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Lightroom Catalog Sync with Dropbox

Adobe Lightroom is not a network enabled application. You can perfectly store your images on a network storage location (speed might become an issue) but the Lightroom catalog has to be on your harddrive.

When you want to use Adobe Lightroom on multiple computers, it’s always a hassle to keep your Lightroom catalog in sync. Lightroom relies heavily on the catalog. The catalog contains references to your photos and holds all adjustments to your photos.

When you want to use Lighroom on multiple computers, lets say your PC and notebook, you always have to copy your catalog file from one system to the other. And someday it will go wrong. That day you will copy the older version of the catalog over the most recent version.

Dropbox, an online file storage and sychronisation service is a perfect solution to prevent this. I believe there are multiple articles written about Lightroom Catalogs and Dropbox, but those usually have one disadvantage, they also store all ‘previews’ on Dropbox. You will run out of space soon.

This article describes how I’ve setup Lightroom in combination with Dropbox AND your images stored on some kind of network drive.

So first you have to get yourself a free dropbox account. Use this link and we both get an addional 250 MB storage as a bonus ;-). Install the Dropbox Client on all systems that you want to sync your files with, but for now at least on the systems where you have Lightroom installed. For this article my assumption is you use a PC and Notebook, but you can do it on as many systems as you like.

Assumption: You have your images files stored on a network drive so the images are available from all your systems.
I expect you have this setup already and just want an efficient way to sync the Lightroom Catalog.

As you will see, the Dropbox client will create a folder ‘Dropbox’ on your system. All files and folders in that Dropbox folder will be synced between all systems. The benefit of Dropbox is that the files are stored on your harddrive AND online at Dropbox. So you don’t have to worry about internet connection speed.

Now go to the folder where you have stored your Lightroom catalog. You will see that besides the catalog file (*.cat) there are some other folders with Previews. If we would move the whole set to Dropbox your dropbox would run out of space soon.

First of all, make a backup copy of your lightroom catalog file. Just in case something goes wrong!

Now download and install Link Shell Extention. You can find it at the end of this page.

Now create a folder ‘Lightroom Catalog’ inside your Dropbox folder. Move your Lightroom catalog file inside that new folder. Now the lighroom catalog is stored in Dropbox. (DO NOT START LIGHTROOM YET!).
Make sure the catalog is not in your original folder on your harddrive anymore (otherwise rename it to something as a backup).

Go to the Dropbox/Lightroom Catalog folder and right click on your catalog file. Choose ‘Pick Link Source’. (if you don’t see ‘Pick Link Source’ then you have not installed Link Shell Extention correctly).
Next go to your original folder and inside that folder (where your catalog was before) right click and choose ‘Drop As – Symbolic Link’. You will see a shortcut to the Lightroom catalog in your dropbox folder is created.

What has happened? You have moved the LR Catalog to Dropbox and created a symbolic link at the original location.

Now you start Lightroom and you will notice that Lightroom will start normally. Do something in Lightroom that modifies a photo. Now you will see that the Dropbox icon in your taskbar will start synchronizing.

Remember: NEVER start Lightroom on more than 1 system at a time, otherwise a sync conflict will occur. Also after closing Lightroom, give Dropbox some time to sync the catalog file before opening Lightroom on the other system.

What I’ve noticed is that Dropbox saves a history of changes in a hidden ‘Cache’ folder. Because every tiny change is written to the database you get hundreds of history files in that cache folder making you run out of space.
1. You can delete the contents of that Cache folder (it’s inside your dropbox folder)
2. Better, before starting lightroom rightclick on the Dropbox Icon in your taskbar and ‘Pauze Sync’.  Do your thing in Lightroom and when finished, ‘Resume Sync’.  Now the most recent catalog is synced with Dropbox.

*So when you notice that your harddrive is running out of space quickly (30Gb in an hour!!) you have not paid attention to point 1 and/or 2 above!!

You have to create the symbolic link on all your systems and actually it doesn’t matter if you have stored the catalog in another folder. Just symbolic link the catalog from dropbox to your original location of the catalog on that specific computer!

