Lightroom Tips

The Easiest Way to Share Lightroom Catalogs with Different Computers

I recently got a Dell Precision M6500 for various tasks. While I still use my Macbook Pro primarily, I have to say the Dell is more and more tempting because it knocks the socks off my Mac when it comes to speed. Anyway, I was testing a PC-only Lightroom plug-in and I stumbled across (what I feel at least) is a great way to share your catalogs if you use multiple computers.

First, it requires that you store your photos on an external hard drive (which I already do).

Now, let’s say I’m working on my Mac and I’m working on a bunch of photos. I add keywords, Develop module changes, new Collections, etc… Well when I’m done, I close Lightroom. Then I go to where the actual catalog file is stored (You can see the location under the Lightroom > Catalog Preferences menu on a Mac / Edit > Catalog Preferences menu on a PC). I copy the .LRCAT file on to my external drive.

Next, I attach the external drive to my other computer, copy the .LRCAT file over and open Lightroom. I have to say, it sure beats doing the File > Export as Catalog and File > Import as catalog “thing”. I mean, either way, I need to copy something to a drive to get it over to my other computer right? This way just feels much cleaner to me and since my photos are all stored on the external drive.

If you’re wondering why not just work on the catalog directly from the external drive, it’s because that will significantly slow down Lightroom as it needs to write to that catalog file pretty often. Anyway, I’ll keep you posted as time goes on to let you know how this method works for me in the long run. But for now, I’m really digging it. Thoughts? Comments?



  1. MikeS 22 January, 2014 at 11:24 Reply

    I want to share my catalog over a secure network without accessing the web. Would it be feasible to have the LRCAT file reside on our server and have all the Macs access it from there? It really appears to be slow.

    • Matt K 22 January, 2014 at 11:25 Reply

      Lightroom isn’t meant to be shared over a network. So it will be really slow. Also, you won’t be able to have multiple people access it at the same time. Just one.
      Hope that helps!

  2. Ed Hannon 27 July, 2012 at 09:54 Reply

    I have a further complication in sharing catalogs: I need to share between a MAC using Lightroom 3 and a PC using Lightroom 4.1. I am taking photography classes at St. Petersburg College and need to work both at home and at school. School uses the MAC and Lightroom 3. Tried exporting catalog from the PC and importing into the MAC but Lightroom 3 did not like the Lightroom 4.1 catalog. Does anyone know of a way that I can easily move back and forth?

  3. David 6 July, 2012 at 16:19 Reply

    Just found this thread.
    Never thought of Dropbox, and never heard of the Live Mesh application so I’ll be checking that out.

    I know this is old, but for anyone that shares their LR catalog between a Windows and Mac machine, when the images are stored on the network, what’s the solution?

    On my Windows machine, the paths would be \nsluPhotos or P:, where as on my Mac it would be smb://nslu/Photos


  4. Jessica Boklan 14 August, 2011 at 21:00 Reply

    My Windows Vista computer just died, but I have my catalog backed up on an external hard drive. (where my photos are located as well). I just purchased a Macbook pro with the new Lion OS. I redownloaded lightroom 3. However, when I try to import the catalog from my external drive into the lightroom on the laptop (or try just opening the catalog directly from the external drive), it says “Lightroom cannot launch this catalog. It is either on a network volume or on a volume on which lightroom cannot save changes.” Help. JB

  5. John Gretzinger 30 July, 2011 at 04:46 Reply

    Do anyone know if catalog support on network drives will be supported? Why would this not be a desirable feature?



  6. Dave Brockway 15 July, 2011 at 16:29 Reply

    If I am using one LR catalog on an external drive and use it with a PC with Windows 7, we just got a Mac Book Pro and I was thinking of using the LR catalog on both computers. Will it matter what file format the external drive is?

    Any other considerations?

    Thanks for your help.


  7. Mike Drury 13 July, 2011 at 12:42 Reply

    I use 2 computers ( 1 laptop, 1 deskop w/mutliple ext. HDD ) both running Vista & LR3. If I make sure the catalogs on both computers have the same name, can I use Live Mesh to keep those files updated?

