Scrivener lost all my content

I have Scrivener on two computers. I had been working on one of them primarily, and just went to open one of my project files on the other. It gave an error, saying there wasn’t something in the folder. I closed out of there and went back to my original computer, made sure all the files were closed, and then tried again.

Now when I open my project files, all the work I’ve done in the past week in any file is gone. If I downloaded a web page, the file is there in the sidebar, but the content is gone from the page. And back-ups don’t hold any extra files, as has been suggested in some solutions. Back-ups are also unhelpful because they don’t even have an option for just intermittent back-ups, it’s just at opening or closing and a couple of other limited options. So, if something happened while closing the file, you’re out of luck.

Any suggestions? This is a disaster. I can’t tell you how much work I just lost.

From symptoms, but more info req’d, sounds like your sync (what kind of sync or other method to move files to/from both machines are you using?) is incomplete or is set for “online”, e.g. your sync service deleted files on one or more of of your computers.

And, assuming you have setup Scrivener’s automatic backup correctly to take backups on open or close and that you have not put those backups on this (possibly) malfunctioning or incomplete sync service, difficult to understand how his can happed.

You could have used Menu: File → Backup To … or Backup Now if you wanted what you call intermittent backups.

Are you sure you have no backups? Did you set backups to compress to Zip files? If so, look for Zip files with Finder. Hopefully you can find them. Hopefully not in the same location as Scrivener project files. Then unzip them to restore.

Finally, do you have system backups, e.g. with TimeMachine that you can use? If not, I urge you to set that up soonest for future backups and restores as appropriate.

True about manual back-ups, but didn’t do because wasn’t aware of the pre-set limitations.
I use Resilio Sync, I can check those settings. BUT I only tried to open one file on the second computer, and the other ones I just saved and closed. Everything was affected, and per my second post even files I hadn’t opened in a month.

I have thoroughly checked the Scrivener back-ups folder.

Unfortunately, I have Time Machine set up on an external drive and only do a back-up every two weeks, so that won’t help here.

Odds are that’s where the problem lies. Can’t tell more from here. With no backups, ouch.

I’ve always used Resilio Sync with no issues, so that’s not the problem.

Ok. I always use Scrivener with no issues with Scrivener deleting and/or losing files, so I have different bias.

Thank you for your input, eager to see other responses and of course awaiting expert advice from the help desk. Some of the issues I’ve described are not resolvable through a sync issue.

I agree that this is almost certainly a sync error. Scrivener isn’t able to change projects unless you actually open them. And the symptoms you describe are exactly what I would expect to see if a project were not present on the local computer.

I’m not familiar with Resilio Sync, but a number of services have recently changed to make “online storage” the default. This change in behavior makes the error you’re seeing much more likely.

Is the project now misbehaving on both computers?

Backing up on close is adequate in most situations. If, for instance, you leave Scrivener open for days on end, then yes you should set up an alternative.

If you’d like “expert advice from the help desk,” you can open a support ticket, here:

This thread pretty much covers the things we would suggest, though.

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There’s contradictory evidence that challenges the blame it on Resilio argument (although I agree that it 90% looks like that). For example, web text that was input since the last autosave appears in the sidebar, but the content is missing - but those input events happened at the same time. That doesn’t quite fit the above narrative. But I’ve opened a support ticket so I can go a bit deeper and get solid answers - mostly at this point so it doesn’t happen again, because I have moved on and just gotten into recreating the work.

Thanks for all the help!

This is not contradictory. The data used to build the Binder is stored in a different file within the project from the actual content of a Binder item. This behavior is a very common symptom of incomplete synchronization.

Okay, that’s good to know. That was the only thorn in the argument. Agreed that it is a sync issue then. Thank you for that extra piece.

Yes, to confirm, the symptoms you describe sound exactly like what can happen if some external system doesn’t load or copy parts of the project. Most often you’ll see descriptions like that around here with someone using Dropbox that hasn’t set it up right, because by default it doesn’t sync and just shows icons of things you can sync. If Scrivener deleted the content then you wouldn’t for example get an empty rectangle for an imported web page. But if you or some system you use goes in and deletes (or never copies) the “content.webarchive” file that corresponds with that web page, then that’s the result you’ll get.

Since it sounds like backups aren’t available, as I recall Resilio saves deleted data right? It’s been a few years since I’ve used it, but I seem to recall it backed up everything removed from it. It might be worth looking up their help pages on how to do this. If it does, at a minimum you might find your “content” files and piece things back together by hand from that, but if they’ve made it more sophisticated—like for example having the ability to roll back the whole entirety of the project-name.scriv folder to a set point in time, you may already essentially have a backup.

