For those who sync databases across two Macs on iCloud: what’s it like?

  • Do you have corporate security policies prohibiting the connection of portable hard drives or thumb drives to your office machine?
    • If not, you could actually use a local sync store on such a drive and shuttle it back and forth between home and office.

This discussion has been educational. It’s making me conclude that it’s probably a better idea to invest in a Macbook dock setup than deal with two machines. Seems more trouble than it’s worth!

Trouble is not a ubiquitous as suggested here. But sync only needed if NEEDED (as @bluefrog says all the time).

Seems more trouble than it’s worth!

Actually, sync generally works very well and just does its thing behind the scenes.

However, as I’ve covered in the forums and documentation ad infinitum (or ad nauseaum, for some people :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye: ) using a remote sync option comes with inherent weaknesses that may temporarily inhibit syncing. This is why we encourage people to use local syncing as a first priority unless the situation requires a remote sync option.

You’ve already got a Mini with the databases on it, so why not just get a nice M2 Air with at least a 512GB internal and max out the RAM?

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That seems like a good idea.

How would you manage the synced material though? I don’t need so many thousands of files to be uploaded to some cloud server at all times (though I currently use what’s been called “shallow sync” between my Mac mini and my iPad, where I do my reading).

I could very well dedicate a database for files I want to sync at a given time, but the process of moving them in and out of where they ought to be would be quite tedious.

If there’s material I could read on such organization, I’d appreciate any pointers :slight_smile:

What you are thinking of doing, e.g. having smaller databases that focus is on synching is what I do. I sync, for example, only my “Works in Progress” database of projects and reading to my iPhone which is memory starved. I also sync via Bonjour so even though small, it’s fast and reliable.

Give the following methods a try and let us know how it goes:

  • Drag and drop files and groups from one database to another
  • Select one or more groups and/or files, and use the “Move” command to move to another database.

If files are Indexed into DEVONthink, probably best to simply delete that index and create a new index in the target database? Indexing files has more complications that you should be aware of.

Read in the “DEVONthink Manual” about indexing and moving.

So you gave us two possible scenarios, one that involves syncing and one that does not. Most (all?) responses above discuss supposed issues and other intricacies of synch set up of DT3. Instead, I would advocate your “need no sync” option of purchasing a decent macbook and would add a well sized external monitor for home to that.

No sync needed, just backup. Easy.

Btw, i have a DT3 dual computer setup that syncs over icloud without problems although i do scream and yell sometimes when icloud shows its typical slowness which may affect DT3 sometimes


It’s not moving files that’s an issue, per se. When you pull a file out of its folder and mix it with countless others, returning it after processing it will become quite the chore.

This seems like the best option. Perhaps a MacBook Air/ Pro with 32 gigs of RAM + an external monitor.

Thanks everyone for your input. You’ve been very kind and helpful.

Good point.

I don’t do that.

  • For stuff I want to read, I duplicate to the small “works in progress” database. After I read it, I delete it since I know that it’s stored somewhere else.

  • for stuff that I am working on, I move the working documents. When done, I move the final document back into permanent storage. A lot of my real writing is outside of DEVONthink anyway.

  • for stuff that is research for stuff I am working on, I treat it as “to be read” and when the project is done, I delete it.

Or, if above not work for you, buy or carry a bigger portable device, as @joost suggests.

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I use a dedicated “handoff” database that is synced with multiple iOS devices and a MacBook Air. iI eventually move items from it to my longterm database on my iMac. I could never get Dropbox to reliably work sync, but CloudKit has been just fine. The devices are rarely in proximity to each other, and I have better things to do than manually sync when they are, so CloudKit syncing it a must for the way I work. (I had numerous problems with the “legacy” method, go figure.) As others have said, figure out what you actually need and implement the simplest strategy necessary.


no i could do that – I’ll be honest, though, i’m really happy with how DevonThink plays with Dropbox–I haven’t had (knocking on wood) problems since revising the setup with your help last fall. My dropbox issues are with just my “normal” dropbox files (including, unfortunately, the indexed folders of PDFs that are in several of my DT databases). But that’s not on you guys to figure out for me–that’s a Dropbox issue, and it’s a problem right now for a lot of other stuff way before it is for my DT setup : )


Do you really need to index files stored in Dropbox? If you think “yes”, I’m curious why you think that.

And are those Dropbox folders configured to be “offline” in Dropbox?

yeah there’s a long thread here somewhere that i discussed upsa nd downs of architecture and settled on indexing as best for me. Mainly because it makes it easier for other apps to interface with the same file, in particular goodreader which is my go to PDF markup app.

I don’t have GoodReader to test this idea, but from inside DEVONthink, with GoodReader your default PDF markup app, double click on the DEVONthink file and it should open in GoodReader. Do your thing, then save and it will return to where DEVONthink keeps it (indexed or imported). Or if Goodreader not your default app for PDF’s, right mouse click on the document and “Open With …” and Pick good reader.