Because we used a symbolic link, the preview folders remain on your harddrive and are not moved to Dropbox! This would have happend when we pointed Lightroom directly to open the catalog from within the Dropbox folder.

TIP 1: I’ve also stored my plugins into a folder ‘Dropbox/Lightroom Plugins’. I configured Lightroom to open Plugins from that folder directly, without using Symbolic links. One benefit of the Plugins in Dropbox is that the configuration of the plugin is usually available on all systems too and all systems use the same version!

An article with more information on how to store stuff outside your dropbox folder can be found here

TIP 2: I create a Lighroom Backup from Lightroom everytime I exit Lightroom. I save this backup on my local harddrive, just in case something goes wrong in Dropbox sync!

 

9 Comments

  1. CJ's Gravatar CJ
    April 1, 2012    

    I setup my Dropbox LR4 catalog. Question: When I work in LR on my desktop, exit and backup, then proceed to work on my laptop, I have to Find Missing Folder on the laptop. Is this to be expected?

    CJ

    • Alexander's Gravatar Alexander
      April 1, 2012    

      In that case the path to your photos is different when using the laptop vs desktop.
      You should have one path to your photos on both systems, i.e: //yourdisk/photos
      When you use //yourdisk/photos on the desktop and //192.168.x.x/photos on the laptop, you have this issue too. (

      Let me know what the path to your photos is. Also try if you can access the photos from windows explorer before opening lightroom. Maybe your system first has to login to your network drive. In that case the path is okay, but access not yet allowed when opening Lightroom.

      (When you use PC and MAC you will have that ‘find missing folder’ thing!)

      • June 12, 2012    

        This is perfect, I’ve felt like I was the only one in the world stretching the system possibilities.

        I’m running LR4 on both a PC Desktop (Win 7) and a MacBook Pro. I keep getting the ‘missing files’, I’m okay with this….but I keep getting a ‘…conflicted….’ copy of the Preview folder/file. I know that I have not opened the same catalog on both computers at the same time….so what gives? Thoughts?

        Thanks so much!!

        • Alexander's Gravatar Alexander
          June 12, 2012    

          Kevin,
          A week ago I would have replied that based on the article you replied to, you should not sync the preview folder/file. This can be done by using selective sync in the dropbox settings menu. Only sync the catalog file itself. You can regenerate the preview file again from within lightroom. Disadvantage is that you have to generate it on both systems which takes a little time. Advantage is that it saves you syncing that large previews database.

          A couple of days ago I did try to also start syncing the preview file too. So I do have positive experience at the moment with also syncing the previews file. Try the following:
          You say you should not run lightroom on both systems at the same time, that is right. But you should even wait until dropbox is ready syncing the previewfile because it can be quite large and takes a while.
          Also initially move the previewfile out of dropbox folder so none of your systems contains that file. Then only move it back to dropbox folder on one system only. Now it will sync and you have no conflict. When sync is ready, open lightroom on the system you initially moved the preview file back to dropbox folder. (don’t know if it is really neccesary but it won’t hurt either ;-). Do something in lightroom, close, wait until sync is complete and then open lightroom on the other system. It should work now and no conflict should occur.

          Please note that I have been thinking about the use of syncing the preview file.
          1. it is quite large taking storage space. This is getting less relevant now you can also use Google Drive (5Gb) or Skydrive (7 Gb with upgrade to 27 Gb for 8 euro’s a year ;-))
          2. it takes a while to sync depending on it’s size.

          So, I’m not sure yet if I will keep continuing syncing the previewsfile. As said, you can easily regenerate standard or 1:1 previews from the lightroom menu which takes some time but you onle do it for the photos you currently use.

          I have started writing an article about the above yesterday. It is not ready for publishing yet but it will be in a week or so (quite busy here).

          let me know if it worked out for you or if you have questions.

          • Paolo's Gravatar Paolo
            November 21, 2013    

            Dear Alexander

            Thank you very much for the article. Thanks to your help I am now successfully using LR on more than one computer.

