Automatic Folders Are Dropbox’s New Secret Weapon

Keep organized, with no effort

Key Takeaways

  • Dropbox can now move, rename, and even convert files automatically.
  • Just define the rules, then drop items into folders.
  • There are plenty of other powerful tools to automate Dropbox.
Creating an automated folder in Dropbox

Dropbox

Dropbox will automatically organize your folders for you, renaming, moving, and even translating anything you drop in there. 

There are plenty of ways to automate the folders in your Dropbox—after all, it's just a folder full of files—but having a built-in tool could offer a few advantages in terms of convenience, security, and reliability. And you can still use all those third-party tools you like. So, why are automated folders such a great idea, and what can they do for you?

"[Automated folders are] an incredibly easy way to manage any kind of big, multi-file, multi-contributor project," Devon Fata, CEO of web-developer company Pixoul, told Lifewire via email. "Setting up a good organization system that works for everyone is a constant battle in any kind of project-based work, and this could save a lot of time in those areas."

The End of Filing

Folders are often a mess. We dump files into a folder to clean up, say, our desktops, then we dump some of those files into a subfolder to clean up the first folder. Imagine if those files could organize themselves.

Even those of us who keep everything squared away can benefit from automatic filing. And with Dropbox, it’ll soon be easy. You just have to set up your automation rules once, then Dropbox does all the work. 

Dropbox automated folder gif

Dropbox

For instance, you can create a rule that automatically puts your files into folders based on the date. Drop a bunch of files into your Dropbox, and it'll create folders for January, February, and so on, and tuck your files into them. Future files added to the main folder will be automatically moved into these subfolders. It's ideal for keeping receipts for your taxes, for example. 

That's nice and already quite powerful, but it gets a lot better. Dropbox can automatically rename files and photos, too, perhaps based on the date they were created/taken. It can also tag your files and even convert them to other formats. For instance, you could have a folder that converts anything to a PDF or one that automatically unzips zip files. 

The neat part is that these actions are triggered by moving files into folders, which can be done on any connected device. 

Alternatives

Dropbox folder automation is eventually coming to everybody, but it's currently only rolling out to business customers. Still, there are lots of even more powerful options for automating your Dropbox folders—or any other folders. 

There are two main categories for automating folders. One is a web-based service like Zapier or IFTTT (If This Then That). The other is a tool that runs locally on your computer, like the excellent Hazel for the Mac. Then there are more single-purpose services like Cloud Convert, which will monitor a Dropbox folder and convert anything you add. It's powerful and easy to use. 

creating automated folders and subfolders using Hazel

Noodlesoft

The advantage of a web-based tool is it can connect to other web services. IFTTT can do some wild stuff. You could, for example, have your smart lightbulb flash red every time there's a new article posted here on Lifewire News. Zapier offers even deeper—although much more complex to set up—automations that dig into your Gmail, Slack, Twitter, Trello, and more

The downside of these online tools is your private data has to leave your computer for them to do their thing. On the other hand, much of that data is already somewhere in the cloud anyway. 

Local

If you want to get really serious about automation on your computer, there are many tools. On the Mac and iOS, you can use the built-in Shortcuts app, which comes with a gallery of pre-made automations. Some of these also work with Dropbox. 

For automating folders, try Hazel. This monitors folders for new files and acts on them. 

One Hazel rule I use watches my desktop for images. It resizes screenshots to 2,000 pixels wide, so I can use them for online articles like this one. Another rule takes webp images and turns them into JPGs. I also have a rule that copies songs into the app formerly known as iTunes.

Newly added items folder in Hazel

Noodlesoft

Hazel offers its own set of built-in actions, but you can also use it to run Shortcuts, AppleScripts, Automator actions, and even write your own scripts in the programming language of your choice. This modularity makes it both extremely easy to get started but also limitless in its potential. And, of course, it can act on any folder in your Dropbox. 

Dropbox's new built-in automation looks great and covers the basics, but hopefully, it will also spark interest in more powerful automations. Because what's the point of a computer if it can't take care of all the busy work for you?

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