Dropbox: How to keep shared files if you are not the owner

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A reader of Dropbox In 30 Minutes, 2nd Edition, recently contacted me about a situation involving a shared folder filled with photos. His question: If he is not the owner of the folder, and the owner decides to delete or unshare the folder, will he be able to keep copies of the photos? The following post explains how to keep shared files in Dropbox if you are not the owner of the shared folder in question.

Before I dive into the details, a key concept to understand is who owns the shared folder. Let’s say you belong to a shared folder with a friend. If your friend is the owner of the folder, then you will have secondary permissions. What does this mean? At the very least, you will be able to view the files, or maybe edit them, and upload new files to the folder. But you won’t be able to delete them. You may also be able to invite new people to the folder, as long as the owner has granted you permission to do so (not everyone does this). Later, the owner may also decide to transfer ownership to you, at which point you would gain the power to delete files, invite new people, or make other changes.

If the owner deletes the folder, then you will also lose the files in it. However, if she unshares it she will be given the option to allow you to keep a copy (she will be prompted with a checkbox that says “I want my collaborators to keep a copy of these files.”) This second option is preferable. However, if you are not sure how your friend will handle this later on, my advice is to download the files now so you have a copy. You can then bring it back into Dropbox.

To do this, follow these steps:

  1. Log onto Dropbox.com and go to the folder in question
  2. Select all of the files in it (click the top file once so it is highlighted, then use the keyboard shortcut Ctrl-A on a Windows PC or Command-A on a Mac, or go to Edit>Select All in the browser menu).
  3. Click the download link that appears at the top of the screen (see image below).

The photos will be downloaded to your hard drive as a zipped archive (.zip) which you can then transfer to Dropbox on your hard drive or unpack it and move the files to a new Dropbox folder that you control.

Dropbox shared files download

How to permanently delete a Dropbox file (it’s not as easy as you think)

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One of the most-asked questions about Dropbox relates to deleting files. Many users assume you can simply delete or trash the file from your desktop. It won’t work! In this blog post, I’ll explain how to permanently delete a Dropbox file. If it’s still not clear, a video at the bottom of the post shows exactly what to do.

As I explain in my Dropbox guide, deleting a Dropbox file is kind of like killing a vampire. Just when you think you’ve trashed the file, it pops up alive and kicking in another location! That’s because Dropbox stores multiple copies of the same file, and the only way to kill it for good is to wipe it out from the Dropbox.com website. Several steps are involved, so please be patient while I explain the steps involved:

  1. Go to Dropbox.com, and log in
  2. Find the file that you wnat to delete
  3. Right click over the file’s name
  4. Select Delete. You will be prompted to confirm the deletion.
  5. VAMPIRE WARNING: The file is not dead yet!
  6. Click on the trash can icon at the top of the screen (it says “Show delete files” if you hover over it)
  7. The file you just deleted will reappear in the list, but it will be greyed out
  8. Right-click on it again, and select Permanently Delete.
  9. You will be asked to confirm if you want to permanently delete it. This is your last chance to change your mind, so if you are sure, go ahead and confirm!
  10. VAMPIRE ALERT: If you want to bring it back to life, right-click and select Restore.

That’s it! This method also works for people who want to delete Dropbox folders.

The video version of this post is included below:

Not enough space to sync Dropbox? How to use Selective Sync

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A Canadian reader recently contacted me about a problem. He had subscribed to Dropbox Pro and now had access to 1 terabyte of available storage space. Unfortunately, his hard disks on his Windows PC did not have enough space to sync the entire Dropbox account. How could he set up Dropbox so his hard disk wouldn’t be overwhelmed by photos and other files?

Fortunately, there is a solution. In this post, I’ll explain how to use Dropbox’s Selective Sync feature to limit which folders on your hard drive are synced.

Selective Sync is activated from Dropbox preferences. Follow these steps:

  1. Open Dropbox settings on your Windows 7 or Windows 8 computer (click the Dropbox icon in your system tray, and then the settings icon)
  2. Click Preferences
  3. Click Account
  4. Click the “Change Settings” button next to “Selective Sync” (see screenshot, below).
  5. Use the checkboxes to select the folders you want to sync to your PC. The others won’t be synced.

Here’s what the setting looks like:

Not enough Dropbox storage? Try selective sync

If you’re interested in reading more tips and tricks about Dropbox, check out the second edition of Dropbox In 30 Minutes.

How Secure Is Dropbox?

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How secure is Dropbox? This can be an uncomfortable question for Dropbox users who save sensitive files or other valuable data in their accounts. Think of business plans, legal documents, financial projections and, er, personal photos that you wouldn’t want to fall into unfriendly hands. This data is stored in “the cloud” — remote Internet servers that neither you nor Dropbox fully controls.