            I currently operate in LR on a main computer and occasionally on other machines. The Dropbox solution is perfect as I have an updated online backup as well. I keep the previews db on the main machine in order not to run out of space on Dropbox.

            What I noticed upon upgrade to LR5 is that when you reopen the catalog you should always use the symbolic link instead of the physical catalog file in Dropbox, otherwise LR starts rebuilding the previews on the Dropbox folder. As you said, if needed additional previews can be easily generated from LR on other machines, always starting from each “local” symbolic link.

            Paolo

  2. John McQuaide's Gravatar John McQuaide
    August 4, 2013    

    I have 200 gigs of DropBox space, and approximately 150 gigs of photo files (the actual photos) and Lightroom information and the Lightroom Catalogue. I want to move EVERYTHING to DropBox for safety and storing my photos and Catalogue. I am fearful that when I make this total move, all existing links between my Lightroom Catalogue and my photo files/folders will be corrupted and will have to be rebuilt, a painful and time consuming task. How can I make this move to DropBox without losing the important links?

  3. Francisco's Gravatar Francisco
    January 28, 2014    

    This is just great!, I’ve looking for a way to use two computers and Access my Lightroom Catalog and Original Pictures seamlessly. I do have some questions and concerns, that hopefully can be addressed here….First I will mention my setup.
    I have a Windows 8.1 system (Surface Pro 2) and a Apple Mac 10.X. I’ve decided to store my source images in a Cloud Storage Service (similar to Dropbox/Skydrive/Google Drive) that gives me 512GB of storage for far less money ($6 USD per month), this service will sync my images to any computer suscribed to the service, and create actual copies of them in a network drive (L:\), so for all purposes they are local to every machine, and always in sync between desktops. Now for the Lightroom Catalog I’ve configured an Skydrive account as instructed, and installed LSE to create a Symbolic Link pointing to the Skydrive Lightroom Catalog file.
    My questions below:
    1) You don’t mention anything in regards to LSE (Link Shell Extensión) for MAC, how can I create a Symbolic Link to the Lightroom Catalog file in Skydrive?
    2) Since my Cloud Storage Service provides me with enough storage to handle my entire source images (200GB and growing), I could easily use that same service for previews. Is this something configurable in Lightroom? (separate the Previews Folder Structure from the Folder where Lightroom Catalog is stored)?
    3) Are there any Gotchas for this particular configuration, I should be aware of?

    Thanks for everything, and keep up with the good work! this is extremely valuable!

    • January 28, 2014    

      Hi Francisco,

      http://www.vdsar.net/lightroom-catalog-sync-using-dropbox-selective-sync/ contains some additional info related to dropbox and this setup.

      1. You don’t need LSE for the MAC. Unix (Mac OS X is unix based) contains the ln command. see here for some details on how to use it.

      2. Check this out but maybe you can just put everything in your 512 GB cloud storage and use symbolic links. Why use skydrive for the catalog?!

      3. Never open Lightroom on both computers at the same time! Are you sure that the network drive is accessible with exactly the same path from the Mac? Otherwise you have to switch the path each time (it will say the folder with images is not available and you can search for the path).
      I suggest to create a testfolder with images, and a backup of your catalog and start experimenting. I know I had to do some trial and error before it was completely setup.

      Good luck!!

      Alexander

  4. June 13, 2014    

    Just wanted to drop by and say that this setup has worked beautifully for the last two years. I am using this to be able to work on the same lightroom folder using 2 windows machines and a mac. The only occational hickup comes when I leave one machine with Lightroom open, since that prevents Dropbox from doing any syncing until the program lets go of its lock on the files.

    I don’t remember exactly how I did it with my Windows boxes, but at least on the Mac computer I use hard links, not soft links. I believe soft links didn’t work quite as well.

    Great tip anyway!

  1. Lightroom Catalog Sync using Dropbox selective sync – Alexander's Blog on May 1, 2012 at 20:49

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