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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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…