While Dropbox goes through great lengths to reassure users that it takes security seriously (it points to technologies such as Secure Sockets Layer and heavy-duty encryption, and claims employees are prohibited from viewing the content of users’ files) there have been security incidents, including a bug that allowed any Dropbox account to briefly be accessible without passwords a few years ago. The company quickly fixed the problem and claims additional safeguards were put in place. The company now offers the option of using two-factor identification. Nevertheless, there is no guarantee that some other bug, error, or hack might expose Dropbox user data in the future.

In addition, Dropbox users themselves may be the source of problems. If you are sharing a folder with 100 users, a couple of them are bound to be using easily guessed passwords to guard their accounts (the names of pets or first-born children, “password”, etc.). Sharing links can also lead to problems, if the wrong link is shared or someone posts the link online or in some other public forum.

Despite these issues, millions of people use Dropbox every day. They’re aware that there’s a risk, but are basically making a tradeoff. They are putting more value on the convenience of accessing and sharing files over the Internet for free (or for a low cost), and discounting the chances that the data may be lost, stolen, or exposed.

As I said earlier, it’s an uncomfortable feeling for some people. If it’s too much for you, don’t use Dropbox — or only Dropbox mobile app icon - be sure to set the passcode lock!use it for non-sensitive data. Also be sure to set a passcode lock on the Dropbox mobile app, be careful of who you share links with, and regularly delete old Dropbox links by following these steps.

In addition, be very cognizant of local laws and workplace regulations governing storage of files. I recently received an email from a reader who asked about sharing sensitive workplace files. He claimed he worked for a local state agency. In my response, I said:

“If this is truly sensitive or valuable data, I urge you to think carefully about putting it on Dropbox. As I pointed out in the book, there have been security breaches affecting Dropbox in the past, and when it comes to sharing confidential state financial information, there may be rules or laws that govern how it can shared/transmitted electronically. Making a call to the state CIO or senior IT manager to see how they recommend handing this situation would be an advisable move.”

Even if your  company allows Dropbox in the workplace, it may forbid ex-employees from keeping old files. If you leave the job, be sure to go into Dropbox and leave shared folders and delete copies of files as required.

How to delete Dropbox links

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How do you delete Dropbox links? There are lots of situations in which you might want to get rid of a link and make sure no one is able to use it ever again. Maybe the link is to a file in Dropbox that is sensitive and you are worried about it being shared with strangers. Or perhaps the file is outdated and you don’t want people to see it anymore. Whatever the reason, this post explains how to delete Dropbox links.

The post was prompted by a message I received from a Dropbox user who was worried about an old video she had created and stored on Dropbox. She wrote:

“What if I sent an email and attached a dropbox video, but, it turned-out the incorrect version and I needed to “delete” it so no versions of it can be replayed. Is there a way to make that video “Unplayable”? I learned that we can delete “shared” folders and remove shared users … but what about a dropbox video that was “attached” to an email. The next time the email is opened, I need the video link to be broken. Is there a way to do this?”

It’s actually very easy to delete Dropbox links. Here’s what I told her to do:

  1. Go to Dropbox.com and log in
  2. On the left side of the window click “Links”. You’ll see a list of all of the links you’ve created.
  3. On the right side of each link is an “X”. Click the X to delete that link. You’ll be prompted to confirm each deletion.
  4. Once the link is gone, no one can use that link, but you will still have the file in Dropbox (and can create a new link for it later, if you want)

On Dropbox.com, here is what the Links screen looks like. I am hovering my mouse over the “X” that let’s me delete the link in question:

How to delete a link in Dropbox

If you are interested in learning more about how to manage shared folders and links in Dropbox, please see Chapter 4 of Dropbox In 30 Minutes, Second Edition. Download/purchasing instructions are located on this page.

Dropbox’s Carousel app: The 1-minute review

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Dropbox offers an optional mobile app for iOS and Android called Carousel. As I described in the revised and expanded Dropbox In 30 Minutes, 2nd edition, The Dropbox Carousel app is a great way to view and share the photos stored in your Dropbox account, as well as those stored on your phone’s camera roll.

Once installed, Carousel asks permission to access the settings and content on your Dropbox app. After granting it, Carousel will display thumbnails of all of the photos and videos stored in your Dropbox account, not just those in Camera Uploads. It arranges them on a timeline which you can scroll through using a finger.

The first time you open the app and scroll through your collection, it can be quite a surprise to see photos that you shot or transferred to Dropbox months or years ago. The marketing for Carousel promises “every photo and video is safe forever.”

You can easily distribute photos in your Carousel collection to others. Once you find a set of photos that you want to share, tap the share icon. You’ll be able to select certain photos, and then email them to friends with a short message. Recipients have the option of viewing the thumbnails in the email, or downloading them to the Carousel app installed on their own phones.
Here are two views of the Carousel app. Browsing the timeline is displayed on the left, and the sharing process is shown on the right:

Dropbox Carousel app screenshots for Android

Overall, I think Carousel is a great idea, especially for those Dropbox users who use Camera Uploads a lot. However, I think some of the sharing options could be improved. The obvious target: Carousel integration with Facebook. But even having SMS or MMS support would be cool.

