12 Advanced Dropbox Features That You Should Start Using

Jane Callahan
Jane Callahan / Published June 23, 2015

Dropbox is simple. It's just a folder—a magical folder that syncs everything you put in it up to the cloud. Before Dropbox, file sharing and sync was geeky and confusing, so it's no wonder that it quickly became the de facto cloud-storage app after it launched in 2007.

But if you've only added files to your /dropbox folder over the past few years, and haven't dug into Dropbox.com or its mobile apps, you might be in for a surprise. Behind Dropbox's simplicity are sophisticated tools that let you back up your photos, edit documents online, roll back time, and secure your files from prying eyes.

While it's far from the only way to sync your files, the hidden features put Dropbox a step ahead of the rest. Here are 12 of the best features you may have never noticed in Dropbox before.

  1. Share Screenshots Quickly
  2. Add Comments to Files
  3. View Any File Without Installing Extra Software
  4. Edit Microsoft Office Files Online for Free
  5. Use Selective Sync to Save Space
  6. Favorite Files to View Them on Mobile
  7. Go Back in Time With Previous Versions
  8. Keep Your Files Safe
  9. Find Everything You're Sharing
  10. Back up All Your Pictures to Dropbox
  11. Customize Your Dropbox Notifications
  12. Be The First to Get New Features
  13. Bonus New Feature: Request Files via Dropbox

1. Share Screenshots Quickly

Tired of taking screenshots, dragging them into Dropbox, and then copying the share link?

There's a quicker way: all you need to do is enable Dropbox's screenshot-sharing feature on your Mac or PC. Open your Dropbox app preferences (click the Dropbox icon in your menu bar, click the gear icon, then select Preferences), select the Import tab, and check the Save screenshots using Dropbox box.

screenshot sharing

Now, just take screenshots as normal, and Dropbox will save them to /dropbox/screenshots and copy a share link to your clipboard automatically. You can paste the link into your chat app, email, or wherever else you want to share it.

2. Add Comments to Files

Sharing a Dropbox folder is pretty straightforward: you can right-click on any folder or file, and either invite someone to join your folder or just share a link to the file. And now, with Dropbox's new commenting feature, you can quit using email or chat to discuss your changes to the file.

To add comments to any file, just right-click on the file in your Dropbox folder and select Comment on this file. Alternately, just open any file in Dropbox.com. Either way, you'll see a preview of the file online, with a sidebar on the right to add comments. Type out your comments, and add your colleagues' names with an @ symbol to mention them in a comment. They'll get a notification in Dropbox or their email inbox, and you'll see the comments appear in real-time as they're added.

Dropbox Comments

It's an easy way to keep the conversation about your files in the same place, so nothing gets lost. Plus, as you work on the file together in Dropbox, the online preview will update so everyone always sees the latest version.

3. View Any File Without Installing Extra Software

Speaking of previews, Dropbox's file preview tool is actually one of its more handy features. If you want feedback on an Adobe Illustrator file, and the rest of your team doesn't have Illustrator installed, no problem: Dropbox can preview dozens of file types online, so the only software you need is a browser.

photoshop file online
Previewing a Photoshop file online

You can read full PDF documents, flip through PowerPoint presentation slides, preview Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator designs, and watch full-length videos right from Dropbox.com. There's a zoom tool to dig in deeper—especially handy for larger design files—and even a print button to make a hard copy.

Dropbox won't let you preview every file, but usually if Dropbox shows an icon or thumbnail for a file online, just click it to see a full preview. You'll never again need to waste space downloading Dropbox videos or installing apps you'll only use once.

4. Edit Microsoft Office Files Online for Free

Need a quick way to edit Microsoft Office files right from Dropbox? The new integration with Office Online—a free basic version of Microsoft Office that runs in your browser—is just what you need. You can open and edit Office files from Dropbox, without installing a copy of Office.

Just select any Word, Excel, or PowerPoint file in Dropbox, then on the Open button you can choose to open the file on your computer or in Office Online. Alternately, just go to Office.com, select the Microsoft Office app you want to use, and browse your Dropbox files for Office documents to edit.

Office Online

Office Online doesn't include every feature you'd expect in the desktop version, but you'll find enough features to create new documents and spreadsheets, format text and images, and crunch some numbers. You can even add comments and annotations to documents, then preview them back in Dropbox along with any other Dropbox comments your team may have added.

5. Use Selective Sync to Save Space

With online previews and Office file editing online, you might find that you need fewer of your Dropbox files actually stored on your computer. If you need some extra space, you can use Dropbox's Selective Sync to store only your most important files on your computer.

Just open your Dropbox preferences, select the Account tab, then click the Change Settings… button beside the Selective Sync entry. There, you can select the folders and files you want to sync to your computer. Everything else will stay online, where you can still view and comment on it.

selective sync
Choose just the files and folders you need

It's an especially handy trick if you're using Dropbox to back up your photos, videos, and other larger files. You can upload them to Dropbox, then once they're finished syncing just remove their folders via Selective Sync.

6. Favorite Files to View Them on Mobile

When you're on the go (i.e. using a mobile device), you might need access to specific files even when an internet connection is nowhere to be found. Dropbox sync will keep all your important files on your desktop and laptop just fine, but on a mobile device, Dropbox relies on your internet connection to download files as you need them.

But for must-have files, Dropbox includes a favorites feature in its mobile apps. Just find the files you need to view offline, swipe to the right, then tap the star icon. Dropbox will download the files to your device, and you can view them anywhere—even offline—from the Favorites menu in your Dropbox app.

dropbox star

Once you're done with the file, you can tap the star again to un-favorite it and clear up space on your phone.

7. Go Back in Time With Previous Versions

There's a big difference between Save and Save As…, as anyone who's accidentally overwritten an important document can tell you.