  8. Adrian Campbell-Howard 7 June, 2011 at 11:22 Reply

    Starting to get my head around this. I have my catalogue and previews file on my computers hard drive. My pictures are stored on an external drive. For 2011 I have over 350 GB of raw files alone so far. What is the best way to get the catalogue and previews onto my macbook pro without the problem of missing files. What I want to avoid is moving my bulky external drive around. Windows live mesh and dropbox all sound good but I imagine would be pretty costly for storing such large files?

  9. Sean Molin 23 March, 2011 at 00:53 Reply

    Another vote for Windows Live Mesh. It’s outrageously easy to use and it’s free.

    I keep all my negatives on a NAS (6TB) and have all my settings and catalog(s) on a local drive that automatically syncs over my network with my laptop and other machines. If you configure Lightroom to save all your settings and presets with your catalog, you can just sync one folder and EVERYTHING syncs. It’s pretty awesome. It’s like having two computers that are exactly the same.

    Just gotta make sure you give it enough time to sync after closing libraries.

  10. blacksc0rp 26 January, 2011 at 02:34 Reply

    I’ve tried just copying the “.lrcat” file from my Laptop to the PC (without the previews folder and i didn’t see that they regenerate after a while (maybe it takes a long time).

    The best way would be to put the “.lrcat” in dropbox (or any other cloud service)
    and only the previews will be copied from laptop to pc.
    But where do you put them and how exactly do you tell Lightroom to use the previews from another folder (“.lrcat” & previews are seperated) ?

    No one answered this question yet…

    AND: sometimes the drive letter will be different – so all the files will be “offline” .
    I read about just “right clicking” the Top Folder/Drive Letter and relocate the pictures (+all folder will update) but i don’t have that option. (maybe it was available only in older version of Lightroom) ?

    Or am i missing anything ?

    • Mat 12 May, 2011 at 02:28 Reply

      Blacks, you need to drop the previews folder (Lightroom 3 Catalog Previews.lrdata) in the same folder as the .LRCAT file. If not, that particular catalogue will generate it’s own previews.

      The right click to find a missing folder still exists. I can’t envisage what might be impeding that for you? When you right click on a missing folder, you should get an option such as “find folder” or some such. The advise is correct that if you do this to the top level folder, sub folders fall into line.

      I’m having the trouble of losing my labels when I do this. I’ve also tried doing the classic Export To then Import From Catalogue. The results are the same, alas. Any hints? I’m going cross platform (Mac laptop to PC mothership) if that helps.

      • Mat 16 May, 2011 at 18:37 Reply

        I found what my problem was—the label data was still there, however each of my copies of lightroom had different names for the labels. Thus, on the second catalog, they all show up as (unnoticed) white “custom” labels. Manually rename all the colours to match on both libraries, and you’re away. There must surely be a check-box or easy way to sync this with a catalog or some such, but I’ve not discovered it yet.

    • Mike 7 May, 2011 at 17:17 Reply


      LOVE that comment. Funny how many “online geniuses” there are who never seem to load their brains before they shoot off their mouths (re: spelling mistakes).

      Here’s one for you next time that I saw earlier this week which is just as effective.

      Light travels faster than the speed of sound, which is why some people often appear to be very bright, until of course they open their mouth !!!

      Hey, I saw this post several months ago, and I’m going to migrate all my photos to an external drive and then copy the .lrcat file as well, and try this out. Exactly what I’ve been looking for as well. How has this been working for you? You never did post afterwards and let us know if you liked the solution? Please do..anxious to here.


  11. Spike Yeo 23 January, 2011 at 10:44 Reply

    Hi Matt, I am having this question. I have all my photo in my PC harddrive and bac-up on external portable harddrive perodically. My catalogue are in my PC harddrive and have back-up on my external portable harddrive as well. Assumming now my PC “CRASHED”. Will my catalogue be able to retrieve photo fom the external portable hardrive? will it be able to link the new path to retrieve my photo?
    I am unable to try it on other computer as they are not loaded with LR software.
    I am just looking for a BACK-up solution for my catalogue and photo at the same time. Thanks

  12. Michel Lussier 13 December, 2010 at 09:20 Reply

    Bonjour Matt,
    My name is Michel Lussier and i’m a teacher in a School of photography in Montréal, Canada (excuse me for my poor english).
    Is there a protocol proposed by Adobe for the use of Lightroom 3 on different platform ? For now, our student keep all the pictures and catalogue on portable hard drive (the can’t store anything on the computer because it is use by more than 1 student). Our departement is equiped with Mac, but , a lot of student work on PC at home. we have somes problems with folder rename D/ after opening the catalog on a PC machine.

