Why Dropbox Online Only Files Taking up Space and How to Fix

This article will show you the reasons for Dropbox online only files taking up space, and tells you solutions to fix it.


by Jonna Lasted Updated February 2, 2023

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Why Do Dropbox Online Only Files Take up Hard Drive Space?


This morning, I moved many files from an external disk into Dropbox on my computer, then selected those items to be "online-only". However, those online-only files and folders occupy much space on my computer hard drive. I could only restore available space by moving some content back to an external disk. Why are Dropbox online only files taking up space?

When you use Dropbox, you can find that every file on your Dropbox account is mirrored on your computer hard drive. To help you save space on hard drive, Dropbox offers “Smart Sync” to let you set data online only. But sometimes, Dropbox Online-only does not work, causing Dropbox taking up space on Mac/Windows.

Smart Sync

Why are Dropbox online only files still taking up space? There are some possible reasons.

  • Dropbox cache data takes up hard drive space.
  • There is a delay in freeing up disk space on Dropbox.
  • Dropbox online only files have not finished syncing.
  • You didn't set up Dropbox files to be online only correctly.
  • There are bugs in Dropbox software.

How to Save Dropbox Files Online Only Correctly

If your Dropbox online only not working, please follow the steps below to set up Dropbox files online only properly first.

Step 1. Open Windows File Explorer or Mac Finder, and go to the Dropbox folder.

Step 2. Right-click the file or folder you want to save in the cloud only, hover your mouse over Smart Sync and click Online-only. You can repeat this process for every file or folder that you’d like to remove from your local storage.

Window Ssmart Sync

How do I make sure Dropbox files are online only? When you set up Dropbox files and folders online only, they are not instantly removed from your computer. The data are online-only only when a solid grey circle with a white cloud icon appears on your files and folders.

How to Fix Dropbox Online Only Files Taking up Space

If “Dropbox online only still taking up space” is not solved after the correct setup, the following will show you detailed methods to resolve it.

Way 1. Clear Dropbox Cache

Out of many suspects that may be occupying a lot of hard drive space, one of them may be the Dropbox cache. You can do the following to delete the cache manually and free up storage space.

Step 1. Hold Windows + R keys on your keyboard to access the Run dialog.

Step 2. Type %HOMEPATH%\Dropbox\.dropbox.cache and click OK to access the Dropbox cache.

Input The Command

Step 3. Select the cache from the Dropbox.cache folder you wish to clear up. Right-click them to hit Delete, and permanently empty Recycle Bin.

Way 2. Restart Dropbox

Resetting Dropbox can fix Dropbox errors like Dropbox smart sync not working, Dropbox syncing slow, Dropbox says full but not, etc.

Step 1. press and hold the CTRL, Shift, and Esc keys simultaneously to launch Task Manager.

Step 2. Find Dropbox under the Process list. Click Dropbox, and hit the End Task position.

Task Manager

Step 3. Relaunch Dropbox on your computer, and check if “Dropbox online only taking up space” is solved.

Way 3. Use Selective Sync on Dropbox

In addition to Smart Sync, Dropbox offers Selective Sync to let you choose which files sync to your local drive. In other words, you can specify certain folders to sync or not to your local drive. But sometimes, Dropbox selective sync may not work as intended.

Step 1. Launch Dropbox, click on your profile picture in the top-right corner, and head to Preferences.

DDropbox Preferences

Step 2. Select the Sync tab and click on Selective Sync.

Dropbox Selective Sync Windows

Step 3. Uncheck those folders that you don’t want to sync locally, then click Update to apply the changes.

Update Dropbox Selective Sync

Way 4. Use CBackup to Sync Files to Dropbox without Local Copy

Setting online-only for Dropbox folders and files one by one is a tedious process, and there are times it may not work. To fix Dropbox online only files taking up space completely, why not just sync files to Dropbox without a local copy? CBackup, a free cloud backup and sync service, can help you.

This sync freeware allows you to sync data to Dropbox without synchronizing locally. You can use it to upload files and folders, and you can sync hard drives and computer to Dropbox quickly and easily.

Step 1. Install the CBackup desktop app, then create a new CBackup account and sign in.

Download CBackupWin 11/10/8.1/8/7/XP
Secure Download

Step 2. Click Storage on the left side, select Dropbox, and hit Authorize Now to warrant CBackup to access your Dropbox account.

Select Dropbox

Step 3. Switch to the Sync tab and select Sync PC to Public Cloud to upload local files and folders to Dropbox.

Choose PC To Public Cloud

Step 4. Customize the Task Name, and add the folders you want to sync to Dropbox. Specify a folder in Dropbox or create a new folder to save your data. Then, press Start Sync to begin the process of syncing files to Dropbox.

Start Sync To Dropbox

Besides, the following features of CBackup may help you in data syncing:
  • Schedule sync - You can click Settings to perform Dropbox automatic sync at custom frequencies like daily, weekly, or monthly.
  • File filter - You can exclude certain files in a folder from syncing to Dropbox with a breeze.
  • Cloud to cloud sync - It enables you to transfer files between Dropbox accounts, and migrate Dropbox to Google Drive and other clouds without downloading and uploading.

The Bottom Line

If you are experiencing the “Dropbox online only files taking up space” issue, take it easy. On this page, we have collected the reasons and four effective methods for it.

With tools, like CBackup, you can automatically upload folders to Dropbox without syncing a local copy. Also, you can use it to migrate Dropbox files to other cloud drives effortlessly.

Jonna · Editor
Jonna becomes a professional in the areas of cloud backup and restoration, data protection, etc. after years of learning and researching. She maintains a keen eye for the latest technology trends, ensuring that the information provided is always in step with industry developments.

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