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Dropbox and macOS compatibility

If you recently upgraded to the latest version of macOS, and you have the Dropbox desktop app installed on your computer, you should update to the latest version of Dropbox. However, even if you update to the latest version of Dropbox you may still notice some unexpected behavior. Specifically:

  • Apple error messages or other dialogue boxes appearing when files are moved into Dropbox
  • Confusing sync icons appearing on the Dropbox folder, or files in the folder

If Dropbox is in its default location you will see error messages when moving files from folders that are being synced by iCloud (like Desktop or Documents) and into Dropbox.

If Dropbox has been moved to the Desktop or Documents folder, and these are being synced by iCloud, you may experience confusing sync icons on Dropbox.

These messages and icons are due to the way Apple has implemented iCloud (their storage and backup solution). This article gives additional details on how to best experience Dropbox on the latest version of macOS.

What can I do if I’m seeing these icons and messages?

  1. Update to the latest version of Dropbox.
    • Updating to this version means you’ll have the latest Dropbox improvements, and ensures you’ll have the smoothest possible experience using Dropbox on the latest version of macOS.
  2. Move Dropbox back to its default location.
    • Hosting Dropbox in its default location can prevent file syncing conflicts between iCloud and Dropbox.
  3. Disable notifications when removing files from iCloud Drive:
    1. Open Finder.
    2. Open Finder Preferences.
    3. Click Advanced.
    4. Uncheck Show warning before removing from iCloud Drive.
  • Note: Disabling iCloud notifications will not remove the conflicting sync icons.

When will my files sync to Dropbox?

You may notice that the sync icons on your files shift back and forth between iCloud and Dropbox notifications. This can happen if:

  • You have iCloud enabled on your computer
  • You have synced the Desktop or Documents folder to iCloud
  • You have moved your Dropbox folder to either the Desktop or Documents folder

In this case the Dropbox sync icon (the green circle with a checkmark) won't appear until a file has completed syncing to both Dropbox and iCloud.

Learn more about each of the Dropbox sync icons.

Why am I seeing these messages or icons?

Error messages will appear on the latest version of macOS when each of the following two criteria are true:

  • You have iCloud enabled on your computer
  • You have synced the Desktop or Documents folder to iCloud

Conflicting sync icons will appear when each of the following three criteria are true:

  • You have iCloud enabled on your computer
  • You have synced the Desktop or Documents folder to iCloud
  • You have moved your Dropbox folder to either the Desktop or Documents folder

Note: In the latest version of macOS, iCloud sync is enabled on these folders by default during installation.

Is Dropbox still working if I’m seeing these messages or icons?

Yes. Even if you’re seeing these icons or messages, your files are still being saved to Dropbox. However, you may notice the file sync icons shift from Dropbox to iCloud icons and back again while they save.

What are the error messages, and what do they mean?

If you are syncing the Desktop or Documents folder to iCloud, you may see one of the following dialogue boxes when moving files to Dropbox:

Remove from icloud
Delete from icloud

These messages will appear if you try to move files out of the Desktop or Documents folder. By default, iCloud syncs your  Desktop and Documents folders. When you move a file out of thee folders into your Dropbox folder, iCloud interprets moving a file from Desktop or Documents as an attempt to delete the file from iCloud.

Can I use both Dropbox and iCloud?

Yes. However, using both Dropbox and iCloud may lead to some of the issues outlined in this article. We do not currently support a configuration where both iCloud and Dropbox sync the same files.

Potential issues with Dropbox and iCloud placeholder files

iCloud will not sync or delete Dropbox files if Dropbox is in its default configuration. However, if all of the following are true for your configuration, then you could potentially lose data on Dropbox:

  • You name your Dropbox folder something other than "Dropbox" (for example "Dropbox 1"), and
  • Your Dropbox folder is saved in a non-default location (the Desktop or Documents folder), and
  • iCloud syncing is on, and
  • iCloud Optimized Storage is enabled

If all of these are true for your configuration then iCloud may remove local copies of files and replace them with placeholder files (.icloud). This happens if both disk space is low and Optimized Storage is enabled. If Dropbox is syncing the same files, then Dropbox will sync the original file removal and the .iCloud placeholder file.

In rare cases, moving Dropbox to its default location after Optimized Storage had already replaced real files with placeholder files can lead to data loss. Dropbox will sync these placeholder files instead of the actual files.

This issue could lead to data loss if no action is taken. Follow these steps to verify all your files are safe:

  1. Sign in to dropbox.com.
  2. Type .iCloud into the search bar to see which—if any—of your files are affected.
  3. If you find .iCloud files, you'll need to recover the actual versions from iCloud.

Once you've recovered files from iCloud, follow the steps listed earlier in this article to guard against further data loss.

Additional cases with .iCloud placeholder links:

In addition to the issues discussed above, there is also a potential issue with screenshots. In some rare cases, screenshots taken while Dropbox isn’t running can be replaced with .iCloud placeholders, with the placeholder file then synced to Dropbox.

Follow the steps detailed earlier to restore any affected screenshots, and to prevent this from happening again.

Using symlinks, iCloud, and the Dropbox desktop app

Note: If you use symlinks, you may be at additional risk for unusual behavior or even data loss.

Dropbox is working to address any issues that may arise from using Dropbox with certain versions of macOS (version 10.12+). Following the recommendations in this article is the best way to get normal behavior with Dropbox on macOS.

However, if you have symlinks in your Dropbox that point to the Documents folder or Desktop, you may experience conflicting sync icons or possible data loss even if you follow the recommendations in this article.

We recommend removing symlinks from Dropbox to avoid any possible issues.

What if I’m asked to move my Dropbox folder?

If your Dropbox configuration fits the scenario described in the previous section, we will ask you to move your Dropbox folder back to the default location. Selecting the Move option will automatically complete this action. Selecting Cancel will stop Dropbox file sync until you resume sync and move your Dropbox folder back to its default location.

You can also manually move your Dropbox folder back to its default location:

  1. Click the Dropbox icon in your system tray or menu bar.
  2. Click the gear icon.
  3. Click Preferences….
  4. Open the Account tab.
  5. Click the dropdown beside Dropbox location.
  6. Select Other…
  7. Open the Applications list.
  8. Click the Applications dropdown, and select your hard drive.
  9. Open the Users folder.
  10. Select your computer username (it will likely have a "home" icon beside it).
  11. Click Select.
  12. Confirm the move by clicking Move.

How can I enable the Dropbox badge on macOS version 10.12+?

To enable the Dropbox badge on macOS version 10.12+, you must enable Dropbox accessibility on your mac. 

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