Dropbox is everywhere, but not, apparently, on most servers

Dropbox is everywhere, but not, apparently, on most servers

Summary: Dropbox on servers would allow sites to dynamically sync in ways that previously required a mound of config files, and a bucket full of patience.

TOPICS: Networking, Linux

Dropbox is everywhere. It now has more than 100 million users, as ZDNet reported yesterday. You would think, then, that it would be as easy to access Dropbox from a shared or managed hosting provider as it is to install, for example, WordPress.

You'd think, but you'd be wrong.

Dropbox is only barely supported on Linux. There is some rudimentary support information, but only just enough to get started. For example, the installation instructions don't even mention whether root or admin access is required (it appears to be). Nor is there any information provided about what's going to be needed (a daemon, for example), for Dropbox to run on a given Linux install.

I find Dropbox to be extraordinarily helpful in keeping server data in sync. The reason for this is that instead of having to write scripts that attempt an FTP (or SFTP) connection and queues that FTP if a transfer doesn't succeed, you can hide all that information from server software. All you have to do is copy a file to a directory on one machine, and on another machine, simply check for that file in a directory.

This, by the way, is the fundamental approach that big data systems like Hadoop use. Hadoop aggregates potentially tens of thousands of servers behind the scenes, but all a programmer has to do is manage a file that's located in what, to his code, appears to be a simple directory. In reality, the data file the programmer is working with might be split among thousands of individual machines all over the world.

I've used Dropbox to accomplish dynamic networking on a much smaller, but equally convenient, scale. The idea is that if the network plumbing becomes transparent to programmers, then much more focus can be paid to the development of the application technology, without each programmer having to reinvent ad-hoc data transmission for each of our applications.

All the synchronization, error checking, error correcting, missed connections, intermittent connections, and other fiddly bits are handled by Dropbox behind the scenes. Sure, you can use rsync or unison or even OwnCloud, but none of these blasts through the challenges of ad-hoc networking and synchronization with the dead-simple ease of Dropbox.

The only problem is that while you can install Dropbox on a dedicated Linux server (after jumping through some hoops), very few shared hosting or managed hosting ISPs will allow it, or support it. In a quick experiment, I contacted five separate ISPs last night. They all said they couldn't support Dropbox.

In most cases, the reason they gave (when they had any clue at all) for not allowing Dropbox is that they don't allow the installation of any software that requires admin or root access. And yet, they allow FTP (a much less secure and far less reliable system). Dropbox is really just another file transfer system.

This lack of Dropbox support is a shame. All these ISPs support 1-click installs of a wide variety of CMSs and other software programs. It would be particularly helpful if they'd also support a 1-click install of Dropbox, which would allow sites to dynamically sync in ways that previously required a mound of config files, and a bucket full of patience. Making this work would most likely also reduce the number of support calls ISPs had to handle over data transfer.

So, here's my suggestion. Hosting providers, you need to start providing Dropbox. And Dropbox, start talking to hosting providers.

Everyone's life would be easier and Dropbox might add another 100 million users (or servers, anyway).

Topics: Networking, Linux


David Gewirtz, Distinguished Lecturer at CBS Interactive, is an author, U.S. policy advisor, and computer scientist. He is featured in the History Channel special The President's Book of Secrets and is a member of the National Press Club.

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  • Dropbox On Linux

    There are repositories for most major distributions (Ubuntu and kindred, Red Hat/CentOS and kindred) that make Dropbox installation trivial. I run DB on my headless Ubuntu Server and on a Mint desktop. The installation was as easy as on a Mac or PC. I just wish it would run on BSD.
  • Already easy

    Agreed, @txscott -

    $ sudo apt-get install dropbox
    • Like I said, root access

      For hosted and managed services "sudo" anything isn't usually an option.
      David Gewirtz
  • Works just fine on Linux

    I disagree entirely with the statement: "Dropbox is only barely supported on Linux." Linux is a first-class citizen in the Linux community and has strong support.

    Its very easy to install, no hoops what-so-ever, and once you download the CLI script linked on the install page you can run it very easyily on a linux server. Again, no hoops at all. The script is very straight forward and easy to use.

    The fact that ISP's don't offer it on shared hosting seems reasonable to me. In a shared hosting environment you don't get to install software in most cases. Although it would be useful, I can see why the ISP's do not offer the option to have dropbox. Most shared hosting is very limited for a reason.
    • Typo?

      "Linux is a first-class citizen in the Linux community and has strong support" Seems a little obvious & pointless. Was the first word there supposed to be "Dropbox"?
      • Typo

        Yes, a rather unfortunate typo.
  • Server sync

    How exactly would you solve for instance change of ownership on destination or exclusions during the synch with Dropbox?
    Zeljko Jagust
  • Use the right tool for the job

    I'm confused, since Dropbox itself says no ("Can I host Dropbox on my server?"
    https://www.dropbox.com/help/42/en ). While clearly it's possible on a private/dedicated server (since it's being done), I'm confused at the tone of the article. It's like you're finding fault with hosting providers over this.

    Part of what makes Dropbox great is it's an offsite backup (and syncing) solution. To most businesses, offsite means off their own servers as well. Almost all decent shared hosting providers offer WebDAV, and there are some decent syncing tools available for WebDAV.