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How to Purge Deleted Dropbox Files

About a week ago, I sent a support request to Dropbox asking how to purge deleted files. Never heard anything back, but I figured that I would ask here to see if anyone knows the magic recipe. Here is the support question I sent to the Dropbox team:

This is a general question that I can’t seem to find online. I am logged into my account on the Dropbox website and am able to delete some files but not others. For the ones that won’t delete, I keep getting an error that says:

“You don’t have permission to purge”

So my question is how to resolve that error and delete those items forever?

Thanks for your help.

Update! Not too long after reporting this, Dropbox added a way to permanently delete any/all files. Just look for the eyeball icon to “show hidden files”. From there you can select any/all items and select Delete from the dropdown menu. Thank you Dropbox team for adding this feature.

Is it possible?

So if anyone knows how to do this it would be great and super-appreciated. For everyone else, it’s important for you to know that Dropbox does not actually “delete” your files when you click to delete them; instead, the files are simply hidden from your view until they are “purged”. Unfortunately, there is no way for users to purge all deleted items. This is bad for numerous reasons, including:

  • Users may think they have deleted sensitive data when in fact they have not (the deleted items are merely hidden)
  • Deleted files that can’t be purged continue to take up disk space
  • Dropbox support is unresponsive, the opposite of awesome

So that’s the deal with Dropbox. If any of you movers and shakers happens to know how to purge ALL deleted files — even those uploaded/shared by somebody else — please share your wisdom, thanks.

Update

In case anyone was wondering about the “awesomeness” of Dropbox, here is their official reply to my question:

Dropbox Support, Mar 16 12:14 AM:

Hi,

Thanks for writing in. While we’d love to answer every question we get, we unfortunately can’t respond to your inquiry due to a large volume of support requests. Here are some resources for resolving the most common issues:

  • Restore files or folders – www.dropbox.com/help/969
  • Reset your Dropbox password – www.dropbox.com/forgot
  • Reset/Disable two-step verification – www.dropbox.com/help/364
  • Learn about sharing files or folders – www.dropbox.com/help/category/Sharing
  • Learn about Dropbox’s desktop app – www.dropbox.com/help/category/Desktop
  • Learn about Dropbox’s mobile apps – www.dropbox.com/help/category/Mobile
  • For all other issues, please check out our Help Center – www.dropbox.com/help

We’re sorry for the inconvenience,

The Dropbox Team

None of the links provided by Dropbox in their email reply were helpful in answering my seemingly simple question. This is a prime example of a business that has gotten too big for its own good. Looks like it’s time to drop Dropbox. Any business that doesn’t have time to respond to its own customers is just not worth it. Recommendations for alternatives to Dropbox are most welcome.

Jeff Starr
About the Author Jeff Starr = Web Developer. Security Specialist. WordPress Buff.
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19 responses
  1. Hi Jeff,

    On Dropbox there is the usual “delete” option and on top of that it also has the “permanently delete” option once a file/folder has been “deleted”.

    For the latter to become visible you first need to delete a file/folder and then you can click on the little trashbin (left of the search box) that says “Show deleted files”.
    It shows the files per folder, so you need to be in the folder where you deleted the file from.

    When you then hover over the folder/file in question you can see the option to permanently delete it.

    As far as I know, it really is gone then.

    • Jeff Starr

      As far as I know that is all correct, but doesn’t address the issue, which is how to delete ALL files, including those that are shared/uploaded by other users. An example of the error message is shown in the post.

      • If you attempt to delete any file that has been shared by another user, you will be prevented from doing so (I would have thought). That file doesn’t belong to you and you can only remove it from devices subscribed to Dropbox by removing it from the list of items shared. If you are sharing a higher-level folder, then anything under that will be shared and you have little control over the issue.

      • Jeff Starr

        Thanks for the info, but it still seems like there is no way to purge *ALL* deleted files from a Dropbox account..

