How to back up Zotero settings and make it available from Computer A to Computer B?

I wonder if there exist a neat function/plugin that can help with backing up Zotero settings, and apply the settings to a new installation of Zotero. I am interested to learn how to migrate Zotero settings across Windows machines.

I am happy with how Zotero maintains my libraries: all the meta data are stored safely and shared seamlessly. Yet, I find it troublesome to restore my Zotero settings on a new laptop (running identical OS).

For now, to establish Zotero and its file-associations (I use Dropbox to store all the annotated PDFs) on a new machine, it usually take me up to 20 minutes: I would need to refer to a set of screenshots taken from a running Zotero on some other machine, and carefully click on all options under each tab.

It would be ideal if there exist a programmable way to "replicate" my Zotero setting on a new laptop. Note, I have made sure that all my Windows OS are having identical usernames. This should help a bit.

(Actually, I was made to reinstall my Windows OS up to 5 times within a month. Zotero is the last piece of my daily drivers that should need a *manual* restoration.)
  • edited November 4, 2018
    The general advice for backing up/restoring Zotero can also be used to migrate all Zotero settings to a new computer if you apply it to the profile directory. Username or OS changes shouldn't matter if your resore procedure assigns your current user permissions to view/edit what you're restoring.

    (edited per adamsmith)
  • I don't think that's right noksagt -- the preferences (such as relative paths, sync settings etc.) -- are in the profile directory, not the data directory.
  • edited November 4, 2018
    @adamsmith Thank you for pointing me to bwiernik's answer. I was bugging him/her there too.

    Yes, I am looking to backup the settings/preferences in particular.

    I have tested the following procedure and I am 95% confident that it should replicate well for Windows-A to Windows-B migration:

    Step 1: On Windows-A machine ==> locate and copy *the contents* from the XXXX.default folder under directory C:\Users\User_Name\AppData\Roaming\Zotero\Zotero\Profiles

    Step 2: On Windows-B machine ==> install Zotero, and all add-ons

    Step 3: On Windows-B machine ==> locate its own copy of XXXX.default folder and delete all its content.

    Step 4: Feed the contents of in the original XXXX.default folder (on Windows-A machine) to the new location on Windows-B machine.
  • To add to the discussion, here goes two concerns per my test of "overwriting" to the XXXX.default folder.

    1. Are all the plugins/add-ons also stored in such XXXX.default folder? If so, when "copying Zotero settings+profiles" to a new machine, can I simplify Step 2 to only install Zotero by itself?

    2. Are there potential side-effects for overwriting XXXX.default folders?
    One "side-effect": I have had bad experience with running identical "Export Library on change" jobs on several Windows machines, all writing to the same Dropbox location ==> they have created a good number of duplicates/conflicts. I ended up only keeping only one Windows machine to Export the library on change, and deleted the Export-jobs on all other machines.
  • 1: Yes, generally. Some plugins may install things outside of Zotero's directories, but this is uncommon.

    2: Not really. You're welcome to either backup the original XXXX.default profile or even use the profile manager to switch between the original profile kept on Windows-B and the one you've copied over from Windows-A until you're satisfied that you have everything setup to your liking. You may then use the profile manager to set the default profile and optionally delete any you won't use.
  • Thanks a lot! Especially for clarifying that there should be no side-effects. Two questions follow: 1 is more general, and 2 could be answered by a simple yes/no.

    1. Any insight on what *actually* goes into the `xxxx.default` profile? Settings + "compiled/de-compiled" copies of Addons?
    Does the `prefs.js` contain all necessary setting files? And, may I migrate the profiles to a new machine by simply overwriting the `prefs.js` there? More on this in Question 2 ===>

    2. In short, I am trying to get at a set of necessary conditions to "migrate the profiles". Reasons are that: I have always been worried about how "robust" are the Windows OS and thereby the applications on it. Personally, I was made to redo my Windows OS 5 times in October :(

    Please advise on the following list of "necessary conditions" for migrating profiles from Windows-PC1 to Windows-PC2:
    * That the user's home directory are identical, both falling into the pattern: C:\users\UserName\... (otherwise, need to edit some path-settings in `prefs.js`.)
    * That the same version of Zotero has been installed on both PCs, and the same set of Add-ons has been installed
    * That the `prefs.js` on PC1 is copied to PC2, overwriting PC2's current version.

  • edited November 6, 2018
    The profile is just the same as the Firefox profile. It's preferences, window state, cookies, extensions, certificate files, and some other Mozilla platform files. Everything is automatically recreated if deleted. Most stuff that matters is in prefs.js, but even that is pretty trivial to set again.

    Generally speaking, you can just back up the entire Profiles directory and restore or transfer that. (Maybe the profile manager will automatically add a profile directory it finds to profiles.ini, but I'm not sure.) It's not really worth worrying about beyond that.
  • edited November 6, 2018
    Fantastic! It is super helpful to learn about the Firefox analogy!!

    Simple takeaway:
    1. Zotero is built from Firefox, and its profile settings are all located in one place.
    2. "-P" is a useful flag to switch/set user profiles
    3. It is super safe to overwrite the entire xxxx.default folder, while keeping its absolute path intact; (Ref: https://www.zotero.org/support/kb/profile_directory)
    4. Lastly, the copy-pasting process shall not raise any error if the user accounts on both Computers are identical. Namely, both of the users' home directory should be, say, C:\users\user01.
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