How to Set Up No-Hassle Dropbox Sync in Scrivener

Dropbox Sync in ScrivenerIf you’re a long-time user of Scrivener you’ll know it’s had a version of Dropbox sync for years. But you couldn’t use it to keep two separate instances of Scrivener in sync —say, on your desktop and your laptop.

Until now.

The way Scrivener used to sync to Dropbox was with the menu File > Sync > with External Folder… This made a series of folders within Dropbox. In the case of my latest manuscript it looked like this:

Inside the Draft folder is a series of rich text format (rtf) files, one for each scene in my manuscript. I could write a scene in Scrivener on my computer and manually sync the project to Dropbox. Then I could open the rtf file from Dropbox on my laptop and edit it in a rich text editor.

Just not in Scrivener.

But with the ineluctable arrival of Scrivener for iOS, Literature & Latte completely revamped the internal structure of the Scrivener project file. The way Scrivener syncs with Dropbox now is different, and it’s way simpler.

Under the new sync method, your Scrivener project sits directly in your Dropbox folder. You just open it from there. If you name the folders within Dropbox correctly, the iOS version will know where to look for Scrivener project files and sync them automatically.

It also means you can open the Scrivener project files from within Scrivener on more than one computer and trust Dropbox to keep things synchronised. (There are caveats with this, which I’ll get to later.)

“Changes you make on one device will be reflected in Scrivener on your other devices — whether those devices are computers, iPads, or even your trusty iPhone.”

If you’re used to the old way of syncing it can be a bit of a gear-change to switch to the new method. Scrivener will helpfully try to open the most recent version of your project, which if you aren’t careful will mean opening an old project file and not the new Dropbox sync one.

Here’s what I did to switch to the new mode of Dropbox syncing with a minimum of fuss. For the full Dropbox sync goodness you should have the latest version of Scrivener, so before you get started be sure to check for updates. Once you’ve done that, you should be able to follow along with your own project. Next thing you know you’ll be fully synced.

Simple steps to the new Dropbox sync

  1. Make a backup of your Scrivener project – just in case.
  2. Clear the Recent Projects menu: File > Recent Projects > Clear Menu. This is because you’ll be opening the project file from a new location, and you don’t want to accidentally open the old version. You should do this on each copy of Scrivener you use.
  3. Create the following directory in your Dropbox folder if it doesn’t already exist: Dropbox / Apps / Scrivener
  4. Take your project file and move it into the new folder: Dropbox / Apps / Scrivener / YourProject.scriv
  5. Quit Scrivener.
  6. (Optional) Restart your computer. I do this to make sure there are no cache files or anything left lying around. It shouldn’t be necessary, but old habits die hard.
  7. Open the Dropbox folder and navigate to Dropbox / Apps / Scrivener
  8. Click on your project file to open it in Scrivener.

Scrivener will open up and replace the Recent Projects entry for your project with the new Dropbox sync version. From now on you should be able to open Scrivener as usual on that computer and it will simply open the .scriv project file from your Dropbox folder.

Syncing between devices

If you want to set up a second computer, like your laptop, you should navigate to the Dropbox folder on that computer and check it has synced Dropbox / Apps / Scrivener / YourProject.scriv. This might take a moment. Once the .scriv file is there and Dropbox has finished syncing, you can click on the file to open your project in Scrivener. This will refresh the Recent Projects menu with the new location for the .scriv project file, just like with your main computer.

From now on, any changes you make on one device will be reflected in Scrivener on your other devices each time Dropbox syncs — whether those devices are computers, iPads, or even your trusty iPhone.

Keith from Literature & Latte wrote a blog post recently where he said you don’t need to quit Scrivener on one device before opening it on another device when using this kind of Dropbox sync. In theory it shouldn’t be necessary because Dropbox will keep everything synchronised automatically just by saving your project as normal. (You don’t need to use the manual File > Sync menu any more.)

But if you make changes on your computer, and then different changes on another device before Dropbox has a chance to sync, you can end up with conflicts that you’ll need to sort out manually. Don’t worry too much though — Scrivener will flag these for your attention.