    What is the best way to work?

    Thank you

  13. DG 9 December, 2010 at 22:26 Reply

    What if I use Lightroom 3 on my Mac at the Office, my MacBook Prop and Lightroom 2 on the iMac at home? If I use dropbox, will my LR2 read it OK? Additionally, what if my username is different on each machine? I guess it doesn’t matter as far as telling each instance where the catalog file is but the full paths in the catalog will not work from machine to machine will they?

  14. Dennis Zito 29 November, 2010 at 23:12 Reply

    Hi Matt,

    Well, I used to be a photo addict, and finally kicked the habit once I started getting serious about post processing. My procedure is to take three photos of the same scene (one of the three will be good). Then I review for composition and sharpness, and then two out of three are history. If all three don’t pass, then all three are history. That way instead of working with 180 photos, I only have to work on 30 or less. I’ve also made a better effort of getting it right in camera when I take the shot. If I don’t like it in the field then it’s history. I think we all get hung up with the fact that we can shoot, shoot, shoot because it’s digital and doesn’t cost money for film and development. If there is one thing I’ve learned from NAPP and it’s instructors is to get it Right in the camera as much as possible. Bad photos stand out when you do that. My wife and I took a vacation to New England in September and between the two of us we captured around 2000 photos. By the time we left New England I had reduced it to 250. By the time I started post processing, I reduced it to 150. As you can see, 1850 photos at 12.5MB (I shoot in RAW) would have taken up 2.3GB of disk space.

    Thanks for generating the conversation! Good ideas!


  15. Peter Gredes 29 November, 2010 at 19:13 Reply

    someone who stores all is shots has some screw loose.

    you end up with 80% of images you will never use because there are better ones in your catalog.

    trust me im working in this business since 1963…

    i know exactly when i look at my pictures if i can use them commercialy or not. the ones i can not use are deleted or thrown in the trash (pre digital days).

  16. Matt Herrmann 29 November, 2010 at 15:43 Reply

    Hi Everyone,

    Right now I am using an external HD for all of my photo work. When I return from a shoot, I create a new folder, put the LRCAT in there, as well as all the images from the shoot. Is it not ideal to work on an external HD? I was aware that large catalogs slow lightroom, but was not aware that doing storing and working from and external drive would. Any thoughts?

  17. Ted 27 November, 2010 at 07:02 Reply

    I use WIndows Live Mesh, a free program, to sync files between computers. I keep all image files and catalog files on each computer and as long as I am logged in to Live Mesh on both machines at the same time, as files change on one computer, they automatically change on the other computer as well. been doing this for several months and works like a charm. Live Mesh recently replaced a program Mirosoft called Live Sync.

  18. Mark Hammon 26 November, 2010 at 16:05 Reply

    My solution is similar to what others have mentioned – I am posting it, so people know it works.
    I use a Seagate goFlex Pro Portable with its Firewire 800 option for the catalog & previews. This is a 7200 RPM laptop drive (powered through the firewire) and appears to be as fast as my internal drives from a lightroom perspective. I configure the drive so it is the same drive letter on the desktop and laptop (P: Drive). I have my images on a NAS (network attached storage) I use a Drobo FS – it is my Z drive on both computers. I just plug the goFlex into the computer I want to use and it works great. You do have to install plugins, presets, etc. on each system. I also set it up to backup each time I quite. I put the backup on another drive or the NAS. The only down side is I cannot take my laptop off site and use Lightroom with my main catalog – but this is fine since I do not want to trust my images to a laptop drive anyway.

