Use two Dropbox accounts on one computer

Like many people, I have both a business and a personal Dropbox account[1]. Sometimes I need files from the business account while on a computer where my personal Dropbox is installed.

The obvious solution is to run two instances of Dropbox at the same time, using two different accounts simultaneously on one computer. The obvious problem is that Dropbox does not support multiple accounts.

Dropbox second instance not supported
Dropbox second instance not supported

Since I might need to respond to a client emergency at any time, it really pays to keep some key business files on all my computers. Sure, I could share folders between accounts, but my personal account is just a free 2GB account; it doesn’t have space for the set of files I need to keep handy.

I could also choose to run multiple user profiles, using a different Dropbox account with each, but that’s a pain since I would have to switch profiles all the time and double-configure some of my common apps. If I use the Dropbox website, I then have to re-upload the files manually.

All things considered, I really do need a way to run two instances of Dropbox with different accounts on one computer at the same time. So, I found a way.

Dropbox second (personal) instance synced
Dropbox second (personal) instance synced

The key to this method came from an article on the Dropbox Wiki, which gives a pretty granular breakdown of the process. My method, implemented on a Mac[2] (see footnote for Linux and Windows), is essentially[3] a subset of that process.


To follow this method you’ll need a Mac (I’m running Lion as of this writing) with Dropbox installed and set up for your first account. My first account is my business account.

Now decide where you want to actually store the folder for your additional Dropbox account. My first Dropbox folder lives in the default location in my user folder. For the additional account, I created a new folder right next to the existing one, and named it Dropbox-personal.

You’ll also need to create an Automator application and add a login item for your account. Don’t worry!—all of this is straightforward and relatively simple.

Create a custom Dropbox app with Automator

We’re going to use Automator to create a custom application for the additional Dropbox instance. This custom application can then be launched on demand, or automatically at startup.

Here’s a screenshot to show you how the application’s Run Shell Script action looks in Automator:

Automator application screenshot
Automator application screenshot

Note that the commands you enter in the Shell Script action can also be run in a Terminal session for testing or troubleshooting. Most people won’t need to do this. Also, you do need that & (ampersand) character—don’t leave it off!

Should you wish to name the folder that will hold your new Dropbox folder differently, just replace “Dropbox-personal” with the name of your folder.

HOME=$HOME/Dropbox-personal /Applications/ &

To create your custom application, follow these steps:

  • Launch Automator and create a new document using the Application template

  • Add a Run Shell Script action:
    • open Library > Utilities
    • drag the Run Shell Script action to your workflow space on the right
    • remove any default text (e.g. cat) from the script window
  • Paste in the following code (change the folder “Dropbox-personal” if desired):

    HOME=$HOME/Dropbox-personal /Applications/ &
  • Test from Automator by pressing the Run button at the top right
    • this should launch the setup wizard for Dropbox; go through the wizard, entering credentials for your additional account
    • once you are satisfied that everything is working, quit Dropbox (click the menu bar icon and select Quit Dropbox)
  • Save your custom application so that it can be run independently
    • in Automator, select File > Save
    • name and save somewhere that makes sense to you

My suggestion is to save your application in the folder where you created the additional Dropbox instance. This should match the value of $HOME from the bash script (e.g. Dropbox-personal in your user folder). Saving your custom app here keeps all the files for this Dropbox instance together.

You can now quit Automator.

Once you have saved your custom Dropbox application, test it by double-clicking the application file in Finder from the folder where you saved it. This should launch your new Dropbox instance again. This time you can leave it running—we’re done with all that restarting.

Automation: launch at login

If you want your custom Dropbox app to launch at login, there’s just one more step you need to take: add the custom app you created to the login items for your user account.

This is easy! Follow these steps:

  • Open System Preferences > Accounts
  • With your account selected on the left, select Login Items on the right
  • Click the plus button below the list of login items to add a new item
  • Browse to the folder where you saved your custom app, click to select it, then click Add

That’s it! Your custom app will now appear in your list of login items, and will launch automatically when you log in to your computer. Here’s a screenshot showing you how this should look.

Launch at login
Launch at login

Since Dropbox does not open an application GUI, there is no need to check the “Hide” option for your new login item.


Now that you have two Dropbox instances running on your computer, you also have two Dropbox icons in your menu bar. With default settings, it can be hard to tell them apart.

Not to worry—Dropbox offers the option to use a black and white icon. This setting is effective per instance, so all you need to do is decide which instance should have a different icon and change the setting. You can find the option under Preferences > General.

