Nextcloud introduces Virtual Drive in Desktop Client to simplify desktop integration


#1

Originally published at: https://nextcloud.com/blog/nextcloud-introduces-virtual-drive-in-desktop-client-to-simplify-desktop-integration/

Today we are proud to announce the first view on a project we’ve been working on for quite some time: a Virtual Drive in the Nextcloud Desktop client! A Virtual Drive makes files always visible on your system, irrespective of whether they are available locally or not, making the use of your cloud storage far more seamless.

The virtual drive, a standard technology in desktop synchronization clients, replaces the traditional files in a locally synchronized folder with a virtual view on all files the user has, available on demand and with a smart caching strategy.

We quoted our CEO, Frank Karlitschek, in the press release, about the importance of the desktop client:

The Desktop Client is a centerpiece of our synchronization strategy. Thus it is important we keep pushing the boundaries and deliver on what customers ask for.

Benefits of a virtual drive

Rather than eating up all the space on the drive or forcing the user to manually handle syncing on a per-folder base, a virtual drive makes sure files are available when needed. The drive shows files as if they were available on the local system but when clicked, they are downloaded and kept available for a set time in a local cache. For users, this process is far simpler, allowing them to open files no matter what way they access them. “File open” dialogs, “Recent files” dialogs and of course the file manager like Finder or Explorer all properly handle the files. This as opposed to a solution like replacement files, which is limited to the file manager and comes with other limitations like not showing the right icons.


Virtual drive in action

Installation automatically installs Dokan
Nextcloud only needs Dokan core

Current state

The project has been in development for some time and we consider it ready for the wider community to get involved and provide feedback, testing and code contributions. The tech preview, while functional, is not recommended for daily usage. The tech preview released today works on Microsoft Windows. The Mac version is functional and a build will be available in the coming weeks. The Linux version will be addressed next.

The Windows version will need Dokan, an open source user mode virtual filesystem installed. Our installer will take care of that (and tell you), if you have already Dokan but it is an incompatible version you’ll be warned.

You can download the Tech Preview here.

Initially, a version with the Virtual Drive will be available next to the current Nextcloud client, we have not yet decided if we should let the two approaches (one or more synchronized directories and the Virtual Drive) live together. While it is possible to have both at the same time, we believe the Virtual Drive is fundamentally the superior approach so we will likely move to it completely. Input on this is welcome!

Of course, help is welcome too, and you can see our work on github in the virtual-drive-techpreview branch and get involved!

More is happening in the client!

In other client news, last week our desktop team got together for an E2E development sprint and we hope to see the results of this in a stable client update soon! There is an ambitious roadmap of polishing the client and bringing many features you see in our other clients also to the desktop over the coming months, so users can enjoy a more consistent experience across platforms. This work will run in parallel with testing and improving the Virtual Drive.

Announcements today

Today we also announced that Nextcloud GmbH more than doubled its customer base during 2018 and more good news as well as the establishment of a Customer Advisory Board to help align development with the needs of our most valued customers.

You can learn more about these in their respective announcements:


Sync Files on Demand and Delta Sync
Add nextcloud as network drive (Windows)
Download On Demand
Selective Sync/Placeholder Files
#2

Can I use both, Foldersync feature and Virtualdrive on the same time?


#3

Will it support multiple accounts?
Like one drive for user a and another for a public folder?


#4

Can I install it with admin rights?
Why the window desktop client need the admin rights to work?

We just can not use it, because we are end user, not administrator.


#5

it’s broken for me on Windows 10 lastest Build.
Doken refuse to install, it says windows installer cannot open this package.
So i installed myself Doken 1.2 but i canno’t use folder sync, when i loggin an account i get directly to the normal screen, i cannot choose FolderSync / Local Sync etc…
And the sync is halted on Waiting for sync…
When i click on delete account Nextcloud crashs

I’m gonna wait another build


#6

I hope you don’t remove the ability to sync selected directories locally. This allows having files stored on the server and locally which is helpful in case of server failure (even with regular backups it lets me rest easier :smile:)

The caching idea sounds cool too and I can definitely see the use cases for that. I have a lesser used device that doesn’t need local copies.


#7

Same here. And i cannot reconnect an account on a server with self signed certificate after deconnected it.

I’m really impatient to see how VirtualDrive works !


#8

So this is a open question - for now, the Tech Preview has only the virtual drive. We have to see:

  • if it makes sense to have both
  • how much work it is to have both

especially as it means maintaining more code. I think we are likely to move entirely to virtual drive.


#9

The Virtual Drive still has the files locally - those which you have set as ‘available offline’. The Virtual Drive also shows up when you’re in an airplane over the Atlantic, you can see all files but only open those which are available in the cache. So this ability to have a local ‘backup’ doesn’t get lost with the drive!

It is a bit like with the current client, where you can, per folder, decide to sync files, but with the Virtual Drive those files and folders you don’t sync are still visible and get downloaded when you try to open them. And it works always - from your file browser, from the file open dialog, and so on.


#10

Doesn’t installing software typically need admin rights? Especially as Dokan is probably pretty low-level. In any case, we will figure out later how to improve packaging, once we’re at a final product :smiley:


#11

Would be nice to have an option under Installation to chose. Was setting my new laptop today. Really looking forward to not carry all crap with me all the time and have it on demand. Another good move NextCloud keep the good work and big thanks.


#12

Will we be able to structure the folders and corresponding files so that:

  1. some are hidden
  2. some are visible but only accessible online, and
  3. some are local?

#13

Wonderful! Will we be able to do this with directories as well as files?

I also want to add that my wife and mom both have Macs and enjoy saving most everything to the Desktop. Currently they are syncing that directory with Nextcloud. It sounds like that would no longer be possible with Virtual Drive. Is this correct?


#14

I’m not 100% sure, there are probably ways to do it, but generally speaking, no, you get a virtual drive - like a X:/ or so in Windows, where all your files are. You can probably make symbolic links?!? But the files don’t exist when the client isn’t running, which is a big improvement over today (where you can make changes to files, forget to run the client, get in the plane and have outdated files).


#15

I’m not sure what you ask. You will get a X:/ drive and all files there are visible. Per file (or folder) you can set them available offline. It is like a webDAV drive, but always available and faster :wink:

I’m not sure what use case you’d have for hiding some of the files.


#16

Thanks for the reply @jospoortvliet. I tried sym links a week ago for something else. Unfortunately Macs don’t seem to let you replace Desktop, Documents or Downloads folders.


#17

Egads, I hope not. Except on my Windows machine. But on MacOS and Linux I’d expect to see it mounted as a directory somewhere under my home directory. Just saying - I react a little reflexively perhaps, like a knee jerk, when I see such embedded Windows assumptions - arguably the worst, if most popular of the platforms commonly supported ;-).


#18

The problem I see with that is that some of us (looks surreptitiously into the air) use NextCloud not just as a data access tool (accessing my files from any of my devices) but also, saliently, as a backup tool (having multiple copies of stuff around). The two functions are different but both deeply relevant to the way in which current cloud drives work. Forgetting one altogether sounds surprising to me and won’t be without pain and adjustment.

Never mind the significant performance differences between local copies and access a netmounted remote folder. But maybe I admit I don’t understand virtual drives, and maybe they support all of that? Be nice to hear that’s the case.


#19

Is it going to be possible to selectively hide folders from the virtual drive? I use Nextcloud also on my work laptop and I don’t want to have files with sensitive personal information lying around on disks I don’t own and/or fully control.


#20

So If I want to sync notes for example, to have it on multiple computers that are in my own documents, that just will stop working?