Sync questions

Scrivener sync questions/problems:

1 On my MacBook, in the Finder, the Date Modified date of a Scrivener project I just synced on (from) the iPad does not get updated, not in a few minutes, not in hours, not in days. It only changes when I actually open (and thus automatically sync) the project from within Scrivener/Mac. My Scrivener/Mac is always running on the Mac, in the background, hidden or minimized, but the specific project file is closed (not just hidden or minimized).

Is this a bug? or
Is this a feature where Scrivener has to be different?
Since the Finder update only happens when Scrivener/Mac opens/syncs the project, one gets the impression that Scrivener/Mac actually PULLS down the latest version from the Dropbox servers, rather than opening it from my local hard drive. Is this how it is supposed to happen? The Help file on syncing does not seem to say so.

As far as I know, Dropbox PUSHES (automatically downloads) the new synced version of a file from its servers to one’s computer and automatically updates the Last Mod date in the Finder. This is indeed my experience with all kinds of files from all other sources, mobile devices or other computers, but not with Scrivener projects.

2 The file list in the Dropbox dropdown menu on the Mac is also problematic. Some issues:

a) When Dropbox finishes syncing it tells us in a small window how many files were changed. But when I look at the list of files in the dropdown menu I can only count always a fewer number of files than I was just told.

b) Sometimes the dates don’t match. For example, right now I have a Scrivener project (.scrivx) listed in the dropdown menu as “changed five days ago”, but this same project is listed in the Finder as last modified three days ago.

c) The Dropbox dropdown menu usually lists files like binder.autosave, recents.txt, search.indexes, and several others, but sometimes what I imagine would be the main project file (.scrivx) is missing, not listed. Confusing and alarming. Is there a good reason for Dropbox listing all these constituent files, for us, non-techie users, but not the main “package”?

My question is: is any of the above normal behaviour? If not, where are the problems likely to be: in Dropbox, in Scrivener, or in my computer?

3 I wake up my iPad and open Scrivener. The sync icon appears for a short time. The “need to sync” icon does not appear on any of my projects. I go to my MacBook and look in the Finder. The dates and times are different for the same project (!) even though both the iPad and the Mac Finder (green checkmarks) say they are synced.
Is something wrong? or
Would the dates change and get the same only after actually opening the project, either on the iPad or on the Mac? or
Is this normal, showing the latest saved dates even if the file was not changed?

Scrivener/iOS v. 1.1.2 (1187)
iPad Air 1, iOS 10.2.1
Scrivener Mac v. 2.8 (26295)
MacBook Pro early 2015, macOS 10.11.6 El Capitan

Thanks a lot for any advice or information!

First, .scriv is the package holding all of the files in the project. The .scrivx file basically only holds a list of contents of what you have in the binder. If you have not changed the binder, only written/edited text in an existing binder document, I don’t think the .scrivx file should change.

Secondly, have you experienced any loss of text between the different devices in a situation when the Dropbox app on your Mac and the Scivener app on your iPad says all is synced, even if you find different dates? If not, what’s the problem?

This is not an accurate description. Assuming that Dropbox has correctly synchronized to your Mac, the copy of the project that you see in Finder should be an exact replica of the copy on the Dropbox server, and is completely functional independent of your internet connection. That is, your connection could fail (after a successful synchronization), and your project would still be locally accessible.

The iOS version of Scrivener puts its changes in a separate “Mobile” folder within the .scriv package. When Mac Scrivener opens, it incorporates these changes into the main structure of the project. That extra step is probably the reason for the time stamp discrepancy.

This is also not accurate. The synchronization is a PULL initiated by the Dropbox software on the destination device, not a PUSH initiated by the Dropbox server.

Told by whom? There are at least three different instances of Dropbox here (iOS device, server, and Mac), which one are you getting the number from? In particular, Dropbox sync on the iOS device automatically walks through the whole project looking for changes from the server, but will only upload/download files that have actually changed. Its number of files checked will almost always be much higher than the number of new/changed files.

