How to Sync Folders Outside the Dropbox Folder in 2021

Whether you’re linking user folders on multiple computers or trying to share photos with your family, sometimes you just don’t want to ruin your personal file structure. Luckily, you don’t have to; just read on and learn to sync folders outside the Dropbox folder.

Robin Barber
By Robin Barber (Writer)
— Last Updated: 2021-05-07T21:05:23+00:00

Like most cloud storage providers, when you install Dropbox on your computer, it creates a folder dedicated to file syncing. This makes it really easy to learn how to use Dropbox, as long as your data’s location doesn’t matter. However, this article will show you how to sync folders outside the Dropbox folder, for when you can’t change the file path.

Key Takeaways:

  • Dropbox no longer allows you to create “symlinks” that link outside the Dropbox folder.
  • Symlinks on your system can still link into the Dropbox folder.
  • Files will automatically sync to your account when placed in a linked folder.

The Dropbox application does allow you to sync some folders — such as your desktop, documents and pictures folders — without moving them over. Although this’ll be plenty for most users, if you want to sync any files outside of these folders, you’ll need to use a symbolic link — or “symlink” — to trick your computer into thinking the folder is in both places at once.

  • The easiest way to sync a folder to Dropbox is by simply moving it across into the dedicated Dropbox sync folder.

  • Although you can’t add folders to Dropbox without moving them, depending on your operating system, you can create a symlink. Symlinks trick the computer into thinking the folder is in its original location when it’s really in the Dropbox folder.

  • Dropbox will sync all files and folders inside the Dropbox folder. So as long as they have unique names, any folders you add will be saved in your cloud storage space.

  • There are many reasons why Dropbox might not be syncing. To get a detailed breakdown on how to fix it, read our full article on why Dropbox isn’t syncing.

Sync Folders Outside the Dropbox Folder in Windows

Since mid-2019, Dropbox dropped its support for symlinks that link to outside your Dropbox folder. While this does solve the high-CPU usage issue that they could cause, it also means that you’ll have to move the original folder into Dropbox and then create a symlink to the original location. This is more complicated, but you can do it with these three steps.

  1. Move the Folder Into Dropbox

    First, you’ll need to put the folder you’re syncing in your Dropbox folder. Be careful that you remember where this folder came from, and create a backup if the data’s important.

    sync outside dropbox windows move folder
  2. Run Command Prompt as an Administrator

    Type “command prompt” into the Windows search bar and choose to “run as administrator.”

    sync outside dropbox windows command prompt

Sync Other Folders on Mac

As with Windows, the mid-2019 changes stopped Mac users from creating symbolic links to locations outside of the Dropbox folder. However, if you need to keep the file or folder in the same place in Finder, you can use the same Windows workaround on macOS, just with slightly different steps.

  1. Move the Folder Into Dropbox

    First, open Finder and move the folder you want to sync into your Dropbox folder, noting the original location of the folder. You might also want to create a backup if the data’s important.

    sync outside dropbox mac move folder
  2. Open the Terminal and Use the “ln -s” Command

    In the terminal, type “ln -s ” then drag into the terminal both the folder you want to sync and the folder where you want to put the symlink — in that order.

    sync outside dropbox mac terminal
  3. Check and Run the Command

    The full command “ln -s <path to original folder> <path to target folder>” will create your symlink when you press “enter.” Then you can use Finder to access the files as if they were still in their original place.

    sync outside dropbox mac run command

Final Thoughts

Although this Dropbox symlink workaround isn’t ideal, it’s the best option if you want to add a folder to Dropbox without moving it. This will let you access files and folders from other devices through your Dropbox account but still keep the file path the same for normal use.

However, if you don’t want to go through the hassle and risk of moving the original copies into Dropbox, there are other cloud storage services. Sync.com still has unofficial support for symlinks that link outside of your cloud storage, and pCloud lets you sync any folder on your hard drive. If these interest you, read both our Sync.com review and our pCloud review.

Do you need to sync files outside your Dropbox folder? Have you created a symbolic link before? Were you using these links before Dropbox removed the option? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below. Thanks for reading.