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Dropbox for Linux


Dropbox is a popular service for synchronising a directory between different devices. However it is designed for use on personal computers where the home directory is stored on local disk and has large amounts of space available. This means that the typical setup is not appropriate for our system where we have disk space quotas and home directories are stored on a central server and accessed over the network.

Furthermore, on 7 November 2018 Dropbox stopped supporting keeping your folder on networked storage and the vast majority of Linux file systems. We regret that since Dropbox is third-party proprietary software we can only offer support on a best-effort basis.

As mentioned above, the Dropbox folder must now be kept on local disk, which for Maths Linux desktops means in the /local/scratch/public directory. We recommend giving it its own directory /local/scratch/public/CRSID-dropbox and this will happen automatically for new users of Dropbox on the Maths desktops. Keeping the Dropbox folder in your general scratch space /local/scratch/public/CRSID will not cause issues with Dropbox itself but will make extra work for the IT team who have to determine whether your scratch space needs to be preserved after you leave.

There will generally be at least 40GB available in scratch space, depending on the size of your desktop's hard disk, and as people mostly use the scratch space on their own desktop you are unlikely to interfere with someone else's work by accidentally filling it up.

  • If someone else is filling up the scratch space on your desktop and preventing you from running Dropbox, either contact them yourself or email help@maths.
  • Remember that Dropbox's cache will take up some space so you may not have the full 40GB available for your data (of course this issue applies whatever file synchronisation program you use).

Caveats and alternatives

Dropbox paid plans

A basic Dropbox account is free, but Dropbox also offer a couple of paid account "plans" which provide much more disk space than the standard 2GB and additional features such as better file sharing and the ability to recover old versions of files.

  • Dropbox Plus aka Dropbox Pro for individuals
  • Dropbox Business for teams

The University offers discounted Dropbox Business accounts at £75 per year if payment is made by purchase order. Access to University Dropbox Business accounts is secured by Raven and they can only be linked to addresses of the form

  • If you already have a Dropbox Pro or Dropbox Business account and wish to upgrade it to a University Dropbox Business account, change the email address associated with your account to your address first in order to receive a pro rata refund of your subscription fee.

You can maintain a personal Dropbox account and a University Dropbox Business account simultaneously and can connect the two accounts via the Dropbox web interface. However the Linux Dropbox client can only sign into one account.

Getting started

Launch Dropbox from the Applications -> Internet menu. It will run our local Dropbox wrapper which on first run will ask where you would like to keep your Dropbox folder. Once you have made your selection, Dropbox itself will start and will pop up a browser tab asking you to sign in or create an account, or possibly asking which account to link if you have accessed Dropbox via the web from your computer before. Thereafter Dropbox will start automatically on login, though if you switch to a different desktop the browser tab asking you to sign in will reappear.

  • The browser tab may look different from your usual browser. For example Firefox may pop up when you use Google Chrome, or it may be missing your bookmarks. This is not a cause for concern as Dropbox only launches a browser tab on first use.
  • However, any persistent browser issues triggered by Dropbox should be reported to help@maths.
  • You can sign into or create a personal Dropbox account for any email address you own whether or not it has a Cambridge connection.
  • If you enter your address and you have signed up for a University Dropbox Business account, a message "single sign-on enabled" will appear and you will be asked to log into Raven if you have not already done so.

If all is well, the browser tab will say "This computer was successfully linked to your account". You can now close it.

The folder where your Dropbox files are stored (your Dropbox folder) is called Dropbox for personal accounts and Dropbox (Cambridge University) for University Dropbox Business accounts. As discussed above, you can choose where to keep it. To make it easier to access you can create a link in your home directory so that cd ~/Dropbox will change to your Dropbox folder.

The Unix command to create a link is


For example, if your Dropbox folder was in /local/scratch/public/CRSID-dropbox/Dropbox one of the commands below would work.

# For personal accounts
ln -s /local/scratch/public/CRSID-dropbox/Dropbox ~/Dropbox

# For University Dropbox Business accounts
ln -s "/local/scratch/public/CRSID-dropbox/Dropbox (Cambridge University)" ~/Dropbox

Resetting or shutting down Dropbox

To reset Dropbox prior to reconfiguring it, or to prevent it popping up every time you log in, use the local command reset-dropbox which kills all dropbox processes and removes the file .dropbox-loc which stores the location of your Dropbox folder. To save disk space, you may wish to move or delete your Dropbox folder after running this command.


If Dropbox is popping up messages telling you to move your Dropbox to a supported location you almost certainly have your Dropbox folder on networked storage. Type reset-dropbox and run Dropbox again to move it to scratch space.

Like any software, Dropbox can occasionally get confused if it is upgraded while someone is running it. If your Dropbox is acting up or has been configured incorrectly, try these steps in order before emailing help@maths. After each step, start Dropbox again.

  1. Quit and restart Dropbox. If the Dropbox icon is visible, right-click it and select "Quit Dropbox". Type killall dropbox to terminate any stray Dropbox processes.
  2. If you have manually edited the file .dropbox-loc containing the location of your Dropbox directory, ensure that it does not include "Dropbox" or "Dropbox (Cambridge University)" at the end. E.g. to keep your Dropbox in the standard scratch area, .dropbox-loc should contain only /local/scratch/public/CRSID-dropbox.
  3. Type reset-dropbox to remove the local config file .dropbox-loc. This will allow you to relocate your Dropbox folder to scratch space.
  4. If you are still unable to run Dropbox, type reset-dropbox again and then cd to /local/scratch/public/CRSID-dropbox and delete the directories .dropbox and .dropbox-dist
  5. If dropbox is not visible in the panel, but attempting to start it from the Applications menu does not work, you may wish to try, in a terminal window:
    dropbox stop

    And then you should be able to start Dropbox from the Applications menu.

Also check for quota / disk space issues. Dropbox itself has a quota on how much space you can use. For a free account this starts at 2GB with a few options to earn more. For a University Dropbox Business account it is effectively unlimited (750TB for the whole University of which only 10% is currently used).

To see where Dropbox keeps its folder, right-click on the Dropbox icon, select Preferences, go to the Sync tab and look under Dropbox Folder Location. If you have reconfigured Dropbox at any time there may be old Dropbox folders in other places. These can safely be deleted.

To check your Maths home directory quota look at the graphical quota applet or type quota at the command line. If you are close to your quota, check where the majority of the disk usage is - Dropbox may not be the cause of the problem. If Dropbox is keeping its folder in your home directory and putting you over quota, reset it with reset-dropbox and delete the Dropbox directory before restarting Dropbox.

To see whether any disks your computer is using are full, type df -h. You can also use this command to check a specific disk e.g. df -h /local/scratch. If a disk is 100% full problems will ensue when attempts are made to write to it (whether by the user or the system).

  • It is normal for CDs/DVDs to be displayed as 100% full.
  • If you notice that a system disk such as /alt/applic is full, there is no need to report it unless it is affecting your work - our monitoring system will alert us.

If your Dropbox is linked to your personal account, you can see how much space you are using by right-clicking the Dropbox icon, but for Dropbox Business accounts this will only show the aggregate usage for the University.