Lightroom networking secret tip

Have you been frustrated by the inability to truly share Lightroom catalogs over a network? I have too, but I've found a pretty reasonable solution finally. I have been thinking that this would work for a while and finally decided to test it and it works! The secret is to use a Dropbox account to store your Lightroom catalogs on. Dropbox is free for up to 2GB of storage and pretty affordable after that. What makes Dropbox so cool is that it looks like a normal folder on your computer, but whatever you put in there is immediately and automatically synced with a cloud server AND any other computers you have linked to the same account.

While this still won't allow concurrent use by multiple users (this won't happen until Adobe changes the entire database format of Lightroom), it will allow you to keep one master catalog of all the latest info and any user anywhere can access it directly. The only catch is that you have to make sure to close the catalog when you are done.  Other users can't access it while you still have it open. This is normally not a big deal and Dropbox conveniently puts little icons on the folders to tell you when it's up to date or still synchronizing. Neat!

I've used Dropbox for a while for numerous other things, including keeping important files available to my iPhone and iPad from my laptop. There are great apps available for iDevices to access your Dropbox account. It's also great for sharing files with other users in your office. It's just the coolest free product I've ever used.

So here's how it works in a nutshell. I've put more details below if you need it.

1) Sign up for a free Dropbox account, if you don't have one, and install the software.
2) Save all your Lightroom catalogs within your Dropbox folder on your computer.
3) Go to your other computer(s) and link them to the same Dropbox account so the folder shows up on them too.
4) Work on the catalog as usual!

Tips:

1) Be sure to pay attention to the little icons on the catalog that tell you when an item is still synchronizing or is all matched up.
2) You should store the actual photo files on the server or a network accessible drive instead of the Dropbox folder. Otherwise it will quickly eat up all your Dropbox storage space. Lightroom can read images across a network, just not the catalog.
3) If your computers are all on the same local network, then Dropbox will try to sync locally first before using the cloud server. This makes the process much faster. It will still sync to the cloud in the background, but you should be able to work between local networked computers sooner this way. 
4) Because Dropbox is actually storing the catalog physically on your computer AND automatically syncing it in the background, you shouldn't notice any slowdowns while working on the catalog. You only have to wait a little while after you close the catalog for it to sync before opening it on the other computer (the icons will tell you when it's done). You will actually end up with a copy of all your Lightroom catalogs on every computer that accesses the Dropbox, but the kicker is that Dropbox automatically synchronizes them so it really feels like you're working on the same one.

I am so excited about this groovy tip because my biggest (and practically only) complaint about Lightroom is the inability to share catalogs over a network. This is a great solution for multiple users or computers needing to work on the same Lightroom catalog.

Here's the details for those who need it:

1) Sign up for Dropbox and install the software so that the folder appears on your computer.

2) Save the Lightroom catalogs to your local Dropbox folder:

3) Setup other computers to link to your Dropbox account too and make sure these preferences are set. (Detailed instructions for linking computers is available on the Dropbox site)

4) Work on the catalog and make sure it's closed and completely synchronized before trying to open it on a different computer.