A Beginner’s Guide on How to Use Dropbox in 2021

Dropbox is a market leader in the cloud storage space. That's why it's popular for new users looking to backup their files. While at first glance it may seem difficult to use, it really isn't. But for those still unsure, we're going to show you exactly how to use Dropbox.

Dan Ginn
By Cody Kapocsi & Dan Ginn (Writer)
— Last Updated: 2021-09-17T14:14:45+00:00

Dropbox is a fantastic option for those looking for an easy-to-use, low-cost cloud storage platform. In this beginner’s guide on how to use Dropbox, we’re going to go over its basic functions and simple ways you can start interacting with it across multiple devices. 

Key Takeaways:

  • Our Dropbox tutorial will provide a broad overview of the platform, making it especially helpful for new users.
  • Those of you who’ve used the Windows File Explorer will already understand many of the functions you need to know to start operating the application.
  • Dropbox offers a free version, which may be enough for light users.

Although Dropbox’s free version will be enough for some, those who need more storage and features will need to look at the paid options. The paid service is a little more expensive than some of the competition, so you may want to consider alternative services such as Sync.com or OneDrive if you’re trying to keep costs down (read our Sync.com review or OneDrive review). 

If you want to learn more about how Dropbox works or see how it stacks up to its rivals, check out our Dropbox review. If you’re here to learn how you can get the most out of Dropbox, though, continue reading this guide.

  • 09/15/2021 Facts checked

    Cloudwards.net updated this article to include current Dropbox pricing, step-by-step instructions and more information about Dropbox features.

  • Beginners can sign up for a free Dropbox account to see if the platform is right for them. You can refer to this beginner guide to get started, and sign up for a paid plan should you need more storage.

  • Dropbox is a cloud storage service that allows you to backup and sync your files across multiple devices. After uploading your files to the platform, Dropbox stores them on its servers. You can access these files on any device simply by logging in to your account.

  • You can easily drag and drop files into the Dropbox folder on your desktop to begin backing them up. If you prefer to use the web version, you can select “upload” and manually choose the files you want to keep in the cloud.

Understanding How to Use Dropbox

People turn to cloud storage to backup their files and to free up space on their hard drives. However, new users should be aware that uploading files to Dropbox doesn’t automatically remove them from your hard drive. If that’s your objective, you’ll need to manually delete the files from your computer after uploading them to the cloud.

Dropbox does have automated features that are useful, though. For example, any files uploaded through the desktop app are automatically updated when you make changes to them. Also, because of the synchronization features, you can access those files across all of your devices.

This system keeps files secure against technical problems you may have with your computer. For instance, if your hard drive fails, your photos and other important documents won’t be lost forever if they’re stored in the cloud. Although you may think your computer is secure, there’s always a small chance it will be damaged, die of its own accord or even get stolen.

Transfer and Share Files

All files uploaded to Dropbox can be downloaded to a different or new device, including mobile and desktop. This makes it much easier to get set up on a different system, especially if you’re starting from scratch due to a malfunction on your previous device.

Dropbox has excellent functionality when it comes to sharing files. Getting your files to others is simple via shareable links and a range of user permissions. Permitted users can also comment and offer suggestions on files including documents, photos and videos.

You can use Dropbox as pure cloud storage, too. As long as you use the web client, you can add files to your Dropbox account and store them only in the cloud. (We have a guide in case you run into trouble with Dropbox not syncing.)

Dropbox Pricing & Account Tiers

You can try Dropbox for free by signing up for a Basic account on its website. Basic only comes with 2GB of free storage, which is enough if you don’t intend to upload many files. We’ll discuss the sign-up process in the next section.

Dropbox has multiple paid options for personal accounts. Unsurprisingly, the higher the monthly fee, the more storage and features you can access.

The Plus plan costs $119.88 per year, which works out to $9.99 per month (if you prefer to pay monthly, the cost is $11.99 per month). With that you get access to 2TB of storage space. You also get access to features lacking in the free plan, such as Smart Sync, mobile offline folders and account rewind (to recover accidentally changed or deleted files). 

For 3TB of storage, you can upgrade to the Professional plan. The annual total for this plan is $199 ($16.58 per month) and it comes with features like file versioning and expiration dates for shared links.

dropbox pricing
Dropbox has a range of plans for both personal and professional use. 

How Does Dropbox Work With Smart Sync?

Another big difference between the free and paid Dropbox plans is that the latter unlocks “Smart Sync” (read our what is Dropbox Smart Sync? piece).

To briefly explain, Smart Sync allows you to mark files you create on your desktop as “online only.” You can access and edit them anytime you use your computer, but they won’t be stored locally unless you choose to download them. 

Without the Smart Sync feature, users don’t have the option to store files solely in the cloud. If you have plenty of internal storage space, this likely won’t be an issue. For those who constantly max out their local storage space, paying more to access the Smart Sync feature will be money well spent.

How to Sign Up for a Dropbox Account

To begin using Dropbox, you’ll first need to create an account. Thankfully, it only takes a couple of minutes to do, and you can follow the steps below to get started.

