The software engineering lifecycle: How we built the new Dropbox Plus


About a weeks within the past, we released a total bunch of most new aspects to Dropbox Plus, our paid diagram for private customers. Whereas we started as a storage company, we‘ve grown to be a hub to arrange your digital lifestyles. About 150 folks labored on this starting up: engineers, product managers, designers, copywriters, and heaps extra.

By a aggregate of gracious fortune and happenstance, I was lucky adequate to the contact nearly each and each piece of this starting up. I got to undercover agent how assorted teams work, as I joined each and each at assorted stages of the instrument engineering lifecycle.

In this submit I’ll distill my experience working on assorted parts of the starting up, and discuss how we boom building instrument. I’ll roam honest into a couple of technical petite print, but mostly heart of attention on how teams living up and characteristic.

Toward the finish of 2019 we had a realization: while we had built plentiful original merchandise for our authentic customers enjoy the original Dropbox and Dropbox Switch, it had been a while since we delivered original worth to our non-public customers. 

We living out to alternate that. We do collectively a team focused completely on serving to non-public customers arrange their digital lives. On the time we didn’t know the design powerful those lives and desires would alternate the three hundred and sixty five days to reach inspire, but in hindsight our timing used to be sizable.

Our contract with our customers is easy: We fill merchandise that of us enjoy so powerful that thousands and thousands of them pay for it. As a rule, we aspire to be apt of have faith in all conditions. That you just would be succesful to be our customer, not our product.

Merging our mission and our values, we came up with a straightforward diagram: ship a bunch of smartly timed, life like aspects to our most honest customers. After a diffusion of dialogue about what to fill, we came up with the original Dropbox Plus.

We knew our customers wanted computer backup. This used to be finally that that you could per chance take into accout attributable to our sign original sync engine, which we had factual completed rolling out in June.

We did weeks of client study and learned that customers wanted a handful of specific original aspects from us. They wanted a definite folder the set they’ll just store their important recordsdata, this grew to turn into Dropbox Vault.

Our study also surfaced that nearly all of our customers composed weren’t the use of a password supervisor. We knew this could be basic to their digital security, so we bought Valt and built-in their product into the Dropbox product suite to meet our user’s needs. The irony wasn’t lost upon us that we had been building a gain folder known as Vault while acquiring a company known as Valt.

Eventually, customers expressed a want to part their Dropbox diagram with their family, without sharing their yarn. So we came up with the Dropbox Family diagram.

I started 2020 as a member of the Family team. Our mission used to be to fill a original paid diagram for customers that allow them part all of our original and original aspects with members of the family below one subscription, as they attain with assorted subscriptions at dwelling. 

This team used to be sign original, formed while the product spec used to be composed in progress. We hadn’t written any code yet. There had been a diffusion of questions we needed to acknowledge to first: Attain customers desire one family folder or a shared quota? How many of us could furthermore be in a family? What makes a family assorted from a spot of job “team”?

Thought Earlier than Coding

We also do a diffusion of time into architecture selections before we started implementation, to manufacture a product that could both match this present day’s needs and accommodate future growth. When starting up out on a original challenge it’s foremost to position out a rough diagram, even supposing you realize those plans will shift later as you study extra and as theory meets practice.

What should our data model stare enjoy? How attain we desire to originate APIs? How attain we mix with our original payments draw? Planning ahead saved us from losing developer cycles as soon as we started coding.

Team Dynamics

Early on, we realized we shouldn’t fill this product on the original Dropbox for Teams infrastructure. Our original teams model is built for authentic use circumstances and entails heaps of developed sharing, permissions, and user management aspects that family customers wouldn’t need. It will per chance non-public slowed us down to retrofit this methodology for family plans, and in some circumstances would power abstractions that is likely to be anathema to families. As an illustration, a team admin can access any team member’s recordsdata—something many families wouldn’t desire.

As we had been hammering down the honest requirements, we started planning technical infrastructure for the challenge. This used to be in January while we had been composed working in physical offices. The general engineers on the core Family team had been within the New York place of job.

Every member of the engineering team introduced a definite living of experience to the table. I was individually tasked with main frontend architecture. My job used to be to figure out study the technique to fill the total Family management and invite pages. Others interested by APIs, data model, or handling shared quota.

We sat collectively in a pod, continuously bouncing solutions off of 1 one other. Because this used to be a greenfield challenge, as a replace of extending original architecture, we had been ready to manufacture the guidelines model, API, and user interface each and each with the others in mind. The team had been generally at each and each others desks, discussing how shall we model the concerns we had been fixing. With all-day proximity, each person had adequate context on the total thing.

