How to use Dropbox to save hard drive space

This feature is available on all Dropbox plans except Dropbox Basic. If you are on Dropbox Basic, you'll become eligible for this feature later in 2023.

If you’re an admin on a Dropbox team account 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.

Sections in this article:

How to 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 or Make available offline.

Available offline 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. 

Online-only explained 

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.

When 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. Learn more about selective sync.

How to set files to online-only by default

You can make all files that you add to 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.

Note: Files are already set to online-only by default on Dropbox for macOS 12.5 or higher.

Why do online-only files 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 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.

This is because the 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
  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.
    • 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.
    • This setting is not available on Dropbox for macOS 12.3 or later. Learn more about online-only files.

On macOS 12.3 and later, opening an online-only file from the Dropbox desktop app downloads a file to your computer. macOS won’t include these files when calculating occupied disk space. Making these files available offline corrects this issue.

System requirements for using online-only files

Mac: macOS 10.12 and higher

Windows: 8 and higher

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