Sure. If the .scrivx file didn’t change, there’s no reason to synchronize it. The .scrivx file is basically the Binder in XML form, so only changes to the project’s structure will affect it.

Yes, the behavior you have described is completely normal.

I’m not quite sure what the question is here … if you open the project on the Mac, then close it without changing anything, why does the iOS device need to care?

I second lunk’s question: What exactly is the issue here?


Dear Katherine and lunk,
Thanks for the quick reply!
First, to your basic question: What exactly is the issue here? The answer is very simple: confusion and worry. What do I want? Clarification, explanation, and assurance that what I am observing on my machines (and describing to you in my post) is normal and harmless, even though it does not make sense to a non-techie person, and is even inconsistent with the behavior of other apps.

To explain my “worry”, here is a little background: I regularly work on a dozen or more files at the same time; I often edit the text in these files (add, delete, etc, anywhere in the text, not necessarily at the end); after days or weeks I don’t remember what and where I edited, so the idea of “manually” comparing two versions of many files (one on ipad, one on the computer) to see if any data is lost is just not realistic, it would take an enormous amount of time and effort.

So I am asking, naively perhaps, how reliable are the time stamps, can I use them as a kind of assurance that the files are properly synced? My trust in these time stamps have been severely shaken recently, not in connection with Scrivener, then I started looking at the time stamps of the Scrivener files as well, and found the discrepancies I described in my first post, and so I decided to ask the forum for help and information.


In a separate post below I will try to explain better the issue in #1 of my original post, especially because that’s where I see an “inconsistency” with other apps, and therefore find it more worrisome.

Dear Katherine and lunk,

Here is what happens with Scrivener but not with other apps:

Let’s say on Sunday Project A is listed as synced on both the Mac and the ipad, both dated Sunday, 8:12 pm. On Monday morning I open my ipad, bring Scrivener to the front, open Project A and edit it. I close the project, which initiates a sync, and it is dated Monday, 10:23 am. A few minutes later I check my Mac, open the Finder, look at the Dropbox / Apps / Scrivener folder. Project A is still listed with the Sunday date, but with the green check mark. I go away, come back in a few hours, then a few days later, still the same Sunday date for the Last Modified date.

Why does this worry me? Because with all other apps, the finder updates itself without me doing anything, without running the apps.
In other words, using the above scenario, when I go to my Mac on Monday at 10:30 or so, the file’s date already shows Monday 10:23, not Sunday’s date and time. This is a nice feedback, and a comforting assurance that the file on my hard drive is the latest version.

This is the question: is Scrivener different from other more standard, simpler apps? Does Scrivener insist on getting the latest version from Dropbox only when one actually launches Scrivener? (As opposed to other apps that allow Dropbox to transfer the latest version of a file without using those apps)
Another way of putting it: is the file version on my Mac indeed still the one that was synced Sunday, or is it actually the latest Monday version, in spite of the “wrong” date in the Finder?

Why is this confusing and possibly very important? Suppose Monday afternoon I take my Mac to a park to work. There is no internet in the park. I notice that Project A is still dated Sunday, but I know I edited it on the ipad Monday morning and synced it to Dropbox. So if the time stamp is reliable, I won’t open the project to avoid a conflict. But if that date can be safely ignored, then I am all set to open it and have the latest version and have no sync conflicts.

Pull and push may be a terminology issue. Of course, I assume my computer initiates the check with the Dropbox server to see if there are any new files on the server that are not yet pulled-pushed down to the local hard drive. I got the “push” feel from the other apps because the “pull” was invisible, the other apps didn’t need to even run (i.e. I didn’t see them “pull” or get a file) for Dropbox to put the latest versions on the computer.

Thanks in advance for any clarification.

The Dropbox data transfer to your Mac is completely independent of Scrivener. Not only doesn’t Scrivener need to run, it doesn’t even need to be installed. Try this:

  • Delete the Scrivener application from your Mac.