Rushing Up Pattern

I’m especially proud that we determined to fill all of our pages as self reliant applications. As an illustration, we knew the Family management net page used to be likely to full up as piece of Memoir Settings, but we didn’t desire to be encumbered by that trend job. Constructing on the already established net page Memoir Settings net page straight would non-public slowed us down.

Here’s why: To test on the Memoir net page we’d must build a Plus user, navigate to the Memoir net page, and invite participants to the Family before we could commence attempting out the original core aspects on the online page. This supposed a 2-3 minute edit/refresh cycle, totally unacceptable in our like a flash iteration piece. We wished with a purpose to verify things in seconds, as we had been composed determining the honest experience we’d be offering.

As an quite quite a lot of, we spun up a developer sandbox with a living of take a look at fixtures. We embedded the root Family management facet at the highest. This allowed us to verify the Family settings net page in isolation and handiest apprehension in regards to the parts actively in trend.

As piece of this we invested in a original interior technology known as API-QL. We use an in-apartment interface description language to fill REST endpoints for our APIs. This affords convenient aspects enjoy client/server form validation, but doesn’t present caching, polling, or React hooks. Apollo, a regular GraphQL client, affords all of these items and would allow us to experiment with GraphQL without changing our serving stack.

API-QL is a layer between Apollo and these leisure endpoints. It is a ways built on top of Apollo’s native resolvers and implements a mild-weight GraphQL server within the client. API-QL allowed us to fill our REST endpoints, but composed leverage the caching and assorted developer experience wins provided by Apollo. Armed with API-QL and a culture of collaboration, all of our APIs had been designed with API-QL in mind.


For every and each original feature we living up a series of milestones for the challenge. Within the case of Family plans, we had been interested by the following: interior alpha, exterior alpha, beta, and at closing GA (general availability). I was on the team thru interior alpha so we’ll duvet that right here. Appendix A incorporates a listing of the total closing milestones and their targets.

Inner Alpha: Dogfooding

The purpose of the interior alpha used to be to ship something to assorted Dropboxers so we could dogfood the feature. We are trying to attain this for every and each feature, so we can take a look at the basic performance and guarantee that that your total plumbing works. This helps us fill confidence in product high-quality before shipping to any exterior customers.

We had been sure to be continuously shipping worth to customers, whether or not those customers be Dropbox workers, company and family, or enthralling beta testers. To reach that first interior alpha we continuously decrease scope. Our purpose used to be to ship a minimal viable product for amily plans as immediate as that that you could per chance take into accout for our interior alpha, without including something else that could reason them agonize. It wished to work finish to full. It didn’t must be polished. 

So any time a modal seemed that mentioned “are you obvious you procure to must attain this?” we rescheduled that categorical performance for a later milestone. 

We also held off on wonderful-to-non-public aspects enjoy contact advice or electronic mail reminders. These aspects would be needed for a completed product, but would sluggish us down and weren’t irregular to the original Family diagram, which is what we wanted our alpha customers to verify.

Onboarding a original teammate

Midway thru the quarter we had a truly skilled frontend engineer be part of Dropbox and the Family team. As frontend lead, it used to be my responsibility to reach inspire up with a smartly scoped challenge that could back them study our stack.

Our milestone-primarily primarily based mostly planning used to be with no doubt priceless right here. We had already determined that we wished contact advice for the closing product, but had not made it piece of the interior alpha since we could procure away with a straightforward textual boom material field. This made for a supreme starter challenge: It touched each and each layer of our stack, but wasn’t needed unless a later milestone. Our original hire could immerse themselves in our stack without feeling they had been holding up the leisure of us. 

As they ramped up, it grew to turn into sure he could use over frontend for Family plans from me. This used to be smartly timed, because one other product outside of Family wished some consideration.

At some point soon of the first week of March, my supervisor and I discussed in our weekly one-on-person that the Vault team wished somebody to reach inspire in and living frontend technical route. The team’s mission used to be to fill a gain folder for customers’ important documents. The massive majority of their efforts had been interested by making that folder as gain as that that you could per chance take into accout.

They’d built a minimal viable product in below nine weeks. Now we wished to form it honest into a stable basis. We living a transition diagram for me to hand off all of my work on Family the closing week of March, while it used to be in alpha, and commence ramping up on Vault the first week of April.

Class Brushed aside

Quickly after, 2020 hit. On March 13, Dropbox launched we’d all be working from dwelling attributable to COVID-19. On the time we belief it can factual be a couple of weeks; how naive we all had been. Earlier than I knew it, my time on the Family team used to be over and we had been composed at dwelling. I needed to figure out study the technique to onboard onto a original team within the center of a virulent illness.

