Scrivener for iOS — Best Practices for Syncing @ScrivenerApp

2016-07-14 11.57.44
Learn to love it — Scrivener’s “Syncing with Dropbox” screen

You’ve just bought Scrivener for iOS! Yay! You’ve downloaded it to your iPhone, iPad, or iPod.

The first thing I suggest you do is carefully read and work through the Tutorial project that’s included with Scrivener. Especially I suggest reading the “Syncing” section carefully, and setting up your Dropbox sync folder to your satisfaction. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

Urgent update 20 July 2016 11:49 AM PST:
There’s enough confusion about this on the Literature and Latte forums, that I’ll mention it now — do NOT use the “Sync with External Folder” option in either Mac or Window Scrivener to move your project to Dropbox for iOS Scrivener! That’s for lesser editors, not iOS Scrivener. For iOS Scrivener, just move your entire .scriv project (looks like a file on Mac, like a folder on Windows) to the folder inside Dropbox that you’ve chosen as your sync folder. Or copy it, or use “Save as…” from the File menu.

Now, back to your regularly scheduled blog post…

Are you frustrated because sync seems clumsier than in other iOS apps you’ve used, or because it’s not on [insert favorite cloud service here]? I get it; while it’s better than trying to use the older External Folder or Index Card syncing facilities from Mac to iOS, it’s still hardly a set-and-forget service. (Index Card in particular was a challenge…) If you’re curious about the technical reasons it’s the way it is, and in particular why it’s not on iCloud, I suggest reading the post Scrivener for iOS: Syncing on Literature and Latte’s blog.

Okay! You’ve selected a folder (or decided to use the Apps/Scrivener default folder) on Dropbox. You’ve maybe synced a copy of the tutorial project to it. Here are my suggested best practices for syncing.

Dropbox Hygiene:

  • Keep your sync folder clear! Everything in that folder gets downloaded to your iOS device, and there’s no point in taking up space on your device for files Scrivener can’t use. Only the Scrivener projects that you want to work on in iOS Scrivener and a few adjunct files (fonts, format preset files, and compile appearance files) should live there. If you’re like me, you’ve got a ton of Scrivener projects and an elaborate filing system already set up. I’ve chosen to move my active work-in-progress (WIP) projects to the sync folder, and keep aliases to them in their usual spots in my hard drive’s directory. Cluttering your sync folder will make your initial sync longer and uses space on your iOS device’s storage.

Mac and Windows Scrivener Setup and Projects Setup:

In the Backups section of Preferences:

  • Turn on Automatic Backups, and check the “Backup before syncing with mobile devices” option. If hard drive space is a problem, turn on the “Compress Automatic Backups” option and set the “Only keep… xx backups” limit to a number that won’t overwhelm your space.

In the Import/Export section of Preferences:

  • Turn on the “Place documents affected by sync into a ‘Synced Documents’ collection” option.
  • If you like, turn on the “Automatically show the ‘Synced Documents’ collection after a sync” option.
  • I recommend against the “Take snapshots of updated documents” option. A copy of any conflicted document will always get saved in a “Conflicts” folder, and if you have your automatic backups set as above, you have a backup of your entire project before sync as well. Those unneeded automatic snapshots will start slowing up your downloads and taking much space on your iOS device if you do a lot of back-and-forth between iOS and your Mac or PC.

General changes you may want to make to your project (Optional!):

  • Keywords and custom meta-data can’t be accessed in iOS Scrivener. If you use these a lot, you may wish to store that information in your synopses or your document notes instead.
  • Project Notes also are not accessible to iOS Scrivener. If you’d like to have these available on your iOS I suggest making a top-level folder called “Project Notes” and moving all your project notes files to ordinary text files kept there.
  • Get rid of any snapshots that you don’t need. The old means of syncing Mac to iOS in particular resulted in a lot of automatic snapshots being created. These will get synced to iOS Scrivener but aren’t accessible there, and so will take up your device’s storage space and slow down your initial sync.

iOS Scrivener Setup:

Go to the iOS Settings App. Yes, that’s right, the main settings app for your device. Scroll down your list of apps and tap on Scrivener. There are many options in here that just aren’t discussed in the iOS Scrivener tutorial. Feel free to play with them, but for smooth syncing there are a few you’ll want enabled.


  • First, Tap on Syncing and Sharing to reveal the options we want.
  • Be sure that “Auto-Detect Changes” is set to ON. This means that you will always be notified on the Projects screen if there are changes you need to download to your iOS device.
  • I suggest setting “Sync Projects on Close” to Always. This option makes saving your work back to Dropbox almost automatic.

You have some choices with “Warn if No Wi-Fi.” (This lets you limit cellular data usage without turning it off completely.)

