Smart Sync

Smart Sync is a Dropbox feature that helps you save space on your hard drive. Access every file and folder in your Dropbox account from your computer, using virtually no hard drive space. Smart Sync is available for Dropbox Plus and Professional customers, and members of Dropbox Business teams. With Smart Sync, you can:

  • Choose if individual files or folders are available online-only or locally on your computer
  • Select a default sync setting for new files and folders that are shared with you

Not using Dropbox yet? See how Dropbox makes syncing files easy.

With Smart Sync, content on your computer is available as either online-only, local, or in mixed state folders.

Online-only content icon

Online-only content

Online-only content appears in the Dropbox folder on your computer, but doesn’t use the full amount of space that the file otherwise would. You can see the file, but the content isn’t fully downloaded until you need it. Only information about the file, such as the file name, location, and date the file was updated, is downloaded.

Local content icon

Local content

Local content is downloaded and saved on the hard drive of your computer. You can directly edit these files from applications on your computer. This content is still backed up to Dropbox as well.

Mixed state folder icon

Mixed state folders

Mixed state folders contain both local and online-only content.


Start with Smart Sync

When you start using Smart Sync:

  • There's no change to files already in the Dropbox folder on your computer
  • New files created online or on another device appear as online-only files, which don’t take up space on your device

Note: To use Smart Sync, you need to install the Dropbox desktop application on your computer.

Click your operating system to learn how to use Smart Sync:

How do I make content online-only?

  1. Open the Dropbox folder on your computer.
    1. Click the Dropbox icon from the menu bar.
    2. Click the folder icon.
    3. Choose Open folder.
  2. Locate the content that you want to make online-only.
  3. Control-click or right-click the file or folder.
  4. Choose Smart sync.
  5. Choose Online-only.

Make content online-only
Make content online-only

How do I sync online-only content to my computer?

You can open a file as usual through your application or Finder. Dropbox downloads the entire file to your computer.

To sync a file or folder without opening it immediately, you can make it local:

  1. Open the Dropbox folder on your computer.
    1. Click the Dropbox icon from the menu bar.
    2. Click the folder icon.
    3. Choose Open folder.
  2. Locate the content that you want to sync to your computer.
  3. Control-click or right-click the file or folder.
  4. Choose Smart sync.
  5. Choose Local.

How can I choose a default setting for new content?

  1. Click the Dropbox icon from the menu bar.
  2. Click your profile picture or initials and select Preferences... from the menu.
  3. Click Sync.
  4. Choose your work Dropbox account.
  5. Change the selection for Smart Sync Default:
    • Admin default: the default setting chosen by your team admin.
    • Local: all new content downloads to your computer.
    • Online-only: manually download files to your computer when you need them.

How do I make content online-only?

  1. Open the Dropbox folder on your computer.
    1. Click the Dropbox icon from the system tray.
    2. Click the folder icon.
    3. Choose Open folder.
  2. Locate the content that you want to make online-only.
  3. Right-click the file or folder.
  4. Choose Smart sync.
  5. Choose Online-only.

Make content online-only
Make content online-only

How do I sync online-only content to my computer?

You can open a file as usual through your application or Windows Explorer. Dropbox downloads the entire file to your computer.

To sync a file or folder without opening it immediately, you can make it local:

  1. Open the Dropbox folder on your computer.
    1. Click the Dropbox icon from the system tray.
    2. Click the folder icon.
    3. Choose Open folder.
  2. Locate the content that you want to make online-only.
  3. Right-click the file or folder.
  4. Choose Smart sync.
  5. Choose Local.

How can I choose a default setting for new content?

  1. Click the Dropbox icon from the system tray.
  2. Click your profile picture or initials and select Preferences... from the menu.
  3. Click Sync.
  4. Choose your work Dropbox account.
  5. Change the selection for Smart Sync Default:
    • Admin default: the default setting chosen by your team admin.
    • Local: all new content downloads to your computer.
    • Online-only: manually download files to your computer when you need them.

Video: How to use Smart Sync

Watch this video to learn more about using Smart Sync.