  • Make changes to a test project on the iOS device. Synchronize the device to the Dropbox server, then synchronize your Mac with the Dropbox server.

  • Download a copy of Scrivener from our site, then disconnect from the internet.

  • Install Scrivener. (Don’t worry if you get an activation warning. It will clear itself up once you reconnect to the internet.)

  • Open the project. Do the changes appear?

(Note that the deinstall/reinstall test is a little more complicated if you originally purchased Scrivener from the Apple App Store. Once you’re done testing, you’ll want to deinstall the version from our site, then reinstall from the App Store.)

The difference from other applications is that a Scrivener project is not a “file,” it is a folder, with subfolders and potentially hundreds of component files. Editing one of the component files will not necessarily result in a change to the modified date of the folder.

If Dropbox reports that the sync operations were successful, then your Mac, your iOS device, and the Dropbox server should all have identical copies of the project.

Did you synchronize the Mac with Dropbox before you disconnected from the Internet? If so, you’re fine. If not, the potential for a conflict exists.

That is also the case with Scrivener. Once the Mac has synchronized with Dropbox, it will have all the information that the Dropbox server has, whether Scrivener has run or not.


The time stamp on the Scrivener project in Finder should not be considered reliable. If you need a “guaranteed” indicator of the date of a specific version of the project, use the File -> Backup -> Backup To command, and check the box to include the date in the file name.

Internal Scrivener time stamps are reliable. You can see them in the outline view: go to View -> Outliner Columns and turn on the Modified Date column.


Dee, the answer is Yes.

Most apps you use only handles one file when you open something. So when if you look at it in Finder and check for date created, opened or modified you will see the exact times when you accessed that file.

A Scrivener project is not a file, it’s a folder disguised as a file, a “package”. Mac OS has this feature, Windows doesn’t. If something consists of a lot of files but the user don’t need to see all these individual files but only the complete folder, the system can be told to display the folder as if it was a file. This is the way Scrivener works. What you see as a Scrivener project file in Finder is actually a folder with potentially lots of files inside it. Every item in the Binder is saved as a separate file.

If you apply this to Scrivener you can look at it this way:
‘Date modified’ in Finder shows the date and time when a specific item was changed. For a file it is modified if you edit the contents. For a folder you need to change the structure inside the folder, by adding or deleting files. The documents you have in the Binder, the draft itself, is stored in a subfolder under the project folder (one step below the project.scriv you see in Finder) so adding or deleting documents in the Binder usually doesn’t change the structure of the project.scriv package/folder.
Within a Scrivener project that you work with on both Mac and iOS versions of Scrivener there will be files that are only edited by either version so if you look at the time stamps they will differ depending on where you are looking. The iOS version will tell you when it performed the sync operation, whereas the Mac version ight show you any kind of date depending on where you are looking (the project package level or inside the package) and exactly what you did when you were working with the project.

So no, you can’t use ‘Date modified’ to check if the project is synced, you need to trust the Dropbox app on the Mac and the sync procedure inside iOS Scrivener. I use Scrivener on three Macs, two iPads and one iPhone, and has never had any sync issues.

About Push and Pull, think of it as neither. It’s download and upload.

On your Mac, the Dropbox app is running in the background all the time, keeping an eye on the Dropbox folder in Finder. If it finds a file on your Mac that doesn’t exist on the Db server or has a newer version on the Mac than on the Db server, it uploads the file to the server. If it finds the opposite, a new or changed file on the server, it downloads it to your Mac.

On you iDevice, the only difference is that it is the Scrivener app that does this uploading/downloading, when you tell it to check for changes. In iOS, apps aren’t allowed to run in the background in that way. You basically run one app at the time, within their own memory space. Sandboxed, is the word Apple uses. This is to protect from viruses.

So, in short, don’t compare Finder dates with iOS or Dropbox server dates. Trust the Dropbox app on your Mac and Scrivener’s sync on the iDevice.