  • If your data plan is generous and you’re not worried about running through it, choose “Never.” Now, every time you close a project your changes will be uploaded to Dropbox automatically, by Wi-Fi if available, and via cellular data if not.
  • If your cellular data plan is moderate and you need to worry somewhat about overage charges, choose “Over 10MB.” Now small changes (such as an afternoon of typing text) will be synced automatically as above. If you’ve accumulated more than 10 MB of changes (such as several big PDFs added to your research folder) and you’re on a cellular connection, Scrivener will display an alert that will let you wait on your upload until you’re within reach of Wi-Fi.
  • If you need to count every byte of bandwidth, choose “Always.” If you’re on Wi-Fi, changes will be synced automatically. But, if you’re on a cellular connection, you’ll always see that alert that lets you wait until you’re on Wi-Fi. If it’s critical that your changes get uploaded to Dropbox now, you can go ahead and do that via cellular data anyway.

Workflow Suggestions:

  • Always, always close your project before switching devices! On Mac or Windows, that project is both saved and synced to Dropbox by closing its window. On iOS, navigate back to the “Projects” screen. You’ll invoke the “Sync Projects on Close” option, and your changes will be uploaded to Dropbox with minimal intervention on your part.
  • When leaving your Mac or PC, wait to be sure that Dropbox has finished uploading your changes! This isn’t a problem on your iOS device, as the “Syncing” screen will stay visible until Dropbox is done, but checking your Dropbox app on Mac or PC to be sure that “Up to Date” is checked, will save — not your data, you can’t lose that — but your time to resolve conflicts.

Next up: Scrivener for iOS — How to Resolve Sync Conflicts


22 thoughts on “Scrivener for iOS — Best Practices for Syncing @ScrivenerApp”

  1. Thank you for writing this. I was so disappointed when I downloaded the iOS app and saw it won’t sync with iCloud. I really don’t like using drop box, but i suppose if I want to use scrivener on my iPhone, I don’t have a choice. So reluctantly I will try your drop box instructions. If I could get back my $19.99 for the app, I would in an instant rather than go through all this rigamarole.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Can’t tell you how glad I am that Scrivener for iOS is finally out. I had given up checking, and wouldn’t have it now if not for a very casual water cooler discussion about profoundly disappointing vaporware. My colleague laughed and said that Scrivener no longer qualified as an example of it. It never felt so good to be wrong!

    I’m just getting used to the iOS interface and don’t see how to take “snapshots” of versions of scenes. Is this feature supported? Do I still need to use the full Mac OS Scrivener version for that particular function?
    (It doesn’t sound like from above that “Snapshots” as i’m thinking of them work the same way, at least not in this release…)


  3. For some reason my Ipad Dropbox is not syncing the correct version of the manuscript I have on my laptop Scrivner. It is just the basic template and not all the written work I have put into it.


  4. So helpful, that’s the clearest set of instructions I’ve found, and it saved me a ton of time. thank you.


  5. Everything is synced with IOS Scrivener and Dropbox App/Scrivener files. However, I am unable to open (Preview) any file with the iPad that has a .scriv extension. All other file extension work fine. How can I access my scriv files on the iPad that were created on the Mac computer?


  6. Hi, Judy. Ah–really, that’s the wrong question. I will suggest you watch this video:

    which is a full-up demo of setting up Scrivener/Dropbox sync for the first time. If you’re asking about how to transfer .scriv projects with iTunes, I have never done that and can’t speak to it.


  7. The setting in iOS [Convert Markdown] shown above in Syncing & Sharing is set to “All Text Files” but I see the default is Markdown Files Only. What’s the difference here, and should I set it to Text?
    Excellent tutorial thanks,


  8. You’re welcome, Robert. Regarding the “Convert Markdown” setting — it’s about importing text files. If you set it “All text files” then every plain text file you import will be scanned for Markdown codes and the codes will be converted to rich text formatting. If you set it “Markdown files only”, then Scrivener will only do that conversion on files with Markdown extensions (.md, .mmd, and a few others.) I had some Markdown files with an extension that Scrivener didn’t recognize, so I set the setting to “All Text Files” temporarily to import them. I then set it back later.

    If none of this makes any sense to you, 😉 leaving it alone is the best policy.


  9. Hello,

    Sorry if this is a duplicate – after I commented, I was asked to log in and my comment was gone, so in the event, it was not sent, here goes another attempt.

    I’ll preface this with I have contacted support and got a reply but either I’m not explaining myself well enough or there simply is not a solution as I’ve added two more comments and have not received a reply. So, either there is nothing I can do or even they themselves don’t know.

