Sharing Lightroom Catalog with Multiple Computers

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If you have more than one computer at your home to work on your photos with Lightroom, you might be wondering if there is a way to share your Lightroom catalog, so that you can work on the same images with the same catalog on multiple computers at once. Unfortunately, the database system that Lightroom runs on (SQLite) limits the catalog to be used on a single computer, on a locally attached drive. Hence, simultaneously accessing a single catalog with multiple machines is not supported and will not work. On top of that, Adobe strictly forbids placing catalogs on network volumes, because it can result in all kinds of Lightroom database corruption issues (placing photographs on a network share is supported). In short, Lightroom is a “single-user” application with no support for multi-user access. While some people have been requesting a “multi-user” edition of Lightroom, Adobe currently has no plans to make such Lightroom version due to potential complexities of such software. True multi-user applications require a server and client infrastructure, which can be too complex for most photographers to set up and use.

So what are the options for using a Lightroom catalog on multiple computers? Let’s take a look at some options:

  1. Keep a Lightroom catalog together with photographs on an external drive. As long as the external drive is mounted on each computer with the same drive letter, makes the process very simple to manage. You attach a network drive to one computer, work on Lightroom, then dismount the drive and attach it to another to work from there. A relatively good solution if you have a home and work PC and need to be able to work on the same catalog, but with multiple machines at different times. Lightroom performance is somewhat slow, because the catalog, image previews and photos are all stored on the same drive and external drives are typically slower in comparison to locally attached internal storage. The backup process is also simple – only the external drive needs to be backed up.
  2. Keep a Lightroom catalog on a local drive and manually copy the catalog between multiple computers, while storing photographs on an internal/external drive or a network share. Requires designating one computer to be a “master”, which holds the latest and the most current version of the catalog. If another computer makes changes to the catalog, the catalog file must be copied back from that computer to the “master”, since regular backups are performed on the main machine for consistency reasons. Since either machine can potentially add new or update existing photographs (while importing, moving or editing images), photographs must be stored separately in a common location either on an internal/external drive, or on a network share. This method allows to keep Lightroom catalog away from photographs for faster overall performance.
  3. Keep a Lightroom catalog on cloud storage such as Dropbox (with cloud storage client installed on each computer), while storing photographs on an internal/external drive or a network share. Requires reliable and high-speed Internet connection when syncing. Dropbox only does incremental copy, which means that newly added data can be synchronized somewhat quickly between computers. However, one needs to make sure that Dropbox is set up to only synchronize the Lightroom catalog (image previews should be excluded via “Selective Sync” feature on all computers). This solution can work relatively well, but there is a risk of having inconsistent data. Each machine writes its own data into the cloud and if the catalog is not fully synchronized between the cloud and the machines (due to slow Internet or Internet service issues), there is a risk of potentially losing data or changes to the catalog file. You must wait for synchronization to complete on all machines (upload and download) after closing Lightroom before opening the same catalog on another one.

Each method works just fine and I have tried all three. The first method was rather slow for me, so I opted for #2, which lets me keep the catalog file in a fast SSD drive, while accessing photos from a mirrored RAID array. The RAID array volume is located on the main computer (as the “D” drive), which is shared with other computers via local network (all computers are connected to a gigabit switch). I mount the network share as the “D” drive on other computers, so that I don’t have to locate missing images each time when I copy the Lightroom catalog back and forth between computers. The #3 method with Dropbox can work well with smaller catalog files, but I just find it easier and faster to copy it from the master computer to other computers over the fast internal network.

No matter how you look at the process, it is still rather painful to use. I wish there was a simpler way to access Lightroom catalogs from multiple machines. Ideally, it would be great if a single catalog could be opened on multiple machines at once. Then all we would need to do would be to place photos in a common location, so that all computers could read from and write to the same photo library. Unfortunately, with the way Adobe stores Lightroom catalog data today, it is impossible to achieve this currently…


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Avatar of Nasim Mansurov About Nasim Mansurov

is a professional photographer based out of Denver, Colorado. He is the author and founder of Photography Life, along with a number of other online resources. Read more about Nasim here.

