Using Dropbox on a Linux web server to back up files

First published on October 10, 2009

Previously I’d written a review about how Dropbox is a do-everything storage service. Dropbox continues to improve and continues to grow its user base, and my company uses it daily to instantly share files without conflicts. In this post, I won’t explain the basics of what Dropbox does; for that, you can check the Dropbox website or my older Dropbox review.

Most people use Dropbox as a desktop program, and as a desktop program there are countless useful and time-saving ways to benefit from it. However, one of its more obscure but powerful uses is on a web server, more specifically a VPS or dedicated Linux server where you might only have command line access (as opposed to a graphical interface to it).

Here are a few of the scenarios where you can benefit from having Dropbox installed not only on your desktop client but also on a web server:

  • It provides an easy way to log and get instant notifications whenever files are changed on your website. I use this on, where files are not expected to change often.
  • It provides an easy way to have an automatic and instant backup of the files on your site. Note that for the database aspect of your site, it is probably only good for storing periodic backups — you could dump the database once a day into the Dropbox folder.
  • You can push some or all of your Dropbox files onto your web server and then these files could be publicly accessible on whatever domain name you have. This is in addition to the public links that you can generate for files in your Dropbox “Public” folder.

Before you install Dropbox on a Linux web server, make sure you know at least some basics about users and groups and that you are at least comfortable on the command line. Then, there is a good tutorial on the Dropbox wiki, and if your server is running CentOS, from Justin Kelly’s site.

Some additional notes:

  • While Dropbox works well for backing up files from the web server to your computer (and to Dropbox’s servers), there is a limitation when you are pushing files from your computer to the web server: file permissions are not preserved when the file is updated on the web server. If file permissions are important for your website, you must re-do them whenever you push something to the server.
  • The tutorials suggest that you install Dropbox in the desired user’s directory. It does not have to sit directly in the web-accessible folder (such as “www” or “public_html”). You can create a symbolic link in the Dropbox folder to the web-accessible folder with a simple command like “ln -s /home/youruser/public_html/yoursite yoursite” from within the Dropbox home directory.

One Response to “Using Dropbox on a Linux web server to back up files”

  1. Lasse Bunk says:

    I have a step-by-step guide on how to get this to work:


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