Beyond that, one trick that can usually at the least pull out all of the data from a damaged project is to:

  1. Make a new “Blank” project somewhere convenient.
  2. From it, and with the main project closed, use the File ▸ Import ▸ Scrivener Project... menu command.

This command is extremely liberal about what a “scrivener project” is, and can usually recover even the most damaged project’s data. It might take some reorganisation to get it all back together, but it’s worth doing this first as an experiment.

If you are finding stuff that was missing, then how to continue with recovery is up to you. Here are some common options:

  • Open up the other project and start dragging items back in from the recovery project until you’ve got it all restored. The advantage here is that all of your project settings, labels, status, links between items, compile settings and so forth are fine.

    The potential disadvantage is that if the project is damaged somehow, it might not be a safe place to continue working from. To be fair the likelihood of that is pretty slim. Missing data, like you describe, isn’t actually a form of corruption. That’s just what a project looks like before you type stuff into binder items. There is no difference between a project you’ve fleshed out the binder on, and one you typed a bunch of stuff into and then later deleted with the file system. The format is very “safe” like that: what exists in the project, in the right places, is what determines whether content exists, not elaborate and failure-prone indices and databases.

  • Migrate to the recovery project. You will find the sections in the user manual that pertain to copying settings to be useful. Most things can be easily copied—and depending on what features you use, you may very well want to start over with a new blank project and copy settings first, and then import, because Scrivener will discard stuff like labels that don’t exist, but if the labels and section types are already there, it will map them to the imported stuff.

    I think the best index of topics on this matter is found in §5.4.2, Converting a Project to a Different Template, since that is the most common query leading to the matter of transferring settings between projects.

And to conclude on Resilio’s performance, like I said I used to use it. The only reason I stopped using it was because I wasn’t satisfied with the Linux client. It worked very well for me other than that—though for full disclosure I’ve never been a huge fan of syncing live work of any kind. I’ve always used it more as a way of keeping archived static data and backups mirrored around, and use those to create volatile working data outside of sync areas. It’s more work, but it avoids problems like this, which can occur in any system, whether by human error or machine.

In short I wouldn’t worry too much about one-off failures. At least with Resilio you aren’t risking your data on servers you don’t own or control, and trusting them to do right by your unencrypted work. Besides, from now on you’ll be keeping solid backups I’m sure, which makes copy/transfer errors like this completely harmless. It’s when you start depending on the transfer copy entirely as the sole master copy that you enter a new category of high-risk, as a default and baseline, regardless of the brand of sync you use.

I.e. it’s okay to use high-risk technology, but only if what you use it for is mirrored somewhere else in case it fails.


Thank you, this is so helpful, and great to hear from someone who knows so much about Resilio!

  1. I’m “on the phone” with Resilio and trying to access the digital archives. Their user assistance is a bit tricky because they get terribly verbose with bad syntax on their instructions, but I trust we’ll get there. And absolutely correct about not using it for live work. I usually don’t, and boy, I will never again.

  2. I do lots of video, and I was a bit too manual with my backing up, and had fallen off the wagon a bit. My time machine hard drive will from now on be permanently attached!

  3. I have this memory that 12-14 years ago, when I first started using Scrivener, project back-ups were periodic background and frequent, much like you can set up for a video editing program. It was a hard lesson to learn that that is not the case, and is not even a setting you can choose. Good to know for moving forward.

Thank you to all, and particularly this last bit of advice was thoughtful and fantastic. Many thanks.

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@AmberV’s advice is very good.

However, I would just add that often a faster and easier way to resolve this issue is to simply change the sync settings so that the project is “available offline” or however the service defines that.

Sometimes (not always) moving the project (using Finder, not Scrivener) will also force a complete download to the local system.

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I don’t actually remember if that was a thing that survived the initial public beta (which would have been more like 17 years ago), but for a little bit there was an experimental features that did that, on an interval you set. It was removed shortly after though because to really do that right you need something way more sophisticated (like in those fancy video editing programs) that can safely run backups in the background. Having the software halt for ten seconds in the middle of a sentence, more often than not, turned out to be more annoying than any benefit of backing up so much.

The compromise is the setting you see today, off by default, that will run a backup whenever you hit Ctrl+S / ⌘S. Now you’re in control of those ten seconds, and it’s not annoying. Magic. Can’t recommend that one enough if you leave projects open for an extended duration of time. I usually make two or three backups per day when I’m really working on something, and I set my other backup settings accordingly (keeping the maximum 25 total copies).

But—if you did keep Time Machine plugged in, that’ll do hourlies anyway. So there’s that.