Adventures in Digital Research – Use Zotfile to Move Your Zotero Attachments to Somewhere More Useful, Like Dropbox

If you’re an academic, or working in field with heavy information management needs, such as medicine, you’re likely using a reference manager such as Zotero to store and manage all your readings (if you’re not, you really should…).

Zotero is a free and open-source reference manager currently supported by the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media at George Mason University, and the Corporation for Digital Scholarship. Available on Windows, Mac and Linux, it’s a great alternative for researchers who need the power and flexibility of something like Endnote, but without the very high licensing costs. In the past, Zotero was only available as an extension to the open-source web browser, Firefox, but for the last few years now, it has been available as a standalone option for your desktop. The forthcoming Zotero 5.0 release will do away with the Firefox extension altogether.

One of the best features of Zotero is its ability to automatically synchronise your references and readings between your computers – a boon for anyone who does a lot of work on the go. However, Zotero’s free cloud storage tier is extremely limited (300MB), and beyond this you’ll need to pay for additional storage, which is ludicrously expensive: $20 a year for just 2GB, or $60 for 6GB. Compare this to something like Dropbox, where for £7.99 a month you get 1TB of storage, or even better, Microsoft’s OneDrive, where for the same amount you get 1TB of storage and an ongoing subscription to Microsoft Office, for up to 5 PCs or Macs.1 In comparison, Zotero’s cloud storage is very paltry indeed, and probably excessive when many of us are already using other cloud providers to sync our files.2

Using a free Zotero plugin, Zotfile, you can move your Zotero pdf library to another cloud storage provider while keeping the links to your attachments within Zotero intact. For Zotero Standalone, you need to head to zotfile.com and download the plugin installer (zotfile-xxxx-.xpi) to your hard drive. Then, within Zotero Standalone, go to Tools > Add Ons. Click the gear icon and then ‘Install Add On From File’ to locate the .xpi file and install Zotfile. You will need to restart Zotero Standalone for the installation to complete.

To configure Zotfile, select Zotfile preferences from the preferences menu (the gear icon at the top of the Zotero window). To change the location where you store your pdfs to somewhere more useful, such as Dropbox, change the custom location for files under the general settings tab. You will probably want to create a new folder in your Dropbox to store your Zotero pdfs, rather than simply dumping them at the top of your Dropbox folder hierarchy. Do this first. Then, back in Zotfile preferences, click ‘Choose’ to browse to the folder you have just created. For example, for Dropbox on the Mac, the path would be /Users/[yourusername]/Dropbox/Zotero.

Now, as long as you select the same folder on every computer you use, Zotfile will move your pdfs to Dropbox, and Dropbox will synchronise the pdfs between your computers.3 Now, you can access all your Zotero readings on every computer you use, without having to shell out for Zotero storage.

  1. If you are family, you can thus get up to 5TB of storage (1TB per user).
  2. Zotero’s storage, of course, subsidies development of the free app. If you don’t want to pay for Zotero storage, you can perhaps consider giving a donation to the Center for History and New Media http://chnm.gmu.edu/donate/
  3. Note that this path needn’t be the same – if you are working on both Windows and Mac, the path to your Dropbox folder will be very different. The important thing is to select the folder in Dropbox where you want to store your pdf library.