    I have Scrivener for PC (Windows 7 Professional) and only got as far as labeling a project when iOS iPad app came out. So, I’ve been using iOS app on my iPad, have it all set up to sync with dropbox (Apps folder > The Book.scriv > Files > Settings > Mobile > Snapshots). Inside the “mobile” folder are these files: Data (which has a whole list of files which appear to be each backup/sync), Binder.mob, search.indexes, and writing.history. I think things are going fine with this, I don’t receive any errors within the syncing process and my project appears as I left it each time I open it.

    Now comes the time where I need to do the first round of editing and I’d like to use Grammarly (I purchased the premium version for this book). To do so, I can’t be on a mobile device because, at this time, Grammarly does not have a mobile option. So, I’m thinking, I’ll just open my project (or sync it) from iOS synced in Dropbox in Scrivener that’s on my PC. And boy, is this not a piece of cake, apparently. Everything I read talks about syncing from PC/MAC to iOS, not the other way around or it just seems like this easy-peasy thing that should be happening but isn’t because my project still doesn’t show up.

    I click “sync with mobile” and my project does not appear. I keep reading stuff about dragging my project into a dropbox folder but if iOS is already syncing to Dropbox, why would I do this? It’s already going into a folder in Dropbox. I’m not sure, honestly, what to do about this and am growing more frustrated by the day as I’m in a beta group for writing a book and I’m on a deadline. I can’t find an editor and give him/her a timeline until I even know when I can get my first round of editing done.

    I sure hope you (or someone reading this) can help me because this is putting a real kink in my writing process. I have all of the versions of everything up to date. Unless the issue is in Dropbox? I just don’t know and am at a loss right now of how to proceed.

    Thank you for your time and if you can help I would be so grateful!



  10. Hi, Victoria.

    Your problem is not Scrivener PC, nor is it Scrivener iOS. It isn’t even Dropbox. It is a fundamental difference between the PC world and the Mac/iOS world that most users—even power users who are comfortable using Macs AND PCs AND iOS devices—never encounter. Once you understand this difference, you will be able to sync with confidence.

    A Scrivener project is a Mac OS “bundle.” Most commonly “bundles” are used to distribute software in the Apple universe. Under Mac OS—and under iOS—a user CANNOT see inside the top-level folder to see the files and folders within. In your case, this top-level folder is “TheBook.scriv”.

    The concept of a “bundle” doesn’t exist in the PC-only world. Therefore, on a PC, a “bundle” appears simply as a top-level folder containing files and folders. You even have to open (horrors!) the top-level folder and double-click a file within (TheBook.scriv/TheBook.scrivx) in order to launch a project. (Mac developers everywhere in the known universe shudder.)

    A Mac user, on the other hand, has to be coached on HOW to even look inside the “bundle” (TheBook.scriv) if Tech Support needs to know what’s inside. (HINT: It’s not double-clicking it—that just launches the project.)

    SO—your problem is this: “Apps folder > The Book.scriv > Files > Settings > Mobile > Snapshots”.

    You are attempting to sync a project (which is a bundle) to a folder which Scrivener thinks is INSIDE A BUNDLE. iOS Scrivener is confused—it expects a project to be a bundle. PC Scrivener is confused—it expects iOS Scrivener to respect the bundle structure. They do the best they can, but produce unexpected results, thus distressing YOU.

    I must tell you that there is NOTHING inside the “TheBook.scriv” folder (except—shudder—TheBook.scrivx and that only to open it in PC Scrivener) that you should ever, ever mess with except under Tech Support orders. (Or you have a Mac developer familiar with using Scrivener sitting in with you.) Other than TheBook.scrivx, you should pretend that the contents of TheBook.scriv are invisible. THEY MUST BE MANIPULATED BY SCRIVENER ONLY.

    Now—I have borrowed my son’s PC to be sure that I do not lead you wrong 😉 on how to untangle this.

