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Sync Things across multiple Macs via Dropbox Apps
Here's how to sync your Things To-do database across multiple Macs using Dropbox for shared storage.

In some ways this is pretty obvious. I've just begun to use Things for To-do list management, but I wanted a way to keep the database sync'd across my desktop and my laptop. The Things website hints at this functionality.

All I did was point Things on both machines to point to my Dropbox folder.

[crarko adds: I haven't tested this one, as I don't use Things. A number of software developers are building in or using Dropbox for synchronizing data now, and it's especially handy with iOS devices.]
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Sync Things across multiple Macs via Dropbox | 16 comments | Create New Account
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Sync Things across multiple Macs via Dropbox
Authored by: wallybear on Dec 02, '10 07:57:19AM

Note: Things files could work well in dropbox (they have no resource fork), but remember that Dropbox does not handle resource forks, so be aware you could risk your data integrity for certain files.
You can partially fix the problem creating a FAT32 disk image on your Macs and making dropbox folder sit there. Doing so the correct handling of resource forks will be assured by OS X (on m$dos drives OS X stores resource forks as an hidden separate file, that dropbox handles correctly).



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Sync Things across multiple Macs via Dropbox
Authored by: statsmakemecry on Dec 02, '10 08:21:44AM

Having this functionality on my iPhone/iPad would be HUGE! In fact, it would solve the only flaw I see in the Things software...PLEASE INTEGRATE THIS CULTURED CODE!



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Sync Things across multiple Macs via Dropbox
Authored by: statsmakemecry on Dec 02, '10 08:37:30AM

wait, how do you "point it" towards dropbox?



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Sync Things across multiple Macs via Dropbox
Authored by: milkmage on Dec 07, '10 07:39:33AM

check the link in the OP:

But you can change that location. When holding down the option/alt key while opening Things, a dialog will be displayed that lets you either create a new Things library or choose an existing one (this feature is practically identical to a similar one in iTunes). Note that the Database.xml file will be greyed out - you need only choose the containing folder, then click Open.



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Sync Things across multiple Macs via Dropbox
Authored by: tempel on Dec 02, '10 09:44:40AM

While Things is indeed a nice and well working Todo manager with support for iOS devices, Dropbox use with it is actually rather alarmingly dangerous:

Things does not notice when its database file got modified by another Things app, which happens both with Dropbox as described by the hint giver and when trying to share it over the network.

This leads to conflicts when the Things db is edited on two computers at quasi the same time.

Even worse, the following can also go wrong: You use Things on one Mac, put that Mac to sleep, use the other Mac, launch Things, add a Todo item, quit Things. This updates the db, via dropbox. All appears fine. Now wake up the other Mac: if you forgot to quit the Things app on this Mac before leaving it, you are now in trouble: That Things version still has the old db version in memory, and once you quit Things, it will overwrite your latest update without warning. Even though you did not even make any further updates to it since theb. Thus you lose the note you thought already being safely taken over.

I had asked the Things team to do something about this. The least they could do it to detect this conflict when saving over the previously updated db, and warn the user so that he knows something could be lost. But even this simple change to their app they didn't find necessary. I find it rather disappointing to see that a company shows so little concern and instead rather tells their users: We do not support this. your problem.

Hence, be warned to use Things on Dropbox, and get used to always quitting Things on all Macs before opening it on another Mac, or lose your changes without warning.

Edited on Dec 02, '10 09:45:42AM by tempel



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Sync Things across multiple Macs via Dropbox
Authored by: tempel on Dec 02, '10 09:50:03AM

Oh, and before someone responds that this is no problem because Dropbox does indeed detect such conflicts, preserving both versions of the DB files:
The problem is that you will then have two DB files, each containing a different set of Todo items. But these files are in a very cryptic format, making it close to impossible to merge the differences for the average user. It can be done, but it's a big pain. And if you don't notice this conflict immediately, it'll only get harder merging them later.

Edited on Dec 02, '10 09:51:08AM by tempel



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Sync Things across multiple Macs via Dropbox
Authored by: agentx on Dec 02, '10 11:00:38AM

I am unconvinced this is a reliable method of syncing.

If you are very careful and have closed the Things DB on one mac then open on another then fine.
Problems WILL occur when you stray from the path !!! and open data on two machines at same time and throw an iOS device into the mix and say bye bye to data integrity !