The very first ingredient I did used to be living up a 1:1 with each and each and each and every person with whom I’d be working. We had engineers working on locking/unlocking the folder, serving APIs, updating the desktop app, and working on the original frontend. We also had a product supervisor and a dressmaker. I knew it used to be foremost to set these relationships early on if I had been to turn into an efficient member of the team.

We held these 1:1s over Zoom as quickly as the corporate had despatched us all to make cash working from dwelling, as a replace of ready unless April. It used to be a shift for each person but it no doubt labored. Over time I learned who I’d be working with primarily the most. I living up weekly 1:1s with them to guarantee that that we stayed in sync from afar.

After a couple of weeks on the team I wrapped up my non-public starter challenge—updating user onboarding—and began to heart of attention on codebase high-quality. I began to address my mandate of environment technical route on the frontend. Our original frontend code used to be laborious to verify. It had powerful extra spaghetti than we’d enjoy because it had been built so immediate. We wanted to migrate to a stronger basis, without slowing down team progress.

To create this, I started a doc known as Vault Frontend: Refactoring within the Upright Path. An abridged version of this doc is offered at the bottom of this submit in Appendix B.

Shipping Our Team Coding Standards

Defining an spectacular living of standards for the team’s code used to be one ingredient. But in expose to ship these standards in a product, I wanted to procure procure-in from the leisure of the team. I shared the first draft with the two assorted frontend engineers on the team. The three of us then jammed on it unless we had been all happy with its specs.

Besides making it sure what the team should attain, we needed to create it sure why. Clearly, it’s extra fun to jot down code following primarily the most new easiest practice. But there are foremost industry wins as smartly that the team should understand. Elevated high-quality code is more straightforward to read, more straightforward to update, and more straightforward to protect. Our measurable purpose used to be to prick the need of bugs coming in on any given week. 

The three of us presented this doc to the team and each person used to be on board with it. Over time, we had been increasingly extra elated with the disclose of our codebase. 

Alternatively, we seen that one among the selections we’d made used to be slowing us down.

Nothing’s Gracious

At my advice, the team had begun the use of API-QL for API calls. Whereas it boosted the Family team’s output, for the Vault team it grew to turn into out to be a mistake. The Family team operated in a greenfield codebase and built APIs with API-QL in mind, on Vault we had been retrofitting API-QL onto original APIs. The data units didn’t line up, which slowed down trend on the Depended on Contact feature. 

There used to be a needed lesson right here: Tips that work flawlessly on one challenge could just not switch to 1 other. API-QL is an plentiful technology and we’re continuing to make investments in it, but it no doubt wasn’t the factual match for this challenge in the present day.


Overall, our standards doc provided an spectacular basis for our code going ahead. Whereas API-QL wasn’t the factual match, we had been ready to amend the doc and proceed refactoring within the factual route. This reduced the need of incoming bugs, made our code extra appetizing to work with, and overall accelerated developer velocity.

Predominant, it do us all on the same net page. No longer handiest the doc, but the means of co-authoring it helped us define what factual code appears to be like enjoy to us. This made code evaluate faster and extra consistent, since we all had a shared frame of reference.

As I was wrapping up frontend technical route for Vault, I was pulled honest into a related challenge: entrypoints for sign original aspects. It’s not adequate that aspects enjoy Vault, Passwords, and Computer Backup exist. Customers must be given programs to safe them. We are able to’t ask them to roam taking a stare. We desire to meet them the set they’re.

This could sound straightforward, but it no doubt used to be a mammoth collaborative effort inspiring product, platform, and infra teams. Our job used to be to dive into all of those assorted teams’ codebases and mix our original aspects with their original provide. We already had two engineers working on this paunchy time, but one among them used to be imminently going on paternity recede.

I had joined this challenge to use over the frontend work. We had about two weeks of transition the set all three of us labored collectively. Then it used to be factual the two of us—me and Michael. I was responsible of frontend, he did backend. 

This job presented its non-public challenges. On Family we had started from scratch, but on Vault I joined a product in motion. Now, to most new customers with entrypoints we wished to create a ton of petite adjustments in some unspecified time in the future of the codebase. But while Family and Vault had been teams of about 10 builders each and each, entrypoints used to be factual Michael and me.

