backing up a large database without corrupting it


I have some questions about syncing/backing up my Zotero library. I am a graduate student and I've been making a total transition to Zotero. When I ran out of the free space on Zotero, I bought 1GB for $20 a year. I quickly exceeded that and can't really afford to pay $60 a year. In looking for alternate solutions I came across Dropbox. In plowing ahead, I fear I made a few potentially poor choices and I would really like some advise in getting things back in order. Here are the questions:

1) Zotero has not been syncing properly since I ran out of space. Going forward I would like to ensure that my whole database of citations is backed up on the Zotero servers but I am happy if the pdf's and other media in my "storage" folder no longer reside on the Zotero servers (but instead live on dropbox). How do I safely achieve this setup? (See the note on the bottom...I may have already started creating some issues).

2) I hear there are some risks when using Dropbox with Zotero. I do not want to corrupt my zotero database (although I may already have done this). Am I correct in assuming that as long as I only keep the "storage" folder from Zotero backed up on my drop box I will be unlikely to corrupt my Zotero database?

3) How do I successfully move my storage folder with hundreds or thousands of documents and file to a new location without messing things up? I really don't want to create a disaster.

4) One of the reasons I'm doing this is so I can get Zotero to work more quickly. It has been really slow and laggy for a while now. I hear this may start happening when databases get too big, but I can't figure out how to accurately asses the size of my database. Can anyone tell me how I can figure out how many entries I have in a straightforward way?

Thanks for all of your help. I can't tell you how much I appreciate Zotero, and all that it has done for me.


Note-I think I may have actually already run into some issues. As I look at in my Zotero folder, I see that there are a few files labled

Zotero (##### conflicted copy "date").sqlite

Can someone tell me what I should do going forward, or how to resurrect my database and move forward without doing any more dammage?
  • 1. even if you run out of storage space, Zotero data will still sync completely. If it doesn't that's a separate issue and you should report it (if you get a sync error that just says insufficient storage space, that doesn't affect data sync).
    2. That's correct
    3. You can't move the storage folder separately from the data folder. The only way to get the storage folder into dropbox is to use symlinks. To find out details about symlinks, google for your specific OS, but the option exists on all OS (on Windows I'm not sure about systems before Windows 7).

    It doesn't sound like there is actually a problem with your database.
  • Thanks for your clear answers adamsmith.

    Now I realize that I had gotten a little ahead of myself in trying to get dropbox to back up my data, and I'm thrilled that I haven't likely done any permanent dammage just yet. I'm now going to rectify the situation. To do that I plan on doing the following:

    1) removing the dropbox sync of my zotero library
    2) set up a symlink that will reside in my dropbox folder to my storage folder

    This should produce the arrangement that I wanted. My remaining questions are:

    1) can i delete the "conflicted copies" of the files created by my failed attempt to back things up using dropbox without messing up the zotero database? these are not used by zotero, right?
    2) how can I stop the syncing of the attachments I had without stoping the syncing of my reference database? Do I need to purge the records, or is that not advised. I would ideally like to turn the syncing of attachments completely off moving forward.

  • 1.) I don't know - I think these are dropbox files, not Zotero files, so likely yes, but I'd keep them for a little while to be safe no damage has been done
    2.) You can disable file syncing in the sync tab of the Zotero preferences. You can - but don't have to - purge your storage online.
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