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The Dropbox Service and Ways to Get More Space for Free

Linda Crampton taught science and information technology to high school students for many years. She enjoys learning about new technology.

 A screenshot from the online tour of Dropbox

A screenshot from the online tour of Dropbox

What Is Dropbox?

Dropbox is a great program for backing up files and synchronizing them between different electronic devices. The program needs an Internet connection in order to do its job. It's quick and easy to save a file in the Dropbox folder on a particular device. The file is then available on all of the person's other devices, including their mobile ones.

The process also works in the opposite direction. Files can be created on a mobile device, backed up on the online server, and synced with a person's computer. I've found that the process generally works seamlessly in both directions and is very useful.

The Dropbox company offers both free and paid plans. In general, as more storage space is offered, the cost of the plan increases. There are ways to significantly increase space in the free plan without spending money, however. In this article, I describe features of the free Dropbox Basic service and ways to gain extra space.

As is true for any business, offers from Dropbox may change. The procedures that users need to follow when using the service may also change. Some of the jobs that people can do to gain extra space in the free version have been altered over time and may be different or eliminated in the future. The amount of extra space that people can obtain may also be altered.

This is another screenshot from the online tour. Uploaded files are sometimes said to be stored "in the cloud" because they're saved on a host computer connected to the Internet.

This is another screenshot from the online tour. Uploaded files are sometimes said to be stored "in the cloud" because they're saved on a host computer connected to the Internet.

How Dropbox Works

Dropbox provides multiple ways for someone to save files when using its service. A user can choose the method that is most convenient for them. For example, a file can be saved in Dropbox via the "Save as" menu in Microsoft Word. In addition, Dropbox has a desktop app, which I have on my Windows laptop. "Drag and drop" works well for saving a file in the app.

When someone places a file in their Dropbox folder on their computer, a blue icon appears on the folder to indicate that the file is being uploaded to the online server. The icon becomes green when the file has finished uploading. The server then delivers the files to the person's other devices if these are connected to the Internet.

On a Macintosh computer I can choose to save files in my Dropbox folder from the File menu or the Export menu of applications. The sync speed depends on the speed of my Internet connection and the size of the file. Many files sync almost instantly. Large files like high resolution photos and videos sometimes take longer to sync but still transfer rapidly.

On my iPad, I create documents that I want to sync with Dropbox in one of the Microsoft Office apps. This works well once the Office app has been linked to Dropbox. The linking process has to be done only once. Once this simple task is completed, uploading to the server is automatic.

The Dropbox application is available for the Macintosh, iOS, Windows, Android, and Linux operating systems. Dropbox adds and deletes features from its service over time, though the basic idea of backing up files remains. I have reviewed Dropbox for individual use. It provides additional services for businesses.

Shared Folders

Another useful feature of Dropbox is the fact that it enables people to collaborate on documents. User-created folders can be shared, allowing different people to access the files in the folders and change them. The shared folders appear on each person's devices in their Dropbox folders.

If a person wishes to share a folder with other people, an email invitation is sent to the people concerned. They must accept the invitation in order for the shared folder to appear inside their Dropbox folder.

The Help Center of the DropBox site has a link to jobs that people can do to gain extra storage space. The links require someone to sign in if they wish to read or take advantage of the current offers, however.

Possible Ways to Increase Storage Space

The initial storage space in the basic (free) version of Dropbox is 2 GB. When referring to disk storage, 1000 megabytes (MB) equals one gigabyte (GB). 1000 gigabytes equals one terabyte (TB). The company is understandably keen to promote its paid plans, which provide more storage space than the free one, but these may not be necessary for everyone. Once you've created a basic account via the company's website and are logged in, you can do extra jobs to obtain more space.

Jobs That Were Available for Me (and May Be For You)

  • Take the online tour of the service. In addition to taking the tour, I had to complete four of the jobs listed below to get 250 MB of extra storage.
  • Install Dropbox on your computer.
  • Save files in your Dropbox folder.
  • Install the program on other computers that you own.
  • Share a folder with other people.
  • Invite friends to join Dropbox.
  • Install Dropbox on a mobile device.

I was also offered some jobs related to social media, which have been eliminated.

