The Cloud is Not a Sure Thing! [+ How to restore deleted files on Dropbox]

Cloud computing has become an integral part of my everyday life, both personally and professionally. However, I wanted to share a couple true-life examples of how the cloud is not entirely stable, and how it should not be the only way you back up your files.

Case #1: Apple iCloud

While I have shared in the past of how I use Numbers back and forth between all of my devices for grading, and how convenient iCloud has been for me this past year, iCloud is not perfect. Case in point: a colleague at my school who has relied on Apple's Numbers even more heavily than myself with regards to assessment and evaluation for all his classes.

He has had major difficulties with his iWork documents. After updating to the second to last update, he lost the ability to back up to iCloud; all of his files would only save locally to his iPad. He made an appointment at the Apple Genius Bar, but they had no solution after attempting multiple fixes. After backing up to the latest version of Numbers, Keynote, and Pages, he has completely lost all of his iWork documents. Poof. They have disappeared. Sometimes the documents would show up on his iPhone, but on his iPad, where he actually calculates all the marks (the bulk of the time during class), documents would vanish. Like the blue screen of death on an old PC, a dreaded spinning wheel appeared, and the iPad froze. Sadly, recovering lost data on iCloud seems unlikely, as it appears to be a common problem on Apple's forums. Hopefully, Apple will soon resolve this issue. This clearly is unacceptable.

Although I have not experienced any lost documents (yet!), I will be carefully be backing up important documents onto other sources.

Temporary solution to ensuring you don't lose your iWork files::

Although not the most practical and new fix for this, email yourself all important iWork documents. This will be cumbersome if they are documents that you are constantly editing, but if it is a “finalized” version, this will be your easiest fix. Better yet: Set up a SENDTODROPBOX account so that you can email it straight there. Files will automatically upload into a folder of your choice within your Dropbox.

A more complicated way would be using a WebDAV (Web-based Distributed Authoring and Versioning) service. I tried this a while ago, and while it worked fine, the service I used (OTIXO) is now charging a fee. Read more about WebDAV here if you're interested. Check out OTIXO here. Frankly, SENDTODROPBOX will be much easier and hassle-free to send your iWork documents to Dropbox.

Bottom line: Back up your files, especially the important ones. Go old school and back up onto an external hard drive or just on your computer. iCloud documents, once deleted or mistakenly removed, are essentially gone for good.

Case #2: Dropbox

Oh, my beloved Dropbox. Regular readers of this blog will know that I love Dropbox and that I use it literally every day, multiple times per day. But one year ago, Dropbox failed me, and, more recently, failed yet another (different) colleague of mine. It turns out it wasn't Dropbox the service who let us down, but instead our computer setting at work.

My work laptop was having some networking issues with regards to its daily synchronization tasks. It was something that the IT guy had set up. One day, I had surprisingly discovered these tasks had deleted almost 3400 files on my Dropbox. I'm not sure if there was a permission that I had clicked “Accept” on in the morning on the laptop without looking, but they were gone. Not only that, once a shared file gets deleted, it will be deleted from every computer of every person that the folder is shared with. This was a huge problem: I am part of a network of teachers, probably numbering around 200, sharing teaching files. These files were missing on all their computers. The Twitter feed of this network was going berserk: “Whoever is deleting these files, please stop and replace them“. I felt horrible. Were the files retrievable? Luckily enough for me, I was able to contact Dropbox directly and have them fully restore the files. I was greatly relieved. With regards to the laptop, I quickly removed Dropbox synchronization on it and it hasn't happened since (I have since been given a newer laptop to use at work).

To show you the some of the deletions, I was able to refer back to that day on Events from over one year ago:

*Note: If a file gets deleted from Dropbox, it will also be removed from your local hard drive on your computer and any other computer which shares the folder in which the file is held, if the computers are synced with Dropbox. I tested this out and it was true.
Dropbox will be able to restore files within the past thirty days. After that period, you might be out of luck. If you lose a large amount of files, do what I did and contact Dropbox directly. Here is a screen shot of the email they sent me stating that they were able restore all of my files for me:
My colleague in another school had something similar to this happen to her. All her hard work on Dropbox had disappeared:
“I logged in on another teacher's computer, the way our system is set up, all my files were deleted and I acquired hers. After restoring my files, my dropbox now contains her files and mine mixed together, and hers contains my files. If either of us tries to delete the other's file from our own dropbox, it delete's from the other person's dropbox too. So effectively our dropbox accounts have merged and I do not know how to separate them again.”
So, similar to my computer issue, the problem had to do with the way the school computers were initially set up, in terms of permissions. Thankfully, she was able to restore all the files.
How to recover/restore files that are accidentally deleted on Dropbox:
I personally was not able to do this task in the example above, since I had lost almost 3500 files. However, if you have just lost one or a few files, this is the easiest way to restore them:
On any computer (or even on Safari on an iPad), go to and log in. Click the Events tab on the left. You will be shown all the events in reverse chronological order. Find the deletion. Tap the file that was deleted. In the example below, it was (No Subject).txt.
You will be given this page, which shows you a version history of that file. Choose the latest version before the deletion and tap Restore. You are also able to highlight multiple files and restore them at once. That's it! Your file(s) will be placed back in your Dropbox.




Do not get me wrong: I rely on the cloud every single day. I would not be able to function without it. Whether it's work files on Dropbox, songs on iTunes Match, or photos with Photostream, the cloud is an essential part of my day. I do hope however that cloud computing will become more reliable and stable in the near future. These examples I have outlined might seem out of left field and you may say: “That would never happen to me!”, but you never know. Take the precautions and back up your files. Then back them up once again.



4 Comments Add yours

  1. Are you sure that when you delete a file from Dropbox that it deletes it from your local computer?

    That does not ring true.

    1. Hmm. You might be right. Ill have to check that out tonight. Thanks!

    2. Just tried it at home. I think I am correct. I opened up my dropbox folder on my home computer, deleted a file on my Dropbox iPhone app, and it deleted on my computer as well.

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