Is it safe now?

I originally started writing my current book using Scrivener on a Mac desktop computer around 2 years ago but I really liked the idea of working away from the office space using my wife’s Windows laptop and purchased a license for the Windows version with the idea of synching everything by Dropbox where I store the main project files. This was in June of 2013.

Everything seemed fine until after I quit Scrivener on Windows for the first time and opened it later that day using the Mac where something like 50,000 words vanished in a puff of smoke. After some serious panicking I eventually managed to regain my lost material by resorting to a backup from the Windows side but I noticed the layout structure of the project files appeared to be different from the Mac and I wondered if that caused the compatibility issues. I never had both versions of Scrivener open at the same and made sure it had finished synching via Dropbox before starting the Mac.

To cut a long story short I never touched Scrivener on Windows again but yesterday I was sat here in the office with my stiff back looking at the grey walls and wondered if it might be safe now to try the Windows version again so I installed the latest version but I haven’t yet had the courage to start it up. Is this a safe way to work yet and if so what is the safest way to start Scrivener on the Windows laptop and start working from exactly where I left off on the Mac? I think there may be some preference settings from before that could still be in place on the Windows version.

I don’t know if by now you’ve managed to do a search on the forum since this topic is somewhat recurring and there are lots of good tips on it.

But since you’ve got no official answer I’d like to post my 2 cents as a short answer to your question: yes.

Also, Dropbox is a safe way to share the project among two computers (Mac or PC), provided you follow the guidelines you’ll find in the forum.

I use Dropbox all the time between OS X & Windows and it’s always been fine apart from that one time using Scrivener but seeing 50,000 words disappear in a puff of smoke was pretty scary. I’ve only used it on the one Mac since then but I have no doubt it would be safe if I used it across two Macs or indeed two Windows machines.

My concern is that the cross platform aspect is what caused the problem (presumably due to differences in file structure or format) and I hoped one of the developers could clarify this because from everything I’ve read I did it all correctly.

From the description of the problem, it sounds like a synchronisation conflict occurred between the two computers, and so the project was slightly forked in such a way to cause some files to disappear. This usually isn’t a major problem, as Dropbox (and all other sync tools I know of) will duplicate the conflicted files in place, so you can sort out which should be the correct version (or if a merge is required). What can happen is you end up viewing what amounts to two slightly different projects on each computer.

There are no compatibility factors that would cause what you describe.

If the last few words were missing it wouldn’t have been a huge deal but when I opened the Mac later that day a few thousand words were missing so I tried quitting and opening Scrivener on the Mac (always allowing time for Dropbox to sync) but there were several thousand words less every time I tried until there was practically nothing left.

From memory I ended up completely ditching all the files inside Dropbox and then placing the last archived backup copy from the Windows PC in there that had been saved at time of quitting Scrivener. I then wiped all my settings on the Mac and imported it as a new project, which brought me back to the correct place with huge relief.

As it happens I keep backups on Time Machine in addition to incremental versions via a cloud service so I was relatively confident that one way or another it would be recouped but it was pretty scary watching all that work disappear at the time and I haven’t tried the Windows version since. Just sticking with the Mac via Dropbox has been rock solid.

That’s definitely a weird one then. With a Dropbox conflict you might certainly see thousands of words “disappear” under some circumstances. In a situation like that you would expect there to be more than one .scrivx file and each computer is opening a difference one, thus seeing different binder trees and potentially different files.

However seeing an incremental different each time you open the project does not quite sound like that. I’m not sure what that could have been, but I do know we have added extra protection to the Windows software in the past year that would have caught some scenarios that may have been responsible for what you saw. It sounds like you keep pretty solid backups, so I would say it wouldn’t be a huge risk to try again, especially since what you describe sounds to me like a very unusual situation.

Curious, what method were you using to see that more words were missing each time you opened the project? Some counters work off of the search index instead of the data itself, for performance reasons, and so if there was specifically a problem with that file (much higher probability of getting out of sync), it would make it seem as though data is vanishing since the counting is done off of a faulty source.

The first time I opened the Scrivener book project on the Windows PC everything was correct as I would expect. Then after working for a couple of hours I closed Scrivener and all seemed fine.

