Sync Your Mac's Address Book Using Dropbox

Address Book Icon
Address Book can be synced with your other Macs using Dropbox. Courtesy of Apple

If you use multiple Macs, you know what a drag it can be when your contacts in the Address Book app aren't the same on every Mac. You sit down to send a note to a couple of new business acquaintances and discover that they're not in that Mac's Address Book. That's because you added them when you were on a business trip, using your MacBook. Now you're in the office with your iMac.

There are many ways to keep your Address Books in sync, including services such as Apple's iCloud or Google's Sync. Those type of services are fine, but are you sure you can trust them to always provide the same set of features you need, year in and year out? If you're a former MobileMe user, you already know that the answer to that question is "no."

That's why you might want to use Dropbox, the readily available - and free - cloud-based storage service. If Dropbox ever goes away or changes its services in a manner you don't like, you can replace it with the cloud-based storage service of your choice.

What You Need

  • Two or more Macs to keep in sync.
  • OS X Leopard through OS X Lion. Earlier versions of OS X may work fine, but I'm not able to test them. If you try this with Tiger or earlier versions of OS X, let me know how it works. After OS X Lion, I highly recommend using Apple’s iCloud service over Dropbox. The reason isn't a fault with Dropbox, but a change in how OS X manages the Address Book/Contacts app, which makes it very difficult to keep data synced using Dropbox.
  • Dropbox, a cloud-based storage service. You may be able to use other cloud storage options, but these instructions assume you're using Dropbox.
  • A few minutes of your time for each Mac you wish to sync up.

Get Started Syncing WIth Dropbox

  1. Close Address Book, if it's open.
  2. If you're not already using Dropbox, you'll need to install the service. You can find installation instructions in the Setting Up Dropbox for Mac guide.
  3. Using the Finder, navigate to ~/Library/Application Support. Here are a few notes to help you get there. The tilde (~) in the pathname represents your home folder. So, you can get there by opening your home folder and finding the Library folder, then the Application Support folder. If you're using OS X Lion or later, you won't see the Library folder at all because Apple chose to hide it. You can use the following guide to make the Library folder reappear in Lion: OS X Lion Is Hiding Your Library Folder.
  4. Once you're in the Application Support folder, right-click the AddressBook folder and select "Duplicate" from the pop-up menu.
  5. The duplicate folder will be called AddressBook copy. This copy will serve as a backup, should anything go wrong with the next set of steps, which will move or delete the original AddressBook folder.
  1. In another Finder window, open your Dropbox folder.
  2. Drag the AddressBook folder to your Dropbox folder.
  3. Dropbox will copy the data to the cloud. This can take a few minutes. Once you see a green check mark in the icon of the Dropbox copy of the AddressBook folder, you're ready to go on to the next step.
  4. Address Book needs to know what you've done with its AddressBook folder. We can tell Address Book where to find the folder now by creating a symbolic link between the old location and the new one in the Dropbox folder.
  5. Launch Terminal, located at /Applications/Utilities.
  6. Enter the following command at the Terminal prompt:
    1. ln -s ~/Dropbox/AddressBook/ ~/Library/Application\ Support/AddressBook
  7. That may look a little strange; after the backslash character (\), there is a space before the word Support. Be sure to include both the backslash character and the space. You can also just copy/paste the above command line into Terminal.
  8. Check that the symbolic link is working by launching Address Book. You should see all of your contacts listed within the application. If not, check to ensure that you entered the above command line correctly.

    Syncing Additional Mac Address Books

    Now it's time to sync the Address Books on other Macs to the Dropbox copy of the AddressBook folder. To do this, simply repeat the same steps we performed above, with one important exception. Instead of moving the AddressBook folder to your Dropbox folder, delete the AddressBook folder from any additional Macs you wish to sync up.

    So, the process will follow these steps:

    1. Perform steps 1 through 5.
    2. Drag the AddressBook folder to the trash.
    3. Perform steps 9 through 13.

    That's the entire process. Once you complete the steps for each Mac, it will always be sharing up-to-date Address Book contact information.

    Restore Address Book to Normal (Non-Syncing) Operations

    If at some point you decide you don't wish to use Dropbox to sync Address Book or Contacts, and you would rather have the apps keep all their data local to your Mac, these instructions will back out the changes you made earlier.

    Start by making a backup of the AddressBook folder located on your Dropbox account. The AddressBook folder contains all your current Address Book data, and it is this information we want to restore to your Mac. You can create a backup by just copying the folder to your desktop. When that step is done, let's get started.

    1. Close Address Book on all Macs that you have set up to sync contact data through Dropbox.
    2. To restore the Address Book data, we're going to remove the symbolic link you created earlier (step 11) and replace it with the actual AddressBook folder that contains all data files currently stored in Dropbox.
    3. Open a Finder window and navigate to ~/Library/Application Support.
    4. OS X Lion and later versions of OS X hide the user's Library folder; here are the instructions for how to access the hidden Library location: OS X Is Hiding Your Library Folder.
    5. Once you have arrived at ~/Library/Application Support, scroll through the list until you find AddressBook. This is the link we'll be deleting.
    6. In another Finder window, open your Dropbox folder and locate the folder named AddressBook.
    7. Right-click the AddressBook folder on Dropbox, and select Copy ‘AddressBook’ from the popup menu.
    8. Return to the Finder window you have open on ~/Library/ Application Support. Right-click in an empty area of the window, and select Paste Item from the popup menu. If you have problems finding an empty spot, try changing to the Icon view in the Finder’s View menu.
    1. You'll be asked if you wish to replace the existing AddressBook. Click OK to replace the symbolic link with the actual AddressBook folder.

    You can now launch Address Book to confirm your contacts are all intact and current.

    You can repeat the process for any additional Mac you have synced to the Dropbox AddressBook folder.