Dropbox: Symbolic links, database location, Bento

Posted on by Mike Evans

These days you can locate most databases in your Dropbox folder so you access your stuff on any of your computers. Most times it's simply a matter of moving the database from the default location (usually in Documents but sometimes in Library/Application Support) to the Dropbox folder. Occasionally, though, some applications don't like this. They expect to find their databases in the default location.

So my interest was sparked this morning when I read one of David Sparks' pithy blog posts about just this subject. I was redirected to a thoughtful piece by John Chandler on his blog. Like me, David has used Dropbox to replace his standard Mac Documents folder. He goes on to describe the problems he had with his Billings database which didn't take kindly to being moved to Dropbox. Read his post for full background, but John tells you how to create a symbolic link to fool the application (in this case Billings) to look in Dropbox rather than Library/Applicaton Support.

This got me thinking about Bento, Filemaker's excellent mini database that cuts down the lengthy learning curve of Filemaker Pro. I was a great advocate of Bento when it first came out, but was disappointed to find that I couldn't sync the database via Dropbox. As a result, I moved all my data out of Bento - mainly to Numbers.

John Chandler's step-by-step guide encouraged me to try the symbolic link with the Bento database. First I moved the Bento folder from Library/Application Support to my Dropbox folder. Then I created a symbolic link (as per John's instructions) to trick Bento into looking in Dropbox. Unfortunately it wasn't tricked. As far as I could see, the symbolic link was correct but Bento just wouldn't load the data.

Having started, I thought I'd better finish. So I posted the problem on the Bento forum and got a quick reply from the support team. This is the solution:

"Bento 3 has a hidden feature that when you hold down the option-key during launch, you can specify where the bento.bentodb file is located.  Therefore, launch Bento holding down the option-key, and then select the bento.bentodb file in the Dropbox folder. This hidden feature was implemented to help our Testing team switch between bento.bentodb files while testing Bento.  This feature was not removed when it was time for the general release, so I can't promise this is going to remain in future versions."

This is identical to the way in which you relocate, for instance, your iTunes database to Dropbox and it works. I now have my Bento database on Dropbox and can use my information on any of my computers. With this encouragement, I will start using Bento again.

Just few words of warning: Most of the our databases, including Bento, are strictly single user. You cannot safely run the program on more than one computer and expect to escape some form of corruption. Unless you have a true multi-user database you need to be careful to close the application on one computer before moving to the other. And it's a good idea to wait a few minutes for Dropbox sync to complete its stuff.  This is all commonsense advice but it is easy to follow if you are the only user.

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