External Folder in Dropbox and Scrivener --

So, I have a folder of word documents which are transcriptions. I have been, up to this point, manually dragging them into the Scrivener research folder, which essentially duplicates these on my computer.

But these transcriptions are growing exponentially and it’s getting hard to keep track of what’s in the exterior folder and most current and what’s in the Scrivener folder and most current. Is there way to have this workflow detailed below?

Folder in Dropbox: Insert New File:

Folder inside Scrivener: Updates with new file.

This would seem to be a different situation than the Sync With External Folder which is a secondary collection of all the files in Notes and the Draft that can be opened and reworked inside word processors if wanted, no?

Actually, there’s a complete description of how to use external folder sync as an inbox—just as you describe—in the manual. It’s on p. 365 with complete setup.

Hope this helps!

hmmm i’m not sure I understand how to do it. My Transcription Folder is not yet inside Scrivener, I don’t understand these instructions at all.

OK then, follow along as I set up an inbox for a project (I’ve been thinking about doing it anyway; this is a wonderful excuse!) I’ll type up a step by step list, and add some screenshots at the end.

  1. Set up a new collection. I’m going to name mine “Inbox Collection”, but you can use whatever name you want. (Fig. 1)
  2. I’m also going to add a new folder named “Inbox Folder” at the top level of the Binder. Instead, you can use whatever folder you’ve been collecting your transcriptions in. You’ll want to add your existing transcriptions to the Inbox Collection. To do this, select them all in the binder, right-click, and choose Add to Collection->Inbox Collection (or whatever you called it.) (Fig. 2)
  3. Now comes the magic! Choose File->Sync->Sync with External Folder… You’ll get a dialog box, “Sync with External Folder”.
    [*]First, tick “Sync files in this project with external folder:”
  4. Next, click the “Choose…” button. You’ll see a standard Mac file open dialog
  5. Navigate to where you want your inbox to be, probably right next to your existing transcriptions folder. Click “New Folder” and create a new folder, naming it something significant to you. I’m using F&S Inbox. (Do NOT put this inside your existing transcriptions folder.) Finally, click the Open button.
  6. Set up the rest of the “Sync with External Folder” dialog to look like my example in Fig. 3 (with your own names substituted, of course.)
  7. Finally, click the “Sync” button. The transcriptions will be written to the “Notes” folder inside the folder you created in step 3.c. ONLY your transcriptions will be written, because nothing else is in the Inbox Collection.
    ]Perhaps the most tedious step for your existing transcriptions: Each transcription you want to have under Scrivener control, must be saved in .rtf format. If they’re not already in .rtf format, open them in Word and save them in .rtf format inside the Notes folder. If your transcriptions are already in .rtf format, you can just drag them in.[/*:m][/list:o]
    And it’s done! When you open the project, close the project, or choose File->Sync->with External Folder Now, any changes you made to transcriptions in Scrivener will be written to the Notes folder, and any new transcriptions you added to the Notes folder on your hard drive will be incorporated into your transcriptions folder in Scrivener.

Sorry about the need for .rtf format, but all texts inside Scrivener must be in either .rtf or plain text format. When you import them one-by-one into Scrivener this file format change is done by scrivener. But when you use External Folder Sync, the format change must be done in advance. The advantage is that with Folder Sync, you have the change control you want. Nonetheless, I realize this may be a deal-breaker for you.


Hi, Ok, I think you may have solved one part of the puzzle. I’m going to try this. The only problem is all my transcriptions are on a dropbox folder, which… might not be the best place?

My inboxes are on Dropbox, so Dropbox that should work for you as long as you have the Dropbox app installed on your Mac. The key to this is creating the external folder via Scrivener – onto Dropbox is fine – and moving your transcriptions in (after making sure they’re all .rtf !) Good luck!

If it’s not off topic. does anyone know if there are any bugs when using an external folder for syncing plain text files which is stored in iCloud?

It’s not that it doesn’t work (when I quit S. or open it, the syncing works fine) the problem is that the ‘Sync-> with external Folder Now’ menu item is greyed out. So the only way I can sync is by quitting S.

When I store the sync folder on the desktop (or on Dropbox) the problem doesn’t occur…

Thanks everyone!
Happy writing :slight_smile:
PS I am still on

I’ve used External Folder Sync, on and off, for a long time, though I no longer have Scrivener 2 installed. Not a lot changed in this area in the upgrade, so I’d be surprised if there was a bug in the old code that wasn’t in the new.

