The Basics of Dropbox and Beyond

There are a few key components to every computer. Storage (in the form of a hard drive or a speedy Solid State Disk) is one of those critical components. This is where our files (documents, audio, movies, pictures, etc) are stored long-term. We create a Word file and save it to our hard drive, for example. This method of storage is sufficient for most, but some of us (those who are serious about storage and want to take things to the next level), need something more. Something that allows us to easily share those files with others and have them available on any device.

To enhance our traditional “local storage” (i.e.: hard drive or SSD), we may want to consider cloud storage. Simply put, this is storage that is primarily in the “cloud”, and secondarily (and optionally) on our local hard drive. A few current cloud storage solutions include Dropbox, Google Drive, Microsoft OneDrive, Box (formerly, Amazon S3, OpenStack… the list goes on and on and on. I can’t possibly describe the features for all the available services, so I will focus on one. Dropbox happens to be my cloud storage solution of choice (for many reasons), so we will focus on that for this post. While some of the concepts here will be applicable to all cloud storage services, the details will be specific to Dropbox.


First, let’s talk about how to setup a Dropbox account (for those who don’t already have one). We do this by visiting and entering our name, email address and a password.

Once we click “Sign up for free”, this will create a new "Dropbox Basic” account (which is, well, free).


There are three types of Dropbox accounts available today:
- Dropbox Free - up to 2 GB storage - Free!
- Dropbox Pro - up to 1 TB storage - $9.99/month US
- Dropbox Business - unlimited storage - $15/user/month US

The Dropbox Free and Dropbox Pro account types are designed for individuals, while the Dropbox Business account is designed for collaborative teams and businesses (there is a minimum of 5 users required for a Dropbox Business account). each account has a specific set of features that make it appealing to the right audience. Here’s a snapshot of those features (source:

Now that we understand the account types and have our account setup, let’s talk about how to use our Dropbox account.


First and foremost, Dropbox is great for storing your files in a way that syncs with the cloud, and ultimately with every device you have connected to your Dropbox account. Supported devices include Mac, Windows, iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch, Android and Windows Mobile. You can also access your Dropbox files by going to using any modern web browser from any computer. You just need an Internet connection.


A classic example of syncing files between devices is the creation of a Word file. We save that file in a special Dropbox folder that is created on our computer when we install the free Dropbox app.

Folders were blurred to maintain privacy

Because all files that are saved to our Dropbox folder on our Mac or PC are automatically synced with Dropbox (this process happens automatically and seamlessly in the background), it means that those files will be available on other devices that re accessing our Dropbox account. With smaller files, this process takes a matter of a few seconds.

This syncing scenario is true of all file types saved to your Dropbox folder… Office documents, iWork documents, images, audio files, movie files, database files, QuickBooks files… everything.

In the above screenshot, you will notice a green indicator to the right of each folder. This indicates that that folder and all the contents within are in sync with Dropbox. This is how you will see Dropbox folders most of the time. If something is syncing, that green icon will turn to a blue icon. This indicates that something contained within that folder is still syncing.


A common use for Dropbox comes in the form of sharing. We all love to share files with others. And why not!? There are two ways to share files using Dropbox. The only requirement for both of these sharing methods is that the file needs to be synced with Dropbox. To be sure, visit, log in and look for the file… if you don’t see it, it hasn’t synced yet.

Sharing Option #1: Sharing a file or folder using a link

The first option is to share a file or folder with someone using a link. This is simple. We can right-click on a file or folder on our Mac or PC and choose “Share Dropbox Link”.


This will create a custom link specifically for that file and copy it to our clipboard. From here, we can paste that link into anything… an email, a text message, a blog post… anything. That link is specific for that one file or folder, and will not change (unless you delete the file or folder).

Note: there are no security options for this sharing method so whoever has access to that link will have access to the shared file or folder. Keep this in mind for sensitive information you are sharing.

There is a limitation to this sharing method. Because you are sharing a link to a file or folder, this will give the other person read-only access. While they can download the file or contents of the folder, they won’t be able to make changes to the shared version or upload files to the shared folder. It’s designed to be read-only.

Sharing Option #2: Sharing a folder with others

We can choose to share an entire folder with someone else in a collaborative way by right-clicking on that folder and choosing “Share this Folder…” This will take us to where we are prompted for the email address of the person (or people) that we want to share the folder with.

Once the other person accepts the invitation, they will have access to the folder via their own Dropbox account (shared folders are indicated with a special folder icon). The requirement for this is that all parties involved need to have their own Dropbox account.

When we initially setup the share using this method, we can choose whether they will have full access to the folder or read-only by clicking the drop-down list to the right of their email address.

Now that they have accepted the share request, not only will they have access to all the files in that folder, but they will also have access to new files added to that folder. If they have full access (as opposed to read-only), they will also be able to add their own files to the share folder, which would give you access as well.

This method is designed for collaborative teams and is a key feature to using Dropbox (especially in business environments!).

One word of caution when sharing files. If two people are using the same file at the same time, you run the risk of creating a file conflict. In other words, two people can't make changes at the same time because Dropbox won't know which one is the correct file. If the file is a Microsoft Office file, the appropriate Office application will warn you that another person has that file open (even telling you who that person is). If this is the case, simply contact the other person and ask when they will be out of the file so that you can make changes yourself.


Now that we have a better understanding of the basics of using Dropbox, let’s talk about some of the more advanced features.


I use and love Instagram. One of the reasons I love Instagram is that it’s super-easy to view a spot and quickly add a comment like “Wow, what a great sunset picture!” or “Those kids are totes adorbs!!” With Dropbox, we can do the same thing with our files! This is how it works.

First, we save a file to our Dropbox folder and let it sync with Dropbox. Next, we share that file with someone else. When they access that file on, they will see an option to add a comment to the right of that file like “What do you think of this shot… too much white space?”.

As others add comments to the file, you will be notified. As you add your own comments, others who are sharing the file will be notified. This turns Dropbox into a very social file-sharing system.


Have you ever need to have someone send you a file that is too large to email? Dropbox has a great feature called “File Request”. This allows you to create a special single-purpose folder for others to upload files to you, without the need to share a folder with them in a collaborative way.

To create a File Request, we need to go to and login. Next, click on the “File Requests” link on the left side.

Next, click on the “Request Files” button to create a new File Request (as you can see, you can add as many File Requests as you need).

From here, we can name the File Request and give it a drop location (this is the location where the files will be placed when they are uploaded by the other person). Using the “Add a deadline” option, we can choose to havee the File Request link auto-expire, which can be very useful.

The last step is to click “Next”.

This will create the File Request link that we can copy and paste into an email, website, text message or anywhere that makes sense. It’s  clever and creative way to allow others to send us large files that are normally impossible to send via email.


The accidental deletion of files is more common than you think and usually causes a person to panic and consider that their precious file (or files) are lost forever! Well, Dropbox has a solution for that in the form of an undelete option.

If you find that a file has been deleted from a folder, simply visit, log in to your Dropbox account and navigate to the folder where the deleted file once lived. Next, we’ll click on the “Show deleted files” button on the top of the page.


This will show us a list of all files that once lived in this folder and give us the option to undelete any of the files.

To restore a file, we simply highlight the file and choose the “Restore…” above above.

With Dropbox Basic and Dropbox Pro accounts, a 30-day history of these files are retained. In other words, a file can be restored as long as it is within 30 days of it being deleted, otherwise it’s gone forever. Dropbox Business accounts have an unlimited undelete time, meaning I can delete a file today and undelete it 10 years from now (as long as I am still using Dropbox, of course).


There are so many more features that come with Dropbox and so many more very creative and useful use cases for how it can work wonders for you personally and professionally, but it’s nearly impossible to cover it all in a single post. To learn more about how Dropbox can help you, visit

Posted on January 28, 2016 and filed under How To, Mac, iPhone, iPad, iOS.