7 Replies Latest reply on Dec 7, 2014 10:55 AM by William-Porter

    storing and using master files on Dropbox — is it okay? (NOT about FMGo!)



      storing and using master files on Dropbox — is it okay? (NOT about FMGo!)


           Is there anything wrong (or dangerous) with storing the master copies of FileMaker database files on Dropbox, and opening them, editing them and using them while they are stored on Dropbox? Is this perhaps contrary to best practices or something? I've searched for such a warning and haven't been able to find anything on the subject, 

           NOTE: I'm NOT talking about using Dropbox for sharing — just about using Dropbox as if it were a folder on my computer. The files are only ever opened from one computer at a time.

           The reason I want to do this is that I work on two different computers (an iMac and a Macbook Air) and I would like to be able to access my database files with equal ease without worrying about which computer I'm on, that is, without having to move the files from one computer to the other. I never open the files on both computers at the same time.

           I ask because I'm not entirely sure I understand how Dropbox works, at a low level. I've actually done this for a while with some of my files and it seems to work okay, but lately, I've started to feel a tad nervous about it. 



        • 1. Re: storing and using master files on Dropbox — is it okay? (NOT about FMGo!)

               I've been experimenting with Drop Box used in that fashion for a while now and have yet to encounter any problems in doing so. I definitely would not use Drop Box to try to share a file between users using the file at the same time.

               Frankly, I've found Drop Box to be an excellent way to store backups offsite or to make files available for download by other users. It's how I make the Known Bugs List database available for download.

               I especially appreciate the fact that I can download from a drop box link without any built in delays while being bombarded with advertisements.

          • 2. Re: storing and using master files on Dropbox — is it okay? (NOT about FMGo!)

            "I definitely would not use Drop Box to try to share a file between users using the file at the same time."

                 Absolutely! Let me emphasize this, for the sake of any newbies who might stumble on this thread. Actually it doesn't make any difference if the file is stored on Dropbox, or a shared hard disk: you never want to have two different copies of FileMaker Pro directly accessing the same file at the same time.



                 But of course that's not what I'm talking about.

                 Now, the reason I posted is that, after working like this for a fairly long time (with the master, working copies of databases stored on Dropbox), I recently experienced two odd problems that smell like file damage or corruption. These were client files. I'd worked on masters of the files (stored on Dropbox), and then I sent copies to clients for deployment on their networks using FileMaker Server.

                 One client reported that the database was suddenly asking for an account and password, something it isn't supposed to do. I couldn't reproduce the problem here. Ended up cloning my master, getting the data from the client, moving data into the fresh clone, and redeploying on client's servers — and everything thereafter was fine. But where did the problem come from?

                 The other (different) client reported that suddenly, one morning, none of their small number of users could get into the database. The files were visible on the server in the Open Hosts dialog and users could try to open them, but the database was getting stuck at a point in the startup process. This time, I didn't do anything at all to the files. Users had to force quit FileMaker Pro, and the local network admin closed the files under FileMaker Server and rebooted the server machine. Users rebooted their client machines. After that, everything seemed to be fine.

                 The master copies of the files used by both clients have been stored for a while on my Dropbox account and worked on by me while so stored. I go to the computer I'm going to work on at the moment, open FileMaker Pro Advanced 11 or 12, then open the database from the appropriate folder on Dropbox. Neither of my computers has crashed lately. FileMaker hasn't hung on me requiring me to force quit. I'm not aware of any other problems at my end that have obvious file-damaging potential.


                 But as I said, I'm not sure how Dropbox works, low level. I was under the impression that files that appear to be on Dropbox are actually stored locally, on the hard disk of the computer I'm using; that if I open a file from the Dropbox folder, I'm actually opening the local copy; and that Dropbox is invisibly syncing any changes in that local folder with folders on my share of its own remote servers. So my understand is, I'm not actually working over the Internet. But I'm really not sure my understanding is correct. And I'm not sure there aren't some other risks here, perhaps, the potential (in some odd circumstance) for damage to a file resulting from the Dropbox syncing process.

                 For the time being I've moved the master files completely to the hard disk of my Macbook Air, where lately I've done more work. But I would love to get some knowledgeable judgment on this matter. I'd particularly like to be reassured that putting the masters on Dropbox and working with them that way is perfectly safe (and so my clients' recent file problems must have originated elsewhere). But of course if the truth is otherwise — if using databases this way isn't safe — I'd like to know that.


            • 3. Re: storing and using master files on Dropbox — is it okay? (NOT about FMGo!)


