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Synchronizing Firefox Through Dropbox

Having removed the Mozilla Weave extension from my Firefox install (at least for now), I was again left searching for a synchronization solution. This time I wanted one that really worked for me. I mentioned in yesterday’s post that I might try using Dropbox and, while I was speaking rather tongue-in-cheek at the time, I couldn’t think of any reason that it shouldn’t work so last night I tried it.

I used my Mac as the “master” machine, but given the way that Dropbox works, I don’t think that there’s any preference given to one machine over the other. In this case, “master” just means that it’s the machine whose profile I copied to create the shared profile that other machines will tie into. I’ve now referenced that profile on my Windows XP virtual machine at home and on my Linux machine at work and, though I haven’t thrown any hard tests at it, everything appears to be working fine so I thought I’d document the steps I took in case anyone else is interested in trying this.

Create a New Profile on the Master Machine

It would probably suffice to use an existing profile directly, but in the interest of having an escape plan, I’d recommend creating a new one. This is really the only set of instructions that may vary across operating systems, so I’ve tried to provide links for systems other than Mac where such a link was readily available.

  1. Quit Firefox (On Windows and Linux, close all open windows).
  2. Create a new directory in the Dropbox directory for the shared profile. I created mine as ~/Dropbox/Application Support/firefox/profiles/wg3×0vhj.dropbox. The unintelligible name of the last directory simply follows the typical profile naming convention. It may work just as well to name the last folder “foo”, but I wasn’t sure and it wasn’t worth the effort of attempting to deviate.
  3. Create a new Firefox profile (Windows instructions).
    1. Start the Firefox Profile Manager. There is probably a better way, but not knowing it, I dropped into iTerm:
      $ /Applications/Firefox.app/Contents/MacOS/firefox -profilemanager
    2. Click the Create Profile… button.
    3. Enjoy the wizard process, but be sure to Choose Folder… rather than accepting the default on the second panel.
    4. Select the profile folder created in ~/Dropbox.
    5. Click Finish.
  4. Set the new Dropbox profile as the default profile.
  5. Start Firefox to create “instantiate” the new profile.
  6. Quit Firefox.
  7. The new Dropbox profile directory should now have content. Delete that content (leave the profile directory itself).
  8. Navigate to the directory of the existing profile to be shared. My target profile was located in /Users/myusername/Library/Application Support/Firefox/Profiles/j3a1ovux.default
  9. Select all of the files and directories in this directory and copy them to the Dropbox profile directory.
  10. Wait until Dropbox finishes synchronizing those changes. It could take a few minutes, so be patient.
  11. Start Firefox. The new profile should be executed.

The good news is that the hard part is now over. All that’s left is to wire up the newly shared profile to other machines.

Use the Shared Profile on Windows

Once a profile has been created and shared (by creating it a Dropbox), other systems can tap into it pretty easily. All it takes is a simple edit to Firefox’s profiles.ini file, the profiles configuration file. The first computer I wired up was my Windows virtual machine.

On Windows, the profiles.ini file is located in APPDATA\Mozilla\Firefox. On my machine, that expands to C:\Documents and Settings\myusername\Application Data\Mozilla\Firefox.

  1. Close any open Firefox windows
  2. Make hidden files and folders visible if they’re not already
    1. Open Windows Explorer
    2. Select Tools > Folder Options
    3. Select the View tab
    4. In the Hidden files and folders group, click Show hidden files and folders
  3. Open profiles.ini in a text editor
  4. Add the following lines:
[Profile1]
Name=dropbox
IsRelative=0
Path=C:\Documents and Settings\myusername\My Documents\My Dropbox\Application Support\firefox\profiles\wg3x0vhj.dropbox
Default=1

A few changes will need to be made, of course. First, if there is already more than one profile, the numeric value in Profile1 will have to be changed to the next available integer. Second, the Path value will probably need to change.

That’s it. Windows is all wired up. Restart Firefox.

Use the Shared Profile on Linux

Rinse, repeat. As with Windows, all that needs to be done is a little wiring. On Linux, the profiles.ini file is located in /home/myusername/.mozilla/firefox. Just add the lines below and make the appropriate changes as outlined in the Windows instructions above.

[Profile1]
Name=dropbox
IsRelative=0
Path=/home/myusername/Dropbox/Application Support/firefox/profiles/wg3x0vhj.dropbox
Default=1

Caveats

One thing that I noticed right away is that syncing profiles keeps Dropbox pretty busy. That activity makes Dropbox very, very chatty if allowed to speak. Almost immediately, I turned off Dropbox’s Growl support on the Mac and will soon be doing the same for those annoying status tray balloon notifications on Windows. So far, Linux has been pretty quiet.

On the whole, everything seems to be working exactly as I’d expect with the added benefit (maybe) of retaining sessions across multiple systems. I haven’t yet decided whether I like that unexpected twist.

Interestingly (or not), with respect to Dropbox’s chattiness, the only platform on which I can’t disable notifications through a Dropbox preference is the on the one platform where notifications are the most intrusive and least simple to kill. That’s Windows, of course. Argh.

Later that same night…I installed the latest version of the Dropbox application for Windows and the preference is there. No more balloon notifications.

Dropbox

Like many folks, I have separate computers for work and home. To make life even more complicated, my work system is a PC while my personal computer is a Mac. Over the last few years, I feel like I’ve been constantly prowling about for a good solution to sync files between those two systems and also the Windows XP virtual machine that is a guest on the Mac. I’ve tried a myriad of solutions that range from manual to automated, commercial to cobbled and just plain hacked. Most worked to one degree or another, but I found most to be more trouble than they were worth.

Yesterday, though, Sam Larbi, via Twitter, turned me on to Dropbox. I was absolutely stunned by the introductory video and asked Sam for one of his invites. He hooked me up and I started playing with the tool last night.

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