Comments

  1. 1
    ) Don

    Thanks for another great article Nasim. You are spot on. As Aperture has the ability to import and export partial libs and to combine them with other libs I stick with it, even though in my opinion LR is currently a better app due to its more advanced features. I operate at home with my main library on a Thunderbolt drive which is fast enough to do live processing. However when I travel I use a 1TB FW 800 drive which is also fast enough to do processing while I am away from the main lib. Once back home, I simply re-import the back and it syncs with my main home lib. If you are a traveling photographer, it seems that Aperture would be a more efficient solution…

    • 7
      ) Reg Norberg

      Lightroom has the ability to export and import partial libraries with the processed photos as well…that seems to be the best solution if you travel and use Lightroom.

  2. 2
    ) Marcin

    Hi Nasim,
    To circumvent the risks involved in the 3rd method I prefer (and actually use) slightly different approach, combining 2 and 3.
    - I work with the local copies of the Lightroom catalogs on my computers.
    - Then I setup the catalogs I want to share to be backuped when I quit the Lightroom. As a backup location I choose the local copy of my Dropbox folder
    - When I start to work on the other computer first I look at the Dropbox location and check if a catalog copy stored there is most recent compared to the local catalog I recently worked with. If yes, then I copy it manually from Dropbox to the destination and then start Lightroom.

    The last step could be automated. I still plan to explore the Lightroom plugin API (application programming interface) for the possibilites of embedding the last step into a plugin.

    Although my approach involves some extra steps, it gives me some extra confidence: if something goes wrong with the Dropbox synchronization, I always have at least one extra copy of the catalog on one of my computers.

    Hope someone will fing i useful.

    Kind regards,
    Marcin

  3. 3
    ) Harald Messner

    My solution is similar to the firts method you described. I have my catalogue on a single harddrive, that I take with me during my outside shots and add the new photos to it. At home I only copy the new pics to may general storage volume. I only have to reconnect the new pics again afterwords. But the peformance is quite good. Yours Harald

  4. 4
    ) TomH

    The best method is option 1, since catalog and photos are in the same place, but using Sata external drive instead of doing through slower USB or FireWire. If your computer does not have external SATA port, attach long SATA cable to the motherboard and run it outside the computer case. Attach it to a BlacX or other brand hot swappable drive connector and you can pop high capacity internal type hard drives in and out. Cheaper than buying external drives and as fast as your internal drive. If your second computer is older laptop without SATA port, you can get card that supports SATA port. :-)

  5. Put the LR catalog on a network share, and then map the network share to a drive letter. It works perfectly.

    • 10
      ) Chris

      This is what I was looking for. I had planned on doing the same to ‘trick’ the app. I presume you’ve got this going in production? What are you using for disk(s) and kind of performance are you seeing? I’ve got gig to the desktops and a couple of disk array options, but I’m wondering how thin I can go with the disks. I’ve got 72k SATA and 15k SAS arrays but I’d really like to avoid using my ‘top shelf’ disks for this…
      Thanks,
      CH

      • It works great, those if both workstations are hitting the same disk hard (like rendering previews or exporting), it will slow down. With one user though, it’s pretty seamless.

        We use a batch file with a line similar to this for each disk share that gets run on each computer at startup.
        subst a: \\SHARE\Pictures

    • 12
      ) Jennifer Dworek

      David, I would like to set something like this up however I am not fully understanding how. I have my RAWS on an external thunderbolt drive that I move between the 2 computers. Can I just create a new shared folder to store my LR cat in?
      I don’t understand “map the network share to a drive” Help!

  6. Or… use goodsync to synchronize between computers, since it update incrementally.

  7. Thank Nasim. As always, your articles are spot on. Sharing LR catalogs between computers could open up all sorts of different workflows. For instance, assistants, interns, co-workers or spouses could help with the post production process while keeping everything in one catalog.

    At Mosaic, we are working on making multi-computer LR catalog access available to photographers. We are about to release our CloudViewer product that will enable access to your LR images instantly from anywhere. Your most recent 2,000 LR images will be free. This is the first stage in this process.

    Please sign up on our website to be notified when this feature is available. Again, great article!

    Best, Gerard

    CEO, Mosaic Storage Systems, Inc.

  8. 9
    ) JackP

    +1 for Marcin
    I do something close to that as well: originals are on home NAS, to which I also backup catalog every time I exit Lightroom. When I open another computer, just need to restore latest backup of the catalog.

