A friend recently asked me what my backup strategy is for the large number of photo’s I’ve taken since my daughters birth. I used to be pretty comfortable with ‘Time Capsule’ as an answer but with the falling cost of cloud storage and growing number of sync services, a pure Time Capsule strategy feels a little antiquated. If I were discussing this with a client, I’d point out the obvious omission of an offsite backup.
As such, I decided to move my iPhoto library to a cloud-based service.
Next I checked the size of my iPhoto library – 40GB! How did that happen? I looked through the iPhoto folder structure to see if iPhoto was doing something crazy. I tallied the folder sizes in the Masters which seem like the right ball park, so ok, maybe I’ve been a touch overzealous with the shutter button. Fine, I’ll deal with this later.
Now I knew my space requirements, I needed to choose a service. I started by looking at Dropbox, who charge $9.99 per month for 100GB – this seemed a little pricey, so next port of call was Google Drive – 100GB for $4.99 a month? Done.
Now to get syncing! With a fresh installation of the Google Drive app on the Mac and quick file sync, all seemed as expected, so I followed the cautious advice of other bloggers and copied my iPhoto Library to Google Drive.
All seemed well at first, but after a while I noticed the nice animated icon in the Mac taskbar had stopped spinning. Umm, que? Mouse over the icon and I get the spinning beach ball. Forever. I restarted Google Drive and put it down to stage fright, but the same thing happened again. A search turned up several potential solutions to this, mostly blaming a Mac OS bug, but unable to find a resolution, I downgraded my Drive storage and switched to Dropbox.
I purchased the 100Gb from Dropbox, but bought a year in advance ($99 – 17% off) and also paid using my Paypal account, so it didn’t feel like real money anyways :) Checked the Dropbox app – 103.1GB free. Right then!
With a greater confidence in Dropbox’s syncing capabilities, I threw caution aside and moved my iPhoto library into the Dropbox folder – much quicker than waiting for 40GB to copy across. What’s the worst that can happen?
Note: I also switched the power settings on the Mac to never sleep the computer because I wanted it to sit there and do a complete sync.
Over the next few days I checked back on Dropbox’s progress – seemed to be progressing nicely at first, and then I started noticing that it was getting closer to the 40GB mark, but seemingly still had a high number of files to sync…strange. My first thought was that Mac OS filesystem was doing some kind of compression under the covers, but as I passed the 50GB, 60GB, 70GB mark, something was obviously wrong.
When the sync had finally finished, Dropbox was 80% utilised. So, what the huh happened there? The disk still says 40GB, but Dropbox says 80GB. A quick search, and I found the answer here. Was this originally an iPhoto 10 library? Yes. Was this upgraded to an iPhoto 11 library? Yes. Does Dropbox support Symlinks? No.
If you’re not au fait with the term, symlink is short for ‘Symbolic Link’, which is basically a file which points to another file or folder. When you open that symbolic link, you actually end up opening the file or folder it points to. They are good because you can use two different names for the same file or folder. But they’re bad if you’re cloud service doesn’t support them.
Fortunately, the aurelio article nicely summarises the workaround which removes the symbolic links, cleans up all that unnecessary Dropbox space and (hopefully) keeps iPhoto working in the process. As I’ve written this, I’ve been watching Dropbox gradually tidy itself up, with the percentage used slowly dropping down to the expected 40%. I’m at 68.1% and falling. Fingers crossed!
1. The top tip for anyone migrating an iPhoto library to a cloud service is to check, and fix, any symbolic links in their library before making the move – the engineer inside me shudders at the 40GB of duplicated data I created in my Dropbox account. Apparently this isn’t a problem if you started with iPhoto 11, but definitely check first anyways.
2. Whether the issues with Google Drive were related to my specific version of Mac OS X Mountain Lion, or whether they were actually related to the symlinks, I don’t know, but for the cost associated with Google Drive, I definitely wouldn’t suggest everyone rules it out.
3. Unless you want your iPhoto library downloaded onto every computer that you sync to, don’t forget to configure the Selective Sync settings everywhere else.
4. I’m only syncing my iPhoto library with one Mac and I don’t know how well this technique works if you’re syncing and modifying the library with two Macs. My gut says dragons be here.
5. If you use Time Capsule, I recommend switching it off whilst all this moving and symlink fixing activity is going on. I can imagine it would get quite irate at the types of changes I’ve made.
6. Google Drive isn’t very to-the-minute in reporting your free space. If you delete a bunch of files, it takes some time to update the available storage displayed. Strange.
7. Lifehacker have a great article comparing Google Drive and Dropbox. I’d read this if you’re trying to justify the additional spend.
8. Other guides rate this process as ‘Easy’. I’d actually bump that up to ‘Medium’ if you’re not a computer aficionado
Update: The Dropbox cleanup sync took about 5 hours in total, and following this my iPhoto library still works fine. Phew!
Update: I’ve since moved away from Dropbox for iPhoto backups, as detailed here.