Current Jobs

  • Complete the "Getting Started Checklist." This may involve the set of jobs described in the list above, but I can't be sure. The relevant link on the Dropbox website currently requires people to sign in to read the information. Once I do this, I'm shown the jobs that I did or could have done while completing the process and the space that I earned. I don't know whether the jobs and potential storage space are the same for new users.
  • Refer family, friends, and coworkers to the service. The basic account currently provides 500 MB per referral and allows the user to earn up to 16 GB of space via referrals.
  • Contribute to the community forum for 1 GB of added space. This award doesn't seem easy to receive because it relies on someone else's decision. Simply posting a comment in the forum is not enough. If you help someone else with a great solution to their problem, a member of the Dropbox staff may award you a "Mighty Answer" badge, which will give you the extra space. The badge is awarded at the staff member's discretion.
A screenshot of the first page in the online tour

A screenshot of the first page in the online tour

Refer People to Dropbox for More Storage Space

Gathering referrals could be the way to gain the greatest amount of extra storage space. A referral is someone that you attract to the Dropbox service and who refers to your name when they download the software. Each referral will give you an extra 500 MB of storage space.

A maximum of 16 GB of extra space can be obtained by getting referrals if you have a basic account. If you have a account which has a fee, you may be able to get 32 GB of extra storage space via referrals.

Since a gigabyte contains 1000 megabytes and each referral is worth 500 megabytes, 32 referrals are needed to get 16 GB of storage. A nice touch is that while you get 500 MB of extra storage for a referral, the person that you are referring also gets some extra space. At one point, this space was 500 MB. I don't know what it is now.

The online section of your account enables you to send email inviting friends to sign up for Dropbox. The friends must click the referral link in the email message that they receive in order to give extra storage space to the person inviting them and to gain extra space for themselves.

Cooperation with a friend can earn extra storage space for each person.

Cooperation with a friend can earn extra storage space for each person.

Dropbox once gave people extra space for downloading two apps owned by the company. The first (Mailbox) was a useful program that was popular when the company purchased it. I hope that some of the app's features reappear in another program. Many of the features of the second app (Carousel) have been incorporated into Dropbox.

The Mailbox App: Sadly Missed

People could once earn 1 GB of extra space on Dropbox by downloading an email program called Mailbox. I downloaded the program to gain the extra space and discovered that I liked the app. Mailbox was created by a company called Orchestra and was already a popular iOS app when it was acquired by the Dropbox company. Unfortunately, the company has now shut down the app and it's no longer available for download.

I thought that Mailbox was a nice program. It obtained email from a mail server and enabled it to be easily managed. The app aimed to let uses simplify their mail by quick swipes with a finger on the screen. The swipes moved an email message to a specific folder. The idea was to have only mail that needed to be dealt with in the present or in the very near future in the inbox. Any other mail was quickly "snoozed" until a chosen time, added to a list, archived, or put in the trash.

When a new email message was being created, photos from the device's photo library and documents stored on the Dropbox server could both be added to the message.

The video below shows how the program worked. Based on the reviews that I've read, the app's features seemed to have been popular. I'm hoping that another company will incorporate some of these features into its own email program.

At one time, people could earn 3 GB of extra space by downloading and using an app called Carousel. I took advantage of this offer. Carousel was a photo and video viewing, sharing, and backup program created by Dropbox. Like Mailbox, Carousel has shut down and can no longer be downloaded in exchange for extra storage space. This is not a great loss as far as features are concerned, however. The company has incorporated most of the abilities of Carousel into Dropbox. The current upload feature of the service backs up photos from a computer or a portable device. The uploaded photos can be shared with other people.

Dropbox copies pictures and other data, stores the copies in the cloud, and then delivers new copies to the user's other devices.

Dropbox copies pictures and other data, stores the copies in the cloud, and then delivers new copies to the user's other devices.

Delete Files or Leave a Shared Folder to Save Space

Although extra space can no longer be obtained by downloading Mailbox and Carousel, there are other ways to gain storage space on Dropbox. Previous versions of files and deleted files don't contribute to the storage quota, but shared folders do. Unnecessary files can be deleted and shared folders can be left if they are no longer needed in order to gain space.

A shared folder can be very useful if you're working on a project with someone else, but it takes up storage space. If you don't need a file in the folder, delete it or ask the person who created it to delete it. Leave a shared folder if you no longer need to access it. To leave a folder, click on the sharing tab from the left of the web interface in your account. Then click on "Options" to the right of your chosen folder. The box that appears on the screen will allow you to leave the folder. Once a shared folder is left, it will disappear from your Dropbox folder.

The Dropbox Paper Product

While Mailbox and Carousel have gone, Dropbox Paper has been added. This free product is a solo or collaborative document creation and editing service that allows members of a team to work together. At the moment, the storage space for the documents doesn’t come from the allotted Dropbox space, though the company says that they reserve the right to change this.

Dropbox paper has text formatting tools, as would be expected, as well as the ability to import images, videos, and Dropbox files. It also has the ability to create:

  • code (with automatic language detection and syntax highlighting)
  • tables
  • to-do tasks (which can be assigned to specific members of a team)
  • calendar events
  • timelines
  • invitations asking people to contribute to the document, which can be done in real time

The application is available to people with all Dropbox accounts, including the basic one.

