Strange sync problem with a mysterious double file

Hi! I sync via Dropbox and use an iMac and an MacBook Air. I worked on the iMac on a project and wondered a little already if I actually had the latest version. Now I opened that project on the MacBook Air and I just don’t get it:

  • When I open via the “recent” menu entry, I get an older version of that project which was obviously edited on the MBA and has stuff in it that I didn’t see over at the iMac.
  • But when I go to Dropbox I see a different version of that project which actually isn’t up to date either.
  • I can actually open both projects in parallel, they have the same name but different contents. I tried to search on my hd for some copy of that project that might get loaded by Scrivener when using “recent”. But all I find is the copy on Dropbox.
  • When I open the project on my iMac again I see the latest version I edited there.
  • I don’t get a notification on any machine, like “this is open on another device” or whatever.

I never deliberately saved anywhere else than Dropbox. Is there a way to find the location of that recent file? How can I merge the two? What’s going on anyway? Dropbox says it’s synced.

As a start, I recommend you not rely on the “recent” menu entry or even Scrivener. With macOS Finder, inspect the file dates/time stamps in the relevant local Dropbox folders on both machines and compare to what’s on the Dropbox server. I suspect incomplete syncs. The “current” version only you can figure out.

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Well, actually I have two “current” versions now, as somehow the sync is broken. I am usually careful about not shutting the computer down until I’m sure everything is synced, but of course I might have glitched there. But in the past Scrivener was always extremely reliable in detecting such things. What makes me nuts is that in my understanding this shouldn’t even be possible. Of course I can have a not up to date file in Dropbox. But how can there be two files open in the same app on the same computer? Where is that other project located?

Sorry you are having these problems.

On the Mac, AFAIK, I don’t think Scrivener has anything to do with what Dropbox does or detects or instructs any syncs. All up to Dropbox.

I can’t tell from here, of course. Of course Scrivener can open two files at the same time. And Scrivener only opens up individual files when you are working on them, not everything like other apps which work with monolithic files (text editors, Excel, Word, LibreOffice, etc.) I don’t think this the issue.

Look carefully at where you projects are located in Dropbox folders, and make sure same project names on all three devices (both computers and Dropbox server) and only those.

Dropbox detects when something changes and then on its own algorithm it syncs when it decides to sync. You can use the Dropbox icon in the Menu bar to monitor progress.

It’s slightly different on iOS devices where Scrivener imports and exports to the local Dropbox folders, due to “sandboxing”.

I of course could be all wrong on the above understandings.

I probably didn’t say that precisely (I’m not a native speaker). Of course Scrivener can open two or more projects at once. But in my case it opened the same project with the same name twice in two different states. One is accessed via Dropbox, which is the only location on my device that should hold a Scrivener-Project. In the finder I see in my Drobboxfolder only one item of that name (as it should be). But still when going via the recent menu, the app opens a second, different iteration of that project and I have no idea where it found it. When I search in the finder I can only find the project in the Dropbox (and backups – maybe it opens from a backup?).

If you have the second copy of the project with the focus–that is, you can edit it–you can use File > Show Project in Finder to have Scrivener open a Finder panel.

It will highlight this project’s .scriv file. You can then use Finder’s View > Show file path command to see the full file path where this project is stored along the bottom edge of the Finder panel.

Oh, wait! I think I got it: There was a large update to Dropbox some time ago that had to do with MacOS handling external storage services or whatever. It seems that during this process a backup-copy of my Dropbox folder was saved somewhere in the library. As it is also called Dropbox, I didn’t realize that when searching. So Scrivener took the project from that backup folder instead of the “new” Dropbox. I wonder why it found it at all. Now that’s mean. I guess this might happen to others as well.

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It is not at all “mean”. Scrivener is not a person, and it opens whatever project that you tell it to open. All up to you.

