Two Easy Ways To Synchronize Zotero Data

Jeffry Thurana 12-01-2010

00 FireZot logo.jpegCompared to the older generations, modern-day web-based writers are very lucky. Most of the tedious and time consuming research part of writing is now available from the comfort of the keyboard. We just type our queries and the hordes of results will appear before our screen.


But research is more than just collecting data. It’s also about compiling and presenting the results. So far, I’m happy with my data collecting method How To Share & Synchronize Research Data To Other Computers Read More , but many MakeUseOf readers have pointed out that for formal writing like academic writing, the Zotero research tool IS the unquestionable ultimate tool.

More Stable Versus More Features

Zotero research is a Firefox plugin designed to help people with their web research. It’s been mentioned several times Websites For Students: 10 Online Learning Tools Read More before 10+ Web Tools To Save Your Butt In School Read More .

The main page of the Zotero site has a short video tutorial which explains virtually everything that one needs to know about using the Zotero research tool. First time users should watch the tutorial to get acquainted with this research tool.

Currently, there are two versions of Zotero available. There’s the latest stable version 1.0.10 and there’s beta version 2.0b7.6 with more features. If you consider yourself a play-it-safe kind of person, you should stick with the stable. Otherwise, choose the beta.

01 Zotero - which one?-1.jpg


There’s a slight possibility of data loss in the beta version due to the still ongoing development of the synchronization feature. But with a good backup routine, this minor flaw should pose no threat at all.

Those who are willing to take the risk will be rewarded with many new features such as synchronization ability, compatibility with more word processors, and more collaboration options. The complete features list can be found here along with plugins to make the Zotero word processor friendly.

Synchronizing Zotero’s Research Data

As mentioned above, if you are one of the Zotero v. 2 beta testers, you can enjoy the synchronization feature. But to use the feature, you need to register for a new Zotero account.

02a Zotero - Register.jpg


After the usual process of registering, you can start using the feature by attaching your Zotero installation to the account. Open Zotero by clicking the logo at the bottom right of your browser, or by using the default shortcut: Command + Shift + Z.

02b Zotero Preferences.jpg

Then open Zotero Preferences and click Sync > Settings. Put down your account information there.

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If you are working with several computers, you have to insert your account information to each Zotero installation in every computer.

Enhancing Zotero With Dropbox

The above method only works for v.2 users. There’s another way to synchronize your Zotero data between computers that can be used by both v.1 and v.2 users: using help from Dropbox.

Zotero puts its data in a folder. By default, this folder is inside the Firefox Profile directory and is accessible only by Firefox.

Dropbox users can utilize this free service to sync and backup Zotero data using the method similar to the one described in this article How To Share & Synchronize Research Data To Other Computers Read More . Basically, all you need to do is move the data folder to a location inside Dropbox folder and set Zotero installations in another computers to use that specific Dropbox folder to store the data.


Pointing Zotero data storage to a different location can be done from the Preference window. Go to the Advanced pane and click “Choose” under the “Data Directory Location“. Browse and open the new location (the folder inside Dropbox folder).

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Aside from the compatibility with v.1 and the automatic synchronizations and backups, using independent location to store Zotero data has another benefit. The data is also available to be used by another browser: Flock.

Flock is compatible with all of Firefox extensions. Meaning: you can also install Zotero under Flock. Independent location means that the data can be accessed simultaneously by Firefox and Flock. This is good news for all of you Flock lovers out there.

I’ve just started using the Zotero research tool, so there are still many things to learn. Veteran Zotero users, share your tips, comments and opinions in the comments below.

Related topics: Dropbox, Mozilla Firefox, Web Search.

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  1. Lino Oliveira
    January 13, 2010 at 3:52 am

    It is possible to configure Zotero to store its data in a folder outside Firefox Profile directory.
    I store my bibliography in a Zotero directory in My Documents.

    This solution is best for those that automate the backup of My Documents directory. You never forget to backup your Zotero bibliography. :-)

    Best regards from Portugal

  2. Lisa
    January 12, 2010 at 6:47 pm

    The Dropbox option really is a good one for syncing the Zotero library and works like a charm. Once your Zotero stuff gets over the 2GB limit, it seems to be more economical to sync with WebDAV and there's many conversations on the Zotero forum about this. Syncing with Zotero's own storage is actually pretty competitive and comparable to other WebDAV providers.

    Viva Zotero! Really, its amazing.

  3. Rebecca
    January 12, 2010 at 1:58 pm

    Another, incredibly important point about syncing Zotero via Dropbox: Zotero's internal syncing only works on the entries and citations...not the attached files, like pdfs and snapshots. You can enable syncing of your attached files via WebDAV (a pain, and requiring webspace of your own), or Zotero gives you 100MB of space on Zotero File Storage (not nearly enough for someone with a serious academic library). But, if you use the Dropbox trick, all your attachments are synced into your library by Dropbox. Incredibly useful if you use Zotero not only for bibliography building but also for organizing your pdf article library.