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00a DownloadsThese days, almost everybody is connected to more than one computer. The common scenario is: one computer at work and one computer at home. This configuration often requires people to move files between computers, raising the popularity of USB drives.

Sometimes you find something at work that you want to download for your home computer (or vice versa). You could:

  • download it on your work computer and bring it home later, or…
  • ask your home computer to do a remote download right away – real time – from your work computer.

There’s nothing wrong with the first option, but even from the non-geek point of view, the second one is way cool. So if you have a Mac machine (which is always connected to the net) and a Dropbox DropBox: Review, Invites, and 7 Questions With the Founder DropBox: Review, Invites, and 7 Questions With the Founder Read More account, I’ll show you how to set up the system to do a remote download – non-geek style.

00b Dropbox logo


Note: Dropbox is a service which will allow its users to synchronize files online and across computers. If you haven’t got it, you can get the free version, or you could try the 14-day free trial pro version (credit card required but you won’t be charged).

To learn more about this service, you can read our article comparing Dropbox and Sugarsync Sugarsync vs Dropbox: The Battle Of The Cloud Storage Titans Sugarsync vs Dropbox: The Battle Of The Cloud Storage Titans Read More .

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How the system works

Before we start, I think it’s best to understand how this remote download trigger works. I got the idea of setting up the system when I wrote about “2 Useful Tips For Organizing Electronic Files [Mac Only] 2 Useful Tips For Organizing Electronic Files [Mac Only] 2 Useful Tips For Organizing Electronic Files [Mac Only] Read More “.

Basically it would go like this:

  • you find a file that you want to receive through a remote download
  • you get the download link and save it into a text file
  • you put the text file into the specified Dropbox folder
  • that folder will be synchronized with the same folder in your home computer
  • the addition of this new text file inside the folder will trigger a download action
  • after that, the text file will be moved to another folder and synchronized back to your work computer. You will be notified that the remote download process has started.

Setting up the system

Here’s how I set up my system. You can do some modifications according to your preferences.

First, I created a new folder inside the Dropbox folder on my home computer called “Remote Download“. Inside the folder I created two other folders called “New Links” and “Started“.

01 Dropbox Folders

Then I created an Automator workflow to trigger the automatic download. I went to “File –> New –> Folder Action” menu and I :

  1. Set the “New Links” folder as the trigger for the folder action
  2. 02a Automator 1

  3. Chose “Files & Folders” from the Automator library
  4. 02 Library - Files n Folders

  5. Dragged the “Filter Finder Items” workflow as the first action, and set it to “find all .txt files inside the New Links folder
  6. 02b Automator 2

  7. Dragged the “Open Finder Items” workflow as the second action and set it to “open the .txt files using my download manager. Please note that you have to use a download manager that can import download links from txt files. I use iGetter (not free), but you can experiment with the download manager that you choose.
  8. 02c Automator 3-1

  9. Dragged “Move Finder Items” workflow as the third action and set it to move the .txt file to the “Started” folder.
  10. 02d Automator 4

  11. Saved the workflow as “Automatic Download
  12. 03 Save Workflow

You can change the folder’s name and the saved workflow to your liking, but you have to set the workflow actions accordingly.

How to use the system

To use the system, you just save a download link into a text file and put it in the “New Links” folder inside the Dropbox’s “Remote Download” folder in your work computer. You can also use the web interface if your work computer don’t have the Dropbox application installed. The text file will be synchronized and the download will be started automatically in your remote home computer. The scenario is also applied the other way around (from home to work).

The cool thing is, you can trigger the automatic download from any operating system (or even a mobile device) as long as you can connect to the net and can save a text file.

I strongly suggest you put one link inside one text file. Multiple links usually caused the download manager to ask for confirmation, so the download won’t start automatically.

As an additional bonus, you can set your work computer to notify you every time a new file is added into the “Started” folder so you’ll know that somewhere far away your download has started. Just set another Folder Action from the Automator.

You can use the same principle to trigger a torrent download, but instead of a txt file, you put the torrent file in a Dropbox folder and set your torrent client to monitor that folder and start the download automatically everytime a torrent file is detected. I know that Transmission is able to do that. But if you are using another torrent client that doesn’t have monitoring features, just use Folder Action.

I’d love to write a similar system for Windows users but I haven’t found a Windows equivalent to Mac’s Folder Action and download manager that can import links from a text file. Can anybody help?

  1. Michiel
    December 11, 2009 at 4:32 am

    Great idea!

    A few enhancements that made my life easier:

    Textedit, my main scrapapp thingy, only saves in rtf. So in order to get iGetter to read the files, I needed to make the rtf into a txt. So I added a "Replace text in finder names"-action. Set to 'replace text', find 'rtf' in 'extension only' replace 'txt'

    Then I wanted to get more downloads in one file. So I recorded an action where I clicked OK on the pop-up window in iGetter, stripped the crap and copied the action in to my flow.

    Now I can add multiple downloads in 1 rtf and still have them read! ;)

  2. forex robot
    November 28, 2009 at 12:52 pm

    nice post. thanks.

  3. patrizia
    November 28, 2009 at 12:28 pm

    I just download the interesting file on my computer at work (Windows) and put it in the dropbox (upload with the web interface) and I will find it on my home computer!

  4. Jonathan
    September 24, 2009 at 11:20 pm

    Another way of doing it is using LogMeIn (Free version available and good enough) to remotely use the home computer and directly start the download.

    To share links, I use Xmarks in both the home and work computers' Firefox.

  5. Ciaran Lawlor
    September 24, 2009 at 11:35 am

    Ok, I'm confused. Where is the File –> New –> Folder Action menu?

    • Jeffry
      September 25, 2009 at 3:28 am

      Folder Action can be accessed via two ways (at least that I know of): through Automator or by right clicking (or Control Click) on a folder in Finder and choose "Folder Actions setup". You can't open it via File--> New menu.

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