Later on when opening on the Mac the word count for the entire document was a few thousand less but every time I tried quitting and reopening the word count diminished by thousands of words each time. This was verified by simply seeing the overall number of words shown at the bottom of the Scrivener interface when the main draft file was selected that includes the entire project. I could also see there were a lot less words though simply by scrolling through the project because big chunks of previous writing had simply vanished.

My feeling at the time was that mixing a Scrivener project across different operating platforms had somehow corrupted the project file. At the time I could see the Windows version of Scrivener was some way behind in terms of functionality and just felt I was safer sticking with the Mac version.

When opening the backup file from the Windows version to examine the contents I noticed the structure appeared very different from what I was seeing on the Mac, which made me think the cross platform idea was more susceptible to problems and I certainly wouldn’t anticipate this kind of problem if working across two Macs. Perhaps this has improved now.

As a test later today I’ll try creating a fresh project and dumping a few thousand words of pasted text inside to see if they play nicely across the two platforms. Then if that is OK I’ll make sure the book project is securely backed up on the Mac and give it a go. The idea of being able to move outside the office is appealing but obviously I don’t want to put two years of work at risk.

I’ve just created a test project using Scrivener on the Windows laptop and pasted in around 10,000 words before typing a few more. The file was saved to Dropbox and opened on the Mac. Changes were made and the same process repeated back and forth a few times with no apparent loss of text. The only strange part is that the word count on the Windows laptop is consistently about ten less than on the Mac but it looks the same from what I can see.

This is just a very simple document though with no sub folders or pages. I have backed up my main book project to the desktop and I’ll try now with that.

I tried to open the book project located on Dropbox just now using the Windows laptop and nothing happens. I first tried to import the project and to open it without luck. Indeed it even says the project file ending .scriv is not a Scrivener project.

I’ve even gone to the Scriverner project file on Dropbox and right clicked to “open with”, which automatically suggests Scrivener but then nothing happens. In the file information it still shows the file was last opened about half an hour ago when I was working on the Mac.

After quitting Scrivener on the laptop I tried it on the Mac and it opened fine. Such a pity as it’s far nicer sitting in the kitchen with the doors open and the view across the garden!

It’s very strange that when navigating to the Scrivener project file on a Mac you just see a single file but when doing so on the Windows version if you click on the main .scrivx file it also shows the contents. To see this on a Mac you need to right click and show the package contents.

One strange thing I’ve seen in the package contents is a second .scrivx file, which has the project name followed by (iMac’s conflicted copy 2013-06-12).scrivx. I normally work on a Mac Pro but I presumably opened this on the iMac at some stage on that date. I have no idea why that is also present or indeed why there was a conflict. It’s all a big mystery and I wonder now if it would be safe to open again on the iMac.

The Mac has a special feature that can take an ordinary folder and cause it to act exactly like a file for most purposes. You probably have many more of these than you realise. Just about every program in your Applications folder is probably a folder with a bunch of stuff in it, acting like a file. You can make this happen by giving any folder an extension that has been registered with the system as being a package extension. Thus a folder called “Something.scriv” becomes a package, as well as “”. Even Pages files are packages like this. It’s a nice way of cutting off detail at a practical level of usage while keeping things open and easy to repair or modify. Unfortunately no other operating system has such a feature—so when you take this “My Project.scriv” folder off of a Mac, it doesn’t change one bit, but the OS you’re looking at it with just sees a folder with a funny name.

So if that is all you mean about differences between the two structures, then you’re okay. There actually are no differences in the structures, its just that on a Mac you don’t ordinarily see them.

Given that we’re using two completely different code bases, it’s not surprising to find differences (word counting isn’t a precise science).

That’s exactly what I was talking about before, where I suspected your project got forked at least once, maybe more, by Dropbox on account of irreconcilable edit collisions made on more than one computer.

If the conflicted files are really old, then you probably don’t need them and they can be discarded, but I would read their contents anyway just to make sure. After all, wherever you see a conflicted file that means you made some change. Whether it is significant or not is only something you can determine. We have an article with tips on how to resolve conflicts (including general tips on how to avoid such problems in the future).