I just tried what you’ve described and had no such problem, but let me suggest a couple of things to check:

  1. Is your external folder inside the Scrivener folder on iCloud Drive? If not, I’d suggest moving it there.
  2. In general, Scrivener expects things to be on its local disk. What this means is if iCloud drive has eliminated its local copy of the folder (possible if you have certain iCloud settings and you haven’t used the folder in a “long” time by whatever iCloud Drive’s definition of “long” is; it doesn’t tell us) Scrivener may look and think, “Gee, boss, no external folder here…”

The way around this is to open the System Preferences app, open the iCloud pane, and next to iCloud Drive, click the “Options…” button. Be sure that the “Optimize Mac Storage” checkbox at the bottom of that window is UNCHECKED. This is a very good idea whenever you’re trying to use Scrivener with iCloud; Scrivener in general does not do well if things it’s expecting to be on local disk are only on iCloud’s servers.

If neither of these things is helpful, well, that’s about the end of my expertise :wink: . If no one else chimes in, it may be time to send an email to tech support here.

Thanks @Siverdragon!

Unfortunately the problem now appears to be more random than I thought. Remember how I said it was working fine if the sync folder is on Dropbox? I spoke too soon. Even with the sync folder on Dropbox the sync menu item is sometimes greyed out, and other times not. When I Quit Scrivener sync always works … so there seems to be no rhyme or reason to it.

Ditto on the thanks.

So I decided to make my first foray into this using Dropbox.

It seems to work well.

What I am attempting is backing up entire projects this way (draft folder and notes folder).

But there is something I didn’t quite understand. I tried this with a novel of 180K words and a few images, which is 11.5 MB on Mac OS. The synced project on Dropbox shows as being 2.6 MB.

Why is there a discrepancy? It appears that this means content in the research folder can not be duplicated in the synced project.

I think I like my way better, which is to have the master project directly resident on Dropbox. When I do this, every time Scrivener saves automatically if I edit or change a binder selection (set for every 7 secs in my prefs), it updates directly on Dropbox. This means there is a constant live project stored offsite, which is exponentially safer than having it resident on a local HDD.

Of course this is not a backup sync. I have Scrivener save on close to zip files, and those go on iCloud due to being in the documents folder. So that is a backup that happens as often as this Scrivener ‘sync with external folder’ actually syncs, and it duplicates (backs up) to a second offsite location (in case all Dropbox servers melt down at the same exact moment). Neither of those is a live sync, of course, but having the project resident on an offsite cloud-based service like Dropbox means the file will be live updated and also secure off site, as well as accessible by multiple devices.

Scrivener will then also not get confused and worry about whether things are synced or not, which editing locally on one platform without closing that document will do. Scrivener then scratches it’s head and tells you you are working with multiple versions. Since I’m having the master project resident on Dropbox and updated every time Scrivener saves automatically, there never is a chance of anything being out of sync.

Bottom line, safer (being on Dropbox), much more automatic, no sync issues (since it updates every few seconds), and no multiple document confusion, plus there is a backup to a second offsite location (iCloud). And if you archive things regularly to external HDDs, we’re talking belt AND suspenders, and MORE suspenders.

So if the concept of syncing with an external folder is designed to make a project accessible on multiple devices, this approach achieves that as well as much more. And if the Dropbox folder is a shared folder, there can be easier second-author or editor collaboration with fresher versions of the project.

OK, and there is even another layer, which is even more secure. Do it this way (explained above) with Dropbox, but then also use the Scrivener ‘sync to external folder’ option on top of that. Choose an ‘external folder’ that is actually a folder on the local HDD.

If you do all of that, you have a master project on a secure offsite location (Dropbox) a full backup of that zipped on iCloud, a second secure offsite location, and a document-only economically-sized backup of that resident on your local HDD, meaning when the internet goes out, you still have access.

Then, it would take WWIII, an EMP attack, and a nuclear winter for you to lose your projects.

External folder sync is not a backup method. It won’t sync anything that isn’t a text file; therefore none of your images, nor your spreadsheets, nor anything else you can’t edit with Scrivener—none of that is included. It’s strictly intended to let you use a non-Scrivener editor on your text files, be they notes or draft. So, I can use External Folder Sync to let me import text files created by Drafts 4 on my iPad automatically, or edit draft documents on my iPhone with OfficeSuite, but not to collect web archives for research.

Hope this helps!

It does help. You’ve been a great help here.

I don’t see much advantage, however, to this feature. It would seem that if one has Scrivener, that it makes it somewhat of a no-brainer that they would have that on every device they intend to edit on. So having text files available for other platforms? I don’t see the advantage.

If the goal is having the project available on multiple platforms owned by you, having the master project resident on Dropbox does that (and much more). Unless multiple collaborators are editing the same line of text in a doc simultaneously (which I really do not recommend), the doc will instantly be in sync, and there will be no sync problems or multiple versions. ‘Sync with external folder’ can’t do that.

If there are others who you wish to collaborate with, it makes no sense for them not to also have Scrivener installed, meaning they also do not need non-Scrivener access to text files.