Only difference is you are pointing at files with DEVONthink, not Finder. And, if above works to your satisfaction, you can import the files into DEVONthink and avoid your Dropbox troubles (which frankly, I do not understand … and I’m concerned about what appears to be malware on your machine)


I super appreciate these thoughtful suggestions, but I promise that my DevonThink setup is how I want it. I’m working across the same underlying PDF records on 4+ devices–sometimes through DT, and sometimes through a different app. What you’re suggesting works great from within a single device, but I do basically all my markup on PDF Expert in my ipad, and that sync runs through dropbox. Really really appreciate your brainstorming here : ) My chiming in above was just re Dropbox generally, not re my current sync setup with DRopbox. Like, I have word processing files that I can’t work on without manually transferring them right now, which is B-A-N-A-N-A-S–but it’s not a DevonThink problem : )

For context, let me first say I’m a long-time user of DEVONthink, and have gone through a number of iterations of trying different configurations. On a daily basis I use a phone, an ipad, and (just recently) a high-end MacBook with multiple external monitors; previously I also used two iMacs and another “emergency” old MacBook, all of which which I tried to keep sync’ed [1][2]. I have a couple of databases in the 20-30 GB range, and a couple of others that are smaller.

For a time, I used one of the iMacs at home as a sync store, and used WebDAV for sync’ing the other devices to it, without a cloud-based sync store. This worked until one day I was at a doctor’s office with only my ipad and wanted to pull up some recent records and couldn’t, because while I remembered to sync my main computer to the sync store, I forgot to follow that with also sync’ing the ipad before leaving the house. This convinced me that I needed a cloud-based sync store.

I then used Dropbox for some years, paying their high price for far more storage than I needed because of their pricing scheme. A couple of years ago, I stopped that for multiple reasons and switched to using the iCloud (CloudKit) solution provided in DEVONthink. I have been happy enough with iCloud sync. I pay for Apple’s 200 GB plan to have enough space to put all the databases there. The main downsides to iCloud for me have been:

  1. Inability to get meaningful diagnostics or status updates about what is happening with transfers over iCloud. (This was mentioned upthread.) Sometimes you wonder why something hasn’t sync’ed yet, or when it might finish, and there’s nothing you can do except wait it out.
  2. Seemingly slow transfer speeds. I can’t be sure if iCloud can be blamed because I can’t do a proper head-to-head comparison with anything else; maybe Dropbox was that slow too and I’ve forgotten. It just seems really slow sometimes. This was mentioned by other people upthread too (e.g., here).
  3. On 2-3 occasions, it has happened that the databases on the ipad and iphone stopped sync’ing properly; the symptom is that I could see documents that should or shouldn’t be there, despite leaving plenty of time to account for point #2. I ended up having to blow away (“clean”) my sync store contents, re-upload from my main computer, and re-download all databases to the other devices. It’s not completely clear where the blame lies (iCloud/CloudKit or DEVONthink) but I mention it in this context because the problem can happen with this combination. Thankfully, the solution of cleaning the sync store has always worked, so this problem is mainly an inconvenience (albeit a big one).

Whatever approach you choose, I would encourage doing the following:

  • Work through, on paper, the scenarios you want to support. This can be surprisingly challenging. Let the initial plan sit and revisit it after a few days to look at it with a fresher perspective.
  • Create test databases, and test your candidate approach(es) – don’t assume they will work as envisioned.
  • Use realistic database sizes in your tests (even if you have to fill them with random junk), not just a couple of documents or something like that, so that you get a proper test. Some things look fine when you have a database with 10 documents in it but become problematic when you have 10,000’s of documents.

Finally, as has been mentioned countless times in this forum, having a sync store – of any kind – is not the same as having backups. I use both Time Machine (for hourly snapshots of my whole computer) and Arq (for daily off-site backups to an old Linux computer I set up as an SFTP destination elsewhere). So, when planning the mix of computers and devices and sync approaches, it’s worth thinking about which device will be the one getting backed up.


[1] This required multiple DEVONthink licenses, not just 1.

[2] No longer using one of the iMacs because the new laptop is so powerful that it has become as my main workhorse computer. As for the emergency mac and the extra iMac, some further analysis of use cases and emergency scenarios made me decide they were not worth the maintenance time required.


came here through your link to your post. thank you for taking the time to document your approach! :clap: and :pray:

As an aside and unrelated to this thread - a question about your backup Linux setup.

(you can private message if appropriate, to not clutter this thread):

I do a daily or almost daily dump of my MB Pro to a local Mac mini via Chronosync and then that Mac mini is going to backblaze.

I do have a spare Mac mini that I am sure I can setup elsewhere as a “linux” server with sftp access etc. What software and setup do you use on the Linux server, and how do you keep it patched and updated (remotely, I assume)? And did you have to open some port on the router at that other location? Thank you!

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I’m happy to answer publicly in case the info is useful for other people, but because it’s a different topic, we could perhaps start a different forum posting?

If you’d be willing to kick it off, I’ll post a reply there. Perhaps a subject heading along the lines of “What kind of off-site backup scheme do you use?” and mention that you’ve heard some people set up their own remote destinations and you’d like to find out more details about people’s setups.

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Addendum: with a little more time to catch up on these DEVONthink forum postings, now I notice that there have been a lot of discussions about sync issues lately (e.g., this one) and they implicate CloudKit often …