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In 2007, MIT student Drew Houston got tired of forgetting his flash drive, and decided to make sure he never left his files behind again. Thus began Dropbox, one of the original and most popular online file storage tools.
It’s file storage reduced to its simplest. Instead of picking what you’d like to sync, Dropbox adds a single Dropbox folder to your computer. Drag any file to that folder, and it’s automatically synced with all of your devices and the Dropbox web app. You can then open the file on your phone or grab your friend’s computer, go to Dropbox.com, and still get your file. It’s a far better flash drive.
That's old news today, with built-in file sync services with most devices. Dropbox has managed to still keep things simpler than the competition while adding unique handy features.
Perhaps the best use-case is sharing files and folders with friends and colleagues. Share a folder inside your Dropbox, then anyone can add files and they'll magically stay synced for everyone. With the new Dropbox Paper app, you can also use Dropbox to collaborate on your ideas. It's an online writing app where everyone can write together in real time, add comments and replies for feedback, and collaborate without having to make sure everyone has the same version of Word.
Or, if you use Dropbox to sync your design files and creations, the new Dropbox Showcase tool is a handy extra. It lets you build a custom landing page for your files to share samples of your work and write details about them. You can even lets others add feedback to your files from that page.
Dropbox came at the perfect time. Just as computing went mobile, and we were more likely to work on the go than sit behind a PC, Dropbox was there to make sure our files were ready wherever we were. You’ll find Dropbox integration in many web and mobile apps, such as the writing app Draft, where you can open files from Dropbox and edit them, then save new files back to Dropbox so you can open them in other apps. And, of course, you can automatically save pictures, email attachments, and more to Dropbox using Zapier. Or you could just keep using traditional software like Word and Photoshop, and Dropbox will happily keep those files synced.
It’ll also keep them backed up. While we wouldn’t recommend using Dropbox as your only backup, it does give you an extra bit of safety by keeping all your files on each of your computers, plus in the cloud. If your computers die, your files are only a few clicks away in Dropbox’s web app—or better yet, already synced to one of your other devices.
But then there are the times that you accidentally delete a file, or perhaps change an important document only to realize later that you removed crucial information. That’s where Dropbox comes in really handy. It stores previous versions of your files for up to 30 days with a free plan—or up to 120 days with a paid plan. Just go to the Dropbox web app, find the file or folder where the file existed, open its menu, then select View File History to get back an older version of a file. Or, click Show Deleted Files in a folder, and seconds later you’ll have your file back.
There’s then the times you might want to get rid of your files—Dropbox is there for you then, too. If your computer falls into the wrong hands, you can remotely wipe your files with a Dropbox Pro subscription. You can also add passwords to your shared files, or make shares read-only, to keep your data safe. Or, with a Teams subscription, you can keep all your team’s files synced, and keep track of files with central admin and file auditing.
Running out of space on your computer? You can use the Dropbox Selective Sync option to only download the files and folders in Dropbox that you want. The rest are kept online where you can download them individually anytime you want. Or, with a Professional or higher plan, you get Smart Sync that will show all of your files on your computer but only download the ones you need to use and saving the rest of the space automatically.
It's far from the only way to sync files, but Dropbox is still one of the best ways to keep all of your files wherever you need them.
Originally published August 29, 2014; updated May 2, 2018 with new features and screenshots.