Dear Katherine and lunk,
I will be traveling and very busy in the next few days, so for now just a short thank you note. Katherine’s information on how to find more reliable dates is very useful and promising, thank you! I’ll check it out later and report back if needed. And lunk’s optimism and trust in technology is admirable!.. ; -)

Ok, the documentation on syncing with iOS through Dropbox is clear as mud. That’s ok, I figured it out: first, sync the Mac, Next sync iOS. Done that way it works. This simple direction would end a lot of the confusion.

My question: Is there a way for me to create a document in iOS, say, on my iPad and then work on it on my iPhone without working on it on my Mac in the mean time? I can’t see a way.

Yes, if both are set up to look in the same Dropbox folder, both will see the same projects.

I think the principles and the documentation is crystal clear. If you do the tutorial on the iPad and pay attention to all it says, the Dropbox syncing is super easy. I got it to work the first time without problems and it has worked perfectly ever since.

If you try to take shortcuts, you may very well end up in disaster.

(I am a simple user, not part of L&L or beta tester or such)

You do not need to process projects on your mobile devices through your Mac. You simply need to follow the principles:

  1. Make sure that whichever device you are going to open the project on has fully synced with DropBox first.
  2. Make sure that whichever device you edited the project on has the project CLOSED and has fully synced with DropBox. For the Mac, this is after saving and closing the project.
  3. Don’t leave the project open on one device and edit it in others.

If you follow those rules, you should have no problems editing your project across multiple devices in whichever order you desire. Save your edits, close Scrivener completely, and be patient while waiting for Dropbox to sync.

Thanks for your response. You’re entitled to your opinion on the clarity of the documentation but I disagree. After I got it working, I went through the instructions again and found those for syncing just as muddled.

I’m a long tme user of Scrivener — only the iOS version is new to me. Not sure how much I like it and am hoping it will integrate nicely with Scrivener 3 — got my upgrade money and am waiting to spend!

Scrivener 3 was well underway when iOS Scrivener was written. You should find that iOS works at least as well with 3 as it does with 2.


Comments like this always trigger my curiosity. I think it’s fascinating that we see things so differently.

I talked to a neighbor the other day. His company installs video conference equipment. He said that when companies hire him, they almost always have him talking to their IT specialists, not to the average users. He finds it strange because the IT specialists always figure things out without his help. It’s the average users that need help and good instructions.

In my experience, as a long time user of computers and iDevices and a frequent guest in here, the two things that seem to create confusion about the sync process are usually 1) the general difference between the desktop operating systems (Mac OS and Windows) and the sandboxed iOS, and 2) what cloud storage really means and how it usually functions. Maybe #2 more than #1.

On a desktop/laptop cloud storage usually means that a software running in the background check a specific folder and copies changed files to or from this folder to a disk server somewhere in the world. This is usually done without the user noticing what is happening. The files always reside on the hard drive inside the laptop/desktop but there is also a copy of them on the cloud server. When accessing the same cloud storage from several computers, each computer must be given enough time to copy back and forth so that the contents are the same on the computer and the server, before you start accessing the files.

On an iDevice, there are essentially no such background processes. Each app accessing the cloud server must be given both the opportunity and the necessary time to copy back and forth, so everything is in sync, before you start using the files.

Reading through the iOS Scrivener tutorial about syncing again, I’d say that they are crystal clear if you have a good understanding of how cloud storage functions and of the differences between Mac OS and iOS. At the same time, it’s a lot of text and some of it is maybe superfluous for some users and causes confusion. Maybe it should begin with a super short step-by-step ”recipe” for setting up the sync function? At the same time, using cloud storage in a safe way requires that you understand the technical basics. So it’s a difficult balance. And L&L can be expected to pay more attention to getting the software to work than to getting the tutorial perfectly formulated.

But then again, that creates opportunities for others to write books on how to use Scrivener.

