Can More Than One Person Work on a Document in Dropbox?

by David Nield

Dropbox uses a "conflicted copies" system when more than one person is working on the same file (or when the same user has a single document open in two locations). Changes to the file aren't automatically merged together by Dropbox; instead, it keeps two separate copies of the file for the user to merge or remove as required.

How Conflicted Copies Work

If a document that's currently being worked on is opened up by another Dropbox user, the Dropbox client automatically creates a copy of it using the user account name and the system date alongside the original filename. This prevents one user overwriting the work of another. The two (or more) copies of the file are then kept separate until the users with access to the folder either merge the files or remove one of them. The options for merging the changes together depend on the programs used to access the file in question, but Dropbox itself offers no such functionality.

Sharing Folders

The folder sharing functionality built into Dropbox enables more than one person to access the same folder of files. Every user must be registered with Dropbox and have the Dropbox software installed on a local computer -- this enables each user to have a local copy of the folder in question. Changes made by anyone to this folder are then synced to the other locations where the folder is shared. Folders can be shared with other Dropbox users by right-clicking on them in Windows or on the Dropbox website.

Linking to Folders and Files

Folders and individual files can also be shared using a private link. Anyone with this link can then view, download and open the chosen files or folders with or without a Dropbox account. Sharing files and folders in this way does not enable two-way synchronization -- while the recipients of the link can download files and make changes to them on their own computers, these changes do not affect the originals stored in Dropbox. Using this method means multiple users cannot work on the same document at once, and no conflicted files will be created.

Best Practices

The shared folder feature of Dropbox is a convenient way of allowing more than one person to work on the same group of files. As long as documents aren't opened simultaneously, changes by each user are automatically synced across all of the copies of the document and the version stored on the Web. If conflicted copies are generated, use the date and user timestamp information to work out which version to keep. The conflicted copy function is activated even if the program in question allows for multi-user editing. Conflicted copies can also be created by a single user who leaves a document open on one machine and returns to edit it on another -- whenever possible, make sure all of your Dropbox documents are closed down and saved when moving between machines.

About the Author

An information technology journalist since 2002, David Nield writes about the Web, technology, hardware and software. He is an experienced editor, proofreader and copywriter for online publications such as CNET, TechRadar and Gizmodo. Nield holds a Bachelor of Arts in English literature and lives in Manchester, England.

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