Backing up and Restoring from Time Machine and Dropbox

If I am looking for a file that I accidentally deleted a month ago, I assume the restore process using Time Machine would be to restore the whole database from a month ago (not overwriting the current one) then open that restored copy in DT and export the lost file, and then reimport it to the current DT database?

What about Dropbox? Dropbox maintains copies of previous backups, so if I am backing up to Dropbox (not with databases in Dropbox) is this another option for recovering that file I accidentally deleted last month, again presumably only by downloading the whole database?

I have seen it said that backups (clone or Time Machine) should be done with the databases closed. This rather negates the automatic backup nature of Time Machine, although I have also seen a report that recovery from a TM backup of an open database does work. The backup tab in prefs says to use Time Machine, but does not say to close the databases first. I will try and get in the habit of closing DT for backups (clone and TM). Presumably this does not apply to backups to Dropbox since DT doesn’t synchronise a closed database with Dropbox.

Thanks for any input.

Do not rely on Dropbox to back up a DEVONthink database. Dropbox can cause database errors even if you don’t run the database in Dropbox. Dropbox is absolutely wonderful for many purposes, but the way it copies and stores files is not appropriate for your database, because of the way Dropbox handles package files, especially large ones that may themselves hold large files.

I use Time Machine. When I get a new Mac, I use the option to populate it with my user account and all the files from my older Mac. I did that last November when my current MacBook Pro arrived. All my databases came to the new machine in perfect condition.

If you ask me how to make the “perfect” backup of a DEVONthink database, I will tell you to close the database(s) before making the backup. That’s because DEVONthink databases are dynamic, and it’s possible that there’s something in memory that hasn’t yet been written to disk, and so won’t be included in the backup.

But in practice, that’s rarely a problem. And the beauty of Time Machine is that even if a database backup were to display such a problem, the odds are very great that the next oldest backup of that database will be “perfect”.

I’m lazy, but I want my work to be properly backed up. When my laptop lands on my desk I mount the external drive that holds Time Machine backups and let Time Machine do its thing automatically every hour. DEVONthink Pro Office is always running. My databases are very stable, and I haven’t needed to recover from Time Machine because of database damage. But the fact that all the databases on my current Mac came from Time Machine backups, and none of them have any problems speaks well of the level of data protection this “easy” approach to backup provides.

Redundancy for backups is good, however. Periodically I update Database Archives of my most important databases to a portable drive that’s stored in a safety deposit box at my bank. That’s more work, but adds protection from burglars, fires, etc.

Thanks very much for reassurances about backing up with Time Machine.

I am a bit surprised at your criticism regarding Dropbox as a backup (to Dropbox account, not with databases in Dropbox) since this is a supported method of sharing. It is the method I used initially for duplicating my databases onto my second computer, and regular syncing since. The databases in my Dropbox account feel like valid offsite backups, should my computer, Time Machine disk and backup disks all get stolen.

However, after a bit more digging and playing with Dropbox I see that accessing earlier versions is not practical, so it is no good as a means of recovering a file deleted a month ago.

Dropbox is not made for backing up live databases. There are technical issues that can and do cause damage to the internal structures. This is why we so strongly advocate our Sync - it does what Dropbox isn’t built to do.

To do a safe backup of a DEVONthink database to Dropbox (not Sync) you could do File > Export > Database Archive to the Dropbox folder. This verifies your database (no sense backing up bad data), optimizes it, and compresses it. The database is then “hidden” in the safety of the ZIP for safe transport into Dropbox. No you still can’t pick up an individual file from the internals but you can’t do that now in Dropbox.

I do agree with Bill that TimeMachine is the easiest, cheapest, and most controllable backup method. Drives are cheap (I’m fixing to buy a larger capacity but physically smaller drive today to make it even more convenient - no power brick to carry with me!)

Thanks Bluefrog,

So you and Bill are saying syncing via Dropbox is a bad idea? I came to DT through Joe Kissels ebooks about “Take Control of a Paperless Office” and “Take Control of Getting started with Devonthink”, in which he relates his discussions with DT staff at the highest level about Dropbox syncing. The summary was that putting the databases in Dropbox was a big no-no, but syncing to a Dropbox account was OK, and is supported in 2.5.1 in the sync preferences. Joe’s only beef with Dropbox was that syncing to a Dropbox account originally resulted in the databases being recreated in the Dropbox/Apps/ folder, as well as in the main location, but this is no longer the case as it can be excluded in the Dropbox prefs.

I have not seen any warning about not using it for live databases, and the sync prefs allow hourly syncs to a Dropbox account (which implies syncing live databases left open). Is there any confusion about the problems of dataloss if the primary databases are actually in the Dropbox folder (not supported), versus the syncing to a Dropbox account, but with the databases not in the Dropbox folder (supported)?

My personal use does not require me to sync to the Dropbox account, as I don’t share with anyone else, and my two computers are usually on the same network, so I can do direct syncing, but I would like to understand more why you and Bill seem to saying a supported feature is not advised.

Maybe I am misunderstanding something basic.

Re-reading Bluefrogs reply, I wonder if there is a misunderstanding about what I meant by using Dropbox as a back up. In particular the statement “This is why we so strongly advocate our Sync - it does what Dropbox isn’t built to do”.

I am not referring to any backup to Dropbox except by using the DT’s own sync tools. Simply using the DT sync to a Dropbox account puts the databases on the Dropbox servers in a way that they can be restored to another computer if needed, so the databases in Dropbox are an offsite backup, as well as the means of sharing between computers. This is a by-product of syncing via a Dropbox account.

Sorry if I seem to be obtuse about this…I have a lot to learn about DT, and would really like to understand this point.

No apologies needed. You are correct in that Syncing is okay and that storing your database in a Dropbox folder is not.

Though it may be a technicality, people think of Dropbox as a “backup strategy”. We do not. Though it can be seen to function that way it is fundamentally a synchronization technology. The reason we are often seemingly pedantic about this issue is that people use it as a backup and ignore true backup strategies on a local level. Local backups are a better idea for control, security (especially considering offsite backups), and ease of restoration.

I hope that makes more sense.

Thanks Bluefrog, I think all is clear now.

I am a backup junkie! My databases exist on both my computers, and a Time Machine drive, and two clones of each computer (one always offsite) as my primary backups. So I am not relying on the Dropbox sync as a backup, but nice to know it is there.

I have realised (after rather a delay!) that this thread became all about Dropbox and I didn’t really get an answer to the question above.

The few times I have used Time Machine it has been to look for an earlier version of a file or a deleted file. It seems to me that DTPO is not really going to allow that except by the rather blindfolded process above (you need to know when it was deleted).

Or can Spotlight search for the deleted file on the Time Machine disk, so that I know when to restore from?