  19. Geoff 26 November, 2010 at 11:59 Reply

    If you use accented characters at all, be careful when using a Lightroom catalog on both Mac and PC. I’ve had an issue where Lightroom has not recognized my folders with accented characters as being present when switching between the two platforms. When synchronizing, it sees these existing folders as missing and detects equivalent new folders with the same name. This may be due to different encoding of accented characters on different platforms or file systems. I have not traced the detailed exact behaviour yet. I also don’t know if this issue has been addressed in the most recent versions of Lightroom.

    • Luis 21 May, 2013 at 06:01 Reply

      Hi Geoff:
      I have the same problem. Did you find a solution for the accentuated characters problem in LR?

  20. Iza 25 November, 2010 at 00:16 Reply

    Great tip. But then, is there a reason not to store your catalog on an external drive along with your photos? Then you can just connect and drive and work. What am I missing?

  21. Mark Goddard 24 November, 2010 at 11:40 Reply

    I have been doing it this way for a long time. One other thing. You don’t have to have ALL your pictures on the external drive. If some are not present they will just be offline in the catalog.

    • Bob Morin 19 September, 2011 at 13:25 Reply

      How do I move or copy catalog from external HD to my desktop computer. When I try to open catalog from external get a msg. Unable to open. bob

  22. Leandro 24 November, 2010 at 07:05 Reply

    After read your comments my question is easy: Could Lightroom versions for PC and Mac open both versions of the catalogues each other.
    I tried to open a Windows version catalogue with a Mac version of Lightroom and I couldn’t. This was some time ago, it is possible with newer versions that was changed.

  23. Jeff Abrahamson 24 November, 2010 at 07:00 Reply

    I’m not sure where I borrowed this name from but, I maintain a seperate “Incubation” catalog. Anything I’m currently working on is in this catalog and whenever I need to work on my photos away from my main computer the catalog is copied to a portable 500GB HD. After I return home, I just copy this catalog back over to my main system and press on.

    I maintain 3 seperate LRcats: Main – everything is in this catalog, Incubation – as discussed above and Presentation – only those images that are worthy of showing to the public.

  24. Fred Coles 23 November, 2010 at 21:51 Reply

    I want to copy some images from one library to another (from birds to trips) but when i do they lose all their LR changes

    Any solutions?

  25. Robert Jensen 23 November, 2010 at 14:14 Reply

    The Dropbox comments are good ones but what about using Google’s storage to hold everything, catalog and files? As one user wrote, just copy those images you might need currently to the computer you’re working on for faster workflow. With a high speed Internet connection downloads wouldn’t take long. (My Cox cable just had a free speed boost to 12mbs, even faster at times)

    I have 200GB of storage on Google and paid $50 for it last year (and it came with a $75.00 Eye-Fi SD card too boot!). Larger storage options are available and very affordable. I believe there are programs out there that sync (any file?) to Google’s storage. Unfortunately, Google’s Picasa program won’t handle RAW files. Hoping for an update to change that.

  26. Peter Liu 23 November, 2010 at 13:24 Reply

    I had my catalog on a USB Drobo a while back and LR would be slow or just hang a lot. I’ve had it on a locally attached drive ever since. What’s your experience with using the catalog on an external drive? Maybe performance has improved since I tried it.

  27. alex 23 November, 2010 at 12:43 Reply

    How do you archive photos?

    I’m coming to the point of a full HD. I’m not sure what to do because for the longest time, I just ran and stored everything on my PC, then have two externals that each mirror it, so I always have 3 copies. What do you do when you run out of space? Do you make a copy of all the older pix, catalog, etc (say 2009 and before?) and store a HD or two offsite somewhere?

    I’ve always wondered what the pros do when the sidewalk ends…

  28. William Chinn 23 November, 2010 at 10:58 Reply

    What would you do with the following scenario: You have your work on a PC desktop with LR. You are traveling to a client site using their PC’s. They will allow you full use to a standalone PC with a large display screen. You do not want to travel with a laptop. How do you make your work portable with catalogs, preferences, and plugins assuming you can delete and purge your files from the client PC at the end of the day.

  29. Nico 23 November, 2010 at 10:42 Reply

    An even easier method would be to create a folder on your portable drive (where you store your photos) and name it: LRCatalog

    When you create your catalog, you place it in that location (on the portable).

    Then on whichever machine you use you point your; open catalog to that LRCatalog location. Eliminates the need to copy anything, it’s always there and up to date.

  30. Chase 23 November, 2010 at 09:49 Reply

    I am going to assume that this way of moving the catalog around is based on the assumption you are always using just one catalog for all your photos from every shoot?

    My work flow is such that after I create a folder on my external and copy my files off the cf card to a RAW folder within the job folder, I create a new catalog within that job folder just for that job. I have a new, fresh, clean catalog for every client/shoot. I can then use that catalog on a pc or mac and I do use both platforms.

    I have never had to export a catalog, it works seamlessly.

    • Matt Herrmann 29 November, 2010 at 16:11 Reply

      Thanks Chase,

      I have an identical workflow as yours….(picked it up from Kevin Kubot’s book-Digital Photography Bootcamp) and I have been very happy with it. What is the size of your total image pool? I picked up photography a year ago, and have about 10,000 images in about 11 different catalogs. Like I said, I have had no problems with this workflow.

    • brian 25 January, 2011 at 16:04 Reply

      Your statement isn’t related to the main problem.

      How do we work from two machines using a networked drive since Lr will not launch from a networked drive. That is the critical part.

      This thread is for users of two or more workstations that have a more complex workflow than what you are referring to.

  31. Paul 23 November, 2010 at 08:33 Reply

    This would be a great time for you to suggest specs fora new computer to run Lightroom, Photoshop, Plug-Ins etc. Also, a discussion of how to set up a new computer to most efficiently run these…..please?

  32. Ustik 23 November, 2010 at 06:38 Reply

    Yes, a good way to use a Dropbox Folder, and also set in LR preferences to backup your catalog there every time LR exits! You can skip this anyway and use only when needed. I use this method around 1 year, and like it. Also you have a lot of catalog backups in Dropbox which can be deleted any time!

    sorry for my English:)

  33. Keith Dawes 23 November, 2010 at 05:24 Reply

    Why not keep the lighroom catalogue on the same external drive, map the external drive to the same drive letter on both machines and lightroom will run the catalogue quite happily from the external drive. Thanks Matt for your contributions to the Lightroom community.

  34. Thomas Rambrant 23 November, 2010 at 04:15 Reply


    I have been using a similar scheme for years. The only difference is that my external drive is a NAS. I use Goodsync to perform the copying of the catalog. I even copy the latest batch of pictures, in my case the pictures for the current year, to make editing faster. Goodsync syncs the files on login and logoff so the catalog always is the most current. It can also sync on drive connect but obviously not on drive disconnect 😉

  35. uroarte 23 November, 2010 at 02:04 Reply

    Copying the catalog file every time you switch from computer doesn’t seem to be a ‘definitive’ solution.
    Having it synched by dropbox seems to be better.
    But if you are looking for a robust, no-delay, performant, and definitive solution, this is my recommendation:

    1.- Use an SSD disk as an external drive.
    2.- Put everything there (your photos, and your catalog -with previews-)
    3.- Connect it to your computers using eSATA/eSATAp (Speed > 6 x USB)

    There is a con: SSD drives are still expensive. But for professional photographers, or for serious “aficionados”, it is really worth it.

  36. sanddlife 22 November, 2010 at 23:32 Reply

    Why not just put your entire library in the cloud(DropBox) and skip the external hard disk altogether? Sure beats having to haul an extra item around all the time.

    • Pip Neville 23 November, 2010 at 02:59 Reply

      Space and speed I would guess sanddlife. My dropbox is nowhere near big enough for my images and I wouldn’t fancy trying to work on images over the web, download speed would cripple me until they start delivering the dl speeds theoretically possible.

    • DG 9 December, 2010 at 22:16 Reply

      Currenlty the max size you can buy from dropbox is a measly 100GB and it’s outrageously expensive. Not to mention the constand complaints from people who report the miss files or that other peoples files show up in their dropboxes. Doop! I’m surprised Steve Jobs doesn’t get his act together with Mobile Me or that Adobe doesn’t offer a dropbox alternative.

      • Stei Arne Jensen 31 January, 2015 at 09:39 Reply

        I am also trying to work out this synchronize thing between my main PC and a new MacBook.
        Instead of using Dropbox I am using a Norwegian alternative called JottaCloud. It gives you UNLIMITED backup space for apex. 7USD per month – and lets you archive any files for permanent storage that you do not need on your computer anymore. With 30mbit fiber I hope it will work to keep the files on my PC and in the cloud without using the limited storage space on my MacBook. Crossing my fingers……

    • gablad 26 November, 2010 at 17:25 Reply

      That’s EXACTLY what i want to know! the free version on Dropbox allows only 2Gb of storage, and my preview file by itself is something like 13Gb… I would like both my Macs (iMac + MacBook) to use the catalogue on the Dropbox cloud and have their own individual Preview files and images folders locally, unsynchronized (i will transfer new images manually). But I don’t see any option in LR allowing me to use a catalogue and a preview file in 2 different paths (one being on the cloud, the other being on my local hard drive…). I will keep reading the comments, hopefully someone has an idea. Or am I missing something here?…
      MacBook + iMac + internet = that’s all I got! Can it work somehow?

  37. Matt B. 22 November, 2010 at 22:31 Reply

    Thanks for this tip Matt. When both my laptop and my desktop were XP, I just kept the catalog file on an external drive. When I bought a new laptop, everything went to pot.

    I went with the Alienware M17x because it was cheaper for the same specs.

  38. Steve K 22 November, 2010 at 16:50 Reply

    The problem with dropbox or other cloud is when you’re not connected, such as on an airplane (where I do a lot of my preliminary editing).

    Anyway, what’s the easy way to point LR on one machine to an LRCAT in a non-standard location?



  39. Pete S. 22 November, 2010 at 16:43 Reply

    Hey Matt,

    I was excited to see that you have a Dell. What are the specs? I’ve been playing around on their site, but I want to make sure that the next laptop I buy is the one I want.



  40. John Swarce 22 November, 2010 at 16:17 Reply

    Wow, Matt…..first you made the switch from Canon to Nikon, now you have a PC and like it over the Mac! What’s next? Will you start shooting in Jpeg over Raw? Don’t tell Scott!!! 😀

    Thanks for the tip on computer sharing. I have my catalog on two external hard drives (one is a backup). I’m going to try out your suggestion. There is a performance drop when running LR3 off of the external drive (USB 2.0, but 5400 rpm drive), so I may spring for a bigger internal drive to hold my main library.


  41. Dan 22 November, 2010 at 14:25 Reply

    I’m using a 2.5″ HDD attached to USB 3.0. It gives me the same speed as my internal drive, so there’s no point in moving the .lrcat. But with the lack of USB 3.0 on current Macs, it’s only an option for Windows users I guess. As mentioned by Syv Ritch, eSata would do it to – but again, Macs…. The only alternative for you guys is FW 800, as long as it still exists at least.

    • Jay 23 November, 2010 at 12:42 Reply

      There are add-on cards for eSATA and USB 3. It works until Macs start shipping with these ports (probably never, for eSATA now that USB 3 is finally a standard)

  42. Daniel 22 November, 2010 at 14:14 Reply

    I keep my photos and catalogue on an external FW drive that is equally as fast as my internal drive, that way there’s no copying back and forth and I can use it on my laptop or desktop.

    The big thing here is making sure you’re not using USB, the speed is insufferable.

    • Gilles 24 November, 2010 at 02:22 Reply

      I agree with you Daniel. I think Matt’s suggestion is not good at all.

      Since years, I share a Lightroom catalog between a Mac and a PC using a FireWire external drive, and I have no performance problems.

    • Kathleen D 9 January, 2011 at 09:37 Reply

      Isn’t firewire a problem though because of it’s failure rate? Sometimes it works on a mac and sometimes it doesn’t. Can’t for the life of me get my firewire My Book to show up these days. But my usb one always connects.

  43. Joe 22 November, 2010 at 13:34 Reply

    I seem to remember someone talking about a syncing program that would keep the same LR Catalog updated on all computers. But it was not for LR specifically it was a general syncing program.

    If anyone has used this method please let me know how successful it is???

    • Ted 27 November, 2010 at 06:56 Reply

      I use WIndows Live Mesh, a free program, to sync files between computers. I keep all image files and catalog files on each computer and as long as I am logged in to Live Mesh on both machines at the same time, as files change on one computer, they automatically change on the other computer as well. been doing this for several months and works like a charm. Live Mesh recently replaced a program they called Live Sync.

  44. Michael Shay 22 November, 2010 at 12:55 Reply

    Long time lurker,big fan. Always love your presets. We’ve had a lot of luck working off a portable hardrive. Just let your catalog reside there and take it from computer to computer. Helps if you use a 7200RPM drive and FW800

  45. Jay 22 November, 2010 at 12:23 Reply

    The only problem I can see with a mixed OS environment like that, is the Mac way: All your photos are in /volumes//

    And the Windows way: :

    It would be great if the Lightroom Catalog would be able to store both paths. As it is now (or at least since I transferred an LR2 catalog from a Windows desktop to a MacBook a couple years ago, maybe they’ve got this working now), you have to go back through all your folders in LR and re-connect them to their “new” location.

    I would love to be able to do this on my Mac Pro where I have Win7 installed via Boot Camp, and Lightroom in both OS X and Win7. If I could, I’d point the Win7 Lightroom’s catalog location to where where it is on my Mac, and just have both use the same catalog.

    • Jay 22 November, 2010 at 12:30 Reply

      Hmm, that was supposed to be: /volumes/[drive name]/[wherever your photos are] and [drive letter]:[wherever your photos are]

      (I guess it didn’t like the greater than/less than symbols.

    • Brett 14 February, 2011 at 19:18 Reply

      Hey Jay,
      I have the same problems with mixing OS’s – using an external hd with both Mac and PC. Have you found a way to reconcile the different path names for both platforms?

  46. Syv Ritch 22 November, 2010 at 12:08 Reply

    You said:

    If you’re wondering why not just work on the catalog directly from the external drive, it’s because that will significantly slow down Lightroom as it needs to write to that catalog file pretty often

    That depends on the external drive and the laptop. You will NOT see a difference in speed if:

    1. The external drive is an eSATA drive
    2. You laptop has an eSATA plug, usually colored red. Almost all desktop do have eSATA. Many of the current laptops also do support eSATA, except for the “real cheapos”.


  47. Reine 22 November, 2010 at 12:06 Reply


    When migrating to a new computer I realized the possibility to move the .lrcat file and use it on another computer but I’ve been reluctant to this since I suspect slower performance if I keep my pics on an external drive. Are you using firewire or usb? Any insights on performance in regards to keeping your file on external vs on processing computer? Also, importing new pics to an external drive would be slower, right?


  48. Awake 22 November, 2010 at 11:41 Reply

    I have been using that ‘trick’ since V1, and it works well.

    The problem with just placing the “.lrcat” file on your system, but not the entire catalog folder, is that you lose all your preview files, and they take a looong time to regenerate, which makes moving between photos very slow.

    Working off an external drive is not bad, specially if you are using a ‘regular’ size drive and not a pocket drive, since pocket drives spin very slowly.

    If your new Dell doesn’t have a Firewire 800 connector, you can add it fairly economically, and with a FW 800 drive enclosure your LR performance will be almost as good as an internal drive, and make your photos and catalogs truly cross platform.

    Of course, you need a drive formated so that a PC and Mac can both read/write it. For some stupid reason Mac will read but not write NTFS.

    There is one glitch that you have to keep in mind… if at all possible you should generate your catalog on the PC initially, because Lightroom creates this ridiculously huge file names for the previews, and a Mac will generate file names so long that they exceed the 255 character Windows NTFS file name length limit. It’s no big deal, but the error will show up, and when moving files you will lose previews if you generate them using a Mac.

    • Andrew Macpherson 22 November, 2010 at 16:43 Reply

      The stupid reason is that NTFS is Microsoft CLOSED and PROPRIETARY, not an open standard, which is why it does not fly on UNIX systems such as MacOSX or Linux, and the Digital Millennium Act only makes it harder to reverse engineer.

