Alternative Method of Keeping Projects Synced

When thinking of cloud sync in a traditional sense, we intend to put the original copy of a document in a shared area, where every machine can operate directly on that one copy. While convenient and straight-forward, this method is not without risks, even with the most basic of file formats.

Scrivener's feature set offers another approach for sharing projects between computers that has a greatly reduced risk of syncing problems, but it does rely on a higher degree of personal organisation from the user. This method is so safe that it can work with any sync service available, and is thus a good alternative to consider if you'd prefer to use a service that is known to be risky with Scrivener's intensive use of the disk.

The principle is simple: instead of storing the project in the cloud-sync area you instead set Scrivener's automatic backup location there, on each machine. Under default settings, when you close a project the backup would be synced to the cloud automatically. Later, you would extract a copy of the project from this backup on the next computer, before opening it and continuing to work on the project.

Our recommendations for this method are:

  • Optimise your Scrivener backup settings:

    • Set the backup location to the same folder on each machine, all pointing to a folder that is synced by your preferred service.
    • Enable the zip compression option (it is on by default). Transferring larger single files over the 'net is more efficient and safer than transferring hundreds, if not thousands of internal project files.
    • Enable the setting to use dates in backup file names. This will make it much clearer which backup is the most recent, which you will be doing a lot of with this method! A side effect of this setting is that, with those cloud services that track deleted items, your older backups that Scrivener has deleted automatically will be retained for a time, giving you an extra layer of protection.

    The other settings are up to you, but each machine should ideally be set up similarly, particularly with regards to how many backups are kept (I recommend as much as your cloud service affords you). The machine with the lowest setting will effectively limit all of the rest.

  • Always check sync status when switching computers: this is true for all cloud use, no matter what software you use. Be sure that it is completely finished uploading before you shut down the computer. On the next computer make sure it is finished downloading before copying the latest project out of the backup folder.

  • Check the modification date: you can skip this step if you use the recommended date stamp option. Without date stamps, Scrivener uses a rotating pool of numbered file names, and you'll have to use your file manager to figure out which is actually the most recent.

  • Copying to your local drive: when you switch machines, you'll be taking the latest copy from the backup folder and creating a fresh copy in an area that isn't synced, to work. The best way to do this depends on your archival tool (and for most people, that means operating system), but in all cases, you never want to remove the .zip file from the backup folder:

    • If when you double-click on .zip files they extract directly into the same folder: drag the project out of the backup area before using it.
    • If when you double-click your file manager shows the contents of the archive in the file browser: drag the .scriv project out of this window and into another area to work on it, closing the window when it is done.
    • Lastly, if you opt to not use zip compressed backups, you will use your file manager to copy the latest project to another folder.

    For most people, it will be less confusing to replace or remove the older project from the working area on that computer, before copying the fresh one out of backups. If you depend upon Scrivener to load the project for you automatically on start, or use the Recent Projects menu, following this procedure will make that process seamless.

The workflow described in step four will ensure that you only ever have one working copy of the project on your computer at once. This reduces confusion over which copy is the latest and keeps your working area organised. It also ensures that the integrity of your backup folder is not damaged.

While this method is slightly more involved than the direct syncing of a project, it is much safer, because you only ever open projects that are on your local computer and not ones that are syncing across a network. That means if you forget to fully sync one day, the worst that can happen is you don't have your latest files with you. This is opposed to the potential for project corruption or data loss of the one primary project every machine depends upon, with the standard method.

It also has the side-effect of placing your central backup location in the cloud. Since a backup folder can have up to twenty-five date stamped copies of a project, this valuable archive will be replicated across each machine attached to your cloud account. Instead of having the "one project" mirrored, you have many.