Dropbox Sync Takes Ages and Seems to be Stuck on Ubuntu

Posted by Paul on January 11, 2021

I had to reinstall the OS on one of my main computers recently, I was switching from Linux Neon KDE to Linux Mint XFCE for various reasons (including enjoying "DistroHopping" from time to time).

Seeing as all the files I needed were on Dropbox, I decided just to install the new OS over the top and then re-sync Dropbox. Despite this being over 200GB, with a fast Internet connection it shouldn't have taken long ...

Unfortunately though, after getting everything setup and starting Dropbox I was stuck with the message "Syncing ..." when hovering over the Dropbox icon or when doing a "dropbox status" from the command line. I left the computer online for 2 whole days, 24 hours a day, but still this message persisted and while many folders and files had been synced, the total downloaded remained around 700MB which is far less than expected when downloading several GB usually takes just a few minutes on this connection.

I found various other users with the same problem online on Ask Ubuntu, on Github, and on the Dropbox forums but no answers. Luckily I found the answer myself when I started Dropbox from the command line and after waiting a little bit I got this message:

Unable to monitor entire Dropbox folder hierarchy. Please run:

"echo fs.inotify.max_user_watches=100000 | sudo tee -a /etc/sysctl.conf; sudo sysctl -p"

and restart Dropbox to fix the problem.

[Update 2021-02-05]
I've noticed that sometimes after restarting, the Dropbox syncing problem occurs again despite the above adding a line to "/etc/sysctl.conf" which should be applied on every boot. Anyway running:

"sudo sysctl -p"

and restarting Dropbox should fix that but this has to be done manually after every reboot.

[Update 2021-02-19]
Well, this issue raised its ugly head again. Taking the steps above didn't fix it. However, what did fix it was increasing the value of fs.inotify.max_user_watches from 100000 to 500000.

So, sure enough I running the above and then restarting Dropbox caused the "Syncing ..." message to disappear after just a few minutes and then files began syncing at a decent speed.

I added a new issue to the Dropbox Github, but it was promptly closed by one of the developers. True this isn't really a bug with the Dropbox client, it's an Ubuntu system setting, and if you run Dropbox from the command line it tells you exactly what to do, but it would save a lot of people a lot of time if the Dropbox GUI showed the same message!

Hopefully, if you're on Linux and not getting past this forever syncing message in Dropbox, the above will help you too, but either way, let us know in the comments below how you got on!

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