Dropbox, Exploiting the Alias vs Symlink Distinction

January 13, 2011 at 4:02 am

| Gabriel |

Yesterday I described how I started using Dropbox by keeping my file system as is and adding symbolic links to ~/Dropbox. (As described in that post, this is a good strategy if you mostly use one computer but a bad idea if you frequently use multiple computers and/or use Dropbox to collaborate).

Today I have an even simpler tip. Dropbox follows symbolic links but ignores aliases. This means that if you want to exclude a subdirectory from being archived (and hence counting against your disk quota) you can move it to a directory that is not linked to Dropbox and add an alias to the original location. For instance, in many of my project directories about half the space is taken up by a “lit” subdirectory where I put PDFs of related literature. I can move all of these to be subdirectories of “~/Documents/litreviews” (which is not linked to ~/Dropbox) and then add aliases to the respective project directories (which are linked).

Since I don’t usually do anything with article PDFs that would benefit from symbolic links this is no big deal, but for other kinds of files (eg, datasets or graphs) it could cause a problem. For instance, if I have two overlapping projects I’ll often have a symbolic link to let them share a data and/or output directory and I expect Stata, R, and Lyx to follow that link. Anyway, the point is that this tip is most useful for files that:

  • you don’t need off-site access to (perhaps because you can always find them again on JSTOR)
  • are large or numerous enough that your disk quota takes an appreciable hit
  • you don’t otherwise use through software that can read symbolic links but not aliases

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