Dropbox has your back with its Previous Version feature. Whenever you realize you've messed up a file, just right-click on the file and select View Previous Versions. Or, if you deleted a file and want to bring it back, find its parent folder in Dropbox.com and click the View Deleted Files button in the top.

previous versions

Either way, you'll get a list of the older versions of your file, where you can restore the correct version in a click.

For example, if you shared your resume with via Dropbox link, but noticed a typo, you could restore an earlier version even after hitting send; your potential new employer will see the corrected document, not the one you sent at first.

8. Keep Your Files Safe

You wake up on a Saturday morning and realize that you left your phone in a cab last night (we’ve all been there). In your panic, you realize that your phone was logged in to Dropbox—which, besides some embarrassing selfies, has sensitive info that you wouldn’t want anyone to get their hands on.

Don’t panic. Dropbox still has your back with several features to keep your data safe. First, with any Dropbox account, you can add a password to your Dropbox mobile app. That way, if you do lose your phone, someone will need to hack your phone password and your Dropbox pin number before they can get to your files.

If you have a Dropbox Pro account, there's another option: You can remotely wipe your Dropbox files from any device that's been synced with Dropbox, as long as it's still online. Just open your Dropbox.com account settings, select the Security tab, and click the x button beside the device you lost. Before you do that, you can hover over the i icon to see the device's most recent IP address—something that might be helpful in tracking it down.

2 factor

If you're worried about online hackers, you can add a two-step verification to your account, so an attacker would need to know your password plus the security phone that's sent to your phone to access your account. It might not help if your phone gets lost, but it could protect your files if your password ever gets leaked online.

9. Find Everything You're Sharing

Ever wondered if you've accidentally shared the wrong file in Dropbox? That'd be almost as bad as losing your phone in a cab, but thankfully Dropbox has a quick way to see everything you've shared. Just open Dropbox.com, and select the Sharing or Links button in the left sidebar.

shared links

The Sharing screen will show you all of your shared folders, along with the time they were last modified. Select the Options link to see who can access the folders, and remove or add contributors as you like. Then, the Links screen will show you every file or folder you've shared individually with a link. You can then see when you shared it, or delete the sharing link and take that embarrassing photo offline.

10. Back up All Your Pictures to Dropbox

Now that you're a bit more confident with your Dropbox security, why not take advantage of your Dropbox storage and use it to back up your pictures? Dropbox has a new photo organizer, Carousel, where you can see all the photos you've uploaded, browse them based on the date and location where you took them, and organize them into sharable albums.

It's automatic, too—just put your photos in Dropbox, and they'll be organized in Carousel for you.

Dropbox Carousel

You can upload pictures manually by adding folders of photos to your Dropbox folder. Or, Dropbox can help. Just open your Dropbox settings, select the Import tab, and Dropbox can automatically import new photos from cameras and SD cards you connect to your computer. The Dropbox mobile apps can also automatically upload photos you take on the go, so you'll have all your pictures in one place.

Want to back up your Instagram pictures to Dropbox, too? Zapier, an app integrations tool, can add them to Dropbox for you, too. Just set up this integration, and you'll get your new Instagram photos in Dropbox Carousel automatically.

11. Customize Your Dropbox Notifications

If you're sharing and commenting on a lot of files, Dropbox's email and push notifications can get overwhelming. The default Dropbox settings only let you turn on or off email and push notifications—not that helpful if you want only some notifications.

For that, you have two options. First, from the Dropbox Events tab, you can browse through everything that's happened in your Dropbox account. You could turn off notifications and just check the updates there each day. Or, there's an RSS feed you could subscribe to in your news reader, so you can get updates about your files alongside your daily news.

The other option is Zapier, an app integrations tool that gives you the ability to create customized notifications about what's happening in Dropbox. It can watch specific folders in your Dropbox account, and let you know via SMS, email, a chat app, or any other app you use when anything happens in your Dropbox account. You can even add filters, so you'll only get notified when, say, you add files of a specific type.

12. Be The First to Get New Features

Each time Dropbox rolls out a new feature, they do it in stages, starting with a select group of users who get to try an update first. If you're eager to get the latest features, and don't mind occasional glitches, you can add yourself to the group of early adopters.

To do that, open your Dropbox settings page, then on the lower right check the Include me on early releases box.

Dropbox Early Releases

If you're using Dropbox Business, it'll take a few more steps to get early access to new features. Sign into your admin account, then open the Admin Console from the left sidebar. There, select your account, click the Early access tab, and choose to get early access.

13. Bonus New Feature: Request Files via Dropbox

request files

Speaking of new features, Dropbox just added a new File Requests feature while we were writing this article. It's a simple tool to let you request files from others, and have them automatically show up in your Dropbox folder. Just go to the File Requests page in your Dropbox account, and add a subject for the files you want to collect—family reunion pictures, project files, or anything else. You'll then get a unique link to share and request files, or can send the invite via email.

It's a simple way to get files from everyone pulled together in one place, even if all your friends and colleagues aren't using Dropbox. And once you have all the files, you can easily share the folder with them, or perhaps turn the pictures into an album in Dropbox Carousel.

Do More With Dropbox

If you love Dropbox's simplicity, you might not actually want any extra hidden features. How about some keyboard shortcuts to speed up your work instead?

When you're working in your Dropbox files on your computer, you can use your standard keyboard shortcuts to select, move, rename and remove files. Many of those same keyboard shortcuts will work online in Dropbox.com, too. Here are some of the keyboard shortcuts that work on the Dropbox online interface on a Mac; just press ? while browsing the Dropbox site to see the keyboard shortcuts for your computer anytime.

Dropbox Keyboard Shortcuts

Zapier marketer Matther Guay contributed to this article.

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