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Why are there 3 copies of Dropbox Running on my PC?

Why are there 3 copies of Dropbox Running?

Whenever you fire up Dropbox (or it starts automatically at login), you will soon notice three Dropbox.exe processes running on your PC. Though unusual, that is completely normal behavior. It’s just how Dropbox works.

You can see the three processes running in the Windows Task Manager:

Dropbox processes in Task Manager

Or better yet, if you really want to understand what is going on, turn to Microsoft’s excellent Process Explorer. Its helpful tree panel will reveal the hierarchical relationship between the Dropbox processes — one parent and two children:

Dropbox Processes in Process Explorer

But why are 3 copies of Dropbox started? Isn’t one enough to synchronize all the files and folders that the software is managing?

And why is one using significant CPU and memory while the other two remain small and idle?

Fortunately the command line parameters for each instance of Dropbox reveal what is going on…

#1 is the “Main” Dropbox process

With the help of Process Explorer, we can see that the main/parent executable runs with a single parameter: /home:

Main Dropbox Exectuable Properties

That is consistent with the desktop shortcut to start Dropbox, which specifies the same parameter:

Dropbox Desktop Shortcut Properties

So that’s the one we started.

Digging in a little deeper, we saw this process consistently using a small bit of CPU (1-10%) and a fair chunk of memory (200+ MB).

Furthermore, we noticed that the CPU and memory would jump whenever we placed a new file in the Dropbox folder.

Our conclusion? This parent process is responsible for Dropbox’s primary activity: copying your files to and from the cloud.

#2 is the “Crashpad Handler”

The second process has a massive command line — over 3600 characters!

Most of the command line is meaningless without a technical understanding of the arguments, but the first parameter stands out: -type:crashpad-handler:

Dropbox Crashpad Handler Properties

This “crashpad handler” consumes a mere 2 MB of RAM — infinitesimal, by today’s standards. What is its purpose?

Our research suggests that the process implements Crashpad — a crash reporting system developed by Google.

From the software’s stated objective:

  Crashpad is a library for capturing, storing and transmitting postmortem crash reports from a client to an upstream collection server. Crashpad aims to make it possible for clients to capture process state at the time of crash with the best possible fidelity and coverage, with the minimum of fuss.

So it is very likely that when the main Dropbox process crashes or runs into trouble, the “crashpad handler” will jump in to collect information and beam it back to Dropbox headquarters for subsequent analysis.

#3 is the “Exit Monitor”

The third process has a command line just shy of 400 characters in length. Its “type” is exit-monitor:

Dropbox Exit Monitor Properties

As the type suggests, exit monitor’s job is to watch the main Dropbox process and restart it if it fails. Its purpose is to make sure that Dropbox is always running on your machine — even in the face of crashes and other failures.

To sum up

Having three Dropbox.exe processes is completely normal. Dropbox performs your file synchronization in one executable but the other two are there to support the robust operation of the software. It’s all good!

Posted in Dropbox | Tagged , , | 7 Comments

7 Responses to Why are there 3 copies of Dropbox Running on my PC?

  1. Bill says:

    Why wouldn’t they originally name them accordingly? This question was asked in 2019 – why haven’t the task names been changed to something representative of each task by now?

  2. Hi Bill.

    Having 3 different names would require having 3 different .EXE files distributed with Dropbox. I think they wanted to avoid that, so they created a single executable that performs different activities based on the parameters it’s passed.

  3. Russell says:

    So if 3 is good, does that mean my 7 is not good?

  4. Hi Russell.

    7 processes probably means that there are multiple people running Dropbox on your computer.

    You should investigate using the Task Manager (Details tab). The username and session id columns should reveal who’s running Dropbox — and from where. Be sure to add those columns if they’re not in your default view.

  5. Carroll Cameron says:

    Hi Russel.

    I have 7 dropbox.exe’s listed in task manager also. When I followed you instructions they’re all my user name.

    Carroll (mr.)

  6. Hi Carroll.

    Please try exiting Dropbox and ending any leftover Dropbox.exe processes from the Task Manager.

    Once done, start Dropbox again and let us know how many Dropbox.exe processes spring to life.

  7. With Dropbox version 155.4.5493, we noticed 5 instances of Dropbox.exe running on our systems now!

    It seems like the new 2 instances may be performing “rendering” tasks that the QtWebEngineProcess.exe used to do, but we’ll have to investigate to say for sure.

    In any case, whether it’s 3 processes or 5, AlwaysUp continues to run Dropbox as a Windows Service without any problems.

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