Solve Dropbox sync problems

Dropbox is an excellent utility and one of the useful things it does is back up files on your computer and sync them with your other computers. Sometimes though, it doesn’t sync and different computers can have different files. What is going on and how do you fix this?

The problem can be caused by different file systems having different capabilities. For example, a filename that is legal on one operating system might be illegal in another. This can happen if you run Dropbox on Windows and Linux PCs, and Apple Macs. It might even happen with different versions of the same operating system if the capabilities are different. Does Windows XP have all the capabilities of Windows 8?

An example of different capabilities is with the | (vertical bar) character in filenames. Apple allows it, but Microsoft does not.

Suppose you have a filename that is legal in Windows 8 and you move the file to another folder on your Windows PC. You may find that it hasn’t moved when you view Dropbox on your Linux PC or Apple Mac. It might even disappear completely, or look as if it hasn’t moved on one computer, but has on the other. Where is it?

The two computers are now out of sync, but Dropbox doesn’t tell you and you might not realise. At least until you go to access the file.

The first thing to do is to check that Dropbox is OK. Don’t trust the information displayed in the app on the computer. Click the icon in Windows or on the Mac and it will say everything is up to date, but it might not be.

Open a web browser, go to and sign in. The contents of your Dropbox folder is displayed in the window. After signing in, go to and click the Check bad files button in the bottom left corner.

Dropbox sync help

A list of problem files is displayed and the solution to your sync problems is to return to the Dropbox file/folder listing in the browser and rename the file.

Show bad files in Dropbox

I had a bunch of files with illegal characters like | and “ in, so my PC and Mac were out of sync. Renaming the files, actually just taking out the illegal character, renamed it on the Mac, but also made it appear on the PC.

Dropbox problem files should be renamed

When a filename was made legal, it appeared on the computer’s disk drive in the Dropbox folder.


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