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Save hard drive space with selective sync

Selective sync is a feature of the Dropbox desktop application that allows you to select only the folders you want to be synced to your computer. Selective sync gives you the control to ensure you have only the files you need on any computer.

Sections in this article:

To enable selective sync, head to your Dropbox preferences from your desktop:

Select which folders to sync on Windows

  1. Click the Dropbox icon from the system tray.
  2. Click the gear icon and select Preferences... from the menu.
  3. Click the Account tab.
  4. Click the Selective Sync... button.
Selective sync dialog
The selective sync options from Dropbox preferences

A window will appear with a list of all the top level folders in your Dropbox folder. The folders with a check next to them will be synced to your computer. Uncheck any folders that you don't need to sync to your computer's hard drive. When you're done, select OK. Any folders you deselected will be removed from your hard drive, but will still be available through the website and on any computers linked to your Dropbox account.

Note: Wait until folders display a green checkmark—which means they are completely uploaded to your Dropbox—before unselecting them in your selective sync preferences and removing them from the Dropbox app on your computer.

Select which folders to sync on Mac OS X

  1. Click the Dropbox icon from the menu bar.
  2. Click the gear icon and select Preferences... from the menu.
  3. Click the Account tab.
  4. Click the Change Settings... button.
Selective sync dialog
The selective sync options from Dropbox preferences

A window will appear with a list of all the top level folders in your Dropbox folder. The folders with a check next to them will be synced to your computer. Uncheck any folders that you don't need to sync to your computer's hard drive. Any folders you deselected will be removed from your hard drive, but will still be available through the website and on any computers linked to your Dropbox account.

Note: Wait until the folder has uploaded completely (it displays the green checkmark) before unselecting it in your selective sync settings.

Select which folders to sync on Linux

  1. Click the Dropbox icon from the menu bar. If you don't see the Dropbox icon, press the white up arrow to see all system tray icons.
  2. Select Preferences.
  3. Click the Account tab.
  4. Click the Selective Sync button.

A window will appear with a list of all the top level folders in your Dropbox folder. The folders with a check next to them will be synced to your computer. Uncheck any folders that you don't need to sync to your computer's hard drive. When you're done, select OK. Any folders you deselected will be removed from your hard drive, but will still be available through the website and on any computers linked to your Dropbox account.

Use the Advanced View button to drill down into the folders in your Dropbox. Click the arrow next to the folders in your Dropbox to drill down and check or uncheck folders deep within your Dropbox hierarchy.

From the command line

If you have the Dropbox command line instructions script, then all you need to do to add a folder to the selective sync "do not sync" list is enter the following command in your Terminal.

/path/to/dropbox.py exclude add ~/Dropbox/path/to/folder/

Simply substitute the /path/to/ to the actual paths to the CLI script and the folder or file, respectively.

Note: Wait until the folder has uploaded completely (it displays the green checkmark) before unselecting it in your selective sync settings.

What happens if my hard drive doesn't have enough space to sync all of my files?

When you save a file to Dropbox, it syncs with all of the devices you've connected with your Dropbox account. This means that it takes up space on each computer hard drive. This can create problems if your hard drive doesn't have enough available space to sync everything in your Dropbox folder.

If your hard drive is full, you don't necessarily need to delete files. If you have enough Dropbox space, you can instead use selective sync. See the instructions above for using selective sync.

Dropbox Business: How does selective sync work with shared folders?

If you're a Dropbox Business team member, you may be a member of large shared folders that you don't use. If your Dropbox folder becomes too large for your hard drive to handle, you don't necessarily need to delete these folders.

Note: Deleting files from a shared folder will delete the files for every member of that shared folder. However, if you delete the entire shared folder it will only be removed from your account.

To clear up your hard drive without affecting anyone else’s workflow, it is best to use selective sync. See the instructions above for using selective sync.

For our advanced users

Selective sync conflicts

Folders that are deselected in selective sync preferences will be removed from the Dropbox folder on your hard drive. However, if a folder is created with the same name in the same place as the unsynced folder, the new folder will appear with a gray circle and a minus sign overlay. This icon indicates the folder is not being synced to your Dropbox. If you resume syncing your old folder of the same name through selective sync preferences, the new folder and its contents will appear alongside the old folder and have "Selective Sync Conflict" in the folder name.

Leaving shared folders

Deselecting a shared folder from your Dropbox selective sync preferences will only prevent syncing to your computer. The shared folder will remain synced and active in the Dropbox account of other members of the shared folder. To remove yourself from a shared folder, you can either leave the shared folder from the Dropbox website or, if you're the owner of a shared folder, you can unshare the folder.

Selective sync unavailable while Dropbox is paused or indexing

If you're running the Dropbox desktop application for the first time, you may have to wait until Dropbox has finished indexing the files in your Dropbox folder before you can access selective sync settings. If you see a message that says "Performing initial sync with server. Please wait...," it means the Dropbox desktop application is in the process of indexing the files in your Dropbox folder or you have paused syncing from the Dropbox menu. You can choose to wait until indexing is complete to access your selective sync settings. Otherwise, select Cancel to dismiss the message and return to your preferences window. If you have paused syncing, you can resume syncing via the Dropbox menu.

Dropbox will continue indexing (as indicated by the icon with rotating arrows over your Dropbox icon) and you'll still be able to browse and change other preferences while Dropbox finishes.

Running multiple applications

Dropbox works best when it is the only desktop application interfacing with the Dropbox folder. Multiple Dropbox desktop applications or other syncing applications interfacing with the same Dropbox folder is not supported.