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