How to use Dropbox to save hard drive space

This feature is only available to users on Dropbox Plus, Family, Professional, or Business plans.

If you’re a Dropbox Business admin and you’d like to manage your team’s default online-only settings, visit this article instead.

The Dropbox desktop app allows you to make files online-only so you can save hard drive space on your computer.

Note: The online-only preferences you choose are unique to each computer and don’t affect other computers you use with Dropbox.

Set a file or folder to online-only or available offline

To set a file or folder to online-only:

  1. Open File Explorer (Windows) or Finder (Mac).
  2. Open the Dropbox folder.
  3. Right-click the file or folder you’d like to set to online-only.
  4. Click Make online-only.
    • If you’d like to save your file or folder back to your computer’s hard drive, repeat this step and click Make available offline.

Online-only explained 

If you haven’t set a file or folder to online-only, then all files and folders in the Dropbox folder on your computer are available offline. This means that they take up space both on your computer’s hard drive and in your Dropbox account, but are available even when you’re not connected to the Internet. 

If you set a file or folder to online-only, you’ll still see the file or folder in the Dropbox folder on your computer, but it’s just a placeholder. You can only open it if you’re connected to the Internet. Dropbox removes this file or folder from your computer’s hard drive, so that it only takes up space in your Dropbox account online.

Anytime you open an online-only file, Dropbox automatically makes it available offline again, but you can change it back to online-only at any time.

Using selective sync

Selective sync also helps you save hard drive space by removing files from your hard drive so that they’re online-only. However, those files will no longer appear in the Dropbox folder on your computer.

Set files you add to web to online-only by default

To make all files that you add to dropbox.com online-only by default:

  1. Click the Dropbox icon in your taskbar (Windows) or menu bar (Mac).
  2. Click your avatar (profile picture or initials) in the top-right corner.
  3. Click Preferences.
  4. Click the Sync tab.
  5. Click the dropdown next to New files default and click Online-only.

Why do online-only files appear to take up storage space on my hard drive?

Online-only files take up a small amount of space on your hard drive as the placeholder requires space to store the file name and the shortcut to dropbox.com. Still, this takes up much less space than the file itself would.

If you’re using online-only files with macOS 10.13 to 12.2, you may notice that online-only files appear to take up space when you try to manage storage space in your Mac settings.

The reason for this is that file size is calculated based on something called “logical size” rather than “physical size”.

To see which files are really taking up your storage space, adjust your Dropbox settings so that online-only files have both logical and physical size set to zero. To do so:

  1. Sign in to dropbox.com.
  2. Click your avatar (profile picture or initials) in the top-right corner.
  3. Click Settings.
  4. Toggle Update for online-only files on Mac on.
    • Note: This setting may take some time to update. If you don’t see the update reflected after a few minutes, close the Dropbox desktop app, then reopen it.

System requirements for using online-only files

Mac: OS 10.10 and higher

Windows: 8 and higher

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