              •           Polytrope
                •                     >> Did you ever use a "conflicted copy" of your database while you were createing it? I had a similar problem with a "record" going missing (for not logical reason
                                      I'm NOT an IT expert (Nor FM / DB) but AS an educatied guess Im thinking that when DB detects a conflicted copy and creates it and renames it, there maybe is something in FM that doesnt "know" this.   Maybe parts of it think its under the "new name", and parts under the "old" name and it gets itself confused.  Anyway thats my theory.... 
              • 4. Re: storing and using master files on Dropbox — is it okay? (NOT about FMGo!)

                     Most of the time, I open the file from a local drive and then use Save A Copy As.. to save it to a copy I keep in the Drop box folder. But once in a while, I am accessing from a different machine and have opened the file from the drop box folder. So far, this has not resulted in any issues, but this is very limited testing and "your mileage may vary".

                     Keep in mind that there are a number of possible ways that a file can be damaged and sometimes we never do figure out how/why it happened.

                • 5. Re: storing and using master files on Dropbox — is it okay? (NOT about FMGo!)

                  I too use DB as a file 'repository' between my Mac and PC.  In my 'non networked/unshared' environment it worked great.  Until suddenly I started seeing a new filename when I saved.... (Macintosh's conflict copy 2014-09-11).fmp12 .  No explanation of what this meant and everything seemed to work well.  So, I over wrote my current version only to find that when I try and print a script in the Mac environment, it crashes FM!!!


                  So, beware.... I still have no idea what that message means....


                  • 6. Re: storing and using master files on Dropbox — is it okay? (NOT about FMGo!)

                    My guess is that the 'conflicted' copies arise because Dropbox believes that a user has opened a file locally, and while Dropbox believed it was still opened, a second user opened the same file (even locally).  Both users edited the file independently, then closed it.  Dropbox will now have two edits to process when it tries to sync the files, and it cannot (and should not) make the decision as to which edits should out-rank the other.  Therefore it saves two copies of the file (from each edit source) and highlights that it needs human intervention to check each file's edits and decide which to accept.

                    That's my theory.

                    • 7. Re: storing and using master files on Dropbox — is it okay? (NOT about FMGo!)

                      It's been a while since I law saw the problem Ron describes — namely, where you end up with two copies of the database in Dropbox. ButI have seen it, once or twice. It happens when (a) the database somehow gets opened on two machines and (b) Dropbox can't figure out which copy of the file is the latest. Couple reasons this could happen. Could happen if you open file on machine A, forget about it and perhaps put A to sleep; then open it on B before it gets closed and synced on A. May also happen if you open on A, close on A, then run over to B and open there so quickly that the file saved on A's local hard drive hasn't had time to sync to Dropbox's servers.


                      I'm the OP for this thread. (My username has changed.) When I started the thread almost 2 years ago, I was just starting to use Dropbox as a place to store a lot of my working files. Since then I've concluded — on the basis of extensive, more or less daily experience — that Dropbox can be a safe place to store FileMaker database files provided you work with those files very carefully and NEVER violate certain protocols. What are the protocols? Seem to be three that matter.


                      1. Never open the file on one computer unless you're completely sure it's closed on all other computers.
                      3. Make sure that the file is fully synced in Dropbox before opening on any computer. As a practical matter, this means DON'T close on one computer then open quickly on another. Watch for the icon in Mac OS X that shows that a file is synced.
                      5. Be aware of the online status of the machines you're using, as this affects Dropbox's ability to sync. 


                      As with everything else,  the key to success here is the cultivation of good habits that you never deviate from. I have been able to do it because I open my files from Dropbox practically every single day. But this observation leads to a corollary: If you can't be 100% confident that you'll observe these protocols, THEN DON'T OPEN FILEMAKER FILES FROM DROPBOX. 


                      It works for me partly, as I said, because I work with my files on Dropbox every day, so I constantly reinforce my good habits. It also works for me because I do 100% of my development work on one or the other of only two machines: my laptop (Macbook Air) and my desktop machine (iMac). It works for me because I'm the only person who accesses these master copies of files. It works for me because I generally do my work in the office where both machines are available to me and (more important) where I am constantly aware of what's going on on both machines. If I'm working on my MBA, I know I'm not working — and nobody else is working — on my iMac. 


                      But what works for me now wouldn't necessarily work if those circumstances changed. If I had a partner or partners and we were both working on the files (even if we tried to arrange to work on them at different times); or if I was working outside my office more than I do now; — then I would NOT use Dropbox to store master copies of files.


                      So my basic advice to the general public — and to other developers — would be: The safest, most goof-proof policy is surely NOT to open FileMaker files that are stored on Dropbox. Unless you're really, 100% careful about observing the protocols above, there's a chance you'll end up opening the file on two machines at once, and you'll either end up with a corrupted file or two copies of the file both of which have changes you want.