How big is my Dropbox video?

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A reader, Arthur, had a question after reading this post about videos being uploaded to Dropbox. He asked, “How can I tell how big is my video, before I upload it to Dropbox?” A related question: “How can I tell how big is a file in Dropbox?” Being able to determine the size of a video (or any other file) is useful not only for managing your Dropbox account (free accounts only hold a limited amount of space) but also for determining how long it will take to upload or download a file from Dropbox.

To answer Arthur’s question: To see how big a video is, there are a couple of methods.

  1. Windows: Open My Computer or the Windows file explorer and RIGHT-CLICK on the title of the video or the icon. Select “Properties”. That should show you the size of the file.
  2. Windows: In the Windows file explorer utility, change the view so it displays the column that contains the file size for each file in the open folder.
  3. Mac OS X: If you are using a Mac, find the file in Finder and right click on it and select “Get Info”.

Note that all of these methods work, regardless of whether the file is stored on your hard drive, an external storage device, a USB drive, or your Dropbox folder on your PC or Mac.

If the video on your hard drive or USB stick is huge, it’s possible to upload it to Dropbox but it may take a long time, depending on the speed of your Internet connection. I have personally uploaded or accessed videos that are more than 100 MB in size. For a file of that size, it will take at least 10 minutes on a fast Xfinity or FiOS connection, and possibly hours if you are using DSL or a slow Wi-Fi service.

It’s easy to share the video once it has been uploaded to Dropbox. For that matter, it’s easy to share any file using Dropbox (as I explained in Chapter 4 of Dropbox in 30 Minutes, 2nd Edition). Simply right-click on the file name again and use “Share Dropbox Link” (see screenshot, below). That link will be copied to your clipboard, and you will be able to paste it into an email, Twitter, Facebook, Word, etc.

How big is my Dropbox video

Dropbox: How to set up sharing

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A reader of Dropbox In 30 Minutes had an interesting question: How do you enable sharing of files and folders in Dropbox beyond your immediate connections? This short blog post explains the two basic options which allow a wider “friends of friends” sharing.

If you share links from the Desktop or Dropbox mobile app (as described in Chapter 4) that shared link can be shared endlessly. In other words, if you share a Dropbox link on your desktop or iPhone or Android phone, and paste it into an email, and then send it to Friend A, that friend can in turn forward the link to Friend Z and that person will be able to access it (even if you don’t know Z personally). Friend Z can then share it with his or her circle via email, Twitter, Facebook, etc.

If you share a folder (by clicking the rainbow icon while on Dropbox.com) you are given the option of allowing others to share. You enter that person’s email address, and then check off a checkbox that says “Allow members to invite others”. If checked, the person you shared it with can invite others to share. Here’s what it looks like:

Dropbox sharing links and folders

Of course, if you open up Dropbox sharing, there is the risk that people or organizations you may not know or trust gaining access to the files or folders.

For more information on Dropbox sharing, download Dropbox In 30 Minutes, which explains how it works and best practices for Dropbox collaboration.

Dropbox Android app: How to delete a file or folder

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If you use Dropbox on an Android phone or tablet, you may be looking at the minimalist interface and wondering how to delete a file or folder. It’s easy to do, as this short, two-minute video demonstrates:

If you have to delete multiple files within a Dropbox folder, but don’t want to delete the entire folder, the Android app will slow you down. In such cases I recommend you handle deletions on the desktop. The video How To Permanently Delete Multiple Files in Dropbox, explains how.

For more tips on how to use Dropbox for collaboration, backing up files, and making it easier to manage photos, check out the contents for Dropbox In 30 Minutes.

What’s the longest video you can add to Dropbox?

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Tonight a reader of Dropbox In 30 Minutes sent me an email asking about the longest video that can be added to a Dropbox account. It’s a common question. People are used to hitting the 10-minute or 15-minute limit on YouTube, and it’s natural to think that Dropbox has similar caps.

But here’s the thing: There is no time limits on videos. The only limit is the size of the video, which must be less than the amount of free space in your account. So, if you have a free 5 GB Dropbox account, and have .5 GB of photos and Word docs in there, that means you can upload an additional 4.5 GB of other stuff. The other stuff could be a gigantic video file, or a bunch of smaller video files, or anything else whose size is less than 4.5 GB total.

Note also that the bigger the video files are, the longer they will take to sync. For this reason I usually sync videos that are less than 150 MB in size, which might take 20 minutes to sync to Dropbox on my wireless Internet connection at home (Comcast Xfinity).

Once the video is in the Dropbox folder, you can either share the link to the video or share the folder with your friends so they can access the videos and add their own materials if they want. Keep in mind that there are security and privacy considerations around both of these methods of sharing, covered in Chapter 4 of Dropbox In 30 Minutes (available as an ebook and in paperback and PDF formats. You can buy the guide here).

Dropbox Video Length