Using Scrivener with Dropbox


Our support thread on “Working off of network drives” has understandably left many users concerned about using Scrivener with Dropbox. However, the problems with storing .scriv files on Dropbox have been somewhat overstated, mainly because we want to ensure users know that no syncing method is 100% safe. So, here are some guidelines on using Scrivener with Dropbox that should keep you out of trouble.

Sharing a Project Between Computers Using Dropbox

If you want to access a project on more than one computer, the most straightforward way is to use Dropbox, storing your .scriv file in your Dropbox folder. The project will then be available on any computer you have set up to sync to your Dropbox folder, and because a Dropbox folder is no different to any other folder on your Mac, other than for the fact that it automatically syncs to your Dropbox account, you can open your .scriv file directly from there on whatever computer you are using.

However, if you do this, there are several things you need to make sure of - if you don’t follow these guidelines, you could run into problems with projects getting corrupted or files not showing up correctly:

  1. Never, ever open the same project on more than one computer at a time: be sure to close your project on one computer before leaving that computer and trying to open it on another machine. The good news is that if you forget, when you go to open it on your other computer, Scrivener will warn you that it thinks the project is open on another machine. Always heed this warning. It is possible that you will see this warning when the project isn’t open on another machine - for instance, if Scrivener crashed the last time it was used or wasn’t closed properly, or if the project was copied while it was open - but always read read the warning and double-check. Only proceed with opening the project if you are sure it is not open on another machine. If you’re not sure, Scrivener gives you the option of making a copy of the project to work on instead.
  2. Do not open the project before your Dropbox folder is fully synced. If you try to open the project while your Dropbox folder is still syncing, you could be opening it in its old state before it has downloaded the changes made from your other computer - and by opening the project, you will overwrite those changes with the older version you have opened. So be sure the tick in the green circle is present in the Dropbox icon in your menu bar - if it’s not, don’t open the project: wait until Dropbox is fully synced.
  3. Turn on automatic backups (in Scrivener’s “Backup” preferences), setting Scrivener to back up your project on open or close (or both), preferably with the “Compress automatic backups as zip files” option ticked. Choose a backup bath somewhere on your local hard drive. This will ensure that your project has backups on every machine you use it on, as well as the “live” version in the Dropbox folder, so that even if the worst happens and the project gets corrupted somehow, you will have a recent version to return to.

Follow the above guidelines and you should be good to work on your projects directly from Dropbox.

Caveat: Although these guidelines should keep you out of trouble, no syncing solution is 100% reliable, and every computer and piece of software is fallible. We can take no responsibility for work lost through syncing problems (or for any other reason, for that matter - always be sure to back up!).

Note on External Folder Sync

External folder sync is intended for working on files in other programs and then being able to sync them back to Scrivener. You should never try to use external folder sync to synchronise Scrivener projects between machines - if you do so, you will corrupt your project and see some very odd results.

Hope that helps.

All the best,

backing up to Dropbox on a computer works fine but I can’t open it on my dropbox iPhone app. I like to read my work on the go.

Is there a way of making this work?
I’ve tried zipping it and keeping it unzipped
we really need a scrivener iPhone app:)

This is the scenario when you do want to use the External Folder Sync. Forgive me if I misunderstand, but the way you mention backing up and zipping/unzipping sounds like you’re working with the whole .scriv file, whereas for accessing your project files on the iPad/iPhone/iWhatever you want to set up your Draft (or select files in a collection, etc.) to sync with new folder you create on Dropbox. You’ll also need to set the files to sync as plain text, since unless something’s changed recently, there aren’t iOS-Dropbox-linked editors that read RTF.* §13.2 in the manual explains how to do all this and gives some important notices for the plain-text conversion, so definitely check that out. :slight_smile:

  • If all you’re doing is reading, not editing, you can probably leave it as RTF, but I don’t know off the top of my head. Shouldn’t be hard to find out.

Thank you for this information. Is it possible to use the external folder sync (with Plaintext) on two machines? I know how to either keep my laptop & desktop in sync (through Dropbox) or one or the other with my iPad (through Plaintext). Any suggestions?

ETA: I have tried to do this by implementing the same sync settings on both computers but when I do this on the second computer, I run into a problem because the Plaintext folder is not empty.

I’m wondering if anyone could help me address an issue I am having. I have scrivener on my iMac, I have plaintext on my iPhone, and I am attempting to sync using Dropbox. I’m new to all of these things and everything was fine but now, on my iPhone, my project has all the headers or “notes”, but they are empty! Im hoping I can fix this, and that syncing is possible! I am a sailor and I would like to write while at sea and update once I’m home.


Have you checked the files in your Dropbox folder while on the Mac? If they are not empty, then it must be some glitch between your iPhone editor and the Dropbox server.

Ash and Harbourlite - have you looked into using Simplenote? Scriv 2.0 allows you to sync specific documents with Simplenote, which in turn makes them available to edit on your iPhone. Any changes you make can then be sent back to SN which can then be pulled by Scriv.

Hi! I have the following related question: I have two Macs, along with a couple of iDevices. I am currently using Dropbox-based sync of various projects between the Macs, exactly as described in this post. However, I would like to add the ability to sync and edit the drafts portions of my scrivener projects on, say, my iPhone one the go. I am thinking that something like the Simplenote Sync, or sync with external folder, which itself lives in Dropbox should work. However, I need to be able to sync the edits I’ve done on the go on the phone with the the Scrivener project that resides on my computer on either and both Macs. (I often use one or the other of these computers for days at a time, e.g., when I travel for several days in a row, or work from home for several days in a row, so picking only one “designated” computer that handles folder or Simplenote syncronization wouldn’t work for me.)

Any suggestions for how I might be able to safely set this up?
Thanks all!
– M.E.

Thank you all for your suggestions… I have remedied myself. I was not using scrivener correctly. And yes thank you I now have simplenote as well.


what do you mean by “sync a project from Scrivener on my laptop to my Dropbox account”? If you mean using File > Sync > with External Folder… then no, definitely not - that can’t be used to sync two projects; it’s not intended for that and will quickly corrupt your projects if you ignore the warnings and try to force it to do so.

Yes, exactly as described in the first post, this is the way to share a project between machines. Just be sure you follow the guidance in my first post regarding backing up and making sure not to open the project while Dropbox is still syncing.

All the best,

mepelman: If you have a .scriv file saved in a Dropbox, then you can set that project to sync to the same external folder on both machines. That is the exception, because in that case the project is always being synced by Dropbox. But, the rules above still apply - if you sync the project with the external folder on one machine and then close the project and open it on the other machine, be sure to allow Dropbox to sync before you open it. This ensures that the project will always be identical on both machines. Problems with syncing two copies of a project to an external folder arise when you use the external folder as a means of trying to keep them in sync - if the projects are already in sync then it shouldn’t be a problem.

As with all syncing, though: be sure to backup obsessively. No syncing routine is 100% safe.

All the best,

Yes, exactly as described in the first post, this is the way to share a project between machines. Just be sure you follow the guidance in my first post regarding backing up and making sure not to open the project while Dropbox is still syncing.

All the best,
Yep, Keith, thanks. Sharing a project between computers easier than the Sync with External Folder method. I now understand the difference between the two.

I believe this may have been covered and apologize for duplication.
I am not interested in working on the same Scrivener project on multiple machines. However, I recently had a scare where I thought my computer hard drive had died.
Is there any problem with setting my Dropbox folder as the place to store the compressed Scrivener backups?
That way I would be protected from a machine failure (I do use SuperDuper to make backups, but they do cover my very latest work).

Thank you.

Nope; that’s a great way to proliferate your backups, especially if you also have another computer syncing the Dropbox account, since you’ll get the backups stored on that hard drive too.

I’ve managed to sync my Scrivener project on my Mac with Dropbox, and thence with the Plaintext app on my iphone. The draft & notes folders were working fine, have been writing on both mac & iphone, but since I’ve outlined a bunch of scenes (which show up in the NOTES folder), none of the files in the NOTES folder have any content in them – just the titles.
Can anyone tell me what’s going on? (without getting too technical!)

Hi sophifire,

Welcome to the forums!

My initial thought from your description is that you worked in Scrivener to do your outlining on the index cards or in the synopsis area of the outliner and those notes didn’t transfer. If that’s the case, that’s to be expected–the sync feature only works with the main text of the documents, so the synopsis doesn’t get exported. If you want to bring your synopsis notes over when you sync, you can open the document in Scrivener in the text view (if it has no subdocuments, just selecting the document in the binder will load it in text view) and copy and paste in the text from the index card in the inspector (View>Layout>Show Inspector if it’s not visible). You’ll presumably want to delete it later, if it’s not supposed to be part of the final manuscript, but it will let you have it present on the iPhone while you’re drafting.

For extra reference, the documents placed in the Notes folder are just documents that aren’t contained in Scrivener’s Draft folder in the binder. It’s basically “notes” as opposed to “draft”, but they’re still just the documents, not the synopses or document/project notes.

Does that help? If not, could you explain a little more specifically what your process is and when the problem happened? Was there text in the files previously (viewable in Scrivener and on your iPhone) that is now missing?

Further to the above, could I have permanently corrupted Dropbox in some way?
I’ve tried deleting the folder in Dropbox that I was syncing with and then resyncing, but that doesn’t seem to have improved matters – I still get just the headings, and not the text within them.
I’ve even started a new project in Scrivener, imported the project into it, and when I sync that with the external file (in Dropbox/Plaintext), now all I get in my Plaintext version is the Notes folder (& not the Draft folder). And the same problem is happening with the Notes – just the headers, not the text within them.
Would be very grateful to find out what I’m doing wrong; I’m sure I waited until the Dropbox had its green tick, so not sure what the problem is…!
Many thanks

I have just been trying out keeping a “live” Scrivener project in Dropbox and accessing it from two different Macs (both running the current latest versions of Scrivener and OS X). Curiously, I always get the warning message about the project possibly being open on another machine, even in cases where the other possible machine is entirely off. Even in such cases, the warning is a little disconcerting.

Is the warning appearing simply because Scrivener recognizes that the project was last opened on another machine and that it has no security about whether or not it was ever closed? (If so, would it not be possible to have Scrivener write some blurb of metadata when closing a project to say “such and such project was closed on such and such machine” so that, when opening on another machine, it can be recognized whether the proejct was closed elsewhere or not?) Or is this not really uncertainty on Scrivener’s part, but some Dropbox weirdness that prevent Scrivener from recognizing whether or not a project was closed elsewhere or not?

I’m keen to try out cross-platform Dropbox access using the Windows beta, as well, but I kind of want to see if the Mac-version Dropbox-related oddness has any explanation first. :slight_smile:

(I did search the forum for info, but didn’t readily come up with anything that looked directly applicable – which is not to say that I might have missed it!)

Are you positive you are actually closing the project before you leave? There is a difference between putting your computer to sleep and closing the file. If you sleep the computer with a file open, it remains opened the entire time. “Open” is a physical state on your hard drive, and the only way to negate that state is by instructing Scrivener to close the project fully. Easiest way to do that is to just quit Scrivener.

Otherwise, you could just be opening or shutting things down to fast. Make sure you are following all of the guidelines precisely. There should be no Dropbox network activity when you shut down for the night, and no activity when you load a project.

I am not merely positive that I am closing the project, I am positive that I am turning off the computer on which the project was last open. Not slept: off. Powered down. Not actually unplugged :slight_smile: but definitely not up and running, not even sleep-walking. Since it is at least an hour’s drive between the locations of my two Macs that are accessing Dropbox, I am thinking that should be plenty be of time after shutting down before trying the open the Dropboxed file on whichever other machine

The even more curious thing is that when I try to open any of the various “safety” copies (that the warning message gives one the option to open), all of them likewise generate the warning message that this file seems to be in use (though, in fact, none of them are).

And even more curious than that, as an experiment, I saved a new copy of the project on Dropbox, closed Scrivener entirely, changed the name (System Prefs > Sharing) of my local computer, and then reopened the that latest copy of the project on Dropbox – and it popped up the warning message that the project seems to be open on the computer with the old name. So not only was I pretty sure the project was not still open (having explicitly closed it and then reopened it), I was pretty sure that the computer name for which the project was said to seem to be open no longer (technically speaking) existed.

So far, I remain mystified as to why Scrivener thinks projects are open when I am absolutely as sure as can be sure that they are not. I am thinking of simply blowing away the copies on Dropbox, and replacing them with a handy local copy (not having really made any real changes to the project in the last few weeks while playing with Dropbox sync). Maybe something funky happened on Dropbox, or in the past without my noticing it, that now makes Scrivener think that all my Dropbox copies are open all the time. :question: