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Zotero: Syncing

What is Syncing?

Summary:  Synchronizing allows you to have an exact copy of your local Zotero library in your free Zotero cloud space.  This serves as a data backup, and also allows you to work on different machines without losing data.

Do you have to synchronize?  

  • If you always use the same machine, and it is yours, and you regularly back up your data using the official process, then no, you do not technically need to synchronize.
  • If you use a machine you don't control, or you use more than one machine, or you do not regularly back up your data using the official process then yes, you do need to (or at least really should) synchronize.
  • In any case, no matter how you use Zotero, synchronizing is very strongly recommended.

How to Syncronize

If you have not set up syncronization before, follow the steps in the First Time Synchronizer box on this page.  You only need to do this once.

After setting up synchronization the first time, there are two ways to keep your data synchronized:

  • Synchronize manually whenever you want to.  All you do is click on the synchronize icon, in the upper right corner of your Zotero panel:  
    • Sync Icon
    • The Sync icon will spin while synchronizing is in process.  But it should begin and end as it appears above.  .
    • A red exclamation point next to the Sync icon indicates an error of some kind.  Usually just syncing again solves the problem.
  • Or, when you are setting up synchronizing for the first time, you can tell Zotero to sync automatically, as described in the First Time Synchronizer box.
  • If you rely on manual synchronizing, you should synchronize at the beginning and end of absolutely every Zotero work session.

First-Time Synchronizer

Synchronizing is how you keep your data up-to-date on both your local machine and on your Zotero cloud storage at the same time.  It is very strongly recommended (and nearly mandatory) for Zotero users.

These are the steps for setting up syncing for the first time.  Once you've done these steps, you won't have to do them again:

  1. Create a Zotero.org account (if you haven't already)
  2. Open the Zotero application on your computer (If it is not already open)
  3. On a PC: In the Edit menu, select Preferences.  |  On a Mac: In the Zotero menu, select Preferences
  4. Select the Sync tab
    1. ‚ÄčAdd your username & password
  5. If you want Zotero to automatically synchronize your data every couple of minutes while you are working, then check Sync Automatically
    1. Automatic syncing could cause your browser to hang up for a few seconds while syncing is going on, but only if you are working with large quantities of data on a slow connection.  This is rarely a problem.
  6. If you want Zotero to synchronize your full-text PDFs as well as your bibliographic data, then check  Sync full-text content
    1. Basic bibliographic data will never use up your free Zotero cloud storage.  But PDFs will use that storage up quickly.  If you are syncing PDFs, you will have to consider purchasing additional storage space from Zotero (not very expensive and worth it, in my view).
  7. You are ready to synchronize, now and forever.
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