How to Use Dropbox and Automator For Automatic Backup of Multiple Folders

Dropbox is a wonderful little program. What it does is put a folder on your computer, and anything you place inside of that folder will be backed up to the internet. I shouldn’t need to convince you that keeping an off-computer backup of all your project files is a good idea.

Unfortunately, you have to manually put anything you want backed up in your Dropbox folder, and that’s lame, especially if you have multiple folders that you want to be constantly backed up. The good news? It’s 2009, robots are about to control the world, and we can automate it!

This tutorial will show you how to use Dropbox and Automator to do automatic backups of multiple folders.

Get Dropbox

Obviously, if you haven’t already, you’re going to need to get Dropbox and install it.

Create Action

Now you’ll have to create an Automator action so your syncing will be automated.

  1. Load up Automator (It should be in your Applications folder)and create a Custom Workflowcustomworkflow
  2. In the Files & Folders tab, find “Get Specified Finder Items” and drag it to your workflow. Choose the first folder you’d like sync’d. getspecifiedfinderitems
  3. Now drag “Copy Finder Items” to your workflow. copyfinderitems
  4. Choose your Dropbox folder as the destination, and click “Replacing existing files” if you so desire.
  5. Keep doing this for all of the folders you want to keep sync’d with Dropbox. repeat
  6. Save your Workflow.
  7. Right click on the action you’ve saved, and go to “Open With”. Navigate to System/Library/Core Services and choose to “Always Open With” Automator Runner. This makes it so when your action is opened it automatically runs.

Sync

Now, already we’ve made syncing multiple folders with Dropbox easier, as you can just run the action you’ve saved whenever you want to backup your things, and it will copy everything from your selected Folders to the Dropbox folder.

But wouldn’t it be nice if your computer would do this automatically at a specified time every day? I think so. We can do th

editevent

at with iCal Alarms.

  1. Load up iCal
  2. Go to File > New Event, and call it what you’d like.
  3. Double click on your Event and go to Edit
  4. Choose the time you’d like it done
  5. Repeat: Every day
  6. For Alarm, choose “Open File” and then find your Dropbox action

That’s it!

I hope you enjoyed the tutorial.

Note: ┬áThere’s also a free version of Dropbox available but it’s limited to 2GB.

David Das October 22, 2009 at 4:43 pm

Excellent article. You may also want to append it or create an alternate version for those who would like to use their own FTP space instead of paying for DropBox: you can do the exact same backup via FTP by using this little Automator extension:

http://editkid.com/upload_to_ftp/

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Matt October 22, 2009 at 5:01 pm

Excellent tip, David.

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Stefan October 23, 2009 at 5:20 am

Dropbox is truly a great service. I just hope it will stay so for a long time so we always will have a safe backup.

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johnsonjia January 4, 2010 at 9:24 am

What a great idea!

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Taryn Merrick January 14, 2010 at 9:13 pm

*Just* what I was looking for. Love it! Thanks so much!

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Some Guy February 4, 2010 at 4:29 pm

Thank you for this tip. I followed the directions exactly, in fact when I click on the workflow, it backs up. But it won't work in iCal. I get an error message saying the alarm failed. Am I missing something?

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man March 29, 2010 at 6:35 pm

Great tip, thanks,

does this technique copy the whole file each time or just the modified items?

thanks.

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Fenriq May 5, 2010 at 10:21 am

This has just taken the already incredibly useful DropBox and pushed it all the way to 11. Very useful information!

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Edmundo Junior May 24, 2010 at 5:30 pm

Thanks man! I was looking for a solution like this, just perfect!
Is there a way to copy only changed files?

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JP August 10, 2010 at 9:41 am

Thanks for the very easy-to-follow walk-thru! This marked my first attempt at using Automator, and it’s copying files to Dropbox without any hiccups.

Here’s a question, though…

Yesterday, I tried to get cute and change the “copy find items” command to the “move finder items” command instead. I really don’t want to create a backup as much as I just want to have the files reside inside Dropbox alone.

Overnight, the automated process did not run. When I tested it this morning within Automator, itself, I got an error message about not having permission to move files to Dropbox.

Any ideas what’s wrong here? It’s a work computer (Mac Mini) where I’m the administrator of my machine. Again, the “copy” feature worked fine the other day, but “moving” files hit a snag.

Thanks!

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sviddle September 24, 2010 at 6:15 pm

This is great…though how to you tell it to filter for newest files only? The filter option only allows to filter by name and size, I think.

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sviddle September 24, 2010 at 6:31 pm

So far on Automator 2.1 (OSX 10.6) I can see all the other options…but on 2.0.4 (OSX 10.5) the other options aren’t available…

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Radmacdaddy October 22, 2010 at 3:18 pm

wouldn’t it be super sweet if as soon as you save a file to docs it automatically saves it to the dropbox folder?! Rather than having to wait for it to sync at the “special” time of day you setup, or to have to do it manually… it is automator! There must be a “detect change in folder” action somewhere!