Yes, you’re absolutely right, and at the core of this is the confusion caused by Scrivener projects being folders and not files. Apps using iCloud syncing of files, like Pages and Numbers, will establish in a microsecond that a file has changed and won’t allow it to be opened until it has been synced. Doing the same with Scrivener projects is a lot more difficult. (but maybe Scrivener should have a similar mechanism, preventing projects from being editable at all until it has checked that everything is synced? but would people accept that when they have projects with thousands of files and several hundred Mb of data?)

Still, the tutorials and manuals in Scrivener explain how to handle syncing in Scrivener and describe the necessary steps and so forth, just because it does not work like syncing of simple files in e.g. iCloud. Does that make the tutorials ”muddy” and hard to understand? Well, if peoples experiences make them assume that syncing should ”just work” and therefore they do not really pay attention to the content in the tutorial, that may explain some of the confusion and problems. But that doesn’t make the tutorial ”muddy”, does it?

At the same time there have been posts in here that have explained the steps and safe routines in much fewer words, to help users that ended up having trouble with the syncing process.

I figured it out in spite of the tutorial, not because of it. If it had included a few basic descriptors, I would not be posting here. Once I figured out that it’s similar to NFS but sync has to be run, it became crystal clear.

I’m certainly not interested in rewriting the documentation. I already have a job in the Silicon Valley and am not looking for side work.

I find it interesting that you make wild assumptions about people you don’t know and their experience. I don’t expect strangers on a user support board to be as fluent as I am in TCP/IP, the Mac OS and iOS. Neither should you assume that I’m not.

If you re-read what I’ve written you will hopefully see that I am discussing the content and phrasing of the tutorial in general terms. Most users did understand it when iOS Scrivener was first released, and still do on first contact. Some don’t.

Maybe you have another explanation to why you and others fail to understand the tutorial?

As noted, most applications – both iOS and Mac-based – do not deal with multi-document formats the way Scrivener does.

DevonThink does, though, and its implementation of synchronization might serve as a cautionary tale. It’s designed to be almost completely invisible to the user. On both the Mac (DevonThink Pro) and the iOS device (DevonThink To Go), it decides when to synchronize and does so more or less invisibly on a schedule that it thinks is appropriate. (You can force a manual sync, but the progress indicators are not particularly visible.)

And it is extremely common for me to discover that no, the specific files I need haven’t synchronized to my iPad, because they hadn’t yet been uploaded to Dropbox before I shut my iMac down. Just happened today, in fact.


I have been using sync cough with Scrivener for years. For the first few months, I had consistent problems. This was not during beta; I waited, and although I brought my problems here, they were never explained or dealt with. :frowning: So it goes sometimes.

So I changed how i worked: 99% of my editing was on my iPad. Every now and then, I would try to work with a file on my Mac, wind up with sync conflicts or lost data, and after a few of those experiences, I changed that to 100%.

It’s been a long time since that. Today, I wanted to look at the revision date of some files on my Mac and/or iPad, and I just could not figure anything out. (I had forgotten that Scrivener is apparently unable to update a folder date when a file is changed, and I could not get inside the folder on the iPad in dropbox).

I just wound up completely frustrated, which is how I found this thread and then remembered that changing dates on a file does not change a date on a folder. Not caring why at the moment, and I have zero interest in the technical side of that. I just want it to work better.

I realize that some folks are able to get syncing working and reliable, but I have never been able to. I consider it broken, and whatever it is that I’m doing, it seems that it’s not ever going to be fixed (this goes back to early days of Scrivener on iPad).

Don’t misunderstand me: I love writing in Scrivener, but all i use Dropbox for is a backup of what’s on the iPad. I don’t dare try editing on my Mac. I can live with that; the value is still there. But I sure would love it if it worked reliably for all of us. Someone in this thread mentioned how Numbers and Pages work; that’s what I would like Scrivener to work like but my understanding is that the technical details are beyond workable so Dropbox it is. I can survive. :slight_smile: