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How to Use the Selective Sync Feature in Dropbox

By June 4, 2017Tutorials


So in this video, I’ll be showing you how to use the Selective Sync feature offered by Dropbox. So you’ll notice in the bottom right corner, I have a Dropbox icon that has a green checkmark next to it. That means the files are fully synchronized, they’re the same on my device as they are on the Dropbox servers. Now, what I’m gonna do is I’m gonna click on this icon, and then I shall click the folder icon here, to show you the actual Windows Explorer version of my Dropbox.

Now what you’ll see is that it’s fairly simplistic, I have a Word document, and I have some photos. What you’re actually seeing here is a selective sync version of the Alternate Scene Dropbox folder, you’ll notice the name here is Alternate Scene. Okay? So here’s the idea, the Alternate Scene Dropbox folder is massive, in reality the true Dropbox size is something like 1.3 terrabytes. Now, synchronizing 1.3 TB to one machine is not necessarily something you want to do in all cases. In my case, that’s what I do, but for this particular test I’m showing you a scenario where I only want to see the example folder. That’s to say that I want to be able to synchronize and work within the example folder, but not actually have to pull the full 1.3 TB down.

Now, where this gets important is if you try to synchronize the 1.3 TB, but the location of the Dropbox folder on your machine, like right here, you see the location is “C:\Users\MattRefghi.com\Dropbox,” okay, so let’s say the C: drive, the actual hard drive behind C:, is like 500 GB, right? And I try to synchronize 1.3 TB, well, eventually, Dropbox is gonna have a panic attack. In the bottom right corner here, you’re gonna see a message, it’s gonna be a red icon, and it’s gonna say “I’m out of disk space, what am I supposed to do?” Not in those words, obviously, but it’s gonna complain about disk space. So to resolve that, selective sync kinda comes to the rescue. What you do is you select specifically the folder that you want to pull from the servers, and you leave the other ones off your machine.

Now let me show you how to actually do this, check it out. You go to the Dropbox icon in your taskbar, left-click it, and then you’ll notice that there’s a gear icon, right there. That’s what I would like you to click, so I’m gonna go ahead and do that, and then in here you’ll notice that there’s a few options, the current status of your drive, you’re up to date, you can pause syncing, and then there’s Preferences, that’s what I would like you to click, so click Preferences. Alright, now, on this screen, you can go ahead and switch to the Account tab. Took a little while on my machine, there. So on the Account tab, you’ll notice, there’s some options, but the one that matters to us is “Selective Sync”.

Okay, so if you click on selective sync, here you can actually see the full structure of my Dropbox folder, so I have a Data folder, which is huge, a Clients folder, also huge, these are all massive, so I’ve chosen to not include them. I’ve just said “hey, I want Example.” That’s all. Alright, so if I click on this little arrow here, to the left of my Example folder, it’s gonna show the Photos folder, which basically means that I can customize not only the top-level folders in Dropbox, so not only the main list of folders that you saw, but I can go into the depth of saying well I want the Examples folder, but I don’t want the Photos ’cause it’s big, or whatever. You actually have that flexibility.

It’s important to note that the Dropbox competitor known as Google Drive has unlocked this feature as of April this year, so for a while it was lagging behind, but right now it has the same thing, the ability to select a subfolder in addition to the top folder.

Alright, so, to show you an example, I’m gonna go ahead and uncheck Photos. Alright. Now it turned into a square, but that’s totally normal, it’s kinda showing you that yes, it’s synchronizing, but not fully, so what I’m gonna do now is I’m gonna click update, and you will see shortly the effect of that change. So I’m gonna click update and it’s suffering a little bit to accept my change. So it says, “unchecked folders will be removed from this computer’s Dropbox. They will still be available on the web and other devices.” This is just to keep you calm, so, I’m gonna – again, I’m trying to click OK and there’s some little freak-out in the Dropbox interface. Okay, but it works. And you’ll notice on the left here, you may have noticed that the Photos folder has disappeared.

So in this case my example is super simplistic, so it’s not totally useful, but consider a case where you’re having space issues on your computer, you’re – not necessarily even your Dropbox folder, right? So let’s say on your computer your Dropbox is fully synced, you’re all good, and then you start adding games and stuff outside of the Dropbox folder, and then Dropbox either has issues synchronizing, or you just realize that “hey I need some space, but I don’t want to remove those games from outside my Dropbox folder.” So what you could do potentially is kinda review your Dropbox folder and see if you can actually pull some of these files off of your computer, and leave them just on the Dropbox servers. This could be a nice way to, you know, gain storage space on your local machine while still ensuring that your data is completely safe.

So that’s the first scenario, really changing selective sync when your Dropbox is already synchronized to your machine. Now there is another scenario I wanted to show you, what if you’re first installing Dropbox, is there a way to immediately tell Dropbox not to pull down the whole world of files in your Dropbox, or must you wait until it’s already set up and synchronized? The answer is you can do it while installing, and I will show you the exact procedure.

Alright, so here’s how you do it when you’re installing Dropbox. Basically, the first time you launch Dropbox after it’s been installed, you’re gonna get this screen. The screen is a “Set up Dropbox” screen – it asks you to sign in with Google, or to enter simply your existing Dropbox credentials. So I’m gonna do that, I’m going to enter my existing Dropbox credentials, and I’ll see you after I’ve authenticated.

Okay, so now I’ve authenticated, and look what we can see. The “set up dropbox” screen now shows the full size of my Dropbox, which is 1.2 TB, or 1,200 GB, roughly, and it says that it’s too large to fit on the computer. This is of course totally valid. And it offers me two options: choose folders to sync, or sync everything. Now sync everything is kind of a crazy choice, which is why that it is not even – oh, it is enabled, but not suggested, okay, interesting.

So I’m going to choose folders to sync, ’cause that’s the logical thing to do in this situation, and you’re gonna see this dialog that we saw earlier. So in this dialog, I can make the same choice that I did earlier, right now I’m going to actually put the Example folder, if Dropbox will allow me to click on the arrow, and have it work, okay, I’m going to click on the Examples folder, and I will also choose to have the Photos. And once I’m done that I will click Update.

Now it says congratulations, it’s been successfully installed, you can now add your personal, I’m not interested, I’m going to click “skip this.” Now what’s happening is that it set up the folder again, so if you look in the bottom right corner, it shows that my Dropbox is currently synchronizing. So what I’ve noticed is that even if I’m pulling a tiny amount of files via selective sync, it still takes a while for the initial synchronization action, I think this has to do with the number of folders that selective sync surely has to consider on the Dropbox side. But for you as a user, as all this means, you select your folders in selective sync, and you just wait for it to synchronize, and once that’s done, you will see the folders that you selected in your Dropbox, which, mine is currently empty, but if I give it time, the folders will appear here. And that’s how it’s done, guys, I hope this helps.