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Brandon Pierce November 3, 2010 at 7:39 am

Radmacdaddy:

Just use folder actions instead of a normal Automator workflow. You’d create the same workflow, but it would be triggered when items are added to the specified directory. It’s simple to do this for a single directory–it gets complicated if you want to back up the contents of a directory that includes subdirectories because the automator workflow will only detect files added to the directory to which the action is attached. To include subdirectories, you’d have to attach the action to every subdirectory somehow.

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Muhammad December 25, 2010 at 6:19 am

I was looking for this! I didn’t know automator was capable of this, but then again, I never use it.

Thanks for putting the time in to write it up. I’m saving tons of time now!

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Cid February 26, 2011 at 5:10 pm

Merci beaucoup, votre article m’a beaucoup servi.

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Gretchen April 11, 2011 at 9:43 pm

I think I followed your tutorial correctly but am wondering about the “Alarm” step.

In your tutorial, you wrote, “Open File” then choose your DropBox action. Your graphic showed “sync with dropbox”. Was this a “choice” shown in the menu? My menu showed “iCal” or “Other”. I chose “Other” and then “Drop Box Automated Workflow”.

Is this correct? If so, does this mean my files will be backed up once everyday and not say, every hour, as an external hard drive back up would? Does Drop Box replace an Ext. HD back up or would you recommend having both?

Also, Does Drop Box notify you if you’ve exceeded the free 2GB?

Thanks!

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Nando Rossi September 10, 2012 at 9:00 am

About replacing an external HD with Dropbox, the answer is NO. Always have three copies of your important files (what’s known as the 3-2-1 backup strategy):
- Keep 3 copies of any important file (a primary and two backups)
- Have the files on 2 different media types (such as hard drive and optical media), to protect against different types of hazards.*
- 1 copy should be stored offsite (or at least offline).

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kantandane November 29, 2012 at 8:31 am

Dropbox doesn’t replace an Ext. HD, I think it’ll be always more safe to keep both !

About the alarm step, yes, “sync with dropbox” is just the name of his workflow, nothing else ;)

Yes, with iCal, the maximum you can do is 1 time / day.

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Ryan November 23, 2011 at 6:18 pm

I think I’ve got it working almost as I want it, copying the recently modified files from a folder to my dropbox so I can access them on the go.

Get Specified Finder Items > Get Folder Contents (Tick: Repeat for each subfolder found) > Filter Finder Items (Date last modified is in the last 5 days) > Copy Finder Items

Only problem is I’m loosing the folder structure… And probably need to add another Filter for files older than 5 days so they get removed from Dropbox.

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Michael Eisler December 28, 2011 at 3:49 pm

what do you think of DropboxAutomator.com – http://bit.ly/v53JzN ?

You can easily automate a folder of your dropbox with dropboxautomator.com! Login with your Dropbox-Account and choose a folder – choose your Action and save the Action. Done! Every File within the folder will be processed automatically every time you put files in this folder

Michael

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Chris December 31, 2011 at 9:56 pm

There is no good reason to have an Automator action copy files to the DropBox. Instead, actually keep the files in your DropBox folder. That way they are automatically synced whenever they change as often as they change.

To keep your favorite file structure, just put aliases of the files and folders where you want them.

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Farhan February 3, 2012 at 10:35 am

it gives me an error! it can’t copy !

“Check the action’s Properties and run workflow again”

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Matt May 23, 2012 at 8:11 am

Is there any way of having the alarm sync without then also opening up the Automator programme as well. I just find it annoying that i’m always having to close the Automator programme down because it randomly opens halfway through the day.

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Michaela August 20, 2012 at 1:19 pm

Thanks so much!
This was my first time working with automator, and it seemed to have worked great.

EXCEPT the Ical alarm. Ical does not seem to recognize the automator file, as I can see it when picking a file, but I cannot chose it to be used for the alarm. Does anyone know why this might happen?

Thanks!

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M August 26, 2012 at 12:04 am

Hi,
I got the function to run but every day, instead of replacing my new, changed folder in drop box it makes a new copy every day. I have to keep deleting the older folder in favor for the new one. Is there a way to specify that it can override and copy anything with the same name that is already in drop box?

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Hugh December 19, 2012 at 12:35 am

Brilliant!

I’ve been looking for something exactly like this. Very cool addition to use a calendar entry to trigger the routine.

Thanks!

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blindkingofbohemia February 26, 2013 at 4:19 am

Hey, I’m trying to figure out a way to make that workflow run periodically (every fifteen minutes or something) rather than once a day, because my computer may well not be turned on at the time… Is that possible?

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Brian Callaway March 6, 2013 at 5:26 pm

If you want to prevent the daily backup from appearing in your calendar. Convert the workflow into an iCal plugin. Then go to iCal, and schedule the plugin as in the tutorial above. Now you will have a new calendar called “Automator.” Unclick the “Automator” calendar to remove these daily tasks from view.

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