I hope that helps demystify the new Dropbox syncing in Scrivener. Once you get yourself set up it works smoothly and is far superior to the old manual syncing method. I’d like to thank Bettina from bettinadeda.com for the question about syncing Scrivener between her PC and laptop that formed the basis of this blog post. You should check out her excellent article about five writers who use Scrivener.

39 thoughts on “How to Set Up No-Hassle Dropbox Sync in Scrivener”

  1. Thank you for this tutorial!!! This is probably a very dumb question, but Dropbox keeps zipping up my “.scriv” project file whenever I try to upload it to Dropbox, which is why I believe the project doesn’t appear in the Scrivener mobile app.
    Do you have any recommendations about this?
    Thank you!!

    1. It’s not a dumb question! A couple of people have asked me to help with problems they were having. There are a couple of other settings that can interfere with a smooth Dropbox sync. I’ll write an update to this post when I get a minute or two to spare.

      But in the meantime…

      Have you checked that your Scrivener is up to date? The latest version of Scrivener changed the way it does Dropbox sync, so you need to be on version 2.8 on Mac. You can check by going to Scrivener > Check for Updates from the menu bar.

      Next thing to check is whether you already had it set up to sync with Dropbox the old way. With your project open, go to File > Sync > with External Folder… If you were syncing the old way, you should see something in the Shared Folder box at the top of the Sync with External Folder sheet.

      It seems like the two sync methods don’t play nicely together, so if you were syncing the old way you should disable it. Delete the contents of the Shared Folder box and untick all the options, and then save your changes.

      The other thing to look at is your automatic backups. Check the Backups tab of the Scrivener > Preferences pane. The backup system can be set to zip your backups, which may be what you are seeing. They shouldn’t actually interfere with the Dropbox sync, but it doesn’t hurt to make sure your backups are saved in a different place to your project.scriv file. I would create a new folder called Backup inside your Dropbox folder and then set that as the location for your automatic backups instead of Dropbox/Apps/Scrivener.

      I find the safest way to get sync working smoothly with Dropbox and Scrivener version 2.8 (or higher when new versions are released) is to make sure that the only thing in the Dropbox/Apps/Scrivener folder is your .scriv project files. Once you move them there, you ONLY EVER open them from that location. Any changes are saved in that folder and so Dropbox automatically syncs them. You don’t have to do any manual syncing at all.

      I hope that helps! If you follow these steps and then go back to the tutorial and follow each step there you should be ok. If you still have problems let me know.

      1. Many many thanks for your post and your advice in this comment!! I bought the ios scrivener a few days ago but couldn’t get it to sync. Reading this realised I needed to update – all done and works like a charm! Brilliant!

      2. I had the same problem and did all the steps above and tried it again but Scrivener is still zipping my files which then Dropbox says it can’t open except by downloading (on both my desktop and mobile device; on my tablet it can’t open the download at all which defeats the whole purpose of being able to sync). I’m trying to sync my novel which is a complex files with lots of sub-files this way, so am nervous about having everything on DropBox all the time if the sync function isn’t up to par! Thanks for any help you can provide

  2. I’m so fearful of Scriv doing something unintended, which happen all the time, that I’m stopping this process until I get an answer to this question: When you say – Create the following directory -Dropbox / Apps / Scrivener do you mean make a folder called Dropbox. Then another folder inside that folder named Apps, then another folder named Scrivener inside that folder? Your next instruction would indicate that there is only one folder.
    Take your project file and move it into the new folder: Dropbox / Apps / Scrivener / YourProject.scriv . . . but here the 4th item is separated with the same backslash, but it’s inside some folder.
    Do you mean there’s one folder named Dropbox/Apps/Scrivener . . . put project file inside this one and only folder? The backslashed usually mean something other than individual folders. I’m confused, and scared to lose 8 months of work.

    Ray

    1. Hi Ray,

      I’ve only noticed today that a lot of my replies to comments haven’t shown up on the site. (For some reason if I reply through the WordPress app it flags them as spam!)