All these Devs of these very useful programs should be looking at centralised cloud data as the main sync method.
Great example : Evernote



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Sync Things across multiple Macs via Dropbox
Authored by: judisohn on Dec 02, '10 11:16:35AM

Amen. I used to use Things and tried pointing it to Dropbox and if you are not *religious* about making sure that Things is closed on one computer before opening on another, very bad things can happen to your data. In the end, it just wasn't worth it and I went back to cloud-based task management. Look at Evernote or even 1Password for the right way to use a desktop app with data shared on multiple devices. Things is nowhere near.



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Sync Things across multiple Macs via Dropbox
Authored by: milkmage on Dec 07, '10 07:46:12AM

well to be fair, they warn you.. from the link above:

This way you can choose a location that might be more convenient for your syncing and backup routine. Choosing a web based location like iDisk is not possible.

so.. can't say if it will deny the use if iDisk outright, but DB looks (to the Mac) like another directory - it just happens to be in the cloud.. so YMMV...

but your point is spot on. thanks for the warning.



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I hate to be "that guy," but...
Authored by: leamanc on Dec 02, '10 08:50:56PM

I've never been one to complain "hey, this is not a hint," but really this one screams out for it. The whole point of Dropbox is to sync things across computers. In this case, it's really a no-brainer because you can choose where to put this particular app's data folder, so yeah, put it inside ~/Dropbox.

But even if there are apps you want to sync that don't have prefs to move its data folder to a different directory, you can always use symlinks via the ln -s command. This is in Dropbox's documentation. They even have an Automator workflow so you don't have to touch the Terminal. It's officially supported by them, and it's not much of a secret. They plan to add this functionality into the main Dropbox app at some point, on Mac/Win/Linux. We could run tons of "hints" about how to sync bookmarks, mail, Stickies, whatever with Dropbox, but really the "hint" here is that Dropbox syncs stuff. Which is kind of like posting a hint called "Play AAC files with iTunes."

Sorry to be a grouch, and I feel bad because I've never made a post like this in my 9-10 years on Mac OS X Hints, but if there is a useful tip in this hint, it should have been reformatted as a general write-up on Dropbox's ability to sync things outside of ~/Dropbox, with multiple examples.

Sorry Craig, I know you're trying your best and I support you, but being an editor means separating the wheat from the chaff, and rewriting, re-formatting, or re-purposing borderline material into something more useful. It's not just about picking which posts to run and correcting the typos.



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I hate to be "that guy," but...
Authored by: tempel on Dec 03, '10 06:17:36AM

While the hint is indeed not a good hint, the responses (but yours) here are helpful: They all show that doing this is actually dangerous, and unexpectedly so.

So, while the hint alone is rather useless, the warnings about the dangers of doing it that way are valuable. Hence, in summary, it's good that this hint appears here in order to warn others.



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I hate to be "that guy," but...
Authored by: leamanc on Dec 03, '10 12:47:21PM

That's the most specious reasoning I have seen in a long time. If the site is going to run hints so that people can post how bad they are, then we might as well shut down the site now.

And all the warnings about how "dangerous" Dropbox syncing of data directories is, are actually pretty moot points as long as the same app is not running on multiple Dropbox-enabled computers.



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I hate to be "that guy," but...
Authored by: tempel on Dec 03, '10 12:59:05PM

But that's the whole point of this hint - sharing the Things database between multiple Macs, isn't it?



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Technically, you are not doing a "sync"
Authored by: ygor on Dec 03, '10 07:53:06AM

You are using a common data file for multiple locations.
I share concern with the comments about multiple Macs messing with the file at the same time.

Why not just use DropBox as a common location for a backup copy of a local file ?



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Sync Things across multiple Macs via Dropbox
Authored by: Zeitkind on Dec 08, '10 04:32:05AM

A little warning about Dropbox:
Their mulitcast trash sent over the local network might lead to get blocked by a local firewall appliance like Watchguard, so be sure to check with your system/network admin before installing this app or disable the LAN-discovery option.



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Sync Things across multiple Macs via Dropbox
Authored by: zeigerpuppy on Dec 08, '10 09:01:05PM

Also, remember that you can do this more securely using WebDAV and a locally mounted share.
I do all my backups via rsnapshot onto a WebDAV server.



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