Can entire Zotero library, including storage folders, run off external drive on a Mac?

Is this possible? Is there documentation that explains how to set this up? Thank you for any advice!
  • edited May 8, 2021
    Generally, yes, you can move the Zotero data directory to an external drive. Be aware that external drives don't always act like normal disks and can cause problems — e.g., failure to start Zotero — and when that happens the only thing we can really suggest is to switch back to the local drive. But in theory it should work fine.

    Obviously, you'd want to be extremely careful to close Zotero fully before unmounting the disk.
  • OK, good to know. I'll probably have some questions for you after I read the documentation, but thanks for the info!
  • 2 questions (for now!):

    1. I'll change the location of my data storage to my external drive. Then I'll close Zotero, and then do I just drag the application from my desktop Mac to my external drive?

    2. Documentation says Zotero won't copy existing data over to new location. Since all my PDF files currently reside on my external drive, should I just delete them from my current Zotero library, and then re-import them once the Zotero app is moved to my external drive?

    Thanks for any help!
  • edited May 8, 2021
    1. This has nothing to do with the application itself, which you absolutely shouldn’t be moving. This is about the data directory. The linked page explains exactly what you need to do.

    2. This has nothing to do with linked files, which aren’t stored within the data directory. Don’t delete anything. Again, see the linked page.
  • I changed the location of my stored data to my external drive. It then closed my Zotero app. When I reopened the app, I got this message:

    You are about to sync the ‘J.B.T.’ account to an empty Zotero database. This could happen if you removed your previous database or if the location of your Zotero data directory changed.

    If your Zotero data exists elsewhere on this computer, you should move it to the current data directory or change the data directory location to point to your existing data.

    Does this seem right so far?
  • edited May 10, 2021
    You have to move the old data directory, as it says in the documentation, in Zotero when you change the setting, and in the message you quoted above.
  • I did redirect the stored data from my desktop to my ext drive. Is that the same as moving the old data directory? I have looked at the link you sent, but maybe I'm just unclear on the terminology. Sorry for all these additional questions, but thanks!
  • edited May 10, 2021
    I can't really make it more clear than the documentation. The Zotero data directory needs to exist in the location where Zotero is looking. If you do that correctly, you won't have an empty database. If you're having trouble with this, I would strongly recommend sticking to the default location.
  • OK, last questions: if I do it correctly, won't it be empty until I start adding PDF to Zotero? Or if I do it correctly, it should not be empty even at this point?

  • The whole point of this is that you're moving your existing, presumably non-empty data directory to a new location. If you do that, it obviously wouldn't be empty when you point Zotero to the new location. You would just see the exact same data you were seeing before in the old location.
  • OK, will try to configure it correctly. Thank you for your advice (and patience!).
  • dstillman, is there any possibility of calling you (or another administrator) to try and figure things out? I'm just not getting Zotero to work (I changed the location of my storage files to my ext drive, but I get "The attached file could not be found at the following path:..." when I try to open a file. PLUS, a yellow triangle says I've reached the limit of my Zotero storage quota. I thought I could load unlimited number of files to my local Zotero app, as long as the PDFs weren't synced to the online account. I'm just getting hung up every which way and feel like speaking to someone would get results much quicker. Thanks for any suggestions.
  • Sorry, we don't provide phone support.

    As I say, if you're having trouble with this, you should stick to the default configuration. While this really is as simple as moving the data directory, this setting is in Advanced for a reason. If you don't understand it, you shouldn't change it. The default settings just work.
    PLUS, a yellow triangle says I've reached the limit of my Zotero storage quota. I thought I could load unlimited number of files to my local Zotero app, as long as the PDFs weren't synced to the online account.
    Yes, that's exactly how it works. It's a sync error, about your online storage quota.
  • Any thoughts on how to deal with sync error? Do I have it configured to sync PDFs to online account? If so, how to disconnect?
  • So, I deleted all my files in Zotero, then added a few to test things out. When I go to, my PDFs are viewable.

    I went to Zotero app prefs, chose Sync tab, then unchecked "Sync attachment files in My Library using Zotero". Then I synced with, but my PDFs are still there.

    How can I disconnect the PDFs from I seem to have a lot of trouble following the documentation. Thanks for any help.
  • It's just a checkbox to enable or disable file syncing going forward — it doesn't have any effect on files already online.

    You can purge uploaded files in your library from your storage settings.
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