The ownCloud Client Goes Virtual – Sync Your Files on Demand

The ownCloud virtual file system will greatly enhance the user experience of the Desktop Client. Save bandwidth and local storage by syncing the files directly at your fingertips. Try it out!
ownCloud virtual file system

Today, we want to introduce an experimental feature for the Desktop Client. It will improve the ownCloud user experience a great deal, as soon as it is out full-fledged: the virtual file system.


What is the ownCloud Virtual File System?

Right now, you can sync specific folders to your computer – you can select them in the account view of the settings window. Most times, it is useful to sync only parts of your ownCloud – while we store terabytes of data in the cloud, we only have limited storage on our local devices.

In the future, we want to make the sync process even more intuitive. Instead of selecting a folder in the account view, you will see the whole folder structure of your ownCloud in your file manager window, like all your offline files. Every file on your ownCloud will have a small placeholder file on your file system, with an .owncloud file extension.

If you need a file, just double-click on it – and ownCloud will download it for you.

You can also use some native functions of your file managers, e.g. file name search, without having to download the files or searching them in the web interface.


Try it Out!

To test it, you need to download the tech preview client first. In the example we used the test pilot version, so our normal installation stays untouched. You can get it at our download page.

Note: With Linux you need a specific package especially for your file manager. You can get the test pilot daily packages and all dependencies at our openSUSE Build Service repository.

After you have installed it, you must enable experimental features in your config file. A guide on how to edit the config file is in the documentation. Just add this line to the [General] section:


Then restart your client and register a new account. After you entered your credentials, you will be able to choose how to sync the files, and a new option has been added:


ownCloud use virtual files checkbox

Now you can also use experimental options in the client.


Click on it, and a confirmation window will appear. If you are aware that this is an experimental feature which can lead to loss of data, you can click “Enable”:


ownCloud virtual files experimental confirmation

A confirmation window asks politely if you know what you are doing.


After you set up your local folder options, the sync process begins. As usual, ownCloud downloads all folders and files, and you can view them in your file manager – but it will be way faster and take up virtually no space. Because, as you can see, the files themselves have not been downloaded, but are only placeholders:


ownCloud virtual file system overview

You can see the folders and the file placeholders in your file manager.


So now, instead of the old tree view in the settings window, you can choose to sync a file by simply double-clicking on it. The placeholder will vanish and a moment later the downloaded file will appear.


ownCloud downloading a virtual file

Double-click on a placeholder, and the file will be downloaded immediately.


However, for many use cases, this will not even be necessary. You don’t have to download a file to share it, for example. Instead, you can just share its placeholder:


ownCloud sharing a virtual file

You can use the sharing dialog of virtual file placeholders to share the real file.


Try it out and give us your feedback! It is important that you try to find corner cases, so we can fix them, before less skilled users run into them. If you find a bug, please report it on GitHub:



If you have more general points, feedback, or praise for our developers, discuss it on Central:



How Will it be Extended in the Future?

We want to bring downloading via placeholders into the 2.5.0 Desktop Client release. Following the release early, release often principle, we will add other features later on. Features we are thinking about of including are:

  • Undoing the sync, turning files back into placeholders to save storage
  • Downloading all files within a folder with a right click
  • Moving, renaming, deleting files intuitively without having to sync them
  • Triggering the download when you open placeholders with other programs, like LibreOffice
  • What can you think of?



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May 30, 2018

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