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How to Set Up Selective Sync for Dropbox

Dropbox - Selective Sync setup tutorial

If you are using Dropbox at work, there is a good chance that you don’t want to download content from all of your folders.  Some of your Dropbox folders could contain personal data, or items inappropriate for your particular workplace.  To avoid problems arising from this, we can use Dropbox Selective Sync.  Selective Sync will keep your data backed up in the Dropbox cloud, but it will prevent a particular computer from downloading the files you deem unworthy.

What is Selective Sync exactly?

By default, Dropbox is set to sync all of your Dropbox folders to your computer.  You can change this using Selective Sync during installation of Dropbox, but you can also change it later on.  Selective Sync does exactly what it sounds like.  It lets you select which folders from your Dropbox cloud-storage that you would like to download to a computer that is synced to your Dropbox account.

As said, this can come in handy for work, but it could also be useful for numerous other situations -such as school.  Or, perhaps you have one particular Dropbox file with 10GB+ of data in it, and you don’t need to sync that; you can just turn off the one overstuffed folder!

Dropbox selective sync explained

Ready to set it up?  Let’s do it!

Step 1

Assuming you already have Dropbox installed and running, Right-Click the Dropbox icon in the taskbar.  From the menu that appears Select Preferences

dropbox preference taskbar icon

Step 2

In the Dropbox Preferences window, Click the Advanced tab and then Click the Selective Sync… button.

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dropbox advanced preferences selective sync

Step 3

Here is the fun part.  Go through all of your Dropbox folders and only leave Checked the ones that you want to download.  Any folder left unchecked will remain on the Dropbox cloud and will not be downloaded to the computer.  If a folder is already downloaded, un-checking, it will delete it locally from your computer, but it will persist online in your Dropbox account.

dropbox sync folders choice screen

Step 4

Dropbox will display a confirmation message just to be safe. Click OK to save changes. dropbox confirmation selective sync


Now you have Selective Sync set up on your computer.  You’ll have to repeat this process for every computer that you want to set Dropbox sync up on, but you probably want to customize it differently for each one.

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8 Responses to How to Set Up Selective Sync for Dropbox

  1. Sandra February 8, 2012 at 9:25 pm #

    That’s it folks… MacLitigator all outta ivtines. If anyone else wants an invite it’ll need to come from a prior commenter.

  2. Nisse March 14, 2012 at 11:42 pm #

    Thanks for the info,

    So my understanding is that you can prevent remote files from synching down to your local computer. What about the opposite direction? What if I add local files that I don’t want to sync up with the server? Do you know if that’s possible?

  3. capaxdoli July 19, 2012 at 1:20 am #

    just wanted to say thanks…been looking for this precise info for the past half hour 🙂

  4. oceandigital October 31, 2012 at 12:51 pm #

    What happens when the folder you unceck has files that are not syncronized with the cloud?

    • Steve Krause October 31, 2012 at 1:52 pm #

      They will be removed from that computer ASAP. They will not however be removed from the cloud or other pc’s or devices.

      • Katie November 27, 2013 at 12:56 am #

        As suggested to me, I selective synced a folder that holds my big files so it would free up disk space. Nobody told me that un-synced files would be deleted off my computer! A lot of files in that folder were not synced to Dropbox, and these are design files that are my livelihood…are they SERIOUSLY gone FOREVER?

        • Steve Krause November 27, 2013 at 10:46 am #

          Hi Katie,

          First — welcome to groovypost! Glad to have you on my blog.

          Second, no they are not gone. When you “unsync” them from your PC they are simply not copied to your computer any longer. They are still however still up in your dropbox account. So you have two options. First, you can go up to and just download them there (after you login) or, you can just open selective SYNC again and sync them back down again. Both options should get your files back.

          Additionally, on the website, you can access deleted files so even if you did delete them, all is not lost.

          Hopefully this helps you? Let me know.


          • Katie November 27, 2013 at 3:29 pm #

            Well the issue is that it deleted files that hadn’t synced to Dropbox yet along with the ones that were. It deleted files solely on my hard drive.

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