  2. Hi Jeff, ever considered using box.com for your purposes? Every once in a while they offer promos which provide new users with up to 50GB free of charge.

  3. Hi Jeff, I’ve been very happy running my own instance of ownCloud (owncloud.org). Just feels better than having Dropbox, Box, Google or Microsoft store my files.

    P.S. Love your site!

  4. I’m not sure about purging all deleted files, it’s a good question.

    Open Source alternatives are OwnCloud, Sparkleshare and some others on github I can’t think of name right now.

    Out of interst, are you a Dropbox pro account?

  5. I use Copy! But I’ve gotten more interested in personal cloud hosting (mentioned above).

  6. I just delete the files on the dropbox folder(s) on my computer, then let dropbox sync across my devices. All files(or just deleted files) are gone at that point

    Of course I back my drop box folder up first

    Free Box only lets you sync with one device. Not for me

    • Jeff Starr

      All files(or just deleted files) are gone at that point

      Incorrect. The point of this entire article is to let people know that Dropbox doesn’t actually delete the files that you want to delete — they are kept on Dropbox servers. Even worse, you have to explicitly tell Dropbox to display deleted files or they remain hidden. Log in to your Dropbox account and see for yourself.

  7. Dropbox is a mess when it comes to permanently deleting files. Its has been for years and they seem to ignore the issue. I’ve asked for help plenty of times and always get a lovely email back that fails to address the problem.

    I’m on a Mac, its not a Windows specific issue.

    I use DB for travel itineraries. They get changed constantly and there’s a slew of old files that I cannot permanently delete. I get a message “There was a problem completing this request.”. Again, its been like this for years.

  8. I wish I know this procedure 1 year before, I lost my most valuable information in Dropbox and it cause a lot of loss to me. Thanks for the tutorial, I bookmarked the article.

  9. Rogelio May 7, 2014 @ 9:12 am

    It’s hard to believe that such a popular tool has such a big flaw as not being able to delete all deleted-but-hidden files using space in one step. You would expect some extra warning before doing it to be safe, but it should be there. Otherwise, to recover that space, you have to go to every folder and manually find all your (pre)deleted files to delete them manually one-by-one for good, which is a PIB.

    All I can think of is that in the long run it makes more people on the free plan go for a pro plan when they are hooked but run out of space without an easy way to recover the space used by the hidden (pre)deleted files.

    I found this post as many of you probably did, trying to recover that space in an easy way that should be offered by DB, but I am now convinced it is not there or someone would have found it by now.

    There may be a way around it. It is wise anyway to back up whatever you have in a cloud service on a HD every now and then, so you could (1) back up all your DB folder outside DB, (2) delete everything inside your DB folder, (3) checkmark all de (pre)deleted hidden folders and delete them for good, and (4) put everything back; no hidden files should be there. If you are sharing folders you should “abandon” them first, or warn the others that the files are going to disappear for a while.

    Maybe you would prefer to drop DB instead of having to do this, but if you are hooked, this should do the trick and should take less clicking than most of us have spent looking for the answer.

  10. I’d take “my system, my rules” way .. there are a few self-hostable services similar to DropBox around, eg. Owncloud and Seafile. The other option is configuring something like WebDAV or similar stuff and build your own solution.

    Talking bout that, I’ve always keep thinking about a one-file drop-it-any-where, simple web solution .. like when you want to quickly share some stuff with a client, without having to set up stuff for ages, etc. But whenever I try starting to work on it, its getting too cluttered and overloaded .. meh :-/

    cu, w0lf.

    • Jeff Starr

      Dude I wish I had time to “roll my own”, but unfortunately that’s just not a reality at this point.

      Good to see you w0lf.

  11. Geoff Jackson May 29, 2014 @ 4:28 am

    As for alternative recommendations for Dropbox, you may wish to check out Google Drive. Works in pretty much the same way that Dropbox does and I believe you get 15Gb of space free.

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