Files stored on computers need to be kept safe.

Files stored on computers need to be kept safe.

Security Measures

When any service stores people's files or information on their computer (or computers), security is a big concern. When a file is on only one individual's computer, that individual can make decisions about how best to keep it secure. Once it's uploaded to or created on someone else's computer, the individual has to trust other people to protect their data.

The Dropbox company says that they use strong security measures. On their website they state that they have a team dedicated to maintaining security and that a user's account login "is protected by many layers of security". The files are backed up as well as being stored securely. The company claims that they use modern encryption methods to store and transfer data. Their software is "constantly being hardened to enhance security and protect against attacks."

Staff members are prohibited and technically prevented from viewing users' files, except for a few members who must be able to access files in case they're asked to do so by legal authorities. Nevertheless, no cloud storage system is perfect, including Dropbox. Problems have occurred.

Users should think very carefully before sending private or sensitive data into the cloud. Even personal photos may be inappropriate for cloud storage.

Cloud computing is very convenient, but security always needs to be considered.

Cloud computing is very convenient, but security always needs to be considered.

Types of Dropbox Plans

I like Dropbox and use it for backup. I also use it instead of removable media and email when I'm transferring files. I don't use it for storing or transferring private data, though. At the moment, the basic account plus the extra space that I've earned is enough for me.

There are currently four Dropbox plans: a basic, plus, and family one and a professional one for businesses. The current prices and details of the plans can be found on the company's website. They differ in cost, storage space, and other features. When this article was last updated, the Dropbox Basic plan was the only free one.

The paid plans provide more file storage space than the basic one and have some other advantages, but they also have a monthly or annual fee. It's a shame to pay a fee before you've tried to increase your free storage allotment. You may find that with or without bonus storage the free version of Dropbox is all that you need.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2013 Linda Crampton


Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on February 18, 2015:

Thanks for the visit and for sharing the information, MJ Martin.

MJ Martin aka Ruby H Rose from Washington State on February 18, 2015:

I take so many pictures that drop box is a great storage place for ones I am not quite ready to delete.

I use it to store a lot of documents I need to purge through. When it gets full, I go deleting stuff and share referrals to create more space. It is important to have security, thanks for mentioning how that works.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on May 12, 2013:

Thank you, Ingenira. I love Dropbox as well!

Ingenira on May 12, 2013:

I just learnt about this feature in Samsung galaxy note 2 today. A really cool, easy and useful tool indeed, and I love it.

And thanks a lot for the tips to increase the storage size. Very useful to know indeed !

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on April 26, 2013:

Thanks for the comment, Insightful Tiger. I think you'll find that Dropbox is very useful!

Insightful Tiger on April 26, 2013:

I just recently discovered drop box! Thank you for letting me know how to increase my space! I'm excited to try it out. Thanks for sharing :)

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on February 21, 2013:

Thank you, Eddy. I hope that you have a wonderful day too.

Eiddwen from Wales on February 21, 2013:

So very interesting Alicia and one to save for future reference. Enjoy your day.


Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on February 13, 2013:

Thanks for the visit, Kathi. Yes, Dropbox is more useful for some people than for others, but for those who need it it's very handy!

Kathi Mirto from Fennville on February 13, 2013:

Interesting and good to know Alicia. I don't have a need for the dropbox at the time, but good to be aware of it for future. I only have one device, my computer and it has plenty of storage space, but one day . . .

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on February 11, 2013:

Hi, Nell. Thanks for the visit. Dropbox is helpful for many people, and it's not hard to use. It's certainly worth trying this software!

Nell Rose from England on February 11, 2013:

Sounds fascinating and really useful, I will have to read this again before having a go, takes a while for my brain to process it! lol! seriously great info, nell

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on February 10, 2013:

Thanks, Bill. Dropbox can often be a very useful program!

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on February 10, 2013:

Thank you Alicia! I have heard of dropbox but had no idea what it was.

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on February 10, 2013:

Thank you very much, drbj! As always, I appreciate your comment and vote.

drbj and sherry from south Florida on February 10, 2013:

Thanks, Alicia, for all this vital info about Dropbox. The tips about obtaining more free storage space are invaluable. Voted up, naturally!

Linda Crampton (author) from British Columbia, Canada on February 10, 2013:

Thanks for the visit, mylindaelliot. It would be a shame if someone paid the monthly fee without realizing that they could get more storage space with the free version of Dropbox!

mylindaelliott from Louisiana on February 10, 2013:

I didn't realize I could get more space. Thanks for the tips.