Dropbox To Stop Following Symlinks To Items Outside The Dropbox Folder

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It looks like Dropbox will soon stop following symbolic links to files or folders outside of the Dropbox folder.

When placing a symbolic link (symlink or soft link) in the Dropbox folder before this change, the symlink is replaced by the data it points to, so you have the actual data on the Dropbox servers, and not just the symlink.

The "How to use symlinks with Dropbox" page from the Dropbox help mentions that "as of mid-2019, Dropbox no longer follows items outside of your Dropbox account that are linked to by a symlink". I tried both the latest Dropbox beta and stable builds on Linux, and this is not yet the case, i.e. Dropbox continues to follow symbolic links that point to items outside the Dropbox folder.

This change may have already landed on other platforms already, as I only tried the Dropbox Linux client, or it may have been added there in preparation for a future update.

The same Dropbox help page then continues to mention that you'll still be able to have symbolic links that point to files outside of Dropbox account on your Dropbox, but only the symlink file will be synced with your Dropbox account, and not the content it links to.

Symlinks pointing to items in your Dropbox account will continue to work as before, synchronizing the content it links to.

I couldn't find an announcement regarding this change, nor much information about it, but I did manage to find a possible motive. On a Dropbox help page about possible causes for high CPU usage, it's mentioned that symlinks may be causing such issues, and recommends removing symlinks and moving the actual data to the Dropbox folder.

Following symlinks to files and folder outside the Dropbox folder was an obscure, but very useful Dropbox feature (well, for some at least), with multiple use cases, including synchronizing folders outside the Dropbox directory (which has the added benefit of not using space both on your computer and in the local Dropbox folder), or syncing and backing up program configuration files (dotfiles). As a side note, you'll still be able to sync program configurations with Dropbox even after this change, by using the links the other way around (placing the original file in Dropbox and the symlink on your system).

It's worth noting though, that the way Dropbox handles symbolic links (until this change) is not standard, since it replaces them with the target items, breaking cases in which users actually want to only sync the symlink, and not the target.

As a reminder, Dropbox dropped support for all filesystems except Ext4 on Linux a while back, but reverted this change (for the most part) in July.

via Hacker News (by whoisnnamdi)