If I had to list down the most useful tools that I’ve used in my computer life, Dropbox would be one of the top name on the list. It’s more than just a simple backup tool. The combination of desktop apps, web service and supports from tons of third-party applications, open up possibilities that I’ve never thought before: from collaborating on a novel, to triggering download from faraway computer, to running other local task remotely.
But Dropbox’s biggest strength is also its weakness. While the simple concept of synchronizing everything inside one Dropbox folder is the factor that keeps it above its competitors, this simplicity also means that it’s (almost) impossible to synchronize everything else outside that folder.
If you are a Mac user who doesn’t like the idea of moving everything to Dropbox folder for the sake of synchronizing the content, there’s another way to achieve that. Basically, what we do is utilizing “symbolic link” (symlink) to create a reference to a folder and then place the symlink inside Dropbox folder. Anything that happens to the folder will be mirrored by the symlink and vice versa. So, symlink is a perfect solution to the problem of synchronizing outside folder to Dropbox.
You could create symlink via command line in Terminal, but common computer users are “allergic” to command line. So here are two free and simple tools that you can use to create symlink without having to touch any command line.
SymbolicLinker is a tiny contextual menu plugin (for Puma through Leopard users) and software service (for Snow Leopard & later users) that, once installed, allows any user to create symbolic links to files inside the Finder. SymbolicLinker does this by adding a contextual menu item to the Finder that generates symbolic links to the selected files.
To use SymbolicLinker, download the compressed installer file. There are two important files there: SymbolicLinker.service for Snow Leopard (and later) users, and SymbolicLinker.plugin for Leopard (and previous version of Mac OS X) users. There’s also the installation instructions that will give you all the details.
The usage is also simple. Create a symlink of a folder (either by right clicking or by using Service), then place the symlink inside your Dropbox folder.
MacDropAny is a tool built specifically to create symlink for Dropbox. The first time you open the application, it will ask you to choose which folder that you want to sync via Dropbox.
Then the next step is choosing where in the Dropbox folder do you want to put the symlink. This option gives you the ability to organize those symlinks into a specific folder inside Dropbox. You could name the folder “External links” or something else according to your preferences.
The last step is to assign name to the Symlink. To avoid confusion, it’s advisable to name the symlink similar to the original folder.
MacDropAny will offer you to open the newly made symlink.
Then it’s time to test the result. I dragged a text file into the symlink inside Dropbox folder.
The text file appears on the original folder that I placed in the Desktop. Then I made changes into the text and saved. I checked the synchronized text on another computer, and it was updated. So the conclusion: the system works fine.
Words of warning though, it’s not advisable to sync folders with too many items inside – something like the Applications and Pictures folders – since Dropbox tends to behave erroneously when it tries to sync too many files. Read more about this in the Known Issues page.
This two tools are the simplest solution that I could find to synchronized folders outside Dropbox. If you have other alternatives, please share them using the comment below.