Rob Hunter

Dropbox on Debian

Enter the following at the command line (as root) if you’re building Dropbox from source on Debian┬ábut encountering dependency problems (longer explanation below the fold):

# apt-get install libnautilus-extension-dev python-docutils python-notify

Enter “y” when apt-get prompts for confirmation (absent any warnings).

Dropbox offers precompiled packages for certain distributions, but not Debian. (Do not attempt to use the Ubuntu *.deb packages on a Debian system.) Building from source is easy on Debian: after you’ve extracted the source for the installer, enter the terminal commands exactly as they’re described in the README file.

However, on many (most?) Debian systems, you’ll encounter problems after running the first command. The output from the ./configure script is less than helpful, and the packages it tells you to install (”libnautilus-extension” and ”docutils”) can’t actually be found in the standard repositories. In actuality, the installer script is looking for the packages listed at the top of this post. Once you’ve installed them, you should be able to build the Dropbox installer from source. At that point it’s as easy as any other Dropbox installation – run the installer, download the daemon, and let it do its thing.

It should be noted that Dropbox is a somewhat controversial application to be running in a GNU/Linux environment. The Dropbox code is proprietary and cannot by any stretch be said to be free software according to Debian’s guidelines, or those of the Free Software Foundation. Unfortunately, there are as yet no real alternatives to what Dropbox provides in terms of cloud-based file syncing. There are some promising projects on the horizon, however, such as SparkleShare, DVCS-autosync, and SpiderOak. But of these, only DVCS-autosync is fully open source, and it’s not quite ready for primetime yet. (And there is of course a difference between “open source” and software freedom per se.)