Dropbox issue deletes all files [daily bug]

Another favourite entry to the daily bug series (I did find out about this the hard way few days ago):

Dropbox.com is an excellent ‘cloud service’ for online file storage, synchronization between different devices and OSs, and sharing, but I have to warn about a particular issue. If you relocate (e.g. move to another drive or partition) the default My Documents folder of Windows, and your Dropbox resides inside it, it will (or at least that is what happened in my case) break the link to the service, the partially unlinked device effectively sending a message that you have suddenly deleted all your files! What is worse, is that Dropbox will then proceed to delete all your files also from all the other machines where you have Dropbox installed — the moment you switch the computer on, and it gets connected to the service it starts the deleting process and does not stop until the very last of your precious files is gone. Yikes.

I managed to work around by taking the remaining copy at the original machine that got partially unlinked (the files still were in that one device), making a copy to a USB stick, and then using it to restore the files on another (fully linked machine). As to getting the “partially unlinked” computer back in line, I received these instructions from Dropbox Support, which appeared to do the job:

Please save and quit all programs that access files in the Dropbox folder.

1) Click the Dropbox tray/menu bar icon, then click ‘Preferences’
2) Click the ‘Unlink’ button
3) Afterward, your Dropbox will prompt you to re-register. Click ‘Existing user’
4) Enter your account info.
5) Complete the rest of the process.
6) You will asked if you want to choose the location of the Dropbox folder. If you moved your folder then you want to give Dropbox the new location. Otherwise, let Dropbox do it.
– Select the folder that CONTAINS the Dropbox folder, not the Dropbox folder itself.
– “D:\” (correct) vs “D:\My Dropbox” (incorrect)
7) When Dropbox finds your Dropbox folder, you want to yes to merging your existing Dropbox folder.

If your Dropbox was already in sync, it should only take a little while for the indexing to finish. Any files that need to be synced will sync now.

Note that it would still have been possible to restore the deleted files also from Dropbox web interface, but since more than 3000 files were lost, I was not interested to go through them manually. This most [must] be what the Dark Side of Cloud Computing will look like…

Author: frans

Professor of Information Studies and Interactive Media, esp. Digital Culture and Game Studies in the Tampere University, Finland. Occasional photographer and gardener.

6 thoughts on “Dropbox issue deletes all files [daily bug]”

  1. Dropbox will roll back a failed event via an email request, easily restoring all the files. I know, I’ve been there. 🙂

    Though why they don’t have a user accessible web interface for rolling back an event, is beyond my understanding…

  2. Hi.
    the same happened to me, thousands of family pictures gone!!!
    Luckily 1 dropbox linked pc was not switched on so I still had 1 copy of it.
    This has been a big scare for me and I now know: DropBox IS NOT A SAFE BACKUP!! manually restore tens of thousands of photos is un do able.

    This is the end for me for dropbox, at least from Windows pc’s!

    1. harry,

      True, Dropbox is not a backup service – it is a synchronization service.

      However, there no reason for any such hand-waving freak-outery about lost family photos. The pictures were never “gone”, and (as I just said in my comment above yours) you woudn’t need to restore them manually. Dropbox customer service will roll back an event for you with a simple email request. Not the most convenient way, sure, but really not that big of an issue either.

  3. Great info that just saved me from undeleting everything from the dropbox website manually… I too moved my folder (silly me) and had this happen.

    Great explanation of how to recover this issue Thanks!

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