  1. Locate the “Sign in” Prompt on the Website

    Once you have reached the Dropbox website, select “sign in” in the top right-hand corner.

    dropbox sign in
  2. Select “Create an Account”

    To create a new account, select the “create an account” option.

    dropbox create account
  3. Enter Your Personal Details

    You’ll be prompted to enter your name, email address and password. (If you want to keep your passwords secure, check out our pick of the best password managers available.) For a slightly quicker process, you can also sign up to Dropbox using your Google account.

    dropbox personal details
  4. Select Your Plan

    On the next page, you will be asked to select the plan you would like to use. If you prefer to stick to the free plan, select the option “or continue with 2GB Dropbox Basic plan” located at the bottom of the screen.

    dropbox free account

Dropbox will send you email confirmation of your account. You will need to verify your email address before you can use the service.

Once the sign-up process is complete, you will be prompted to download Dropbox to your computer. It’s a good idea to do this if you want to automatically sync files from your computer to the service.

How to Use the Dropbox Folder on Desktop

Downloading Dropbox to your desktop automatically creates a Dropbox folder. You can use the steps below to sync files to this folder.

  1. Locate the Dropbox Folder

    Open “finder” and locate “Dropbox” in your “favorites” tray.

    dropbox in favorites
  2. Drag and Drop Files Into Your Folder

    To add files, simply drag and drop them into your Dropbox folder. All files added will be synced to your Dropbox account and you will be able to access them across multiple devices.

    drag and drop files
  3. Save Files to Your Dropbox Folder

    When saving a file, you can choose to save it directly in your Dropbox folder. All files saved to Dropbox will automatically sync to your account.

    save to dropbox

How to Use Dropbox on Web

If you prefer not to download Dropbox to your computer, you can upload files directly through the web application. It’s easy to do; just follow the instructions below to begin backing up your files.

Uploading Files

The first thing you’ll want to do with Dropbox is upload some files.

  1. Select the File

    Select the file you want to upload and tap “open.” The file will be uploaded to your Dropbox account. You can follow the same process to upload a folder.

    open image

How to Navigate Files Using Dropbox

Finding files on the web application is straightforward and takes no time at all.

Use Dropbox to Share a File or Folder

There are multiple ways to share a file or folder through Dropbox. If you want a detailed look, check out our guide on how to share files with Dropbox. Below is a brief overview of what you need to do to share a file from your computer.

  1. Locate the File in Your Dropbox Folder

    Go to the Dropbox folder on your desktop. Search for the file you would like to share and right-click your mouse. Find “share” in the dropdown menu and select it.

    share file
  2. Email the File

    To email the file access directly, add the contact information for the recipient in the “to:” section. Next, click “share” and access to the file will be sent directly to the person you selected.

    share file with contact

Use Dropbox to Download Files

Let’s say that you’re on a new device and you need access to a file you saved to Dropbox, but you don’t have the service installed and don’t want to install it. Instead, your option is to log in via your browser and navigate to the file you want to download.

  1. Locate the File

    To download a file onto your computer from the web application, first locate the file using the search function as outlined above.

    find file in search bar
  2. Select the File and Download

    Select the file and tap the ellipsis. From the dropdown menu, select “download.”

    download file dropbox

Use Dropbox to Restore Files

If you accidentally delete a file or folder, fear not: you have 30 days to recover it (120 days on Professional plans). Here’s what you can do to recover your files.

  1. Locate Deleted Files

    On the left-hand side of the home screen in the web application, you will find “deleted files.” Select it to move forward.

    open deleted files
  2. Select the File You Want to Restore

    Select the file you would like to restore and press “restore” on the right-hand side of the screen.

    restore file

If you would rather delete the file completely, select “delete permanently,” located underneath the “restorebutton

Use Dropbox to Request Files 

File requests allow you to invite people who don’t have a Dropbox account to upload files to yours. You may find that useful when you need to get files from employees or relatives who don’t use the platform. It’s also a good way for teachers to collect files from students.

  1. Log in and Locate “File Requests”

    To request a file, log in to your online Dropbox account. On the left-hand side, you’ll see “file requests.” Click on it to move to the next page.

    create file requests
  2. Select “New Request”

    Next, select “new request” on the right-hand side of the screen.

    new request
  3. Name the Folder and Add a Description

    On the next page, you’ll be asked to name the files you’re requesting. For example, you could call them “birthday photos” or “tax documents.” Once you’ve decided on a name, choose the folder you want Dropbox to put them in. Tap “create” to move forward.

    create file requests folder
  4. Add Contacts to the Shared Folder

    On the next page, you can add the contacts you would like to have access to the folder. You can either send the request via email, or copy and paste the shareable link and manually send it to them.

    Add users to file request folders

Final Thoughts

Uploading files to Dropbox means you don’t need to worry about losing them if your computer breaks down. On top of that, it’s a great platform for sharing files and creating new documents. Its sync features also make it a solid option for those wanting to access their files across all their devices.

If you’ve signed up for Dropbox and realized it’s not for you, check out our guide on how to cancel the service, and also our guide on how to delete your account

Hopefully, this Dropbox tutorial helped you better understand its features and taught you how to use them. If you’re still looking for the cloud-based backup service that is right for you, check out our best online backup guide.

Did you find this guide helpful? Do you feel Dropbox is the best option for you? We’d love to know. Let us know in the comment section below. Thanks for reading.