    Regards,
    Jack

  9. Hi Nasim (and co.), I will join the legions of fans you have carefully and deservedly built up by adding my thanks to you and everyone else at PhotographyLife (the website formerly known as The Mansurovs!). I think you capture everything that’s great about technical sites like DPReview but in a much more down-to-earth way. An excellent job well done!

    I just wanted to know if you guys had tried out Mosaic View yet? It purports to allow editing of Lightroom catalogs in the cloud across multiple computers. I am just about to test it out now to see how it works on my MacBook Air before trying it out on my office iMac on Monday morning.

    http://www.mosaicarchive.com/lightroom-ipad-web-app-mosaic-view/

    • Thanks Jonathan!

      We allow anywhere access to your Lightroom images. This isn’t exactly sharing a Lightroom catalog across multiple computers but is more meant to give photographers access to any of their photos, collections and metadata instantly and automatically from any device (including your iPad.)

      We hope to support a full Lightroom in the cloud feature list in the future.

      Nasim, I am a big fan of this blog. We tweet about you guys all of the time. Would love to chat with you about our services. gerard (at) mosaicarchive (dot) com

      Thanks again. Best, Gerard – CEO of Mosaic

  10. Hi Gerald,

    Thanks for clearing that up for me – after much searching for it and reading some of the blurbs from Petapixel and other links regarding the product, it does sound as if Mosaic has the ability to edit Lightroom catalogs from across multiple computers – or perhaps I am just reading them incorrectly?

    In its current form, what differences are there from simply exporting Lightroom images into a Dropbox folder to store / view them? Does Lightroom allow you to import and sync images from the Mosaic cloud?

  11. I wish Adobe would hurry and get their act together with Creative Cloud – there are undoubtedly thousands of photographers out there who use a computer at home or in the office and also a laptop in the field who would love to be able to edit and then sync photos from the same catalogs across multiple computers – and who don’t want the hassle of using external drives, etc.

  12. Hi Mansur,

    You are right when said that each way in the list is painful. And there is a potential risk of losing information due to simultaneous access to the single Catalog. Each Lightroom catalog is an SQLite database that was designed for standalone usage only.

    Could you please review our Daminion also. Unlike LR, Daminion allows to create a single image archive in a local network that can be safely accessed from multiple computers. Thanks to xmp all the information about images added in LR will be visible in Daminion, and visa versa. So you can use both products simultaneously: LR to adjust raw files and Daminion to share image library accross the local network.

  13. There is a function called “Import from Another Catalog” specifically made for that. It allows you to move photos from one catalog to another. It can copy the master if you wish and can detect existing images and sync the settings (in virtual copies or not).

    My way:

    - One catalog shouldn’t contain images from another drive that this catalog resides on.
    - I keep one catalog per external drive containing all the images that is on that drive.
    - I keep one “work in progress” catalog per computer.
    - I import ONLY once in any of the above catalog.
    - I use the “Import From Another Catalog” function to move images from one catalog/computer/drive to the other. (e.g. when pushing changes from my “work in progress” catalog to external drives, or bringing old images back in my “work in progress” catalog if I need to re-work photos)

    By following these rules and method, I have all my settings, metadata, etc. synchronized amongst all drives/computers.

    You should use the functionality provided by the software when there is one…

  14. Thanks for this post.
    I use a similar method to AndrĂ©’s and it has proven to be the best so far.
    However, since I shoot weddings and stack thousands of images, I do not store my catalogs the same way.
    I have a master catalog (one per year) on the imac (internal drive), backed up to the RAID for redundancy.
    You can work on your fast SSD drive of your laptop (“work in progress” catalog) export the catalog to your network, external or RAID and simply “Import from another catalog” to have all your changes “synced” to your master catalog. All you have to do is relocate the files in Lightroom.
    It might sound painful but it really isn’t.
    There are a lot of things you can do using this method, whether you need to have your full (master) catalog on both computers at all times or not.

    Cheers

  15. 20
    ) donahugh

    A slight variation on Method 1 that works fine for me.
    As my photos are loaded to a NAS drive it is a common storage spot for my computers.
    The catalog I use is on a 64GB USB drive that I plug into the PC that I wish to work from at the moment.
    The NAS drive photos are synced to a second NAS drive should something go wrong with the primary.
    The USB catalog is backed up up to a third NAS drive as required.
    So far so good.

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