If there are people who you simply want to have read something you’ve written, it can be compiled in a matter of seconds using Scrivener to any platform they might need it on. So they also don’t need access to the text files.

Plus I see this feature as problematic. It does not retain the hierarchial folder/document structure when saved to an ‘external folder’ using this method. IOW, everything is all jumbled up.

There are 653 separate documents in that 180K-word novel I mentioned. If I try to access that in the external folder Scrivener ‘synced’ with (which is a complete misnomer), what I get is all of those docs in no particular order, other than how the Apple Finder can sort them. But they can not be sorted in the order they appear in in the novel, or in the Scrivener binder. IOW, this process takes the novel and literally makes a jumbled mess out of it.

So to me, this relegates this option to nothing more than an emergency backup folder. A last resort if every Scrivener version of the project is lost from iCloud, Dropbox, the local HDD and all archived external HDDs, which is a doomsday scenario with a microscopic possibility of even happening.

So this begs the question: Where is the advantage of having separate, loosely-organized RTF text files representing the documents inside a Scrivener project? If you and your collaborators and editors have Scrivener, it seems there is no advantage. If your collaborators and editors do not use Scrivener, it might be time for better collaborators and editors to join your circle, not to mention that the ability to compile in whatever format they might need is built in to Scrivener already,

And yes, I’m quite aware that this is not a backup method. It quickly proves itself not to be.

The project-resident-on-Dropbox method does everything one needs other than presenting the documents as RTF individually so they can be accessed by platforms other than Scrivener. Again, that seems like an ‘advantage’ not really necessary if you install Scrivener on the devices you own and use.

That ‘Dropbox first’ process actually has no disadvantages as long as the internet is available and separate loose-leaf RTF docs are not required, unless you decide to have lunch in some taco shop without internet and want to write or edit a scene while you eat. (Please don’t). If you are going to ‘meet the parents’ for a weekend and they actually have no internet, here in 2020, simply make a local copy to your HDD before you get on the plane.

And it also makes the project accessible to any device you own, simply by going to the internet. Plus it is a very solid backup method. And it does not have any cumbersomeness regarding delay in synced versions of the project documents or due to simply listing the documents in an order not congruous with how they are arranged in the Binder.

If none of that seems immediately obvious, I’d suggest Googling the Kübler-Ross paradigm and trying to understand the concept of denial.

Scrivener is not available for all platforms: Android and ChromeBook are two of the most commonly mentioned gaps.

Sync with External Folder is also useful if, for whatever reason, you would like to use an editor other than Scrivener for some portion of the project. Maybe you simply find a different tool easier to use for quick notes, for instance.


My pleasure!

Not so. While I grant you that hierarchy info is hidden, it’s easy to keep the external folder in Binder order, if that’s important to you. If you check the checkbox “Prefix file names with numbers,” each file name will start with a number that represents its Binder order. Therefore with this option on, displaying the files in name order on disk displays them in Binder order as well.

As for hierarchy, in the Bad Old Days Before iOS Scrivener, I used to stick a dagger symbol in container titles, and remove it in compile substitutions. So I also had a pretty good idea of what my hierarchy looked like.

Hardly. Aside from the Android and Chromebook use cases cited by @kewms, reverting to this method might well make sense for those struck by the “iOS sync with Scrivener” Apple bug that’s ongoing, if their use of iOS Scrivener is light. And I have enough frustration with iOS Scrivener’s lack of keywords and custom metadata (no matter that I’ve learned workarounds; it’s still a pain in the anatomy) that for my own use I’m just using Drafts on iOS to drop ideas into an external folder “inbox”, and consolidating when I’m back on my Mac.

Folder sync is a lightweight feature developed to provide some extra-Scrivener access. Not everyone will find it useful – but then, not everyone finds footnotes or scriptwriting or hierarchical numbering useful, either (Guilty on all three counts, Your honour! :wink:) But why hold a funeral? :smiley:

For those looking for a Chromebook solution, here are a couple of notes.

  1. Running Scrivener on a Chromebook has been addressed elsewhere.
  2. Running Scrivener on a Mac but doing some editing on Chromebook IS a viable solution.
  3. You’ll want to use Scrivener’s File -> Sync -> with External Folder option.
  4. You can share either plain text (not recommended - you’ll lose any markup) or RTF.
  5. If you are sharing via Dropbox, you’ll need an app on Chromebook that knows about Dropbox.
  6. For plain text sharing, there are several that will work. (Not listed here – try the free ones. I found several.)
  7. But for RTF sharing (which is preferred), the ONLY Chromebook App I found to work is AndrOpen Office ($5.99).
  8. Read the Scrivener reference manual and HEED THE WARNINGs lest you hurt yourself.