Last updated on September 14th, 2022 at 10:45 pm
This is a really good workaround for a highly requested feature that Dropbox never has allowed officially.
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Connecting to Dropbox over FTP or FTPS isn’t supported natively. This post will give you a reasonable workaround option.
Dropbox is a great way to store your files in the cloud and easily share them between multiple devices. It’s no secret I’m a fan of using it for our website backups as well as my file storage needs. Now, I’ll admit there are some issues with Dropbox when it comes to hardcore privacy advocates, but it’s still one of the most widely used cloud-based storage options available. In the future, I might end up switching to Amazon Cloud drive as a less-expensive alternative but for the time being, I’m sticking with Dropbox. Incidentally, however, if you do happen to have Amazon Cloud Drive, this workaround should work for you as well.
These steps assume that you have a basic knowledge of how to set up the Dropbox client on a computer, configure a static IP address, and forward ports on your router.
The general concept is that you’ll create an FTP server using your Dropbox client directory on your computer as the FTP home directory. This will allow you to work within the synced Dropbox directory of a computer from another device that doesn’t itself have access to Dropbox. Changes you make in the directory are synced by Dropbox on the host computer (because that’s what Dropbox does).
Why Might You Need to Access Dropbox over FTP?
So here’s the deal: Dropbox doesn’t support access to your files using FTP. As a matter of fact, they’re so confident that you’ll never need FTP after using their product, they have a couple pages on their site talking about it. In reality, however, you may find a need to access your data in Dropbox over FTP for a variety of reasons.
Perhaps you’re using an application that can only read/write files over FTP, or maybe you’re using a computer without the Dropbox client and you need to transfer a file larger than the web portal allows (10GB). However, most often you’ll face this dilemma when the network you’re on has Dropbox blocked.
That’s right, most workplaces have the Dropbox client blocked on your work computer. In addition, access to the Dropbox website itself may be blocked right at the firewall. Companies do this to protect their data. It’s far too easy for an employee to accidentally save confidential company data to their personal Dropbox or, worse, intentionally with malicious motives.
Outside of that, I’m going to assume that because you’re reading this article, you already have a valid reason to access Dropbox over FTP. If you’re breaking the rules at work, well, that’s between you and your employer.
Step 1: Install The Dropbox Client on a Static Computer
If you’ve read this far, it’s probably safe to assume you’re a Dropbox user and have already done this. If not, you’ll need to sign up and configure it. Dropbox provides easy to follow instructions on their website. For our purposes, you’ll want to install the client on a static computer – a system that remains in one place and usually stays on, such as a desktop PC. If you actually have a Windows Server at home, you can use that system as well.
Make a note of the location of your local Dropbox storage folder. Normally it’s going to be in C:\Users\[your username]\Dropbox – you’ll need this later.
Step 2: Configure Your Computer with a Static IP Address
Giving your desktop computer or server a static IP address ensures the port forwarding options you’ll set in the next step don’t have to be changed every time your computer gets a new IP (because it simply will keep the one you assign). Check out the video below on how to set up a static IP:
The instructions above are for Windows 10 computers, but they’ll work for any Windows version 7 or later.
Step 3: Install Filezilla FTP Server on the Same Computer
You can download the Filezilla Server application for free from filezilla-project.org and run the installer with all the defaults. Ensure that you select to run Filezilla as a service during installation.
Step 4: Configure FTP Settings
Once you complete the Filezilla Server installation, it will open up the server interface. The administration port will be filled out automatically. Click Connect.
From the administration window, click the Edit menu and select Users. In the resulting window, you’ll see the following:
On the right-hand side, under Users, click Add. In the resulting window, type in your desired username and click OK. Back in the main Users window, checkmark the Password box and enter a strong password. Make note of the password.
Next, on the left-hand side select Shared folders and under the resulting Shared Folders section, click Add. Navigate to your Dropbox directory and click OK (you should have noted this location in Step 1). Finally, click OK in the Users window and it will close automatically – in the administration windows, you’ll notice a few lines pop up indicating that server settings have been sent.
At this point, you’re now running an FTP server that you can connect to from any computer inside your home or office network using an FTP client – but in order to connect to your FTP server from an external location, there’s one more step…
Step 5: Configure FTP Port Forwarding on Your Router
In order to connect to your FTP server from outside your network over the Internet, you’ll need to configure port forwarding on your router. This is where the static IP of your computer comes into play. You’ll want to forward incoming traffic on port 21 to the static IP you assigned your computer. You’ll need to consult your router’s documentation on how to do this because they’re all different.
Once you’ve completed port forwarding, you’ll need to find out what your external IP address is for your router. You can do that simply by visiting WhatIsMyIpAddress.com from your FTP Server/Dropbox Client computer. Make a note of this IP address.
Your setup is now fully completed. You’ll need to install an FTP client on the computer you’ll be making a connection from (the computer that doesn’t have direct access to Dropbox). Fortunately, Filezilla also has a free client that works on most platforms. Simply fill in the IP address you noted in Step 5 as the host, and the username/password combination you configured in Step 4 and BOOM, you’re accessing Dropbox over FTP!
Locking Down Security of Dropbox over FTP by Configuring Dropbox SFTP
At this point I have to mention this method isn’t very secure. FTP doesn’t encrypt data or username/passwords so there is a possibility your information could be eavesdropped on. So here are a couple of things you can do minimize your risk when accessing your Dropbox over FTP.
- Set up SFTP – a secure version of FTP that is encrypted. You can find instructions on how to set it up here.
- Minimize your attack surface by creating a subdirectory inside your Dropbox folder strictly for FTP access. You probably don’t need to access ALL of your Dropbox files over FTP, so simply make a subfolder and use that as your shared folder for FTP.
- Always use strong passwords for your FTP account.
It’s important to note the Dropbox client uses ports 80 and 443 (mostly 443).
Dropbox FTP: It’s Possible & Not Super Difficult
Hopefully, you’ve found some value in this post. Do you use any other creative methods of accessing Dropbox remotely? Let us know in the comments.