      • DG 9 December, 2010 at 22:11 Reply

        That’s funny! PC is proprietary!?!? Apple is the most proprietary platform known to man. I have two different iMacs and have two different video output cords. And try to write an iPhone app. You can’t even code for Apple products unless you’re on a Mac anymore.

  49. Amy 22 November, 2010 at 11:21 Reply

    Hi Matt,

    I’m curious as to how you have your hard drive formatted so that you can read and write files to it from both a Mac & PC. I may be investing in a PC instead of another Mac and I would love to not have to reformat my external drives to work with it! Thanks so much 🙂

  50. Ray K 22 November, 2010 at 11:16 Reply

    Great to hear that I am not the only one doing it this way Matt. It works a lot easier for me this way also and I have been doing it this way for a while so I can sit in the recliner and do keywording and such instead of at my desk.

  51. fac7312 22 November, 2010 at 11:13 Reply

    What about using a service like Dropbox or SugarSync? That way your library is always synced where ever you go.

    I have not tried it personally because of lack of time, but the idea sounds great, doesn’t’ it?

    • Saad 23 November, 2010 at 00:40 Reply

      Question: If you sync the catalog via dropbox, but now the actual photos, won’t it create missing files in one of the computers running lightroom ?

      • tron 10 December, 2010 at 07:17 Reply

        I guess you can store your photos on a fast external drive (FW800 or eSATA) and connect that to the machine you are working on.

        .lrcat file on an external drive will be painfully slow
        Too many small reads

  52. Arthur 22 November, 2010 at 10:56 Reply

    If you keep the Lightroom catalog file in a Dropbox folder on both computers it will sync automatically. You just need to allow time for Dropbox to update after closing Lightroom and I recommend keeping the preview files outside Dropbox.

    • Rob Sylvan 23 November, 2010 at 09:43 Reply

      Do you just place a copy of the catalog in your dropbox folder to sync, and keep the working copy outside of the dropbox folder? If you open the copy of the catalog in the dropbox folder it will create a preview cache alongside of it inside of the dropbox folder, which will then be automatically synced along with the catalog.

      What happens if you shut down your computer before dropbox is finished updating (which is very easy to do) and then you open the catalog on your other computer and do some new work? Do you end up with a conflict and multiple catalog files?

    • Rich 26 November, 2010 at 15:33 Reply

      Okay, now I’m a bit confused. Are you guys saying that the images you store are on an external hard drive but the LRCAT file you either keep in dropbox or copy in some way to another computer. I guess what I am asking is, is it possible to do that. I have been. Suffering because I keep everything on my external and have a IMac and it has been quite sluggish with Lightroom. So much so I just went out and bought more RAMM.

    • Rich Owens 27 November, 2010 at 01:02 Reply

      Okay, now I am a bit confused. I have all my images and LRCAT and IRdata on my external hard drive. I have seen a big drop in preformance in Lightroom. Are you guys saying I can move my LRCAT and IRdata (not even 2 Gb) to another location, say, on my main hard drive without loosing the conection of the images stored on my external?

      • Mark 12 December, 2010 at 05:17 Reply

        Having both the photos and the catalog on an external volume would be the easiest way of doing things. I have done this with my Macbook for several years without too much of an issue. Performance wise I found using a firewire connection the best as the sustained transfer rate with USB isn’t great – think import or create previews for a large folder of photos. I certainly wouldn’t say there was a degradation in performance, probably due to the external drive being 7200rpm vs 5400rpm for the internal drive. The things I notice affected performance the most were: increased RAM, moving to a machine with dedicated graphics, moving to a machine with an i-series processor.

    • Peter 9 December, 2010 at 16:40 Reply

      I found Live Mesh from Microsoft Live Essentials much better than DropBox. Live Mesh allows you to Sync between the computers only and not over the cloud like DropBox. Of course you’re free to sync with the cloud also in case you like that. The next advantage of the Live Mesh is that you can sync any folder on your computer not like at the DropBox where you can sync only those folders that are inside the DropBox root folder.

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