Use black and white icons for one account
Use black and white icons for one account

Dropbox Preferences are accessed from the menu under the Dropbox menu bar icon. Check Use black and white menu bar icons.

Now that one of your Dropbox icons is black and white, it should be easy to tell them apart on the menu bar:

Different Dropbox icons
Different Dropbox icons

Happy Dropboxing!

[UPDATE 2012.06.14] This article was previously posted on my company website. While updating the instructions and images today, I decided to move the content here.

Note that I have personally tested this method on Mac OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard and 10.7 Lion. Both worked for me with no trouble. Therefore, I have little experience troubleshooting this setup - in my experience, if you follow the directions, it just works.

[UPDATE 2012.12.26] Tested on Mountain Lion, both new install and upgrade. Some people have trouble with the second instance not running automatically after upgrading to Mountain Lion; see my comment from Dec 26, 2012 for the simple steps that worked for me.

  1. If memory serves, this idea came to me from David Sparks via the excellent Mac Power Users podcast with Katie Floyd. David talked about using two accounts so that he could share relevant files between his PC at work and his Mac at home without exposing everything in his personal Dropbox account. Even with the available selective sync feature in Dropbox, using a separate account still feels more secure.  ↩

  2. Note that my primary platform is Mac OS X. If you’re running Linux check the above-referenced article for differences. Windows users might want to try the Dropboxen Dropbox addon (which I have not tried myself).  ↩

  3. One seemingly minor change from the instructions on the Dropbox Wiki gave me a tremendous usability improvement. The instructions on the wiki suggest using $HOME/.dropbox-alt as the home path when setting up the additional instance. By default, Finder does not display files or folders that start with a period, which means .dropbox-alt is not a visible folder. By using $HOME/Dropbox-personal instead, you can see and browse the additional Dropbox folder, and even add the Dropbox-personal folder to your Finder sidebar.  ↩

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    As Dropbox develops and expands, decisions they have made early on are tying them, and their users, in knots. The biggest problem they have is that they keep shifting their mental models of how their service works and it has broken Dropbox and exposed many Dropbox Teams users to real privacy ...

Reader Comments (33)

I use my Partners work dropbox on our computer(Mac) for photos etc and a friend has asked if I can use his work dropbox to access his information so I can work for him temporarily, is that possible?
Thank you

November 21, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLou

Awesome, this is a huge help.

Is it possible to give me simultaneous access to both Dropboxes from my iPhone4?

December 1, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterCurtis

Very simple and elegant solution. Exactly what I needed. Thanks!

December 5, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterOsise Moore

Thanks for the thorough writeup! Worked like a charm and was MUCH easier to setup multiple Dropboxes than on my Windows PC!

December 6, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAlex

Great post! Thanks, ik works fine for me.

December 13, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterErik vsn Gameren

Great post, Thank You!

December 18, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAmyB

Isn't better just use something else, such as "Box" as your second "Dropbox"? They have the similar features.

December 22, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterterry

This worked magically and just saved me sooooo much time. I was logging into the web based dropbox to access business files which is so clunky. Thanks for this!

December 24, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSteve

Or you can use the portable version of dropbox. works on PC

December 25, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterdinh cuong vu

I have been looking to do this for a long time. Thanks a million!

December 25, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterCriação

You really made my day. Thanks a lot. Your process is working perfectly Mountain Lion also. Now i do not have to use the web app of Dropbox.

December 26, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterArun

Excellent! It works like a charm. Thank you.

December 26, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterNam Tran

Thanks for all the feedback, everyone! Since landing on Hacker News (and its Flipboard feed) on Christmas day 2012, this article has been even more popular. I'm glad that so many people have found this material helpful.

Mountain Lion - this method seems to work fine for new setups. A few people, including myself, have had trouble with one or the other account not starting automatically after upgrading a Mac from Lion to Mountain Lion. Here's how I fixed mine:

- quit all running Dropbox accounts
- launch each Dropbox account manually
- check login items under my user account: Dropbox-personal was listed above Dropbox
- remove Dropbox-personal from login items, then add back in as the last item (below Dropbox)
- restart Mac to test: both accounts launch automatically at login

That worked for me. Hopefully that will help if you encounter this issue.

@Lou - rather than use your friend's Dropbox account, I would suggest just sharing a folder. Look for a new post here in the next week or so to walk you through sharing folders.

@Curtis et al - I don't know of a way to gain simultaneous access to more than one Dropbox account on an iPhone or iPad.

@Terry - I prefer Dropbox over similar services because many applications have support for Dropbox. Very few of the apps I use support other file syncing or sharing services.

December 26, 2012 | Registered CommenterDaniel Mann
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