Four Ways Dropbox Can Help Developers Be More Productive

Dropbox is a freemium service that offers four basic tools: file synchronization, file versioning, file sharing, and remote backup of files.  It’s an extremely powerful tool for developers especially; as it enables coders to quickly sync their coding projects across networks, multiple operating systems, and a whole host of devices. In this article, we’re going to take a look at how Dropbox can simplify common coding tasks and help developers become even more productive. Note: this is not meant to be an official endorsement of Dropbox; just a helpful article pointing out a useful tool.

The basics

Dropbox couldn’t be easier to start up; simply sign up for a free account and you’ll instantly receive 2GB of free storage. Install the software and a folder will be created on your computer that will sync instantly with Dropbox’s servers, along with any Dropbox folders on any other systems that you intend on using the software to sync with. So, initially, it’s a bit of a set-up, but it’s more than worth it when you consider the eventual productivity outcome.

File Syncing

Many developers have multiple devices that they use for coding, processing, and testing. For example, in a recent Google Hangout I participated in with several superstar developers, we learned that most everyone had a wide variety of devices: tablets, Ultrabooks, Apple devices, workhorse desktop PCs, etc. How do you sync files that you’re working on one device to the other? Instead of having to copy onto a USB stick, Dropbox allows you to sync files instantly across any devices with the app installed so you don’t lose any time or productivity.

Updating something on one project might mean that you have to update it across several different machines, which can be a pain and a big time drain as well. All you need to do to sync files with Dropbox is to download the app on each machine you plan on syncing files from, and then whenever you put a file in there, it automatically syncs across any machine it’s installed from. This makes it possible for you to send files between machines – for example, say you’re working on something at home, and you want to keep working on it when you get to work. Syncing files in Dropbox between machines makes this process seamless.  Here are a few examples of how file syncing can make your life easier:

  • Sync applications across computers to make everything work together seamlessly
  • Use Dropbox to sync important Web browser information across computers. This also works for passwords.
  • Traveling? You can sync documents you’re working on to be available on whatever device you’re working on, wherever you might be located
  • Download SDKs and put them in their own files so you can work with them anywhere you might be
  • Check a project out of the source-control system at work , put it in a Dropbox folder, work on it at home and then the next day check it back in

 File Sharing

Dropbox enables users to share files easily; just right-click on a folder and choose the “share this folder” option, enter in an email address(es), and you’re all set. A copy of what you’ve just shared will appear within their Dropbox on their computer in seconds.

When a file is edited on one machine, that same file will be up dated on all corresponding machines automatically: this includes moving, deleting and renaming. Basically, any edits are going to ripple over to shared folders as well, so caution is advised.

However, even if you accidentally delete something, you can still revisit it on the web-based version of Dropbox. Users have 30 days to go in and see what they might have deleted, and files are easy to restore via the Bin icon.

Even a free account (starting out with 2GB of space) gives you a lot of space for sharing projects; you can upgrade to a paid account if you need more space. Dropbox’s sharing feature greatly simplifies various development tasks, for example:

  • If you’re working on a mockup for an app for a client, instead of having to upload changes to a server or email huge zip files, you can upload it to Dropbox and email the publicly shareable URL of the work to your client. Once they’re done looking at it, you can delete the link so it’s no longer available.
  • Having a meeting? You could distribute agendas and background materials instantly to everyone at the same time (with updates as needed that will globally filter to participants)

File Versioning

It’s inevitable: sometimes changes are made in projects and they can be a real bear to correct, wasting precious time and developer resources. You can use Dropbox to go back to the previous version of something simply by right-clicking on the current file and selecting “view previous versions”. This will show you every version of that file from the past 30 days, and you can restore any of those versions simply by selecting the radio button next to the one you want.  This is especially useful for workers who might be geographically far apart; if all files are digitally archived, all changes are synched, and therefore there is a common version history that can be relied on.

Remote Backup

Dropbox can actually serve as an off-site backup for the files you want next to you every day. This is definitely not meant as a complete backup solution; however, it’s good for those files get the most use so you experience as little downtime as possible when the worst happens. A few ways that developers can take advantage of this feature:

  • Run a cron job that creates a compressed database of files you’re working on and store it in a Dropbox folder
  • Scan personal documents  and other important files and put them in Dropbox
  • Sync and store GitHub work directories as an extra, peace of mind backup
  • Those original installation files of apps you’re working on? They can be archived
  • Chatting with a client? Store all your important conversations in Dropbox for security
  • Common frameworks that you use to develop can be stored here in case of catastrophe, that way, if one of your machines goes down or you need to set something up from scratch, you can reinstall in seconds and be up and running in a matter of minutes

Great for productivity

Dropbox is definitely useful for developers, and there is a multitude of different ways that coders can use this service to make their time as productive as possible. How do you use Dropbox? Share with us in the comments.


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