Box (used to be box.net) is an online storage service that’s been around for a while – it’s quite popular and gives you more storage space than Dropbox usually does. And, if you’ve got an Android or iPhone, getting the mobile Box app (for Box.com) unlocks 50gb of storage immediately, for free. 50GB of storage. Unfortunately, it doesn’t have a linux syncing client yet – wouldn’t it be nice if you could create your own?
- Signup for Box!
- Mount the Box folder locally using webdav
- Setup Unison to keep a local folder and your Box folder in sync
- Create a cron job to run unison automagically
Box supports webdav; webdav is an extension to HTTP that allows handling of remote filesystems – thankfully, there are a number of packages in linux available to let you mount these webdav folders locally and have them behave as local folders. However, performance on these usually is a bit slow (each read/write involves a few round-trips to the web server) so what we’ll get here is:
- a locally mounted webdav folder that will have the “live” contents of what Box has, but quite slow
- a local copy of the contents of the webdav folder that gets kept in sync with the online Box copy every, or automatically when you change a file – but because it’s a local copy, it’s no different to normal files
(Anywhere I’ve used
vim, feel free to use your editor of choice – just replace it with something like
gedit if you’d rather a gui)
Sign up for Box!
So, first up, you’ll need a Box account.
Just visit box.com to create one, or signup from your mobile (then you get 50gb space from the getgo!). Once you’ve got your account all set up and confirmed, continue!
Mount the Box folder locally using webdav
Next we need to mount the Box web folder as a webdav folder – the
davfs2 package will do the job:
sudo apt-get install davfs2
Now create somewhere for the webdav folder to mount:
sudo mkdir /media/box.net
Then we’ll add an entry in fstab (the file that Ubuntu reads to work out what’s mountable)
sudo vim /etc/fstab
and put this in it at the end:
https://dav.box.com/dav /media/box.net davfs defaults,rw,user,noauto 0 0
(update 2013-12-06: updated the url to dav.box.com instead of www.box.net, thanks to a comment from here)
Now we’ll change the davfs config so that users in the
users group can mount the webdav share whenever they need, and also to disable the use of file locks – they don’t seem to work properly with the Box.com webdav service
sudo vim /etc/davfs2/davfs2.conf
and put this in it (there might already be something similar to this somewhere in the file – just replace it with this):
dav_group users use_locks 0
Next, we need to add our user to the users group – (my user’s called
seb, replace seb with you obviously!)
sudo addgroup seb users
Now we need to store our Box.com username and password so that it doesn’t prompt every time we try and use it:
sudo vim /etc/davfs2/secrets
and put this at the end:
https://dav.box.com/dav <your_user> <your_password>
At this point, everything should be ready to test the webdav setup; run this to mount it:
system option in user configuration file– I don’t really know why that is, but it doesn’t appear to break anything)
program is not setuid root– you can fix this by running
sudo chmod u+s /sbin/mount.davfsthen running the mount command again)
If that worked, then you should be able to open a filemanager (like nautilus or thunar) and visit /media/box.net and view the contents of your Box account! However, you might notice that it’s really not very responsive – and sometimes freezes up the file manager… which is what the next section will fix.
Setup Unison to keep a local folder and your Box folder in sync
Unison is a 2-way synchronization tool that can do all sorts of powerful things; here though we’re just going to use it to keep 2 folders in sync with each other – I’m going to put my local Box folder in
/home/seb/box.net and keep it in sync with the existing
/media/box.net. So first make sure you’ve got the
cd ~ mkdir box.net
Now you need to install unison (if you’ve not got it already) then run unison once to create the .unison config folder:
sudo apt-get install unison unison # if you've already used unison before to create a profile, this might run it! So be careful...
You should now have a .unison folder in your home directory. We’re going to create a new unison profile to keep our folders in sync:
and put this in it (obviously again replacing seb with your username!):
root = /home/seb/box.net root = /media/box.net ignore = Name *~ ignore = Name .*~ auto = true retry = 2 logfile = /tmp/unisonlog batch = true
That profile ignores any files with filenames ending in ~ (like vim and emacs’ backup files), sets automatic and batchmode to true (so it’ll try and do everything automatically, without asking for confirmation all the time) and write out a log of what happened to /tmp/unisonlog.
So let’s try it:
unison -ui text box
This runs unison in non-gui mode (thanks for Onoman for the heads up!) with the “box” profile. This should print out a load of stuff about what it’s doing, what it’s copying, conflicts etc, then write something (hopefully!) like:
UNISON 2.32.52 finished propagating changes at 08:30:46 on 24 Feb 2012 Saving synchronizer state Synchronization complete at 08:30:46
If it did, then the contents if your box.net account should be in the box.net folder in your home directory. Brilliant.
So, now you can edit files, move them around, change, rename, whatever files in the /home//box.net foder, run
unison box, then your box account will update itself. Likewise, you can put files in your box account on your phone, upload files through the website, email files in, run
unison box again and your box.net folder in your home dir should update itself. AMAZING!
It’s a bit of a pain in the bum having to manually run unison everytime we want updates though…
Create a cron job to run unison automagically
Cron lets your system run commands automatically in the background on timed intervals, without you having to do anything. So we’ll create a cron job to automatically run our
unison box command every hour. You can fiddle with that number to suit, but bear in mind that if you need some files sync’d immediately, just run
unison box again.
Update: as mentioned by Markus in the comments, we really want to prevent unison from running more than one copy at a time; this can be arranged by creating a wrapper script that uses flock to run unison for you, and making sure there’s only one copy by creating a lock file:
#!/bin/bash flock -n /var/lock/my_unison_lock unison -ui text box
flock is a tool that is in Ubuntu by default – the manpage description is
flock - manage locks from shell scripts which is exactly what we want; the
-n specifies the name of the lock file to monitor; if another copy of our script is run but the lock is already locked, flock returns immediately and doesn’t run another (potentially clobbering) copy of unison.
So, now that we have the wrapper script setup, edit your crontab (your user’s list of scheduled cron jobs):
and put this at the bottom of it:
0 * * * * /home/seb/bin/unison_wrapper.sh
Cron’s format is a bit odd – it’s:
m h dom mon dow command
So the crontab line we put in will run
/home/seb/bin/unison_wrapper.sh on the 0th minute of * hours (every hour), * days of the month, * months, * days of the week – which is exactly what we want.
And with that, you should be done! Feel free to drop me a line if you have any problems…
It is possible to get unison to run automatically every time you change a file in your local copy of the folder using dnotify or famd. Basically, you get dnotify or famd to “watch” the folder, then run unison for you everytime something changes. However, I’m not sure whether using this is a good idea as if you change a lot of files in short succession, it’ll create a lot of instances of unison running on top of each other and they might collide, creating havoc in your box! It’ll also mean that everytime a file changes, it creates a load of https requests to Box.com (which they may or may not be too happy about if it happens a lot!)I haven’t tried this myself so won’t provide details, but if you’re feeling adventurous and would like to give it a whirl, apparently the following dnotify command will do roughly what you want (again, untested!):
dnotify -CDMr --background /home/seb/sync -e "unison box"
I didn’t have dnotify on my box, and searching for it in the apt-cache suggested
fam – I didn’t have time to try configuring and setting this up, but if you do, let me know how you get on!
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