Well, I personally have stopped using the Shared Dropbox method outlined in this blog post as of 2020.
The main reason for sharing a Dropbox account across Windows desktop accounts was to solve multiple problems that, together, made the workaround worthwhile. As new features have come out and come of age, this workaround has lost it’s relevance. And frankly, that’s wonderful news!
Improvement #1: Smart Sync
Smart Sync has evolved since it’s release in 2017 to business and enterprise accounts. It’s now a standard feature on all paid Dropbox accounts (and for the most part, it works now). This eliminated the need for a giant hard drive to keep a giant Dropbox sync copy. No longer do multiple copies of a Dropbox need to take up all your hard drive space.
Improvement #2: Family Plan
Secondly, family plans are a thing now – so one can now share their Dropbox cloud capacity with family members using their own accounts. This means you can finally share your Dropbox with your family with their own Dropbox accounts without paying for separate accounts.
Is the Shared Dropbox method dead? Probably.
The last time I attempted to use it in 2020, the whole thing stopped working each time a new Dropbox update was released. Given the new features, I wasn’t finding a great reason to invest more time into reverse engineering the software again to preserve this workaround.
That said. leave a comment if you still use this method and anything you’ve found that helps keeping it alive. 🙂
Dropbox is Awesome
What makes Dropbox so wonderful is that it lets stores files locally on computers and sync them to the cloud without hassle. This makes keeping your data safe easy, collaboration with partners a breeze and ensures your data is everywhere you need it.
Sharing with multiple users
Dropbox for Windows has been designed to run under a single user account with a private file cache. This poses a problem for users sharing a single Windows computer and family (or workgroup) Dropbox with different user names. The Dropbox account you setup will only be available and sync when the owner of that account is logged into the computer.
Dropbox as a Background Service
The solution is to configure Dropbox to run as a Background Service using a dedicated service account. We will point the software to synchronize to a folder that can be accessed by all users on the computer. Alternately, you can share that folder on your local network.
- If you have a large Dropbox, I recommend synchronizing it to another computer on your local network that is turned on and logged in as the user with the Dropbox configured. This will speed up the sync to your new system.
- Uninstall Dropbox for each user that has it installed on this computer.
Step 1. Create an a new Service Account in Windows
- Open Control Panel.
- Open Add or Remove User Accounts.
- Add a new Administrator account called ServiceAccount.
- Give the account a password and keep track of it. This is critical. Don’t skip this step.
- Log in as the ServiceAccount.
Step 2. Download, Install and Configure Dropbox
- Visit dropbox.com and download the client.
- Install the client, configure it for your Dropbox account, but choose a custom installation.
- Change the target for your Dropbox folder to the root of your hard drive. Don’t panic – this will create a “Dropbox” folder on your hard drive and put everything in here. This is important.
- Once installed and you see that files are syncing, open Dropbox Preferences.
- Disable “Show Desktop Notifications” and “Start Dropbox on System Startup”.
- Save the settings.
- Shut down Dropbox by right clicking the icon in the tray and selecting “Exit”.
Step 3. Download Microsoft Server 2003 Resource Kit and Configure Service
This is an important step. With the Windows Server 2003 Resource Kit, Microsoft included an application that can run what are normally “Desktop” applications as a service. You can get it here.
- Install the Resource Kit to C:\Program Files (x86)\Resource Kit.
- Open a Command Prompt as Administrator.
- Type the following and hit enter:
sc create Dropbox binPath= “C:\Program Files (x86)\Resource Kit\Tools\srvany.exe” DisplayName= “Dropbox Service”
NOTE: There is a space between the two instances of = and the ” in the above instructions.
- Click Start/Control Panel/Administrative Tools/Services.
- Double Click the Dropbox Service.
- Change the startup to “Automatic”.
- Switch to the LogOn Tab. Enter the credentials for the ServiceAccount.
- Click OK.
Step 4. Define Service Parameters
Now we are going to put it all together and setup the Dropbox to start as a the Service we just created.
- Click Start/Run.
- Type regedit and press enter.
- Browse to HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SYSTEM\CurrentControlSet\Services\Dropbox
- Create a new key called Parameters.
- Inside the Parameters key, create a new REG_SZ value called Application.
- Set the Application value to the location of the Dropbox executable. It will be found in the profile of your service account – similar to C:\Users\ServiceAccount\AppData\Roaming\Dropbox\bin\Dropbox.exe
- Close Regedit.
Step 5. Fire it up!
Reboot your computer. On boot, the Dropbox service will start in the background.
To verify it’s working, try adding some files to your Dropbox from a different computer, come back and check your C:\Dropbox folder – your files should be there.
Using this configuration, Dropbox will always be syncing in the background when the computer is on.
Dropbox Client Updates (6/2018 Update)
Occasionally (once a month, perhaps) log into the service account, stop the Dropbox Service and fire up Dropbox normally (i.e. via the Dropbox icon on the desktop). Allow Dropbox to update to the latest version of the client through it’s automatic mechanisms. It’s been observed that the Dropbox client will stop working when it’s too far out of date. Since Dropbox is running in the background, it’s not possible to surface the notifications that would normally alert users that an update is needed to the client software before it stops working. The background client update feature does not work reliably when Dropbox is run as a service. If Dropbox struggles to update, you may have to do it manually.
SmartSync & Teams (6/2018 Update)
Dropbox has released a few new features that are untested at this point using the Dropbox-as-a-Windows-Service configuration outlined in this post. These include SmartSync and Teams. Both have some neat features, but also raise some serious questions about how Dropbox will perform when it’s not running in the foreground as it’s intended. My general advice is to avoid these two features when using DaaWS. I don’t anticipate testing these new features as they don’t appeal to me. If anyone would like to put it through it’s paces and share your findings, please leave a comment on this post.
If you have many gigabytes of data, you may find that the scanning engine runs every time you turn your system on for a very long time. For laptop users, this can slow you down considerably. I strongly recommend upgrading to an SSD hard drive to give your laptop enough disk I/O bandwidth to not get in your way while the sync is running in the background.
If you are going to use the Dropbox sync engine as a Service, you should upgrade to Dropbox for Business. You’ll get more space and aren’t likely to violate the terms of Service.
UPDATE 12/10/2015 – Thanks to reader Tyler for confiring this works on Windows 10!!