How can I have my Desktop sync over Dropbox?

Previously, I used symlinks to have Dropbox sync the Desktop and Documents folders while keeping them in their actual locations. Dropbox no longer supports symlinks in this way.

  • Does it have to be sync'd via Dropbox? I use Resilio Sync to sync Desktop and Downloads folder between my Macs.
    – TJ Luoma
    Commented Oct 16, 2019 at 2:24

4 Answers 4


So far as I know, there are only two possible ways to do this, and neither ways are available as of the latest macOS (Catalina, 10.15) and the latest dropbox updates (EDIT: it turns out that there is a workaround for the problem with the second way!).

  1. The first way is to create a symlink within Dropbox that points to a folder outside Dropbox and will trigger Dropbox to sync its contents. This is how I used to have things until the latest dropbox updated (apparently triggered by my updated to Catalina) broke this method. As the questioner notes, this method is no longer supported by Dropbox.

  2. The natural workaround (the second way) is to (i) place the desktop folder contents in a folder within the Dropbox folder, then (ii) effectively turn the actual desktop folder (stored in the user folder) into a symlink (e.g. per these instructions; EDIT: this is also effectively what Alex Szatmary suggests). Unfortunately, this by itself results in only partial success: on Catalina, so far as I've seen, after restarting the computer, the desktop reverts back to normal desktop configuration (no longer functioning as a symlink pointing into the corresponding desktop folder in the dropbox folder). EDIT: But there is a workaround: once the desktop folder is turned into a symlink that points to the desktop folder in the dropbox folder, go to the "Home" folder, and 'get info' on the Desktop alias/symlink and check the box "Locked" in order to lock the folder. This way it will not be deleted and replaced with the normal desktop folder upon restart and logging in.


Dropbox no longer supports having symlinks within the Dropbox folder and instead encourages users to store the files within Dropbox and use symlinks from other locations outside of the folder. For example, I used to have my Desktop folder in my Home directory and a symlink to Desktop inside my Dropbox folder; now, my Desktop folder is in Dropbox and my ~/Desktop folder is replaced with a symlink.

I set up the symlinks following this SO answer. I used these commands:

sudo mv Desktop/ Desktop.bak
ln -sf /Users/alexszatmary/Dropbox/Desktop ./Desktop

I needed to reboot my computer to see the files reappear on my Desktop.

This also works with Documents and presumably other special folders.

  • How did you manage to override the default folders like Desktop or Documents (which can‘t be deleted AFAIK)?
    – nohillside
    Commented Oct 12, 2019 at 19:32
  • I was concerned about that. sudo mv Desktop Desktop.bak worked, though. Commented Oct 12, 2019 at 19:33
  • Did you try with Documents as well?
    – nohillside
    Commented Oct 12, 2019 at 20:01
  • Yes, that works, too. Commented Oct 12, 2019 at 20:04
  • What does this do for you? i'm just curious and may use it mayself if reason meets my needs.
    – Natsfan
    Commented Oct 12, 2019 at 23:21

This worked for me on macOS Monterey 12.1 on a new M1 MacBook Pro.

First, quit DropBox.

Then, open the Terminal and issue:

sudo mv ~/Desktop ~/Dropbox/Desktop && 
  sudo ln -s ~/Dropbox/Desktop/ ~/Desktop && 
  sudo chflags -h schg ~/Desktop
sudo mv ~/Downloads ~/Dropbox/Downloads && 
  sudo ln -s ~/Dropbox/Downloads/ ~/Downloads && 
  sudo chflags -h schg ~/Downloads

sudo mv ~/Documents ~/Dropbox/Documents && 
  sudo ln -s ~/Dropbox/Documents/ ~/Documents 
  && sudo chflags -h schg ~/Documents

This will move Desktop, Downloads, and Documents folders to DropBox, create symlinks in their places, and lock the symlinks to prevent macOS from overwriting them.

Also, it does all this so quickly that macOS doesn't notice that we're messing with macOS protected folders.

Finally, restart DropBox.


Dropbox now has a "Manage Backup" feature that makes the other workarounds described here unnecessary for me because I just use one computer. One would need the workarounds if they were using multiple computers.

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