Running low on Zotero storage? Sync your files through a cloud storage service

I’ve recently returned to using Zotero for collecting, organizing, and citing references after not having used the software for a couple of years. While I was a bit rusty, it only took a couple of days for me to get up and running at my previous level of Zotero expertise (which really wasn’t that high to begin with). But despite feeling comfortable with the program, it wasn’t long before I found myself running out of storage space.

Zotero’s sync feature allows you to keep your citation data up to date across as many devices as you’d like. And while this is a great feature, I’ve found that it isn’t of much use without also being able to access my PDFs on all these devices as well.

The good news is that Zotero allows you to attach PDFs to items (i.e. citations) in your library. The bad news is that it only gives you 300 MB of free storage (with an option to pay for more). While PDF files generally aren’t that big, 300 MB can get eaten up pretty quickly if you have a lot of documents.

In the past I generally didn’t store my PDFs within Zotero, but I quickly fell in love with this feature upon my recent return to the software. And since I’ve yet to be willing to pay for cloud storage, I was afraid I’d have to resign myself to storing PDF files in one of the many free cloud storage services I use, rather than having them attached to my Zotero data. But, I thought, wouldn’t it be great if there was a way to both store my PDFs via a third party cloud storage service, and have these PDFs linked up to Zotero? Well it turns out there is!

In order to accomplish this feat, you’ll use something called WebDAV (Web Distributed Authoring and Versioning). While I still don’t completely understand what this is, for our purposes a WebDAV service is the third party cloud storage service that you can use to store your Zotero PDFs and other attached files. Zotero provides a list of services that offer free plans and that are known to work with Zotero (I use Box).

Once you’ve decided on a WebDAV service, setting up Zotero to work with it is fairly simple. First open your preferences by clicking the icon that looks like a gear.

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In the File Syncing section of the preferences menu, select WebDAV in the dropdown menu next to “Sync attachment files in My Library using.”

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Next, enter the URL for the WebDAV service that you’ve decided to use, along with your user name and password associated with that service.

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If you’ve chosen one of the services on Zotero’s list, you can find the URL there. Note that the menu pictured above already includes the “https”, “://” and “/zoter/”, so make sure you don’t enter this into the field as well. After entering your information, click on “Verify Server” underneath the password field. If everything has worked correctly, you should get a message that says file sync has been setup!

You can continue attaching PDFs and other files to items in your Zotero library as before. The only difference is that now these files will be stored through your WebDAV rather than through Zotero’s own storage system.

For more information you can consult Zotero’s syncing documentation. If you would like more general information about Zotero, you can consult the Library’s Zotero Libguide or attend a Savvy Researcher Workshop. And as always, send us an email if you have any questions.

Have your own tip for getting the most out of Zotero? Let us know in the comments below!

Note that WebDAV only works with personal, not group, libraries.

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