    1. From what you’ve said, your project on iOS is intact. If that is the case, great! Please take a moment right now to inspect your project on iOS and be certain that this is the project that you want to have on your PC, exactly as you want it.
    2. I’ve read your post carefully, but I can’t tell if you have the Dropbox app installed on your PC. If you don’t, please do that now. Remember that Scrivener must manipulate the contents of TheBook.scriv. It can only do that if the Dropbox app is installed. It can’t do so if you’re using Dropbox from your browser. If you don’t have the hard disk space to do this (and you may not—I know Windows 7 is an older version) then you won’t be able to use the Dropbox sync method and must use another way to get your iOS project to Windows. (It’s possible, certainly, but it’s not as smooth as sync when sync is set up correctly.) If you do install, wait for the Dropbox icon in the system tray to show a green checkmark, so that your Dropbox files are all synced to your PC.
    3. Be sure you’re on a WiFi connection that’s solid.
    4. Close ALL Scrivener windows on your PC.
    5. Now that you’re certain that your project, your network, and your PC are ready:
      1. Go to the Projects screen in iOS Scrivener, and tap the Sync icon. This sends any small changes to Dropbox.
      2. Wait a minute or two, then check your PC system tray to be sure that the Dropbox icon shows a checkmark. If it shows the whirling arrows, wait until it shows a green checkmark again. You’ll be doing this a lot, so I’m going to use the shorthand “Clear PC Dropbox” when I want you to do this.
      3. In iOS Scrivener, tap the “Edit” button on the Projects screen. Drag “TheBook” from the Dropbox area to the “On My iPad” area. Tap the “Done” button. Tap the Sync button. Clear PC Dropbox.

      This has moved your good iOS project to a safe place, and removed some of the mess from Dropbox.

    6. Again in iOS Scrivener, tap the “Edit” button on the Projects screen. Tap the Gear icon at the bottom. Tap the Dropbox Settings item in the pop-up. Be sure that Apps/Scrivener is selected. Tap the Done button.

      This has set up the default Dropbox folder for Scrivener projects.

    7. Clear PC Dropbox.
    8. On your PC, navigate to the Dropbox > Apps folder. Delete the folder “TheBook.Scriv”. Clear PC Dropbox.

      This has removed the rest of the mess from Dropbox. Take a deep breath, because we’re almost done here.

    9. Back on your iPad, tap the “Edit” button on the Projects screen. Drag the “TheBook” project back to the “Dropbox” area. Tap the sync icon. Clear PC Dropbox.

      You now have your project on your PC!

    10. On your PC, navigate to Dropbox > Apps > Scrivener > TheBook.scriv. Double-click TheBook.scrivx. Scrivener PC will open your project. You will probably get a message that Scrivener added some desktop files to the project. This is normal and not a cause for concern.

    Note that you did not need to use the menu item “Sync With Mobile.” That is there only in case you made changes on your iPad while you had your project open in Windows. In general Scrivener PC will let you know if you need to use it—otherwise, I suggest you leave it alone. All your changes will be written to Dropbox when you save your project on Windows. They will be synced to iOS the next time you open your project on iOS.

    A note on Grammarly: Scrivener and Grammarly don’t work together directly. I realise that this may be a shock and a disappointment to you. If you were planning on dragging the .rtf files from inside TheBook.scriv onto the Grammarly app, editing them in Grammarly, and having the changes show up correctly in Scrivener, you may be gravely disappointed.

    There is a way to do this safely, by using yet another (misnamed) sync function, “External Folder Sync.” This is intended to make Scrivener files available for non-scrivener editors such as Grammarly. In your case, you won’t even have to use Dropbox. If you want details, you can check my article , but in the most general terms you’d create another hard drive folder—maybe name it ScrivVersusGrammarly, set up a collection inside Scrivener PC with the files you want Grammarly to access, and set up External Folder Sync to use ScrivVersusGrammarly. You can then edit those files with Grammarly and they’ll be semi-automatically synced back to the Scrivener PC project.

    Never, ever, work on your project on your iPad while you’re editing something in Grammarly. Instead, make sure your Grammarly changes are incorporated on your PC project and you’ve cleared PC Dropbox before trying to open the project on iPad. Close your iPad project (i.e. get back to the Projects screen) sync, clear PC Dropbox and open your project in Scrivener before doing more editing in Grammarly. In other words, Don’t. Cross. The. Streams.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. First of all, thank you so, so much for taking the time to detail out how to work around this issue. It would have worked beautifully but I discovered, for whatever reason, a .scrivx file is not being created. I have another project linked to this book (Book Manifesto) and that actually opened just fine in Scrivener a few days ago when I think, I tried, “Open project” and just navigated to it from the PC version to Dropbox when the search window came up. I think that’s why I was expecting “The Book” to open just as easily. Alas, it is this missing file that may just be the issue.

    Apparently, in order for either method to work, PC Scrivener needs to be able to “see” (in order to open it), the .scrivx file – which does not exist. The next question then is, why? And what do I do about that? :/

    Also, thank you for the additional help/suggestion with Grammarly. It would sure be nice if those two just played nicely together.

    You have been a tremendous help! It does all make sense. I tend to choose the most challenging path at times, to my own demise. I would feel a lot better knowing I’m not the only one that’s done this and they should make a big, fat disclaimer: Start in the PC version THEN sync to iOS. Had I first started on PC, I wouldn’t be in this pickle.

    Liked by 1 person

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