How to save hard drive space automatically

If you haven’t opened files and folders in a few months, they’ll become online-only. To change this setting:

  1. Click the Dropbox icon from the system tray or menu bar.
  2. Click your profile picture or initials.
  3. Click Preferences... from the menu.
  4. Click Sync.
  5. Choose your work Dropbox account.
  6. Toggle the On/Off setting under Save hard drive space automatically.

Note: This feature is available to Dropbox Plus and Professional users. Dropbox Business team admins can opt their teams into this feature through the early access section of their admin console settings.

What are the system requirements for Smart Sync?

Smart Sync works on Microsoft Windows 7 and above and on Mac OSX 10.9 and above.

Using Windows Subsystem for Linux (WSL) to access Smart Sync files is not supported. You may experience errors or files may appear to be empty when trying to open a file that is Online-only.

How fast can Smart Sync free up space on my hard drive?

Usually, setting files to be online only will free up space on your hard drive within minutes (as long as your computer is online and able to sync to Dropbox). However, there is a known limitation with macOS 10.13 (High Sierra):

Apple's operating system macOS 10.13 (High Sierra) uses a new type of file system called APFS. With APFS, the operating system takes snapshots of the file system and available hard drive space. These snapshots may not update after you've used Smart Sync to set Dropbox files as online only. This means that hard drive space you freed up with Smart Sync may not be immediately reflected or available if this snapshot hasn't updated.

This hard drive space should eventually be freed up by the OS, but the amount of time this will take can vary. This isn't a behavior specific to Dropbox, but instead the designed behavior of macOS.

I have folders selectively synced, how do I make my selective sync content online-only?

Follow the steps to change the selective sync settings for your folders. Once your folders are no longer selectively synced, they automatically become online-only folders.

Does changing a file to online-only delete the file from my Dropbox?

No, making a file online-only doesn't delete it from your Dropbox. When you make a file online-only, the file content will be deleted from your computer, but the full file will still be available in your account online and on your other devices.

Do online-only files use space on my local hard drive?

Online-only files use a small amount of space on your hard drive to store information about the file, such as its name and size. This uses less space than the full file.

Some applications you're using may need to re-sync files to your computer's hard drive to function properly (like applications with a "recently viewed" menu). In some cases, Dropbox will attempt to switch the file back to online-only as soon as possible to minimize usage of your hard drive space.

Can I access online-only content when I’m not connected to the internet?

No, online-only content isn’t stored locally on your computer. Connect to the internet to access online-only content.

Can I move online-only files within my Dropbox folder?

Yes, you can move online-only content inside the Dropbox folder on your device, and changes sync to your other devices. If you move online-only content outside of the local Dropbox folder, the content downloads to that location.

What happens if I delete an online-only file or move it to my trash?

Any actions taken on an online-only file sync to your Dropbox account and to anyone else who shares that file. Since the file isn’t stored on your computer, the file content will not be available in your trash. You can restore deleted files from your Dropbox account online.

Learn more about restoring files.

Can I use my desktop search to find online-only files or their contents?

You can use your desktop search to locate online-only files and folders by name. However, online-only files don't contain the full contents of your file, so your desktop search can't search file contents.

Can I have different Smart Sync settings on different devices?

Yes, Smart Sync settings are unique to each device you link to your Dropbox account.

Can I have local files in an online-only folder?

Yes, if a folder is online-only, you can download individual files inside the folder.

Can I remove content from my device completely without removing it from my Dropbox?

Yes, if you don’t want files to appear on your device, you can use selective sync. Selective sync helps you choose which files appear in your desktop application, and which are only available online.

Can I use Smart Sync on my personal account?

Smart Sync is available for all Dropbox Plus, Professional, and Business users. If you connected a personal account (Basic) to a Business account, Smart Sync won't be available for that personal account.

Will enabling Smart Sync require a driver to be installed?

Yes, Smart Sync requires enabling a driver (or system extension) in order to integrate with your operating system’s filesystem.

Mac and Windows computers commonly use drivers to interact with peripherals such as mice and printers. Our driver allows the Dropbox client to sync files on your filesystem when you open them (for online-only content). We engineered this driver to only provide the integration necessary to power Smart Sync. It only interacts with files inside your Dropbox storage location.

New to Dropbox?

Whether you're new to Dropbox or just need a refresher, get the most from your Dropbox account by taking advantage of our self-guided learning or virtual instructor-led training classes. 

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