Nextcloud as Dropbox replacement

Over the last month I have evaluated Nextcloud as Dropbox replacement, here is what I have learned.

Managed hosting

The choice to go with a managed server (Hetzner Storage Share) has turned out very well. The service has been fast and reliable, and they seem to do a lot to not loose data. The best thing is that they handle software updates and other server maintenance.

Web interface

Out of the box, the Nextcloud web interface is delightfully simple and clean. To make the interface even faster and cleaner I have removed the Activity and Gallery apps.

You can do everything you expect from a Dropbox replacement, like sharing files and folders, using apps, and managing users and server settings. Also, File drop is supported, so you can ask people to upload files to your Nextcloud server.

The concept of Nextcloud apps is interesting, though I am hesitant to install a lot of apps, as I suspect that may lead to security problems. I did, however, install the Calendar app to enable a shared work calendar, and that works just fine.

Sync issues

The Nextcloud (desktop) sync client has some serious problems!

The sub-folder problem

When moving a folder with sub-folders from Dropbox to the Nextcloud folder, the sync client appears to sync the new content almost immediately, but that is unfortunately not the case, the data is not on the server (as can be verified through the web interface).

From from what I can gather, the issue relates to several (apparently long-standing) sync bugs:

  1. Error: DATA on invalid stream
  2. Problem with sub-folders not being synced, not sure which of these that I experience:

My gut feeling is that the first problem may be related throttling in the network path to the server, but I don't know for sure, and since the bug report is quite new, it could also be a problem with the particular version of desktop client.

The second problem is easily reproducible: drag a folder that have sub-folders from Dropbox to the Nextcloud sync-folder then only the top folder contents is synced, anything below sub-folder-level is not synced until restarting the sync client. Puzzling that this bug persists in a mature and stable version of the client software.

Anyway, both problems can be eliminated by restarting the sync client a couple of times, or just wait long enough for the sync client to re-scan the folder tree. Easy, but terrible user experience.

Update 2020-10-17: The first issue seems to be solved in newer client versions, and second issue was solved with this PR.

The many files in folder problem

I have a few folders with many (50k - 150k) small data files in them, and that causes significant sync problems.

On uploading the sync client spew errors about time outs on simultaneous uploads. This does, however, resolve itself over time or after restarting the sync client.

When the sync client attempts to download a folder with many files the server apparently takes to long to respond, so there is a connection time out and nothing is downloaded. I have not found a solution to this issue other than avoiding folders with too many files.

Final words

Coming from the really good Dropbox sync experience, the Nextcloud sync engine is a significant downgrade in user experience. The desktop sync client spews errors that the user has no means to do anything about, except trying the old "turn it off, and turn it on again", which surprisingly does work in some cases. But overall, syncing does work reasonably well when taking care to not get into extreme scenarios such as my case of 100k+ files in a folder.

That said, Nextcloud does remove the need for expensive Dropbox subscriptions. In my case, the price of the Hetzner managed Nextcloud instance is only 20% of the three Dropbox subscriptions it is replacing.