If you read my post about keeping 2 Macs synchronized back in July, you may have left disappointed because I didn’t offer a solution that worked. Well, I can finally resolve that issue now.
It was a complete accident that I stumbled on Dropbox, but it’s finally the solution I was looking for. It will synchronize files between multiple computers, even those running different operating systems. All file system changes are monitored so that the instant a file is changed, it is synchronized with the other computers. Dropbox allows you to access your files through a web browser for those times when you’re on the go without the comfort of your own computer.
How I Use Dropbox
I use Dropbox to keep my iMac and MacBook Pro in sync. It’s great knowing that I can run out the door with my laptop and when I connect it to the internet, regardless of where I am, I’ll have all my files that I was working on available to me. It sounds too good to be true, and it almost is. There are a few limitations to keep in mind but I’ve found a way to work around them.
You’ll run into trouble if you try to open the same file on multiple computers–here’s a sample scenario. I use Things for task management. Things does not immediately write changes that you make to it’s database file, and once Things has been opened, the database is not read again. As such, if you open Things on both computers at the same time, you will loose any changes that you make to the database that was generated last.
I will only be using one computer at a time when working on any of my synced files, so this problem is easily solvable by closing all of my applications. This guarantees that when I switch computers everything is ready to go. To automate this process I wrote an applescript application.
This small application only closes programs that are visible and does so gracefully. That means that if you’re working on a Pages document, you will be asked if you would like to save or discard your changes rather than having an arbitrary decision made for you. Applications that run in the background like RescueTime will not be closed.
Syncing Specific Directories
A current limitation of Dropbox, but one that is being worked on, is that there is only one synced directory: your Dropbox. This is not great if you only want to synchronize a handful of directories and don’t feel like moving things around. Until folder watching is added you can get around this limitation by using symlinks. Let’s say that you want to sync your Documents folder. Here are the steps you would perform.
- Shut down dropbox on both computers
- Open Terminal
- Navigate to your Dropbox directory
- Run this command: ln -s /Users/<username>/Documents *replace <username> with your username
- Start Dropbox
To add other directories to your Dropbox simply repeat the process changing the command as necessary.
Dropbox does not handle extended attributes on the Mac but I have been told that it will be added soon. So for now if you really need extended attributes support hold off for a little bit. If you only need package support, then Dropbox is ready to go.