Yes, Dropbox made some changes a long time back, but my recollection they informed the user via dialog boxes what what happening, asked for permission to do the upgrade, etc. Also there is full documentation on their web site.

Now, please make sure your Dropbox folders are “offline” as Scrivener does not work well with “online” Dropbox folders.

As stated already, get familiar with your file system via macOS Finder. Do not completely rely on Scrivener.

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Ah, come on, of course I don’t imply that the software is a person or that anybody did anything mean on purpose here. I just meant to say that this was a tough problem to figure out and something that is out of the normal trouble shooting solutions. How often does your cloud service get a structural overhaul and moves a copy to your library? I actually even had a post on this forum asking for any experiences with that Dropbox upgrade before I made it.

Yeah, it’s too bad Dropbox had to make that change. As I understand they were kind of wedged into doing so by Apple, as it was either that or roll-back strategic directions they had been going toward, up to that point.

Speaking of that, now that you are on the new system, definitely head over to this article and make sure Dropbox is set up correctly. Part of their master plan has been to upload all your data and then delete local copies of it (or at least most of it).

This not only compromises your own personal backups, but can foul up software that needs to work with more than one file at a time. So you definitely want to turn that off and make sure your projects (and other data) all actually exist on your computer at this point.

As to the root problem, that is an unusual result. I think for most people the translation to a new and hidden storage area is fairly seamless. Mostly only those that notice are those that do not depend on Apple tools alone. If you just use Finder, you shouldn’t notice. But if you write shell scripts or use the command line to work with your computer, you will quickly notice everything is suddenly in the wrong place. Nothing a symlink can’t fix though.


Looking into it more deeply I realized that it’s the same problem over at the iMac. It loaded the local copy of the file from the backup that Dropbox made. So I actually had three versions. I didn’t realize because for the past few months I had been working on a new project that was created after the transition.
It’s still odd though. That Backup folder is actually placed in the same folder in the hierarchy as the actual dropbox folder. But it is called „Dropbox ([date of the transition])“. So while the file path is actually almost the same, it is not identical to the file path where Scrivener should have looked for that project. Somehow the app managed to follow the original file to the new location instead of loading the synced copy from the new dropbox (or saying it can’t find it).

Specifically, what are the full path names of what you call as “backup” and the project “folder(s)”? A hunch your structure getting in the way. Just a hunch.

I never use Dropbox for BACKUP as it’s not reliable as a backup (unless using Dropbox new “backup” service). If there is a flaw or deletion (accidental or deliberate) with the backup file (I use the “zip” option), then Dropbox will replicate that flaw to the other target(s) and “poof”, the is backup gone.

I use the following folder structure successfully:

~/Backups/Scrivener ← for all Scrivener backups. I keep 25 copies and are automatically created by Scrivener on project open and close. This folder is back-up by my 3-2-1 backup regime (can see on internet what 3-2-1 backup regime is).

~/Dropbox/Scrivener ← for all Scrivener projects. Synced by Dropbox. Also back-ed up by the 3-2-1 backup regime.

By „backup“ I don’t mean my own backups, I keep those separately as well. I mean the copy of the Dropbox folder that Dropbox (assumedly) created when that transmission was made.

That’s a new one on me. Did not know of that or ever saw Dropbox do something as you describe.

Again, it would help to understand the full path names that

  • you have configured Scrivener to send backups to (hopefully different than the Scrivener project folder)
  • you use to save Scrivener projects synced with Dropbox. Hopefully one root folder for all projects (to keep it simple).

Yeah, for me too! But this seems to be the explanation for the strange behavior I‘m describing in this post.

I can give you the pathnames later, I’m not at my Mac right now. But the projects are in Dropbox/Apps/Scrivener and the backups in iCloud.

Best to get help from Dropbox support I think. Not much to do, if anything, with Scrivener.

[I would not consider iCloud a good place for Scrivener backups. Yes people do it. Too risky and easy to avoid the risk by not doing it. Just my view.]