L have explained several times why the system works the way it does. The solution for users is to adapt to what is possible and find other ways to do what Scrivener can’t.

No, you’re wrong. Scrivener automatically Save your stuff like any other app, on the iDevice. Syncing is uploading it to an external cloud service, which is something completely different.

Hi perezbalen,

Background sync can mean a few different things. Do you mean something like:

  1. You launch Scrivener on your iDevice.
  2. Scrivener opens immediately (no obvious sync). You open your project, navigate to the document you want to edit, and start making changes,
  3. Concurrent to step 2, Scrivener syncs with DropBox in the background.
  4. When the DropBox sync is complete, if the document you are in the middle of changing happens to have updates from DropBox, Scrivener automagically merges your changes with the DropBox updates or if unable to do the merge creates a conflict document.

I believe this is how OneNote handles it. Is this what you are looking for? If not, please clarify for L&L.


Yes, That would work. The thing I find annoying is that Scrivener waits for me to actively hit Sync (that’s what I meant with the analogy of old programs asking for the user to press the save button). Probably it does so because the app gets blocked by the Dropbox interface.
What I mean with the background sync is to have the app don’t stop everything until it syncs.
Why not have it sync in the background? Be it when the app is open but not the active one (I don’t remember the technical term, but iOS can have the app running while not being the one the user is using, like Waze)?
Or, when the app is active, you are only using one document at a time; why not sync the closed documents in the background then?
I’m sure there are many possible solutions that would make the app not stop for a long time when you want to use it. Google docs and Microsoft Office (and many others) have tackled the problems of sinking offline documents and simultaneous editing for a while, I’m sure their implementation is robust enough, and doing something similar to what they do is a possibility.

Hi perezbalen,

Thanks for the detail.

I think L&L’s explanation in the Knowledge Base still applies:

One other point to keep in mind is that what is possible for larger companies with big development teams may not be possible for a tiny company that only has one guy working part-time supporting the iOS app.

If there are any additional points to add that article, perhaps someone from L&L will jump in.


One thing to keep in mind is that a Scrivener document is really a document package – it is a collection of hundreds (or more) different files, all written to disk separately (macOS hides this from you by default, Windows shows it to you as a folder). While modern Office docs may look like this under the hood, they only write the single compressed (renamed ZIP) file to disk, and so they only have to worry about syncing a single file. That doesn’t eat up a lot of processing time or battery the way a Scrivener document would.

Google Docs has more people on the second-level support team than L&L has employees. And yet, as noted, Google Docs is still syncing only one file at a time, not the kind of multi-file package that you have with a Scrivener project.

Edit to add: Moreover, when given the opportunity, Google’s sync mechanism does not handle Scrivener projects well. We don’t recommend it even for use between Macs or PCs.


I understand there are complications, and that the team has not found a solution. I don’t know the code, but I don’t think it´s impossible. Small files means it can fetch in small bites in the background. And there are tricks in iOS; for instance, WhatsApp gets notifications even when the app is not running.
Regardless of whether it´s possible in the current implementation, with iOS current limitations, or that it’s just that the way to do it hasn’t shown itself, I think it’s a feature that would greatly benefit the usability of the software. That’s why I suggested it in the Wish List.

iOS doesn’t have true multitasking, so there is no “background” processing like there is with Windows or Mac OS. Notifications are a completely different mechanism.


What we need is syncing on the fly, like iWork Documents do, like Word Documents do. Dropbox is a nightmare of complexity that is completely unnecessary. Why should I have to exit something I’m working on to have it sync? No other writing program that I’m aware of does this. I shouldn’t have to back out of the project I’m working on every ten minutes to “save” the file up to the cloud.

We need support for iCloud and OneDrive - which have been my primary cloud storage for YEARS after Dropbox burned me hard. Now I’m having to work with Dropbox AGAIN and nearly lost HOURS of work because of its lack of functionality.

We’re writers. We just want to focus on the writing and not have to think about much else. That’s what made Scrivener so good - it gave us the ability to just write. It auto-saves and then makes a backup of that save - so I had it setup to save to one cloud storage option, and put the backup in the other cloud storage option. It’s no longer a clean solution, especially on a device that is touted for its ease of use. My iPad Pro is my go-to travel device. It’s always hooked up to the network, but again, it CAN’T SYNC UNLESS YOU EXIT THE PROJECT.

I just want to write - not worry about this dren.

Dear Katherine from support,

Background App Refresh in iOS has been around for generations of iOS distributions. To say that iOS doesn’t have true multitasking is misleading and flat out wrong.

Please contact Apple before making claims like the one you made above because it’s simply not true, and you could absolutely refresh items in the app in the background. It’s in the API.

Most writer will shrug their shoulders at this stuff, but my “day job” is that of a techie - specifically an Apple Certified Technician.

In the future, if you have any questions about this sort of thing, feel free to reach out to me and I’ll get you the correct answer.

Thank you for your time.

Micah Brown

Hi Micah,

That’s not correct. iOS Scriv can sync while when you are in the project. I don’t have my iPad or phone in front of me, but I think the gear button in the lower left of the binder screen gives you an option to sync. Pretty sure there’s also an option to sync from within the editor. Finally, if you happen to be using an external keyboard, then Cmd + Shift + S will sync your project from any screen.


Jim, every time I attempt it, it gives me an error and says “You must close your project before syncing.” I’m paraphrasing, but currently not writing on my iPad as I have my full laptop at home. I’ll provide the exact quote tomorrow when I’m off writing.

“Background App Refresh” is not the same thing as true multitasking.

On a Mac you can, for example, launch a complicated mathematical task and go on about your business while it runs in the background, potentially for hours or days.


If you have to close the project before syncing, the most likely reason is that there are unsynced changes on the server. If that happens routinely when you are away from your computer, there is probably something else going on that needs investigating.

I sync from inside my projects fairly routinely, about as often as I would save on a desktop machine.


Does that mean that you are an experienced iOS programmer as well?

Okay, I don’t mind having to update the documents when I open the application, but when I’m ACTIVELY using it to write, why can it not constantly write to the cloud? Why does it have to wait until I exit the document to write up to Dropbox? Microsoft Word and Pages both save on the fly while I’m working in them - I would think that Scrivener would have just as much ease of use - and again, this doesn’t explain why I’m married to a nightmare solution like Dropbox to use this amazing piece of software.

Word and Pages documents are individual files. A Scrivener project is a folder, with sub-folders and potentially hundreds of component files.

There’s a more detailed discussion of the technical issues here:



Here’s why I’ve ended up in this thread.

When syncing, especially over mobile, it takes close to 3 minutes.

Most of this time is spent downloading the file list.

I have a very large number of documents in my App/Scrivener folder:

$ ls -lR ~/Dropbox/Apps/Scrivener | wc -l 22242

I am fully aware that’s asking a lot… (Unfortunately most files come from a world-building project that I need access to while writing…)

However, once the file list is downloaded, the actual document syncing is fairly quick (some 100 documents in mere seconds).

If that file list download could be sped up somehow, for instance by using a “recently changed files ledger” or something similar my syncing would likely not take minutes…