      You are right – there is one folder named Scrivener. It is inside a folder called Apps, which is inside a folder called Dropbox. The / symbol is used to show a directory path, which simply means that the folders nest like Russian dolls. So Dropbox/Apps means there is a Dropbox folder, and inside that is an Apps folder. If you add /Scrivener it means to create a Scrivener folder inside the Apps folder, inside the Dropbox folder.

      Hope that helps!
      A

  3. Awesome! This worked perfectly! The only thing I would point out is that it doesn’t automatically sync, you have to physically click sync before editing on another device. I haven’t figured out how to get it to automatically sync.

    1. Hi Kylin,

      I’ve noticed that the iOS app seems to prompt you to sync, but I don’t know what happens if you don’t follow the prompt. In theory, Dropbox will keep anything in that folder in sync even if you don’t manually trigger a sync, so long as Scrivener saves to the folder frequently. But in general I’d play on the safe side and manually sync if that’s what the app is asking for!

      A

  4. I can’t get this to work on a second computer, both running the Mac version of 2.8. I have the files moved to Dropbox/Apps/Scrivener.
    I have a file open on the first computer. On the second computer: File -> Open (Dropbox/Apps/Scrivener/ideas.scriv) and I get a nasty warning message:

    Project Already Open

    The project at “… Dropbox/Apps/Scrivener/ideas.scriv” seems to be in use by Micah on Micahs-MBP13). If the same project is opened more than once at the same time, data could be lost.

    I am given the option to Cancel, Continue, or Make a Copy

    I’ve never gotten sync to work across two computers.
    -m

    1. Hi Micah – I know Scrivener always had a warning to stop you opening the same project file on a shared drive from more than one computer at the same time. It may be that they’ve left this in place. When Scrivener opens the project it sets a flag in the project file to let other copies of Scrivener know that the project it in use. It looks as though Dropbox is also syncing that flag, which is triggering the warning for you. But I’m not sure that’s a bad thing. If you are typing on one computer and somebody else is typing on the other one it would cause conflicts because Scrivener wouldn’t know which version to keep. Generally you only want to be making edits on one device at a time, and close the project when you finish. Then if you go to your other computer you can open the project and see the last changes you made sitting there waiting for you. If you try that does it work? ~ A

  5. Okay… I may be doing something really wrong here. But I just can’t figure this out (linking Scrivener from my PC to my new Ipad).

    When I save on my PC it saves in a folder (not a file) called story.scriv. Then in that folder are a number of other folders and a file called story.scrivx (note the extra ‘x’). I transfer the .scrivx via dropbox. I can see it in the scrivener folder on my Ipad. But Scrivener says it doesn’t support this file type. It only supports .scriv. How do I get my file to be .scriv rather than .scrivx? Again, the save function on my PC is creating a folder ending .scriv – something fishy here.

    Thanks for any help you can throw my way!

    1. I don’t have access to a Windows PC to verify this at the moment, but I’m 99% sure you should move the story.scriv folder over into /Dropbox/Apps/Scrivener on your PC. It is a folder in the Mac version too, but Mac hides the fact it is a folder so that it looks like a file. Make a backup copy first to be safe, then try copying the whole .scriv folder into the Dropbox/Apps/Scrivener folder and open it from there. If Scrivener recognises the project folder and opens it you should be good to go.

      Let me know how you get on!

      1. Thanks. Dropbox wouldn’t let me move the .scriv folder over into it. I tried every which I could think of and it just wouldn’t recognize it. I eventually solved the problem by reinstalling different/fuller version of Dropbox (the version I was using was a new install, so not sure what happened there). Either way, problem solved.

  6. I am trying to move my scrivern files from my mac to pc and when i followed the instructions the layout of my files in scrivener (in the binder layout) was correct in the new pc scriviner but only about 10% of the content that was in each folder (in the binder layout) is there. I am missing many chapters and different notes that did not get synced for some reason. My scrivener is up to date on both my mac and pc. What can I do to make all of the content transfer?

