How Does Dropbox Work?

The ability to access, edit, save, and share your computer files on any computer or device certainly sounds like it involves some serious science-fiction magic, doesn’t it?  Well, not exactly, but it does involve a relatively new (or at least newly-termed) technological innovation known as “cloud computing”.

What is “cloud computing”?

“Cloud computing” is an approach to using digital technology that is, simply put, that computers work better when they’re connected in a way that allows them to share resources for doing jobs.  One of the major aspects of cloud computing in practice is moving the major working parts of computer programs to large and powerful server computers on the Internet.  This lets these server computers balance the work in running these programs, and allocate more computing power to the programs that need it.  Meanwhile, all people have to put on their own personal computers or mobile devices is a small access program.  This lets them use the main program without eating up their own computer’s processing power.  That’s how Dropbox works.

Here’s a basic example of a cloud computing system:

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As you can see, the personal computers around the edge — desktops, laptops, tablets, smart phones, and so on — simply connect to the “cloud”, which represents a whole bunch of server computers on the Internet, when they want to complete certain tasks.  All of the actual storage and processing for these tasks takes place inside the “cloud”, so you’re free to use the storage and processing power of your personal computer for whatever you want: writing letters, storing cute pet photos, playing games… whatever you want!

Think about it in terms of building a house.  Trying to run certain big computer programs in their entirety on a personal computer or a mobile device is like trying to build a whole house by yourself.  If it’s possible at all, it’s still horribly inefficient.  Since you’re the only one doing the work, not only is it going to take a very long time, but you’re going to end up one very exhausted person by the time the work is done.

Now, what if you were to get a few friends to help you, or hired a contracting team to build your house for you?  Now, the construction gets done faster because more than one job is being worked on at a time.  This also puts less strain on each individual worker, because they don’t have to do so many tasks by themselves.  In addition, building your house becomes more efficient, since you can assign more people to work on the difficult parts, and leave fewer people doing the tasks that aren’t as strenuous or time-consuming.  That’s the idea behind cloud computing.

Dropbox is multi-platform

Dropbox takes advantage of cloud computing to make its services available through a client for desktop computers, as well as one for mobile devices such as tablet computers and smart phones.  Of course, you can also access Dropbox by going directly to their website.  As explained above, in all three of these places, you’re not storing every file that has been deposited on — or is needed to run — Dropbox on your own computer or mobile device in order to run it.  Again, that would take up way too much memory space, so that’s left to Dropbox’s heavy-duty server computers to handle.  You’re simply using a small access program to get to Dropbox, which frees up your computer or mobile device to store and do whatever else you need it to.

If you’re still a little lost, here’s a diagram so you can visualize how it all works:

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Anyway, we hope that explanation helps you understand how cloud computing and Dropbox work!