  7. I can see my .scriv file in Dropbox on my iPad but when I click on it, I get a picture of a “?” and an error message: “This file type can’t be viewed.”

    Sooo, I tried clicking on export where I can choose to export the file to open up in an Application and choose Scrivener and I get a message that says “Invalid Project | The project could not be imported because it does not contain all the necessary structure files. Please try importing it via iTunes instead.

    I have tried deleting and reinstalling Dropbox but nothing works.

    I am literally dragging my book (.scriv file) into Dropbox from my mac and it syncs because I can see the file on my iPad in Dropbox but it simply won’t open.

    I’m hoping you can assist!

    1. Hi Kristen,

      Are you sure you’re dragging the actual file and not creating an alias? This could be the reason why it can’t be opened from Scrivener for iOS.

      Hope this helps!

  8. Hi there,
    So thankful for this post! I scrolled through the comments but didn’t see a question similar to mine, so here goes and maybe you can help. I have been writing my book with the Scrivener iPad app and syncing with Dropbox. Seemingly, no issues there. However, I would like to open the same project on my PC version so that I can do my first round of self-editing with Grammarly. That being said, I am unable to open my project on my PC.

    I see the TheBook.scriv file and when I go to open it I see both “mobile” (presumably with the revisions as I’ve saved them) and “settings” files. I can’t just open my project in the .scriv file from Dropbox. I cannot find a solution for this either. I am at the tail-end of my book but this is causing a real hang-up for me. Please, I hope you (or someone reading this) can offer a solution! Thank you! :)

    1. Hi Victoria,

      This may be a silly question, but how exactly are you trying to open the Scrivener file on your PC? It sounds as if you are trying to open the individual RTF files rather than open the project in Scrivener. Is that the case?

      Ali

      1. Hi Ali!
        Not silly! I should have elaborated. I have Scrivener open on my PC (version is up to date) and go to open file, and go to Dropbox to find the .scriv file. But then, there are the files within that .scriv file as I previously mentioned. I tried the “sync to mobile button” from my pic Scrivener version & that doesn’t seem to do anything. iPad is up to date, shows on iPad it’s syncing to Dropbox as well. I just don’t know why I can’t open my project from Dropbox or import it, which I’ve also tried. :(

      2. Hey there,
        Thanks for your time & help in trying to figure this out.

        I see the TheBook.scriv file and when I go to open it I see both “mobile” (presumably with the revisions as I’ve saved them) and “settings” files. I can’t just open my project in the .scriv file from Dropbox.

        ^^^ Doesn’t matter if I go File>Open, File>Open Project, or Import. It doesn’t open the .scriv file but rather opens to the files within the .scriv folder.

      3. Hmmm. Another thing I’ve seen issues with is the version of Dropbox. It might be worth saving a backup in the iOS version, then totally deleting and reinstalling Dropbox with the latest version. You’ll need to make a backup of anything else in your Dropbox folder just in case.

  9. For any Mac users who are up against Dropbox compressing your .scriv project into a .zip file …. I downloaded the Dropbox app to my MacBook Pro and created an alias for the /Apps/Scrivener folder. I dragged and dropped my project on the alias folder and voila! It uploaded as a .scriv file, not as a .scriv.zip file. :)

    1. I want to try this but I can’t find a dropbox app for a desktop. It’s not showing up in app store and not on dropbox web site either?

  10. I am using a PC Lap top and iPad. I can see my file in Dropbox but can not get it to download to iPad when I hit the sync button on the iPad. It shows it’s downloading two files but nothing shows up on the screen. HELP Please!!!

  11. This post and thread have been key to me getting going between Mac and Scriv iOS. Thank you!

    However, when I attempt to reopen the project that I have edited in iOS on the Mac, Scrivener on Mac crashes. So frustrating because I am still not able to work between the two devices yet.

    I have posted this issue to the Forum at Lit&Latte.

    Just throwing the scenario out here as well!

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