For 2 months we cranked out tickets, integrating our original aspects with Dropbox’s original surfaces. We needed to dive into the total thing from the receive UI to the sync engine. Not like Family or Vault which wished to heart of attention on architecture or code high-quality, we had been touching code we didn’t non-public, and our heart of attention used to be flat-out “procure it done.”

On one in particular thrilling occasion we paired for half of a day with an engineer on the sync team. We wished to original a warning when a user deleted one among their file draw entrypoints. Neither me or Michael had been acutely conscious of Rust, the language prone for the sync engine, so we wished to herald experience for a day.

It sounds annoying, but the experience used to be a blast. Pair programming in a language you don’t know feels enjoy having superpowers. I was also elated I could claim that I’d touched our original backup feature, despite the indisputable fact that I handiest added a couple of traces of code. We got this alternate into the client factual below the wire, then waited with bated breath as it went out to customers.

Earlier than we knew it, our original and improved Dropbox Plus started going to market. This job enthusiastic rolling out the aspects to a subset of our customers over time. Now we non-public an interior gating technology known as Stormcrow that enables us to living a p.c of the inhabitants we desire to receive a feature. We grew to turn into on all of our original aspects to 1% of our customers, then 10%, then 25%, then 50%, then 100%. 

I desire I could articulate this went off with no hitch, but it no doubt didn’t.

We realized after sending out our announcement electronic mail that so many customers had been attempting to sign in for Plus today that our payments draw couldn’t protect. We rolled inspire the aspects, mounted the payments draw, then grew to turn into the aspects inspire on.

After fixing this and tweaking our electronic mail cadence to support net page visitors in mind, the aspects had been are living for each person. Within factual a couple of weeks, thousands and thousands of customers had tried out our original aspects.

Appendix A: Family Thought Milestones

For every and each original feature we living up a series of milestones for the challenge. Within the case of Family plans, we had been interested by the following: interior alpha, exterior alpha, beta, and at closing GA (general availability).

Inner Alpha: Plumbing

Inner alpha used to be our first milestone, the aim right here used to be to “take a look at the plumbing.” We wanted Dropboxers to upgrade, invite members of the family, and take a look at our surfaces. This milestone allowed us to verify with valid customers in production, even within the occasion that they had been all Dropboxers and their families. More petite print above.

Exterior Alpha: Early Feedback

Exterior alpha used to be about gaining data from an even bigger, extra diverse group of valid customers to snarl and sharpen our selections in regards to the product. This supposed going outside the circle of Dropboxers and their families. We wanted to undercover agent how generally customers upgraded, what number of participants they added to their families, and bag general solutions from the exterior world.

Beta: Public QA

Whereas exterior alpha is ready amassing signals to back finalize product selections, beta is ready guaranteeing stability in that closing product that we’ve defined and built. Our purpose in beta is to use away as many unknown unknowns as that that you could per chance take into accout and figure out what bugs valid customers are running into.

General Availability: Loyal

Eventually, GA is after we use away the beta sign and begin a total product to all of our customers. At this point we’re confident in both the product selections we’ve made and the high-quality of the instrument itself. 

Appendix B: Vault Frontend – Refactoring within the Upright Path

Pointers for refactoring

As we work on Vault frontend, we needs to be refactoring our code within the factual route. All future diffs should purpose to pleasing preexisting code that breaks these solutions.

Don’t block progress

Our team’s mission is to ship a product for storing your most sensitive recordsdata. A maintainable codebase is the means to that finish, not a purpose in it of itself.

Strive and support it on a per file basis

It’s easy to rabbit hole when refactoring a file. Strive and support it to 1 refactored file (and its exams) per diff.

Protect the interface within the first diff

First refactor the internals of the facet, then alternate it’s props in a followup.

Write original exams

A quantity of our most new exams are ineffective, write original exams primarily primarily based mostly on the guidelines below if you happen to alternate an aspect.

Form out the client and shipping aspects first, versus specializing in ravishing code for the sake of ravishing code.


All UI parts should are living within the facet library.

A factual rule of thumb is that if it imports from our manufacture draw it belongs within the team level facet library.

Characteristic parts over class parts

Hooks are in point of fact belief to be customary easiest practice, we must always work to refactor class parts into characteristic parts with hooks.

i18n belongs at the bottom of the file

Invent a characteristic known as getStrings or a hook known as useStrings to reach inspire strings wished for an aspect. Don’t inline i18n in parts.

Declarative, not Crucial

Steer sure of capabilities enjoy Modal.showInstance. Help observe of the originate/shut disclose for a modal.

Invent Machine Styling

Steer sure of overriding kinds within manufacture draw parts.  Where that that you could per chance take into accout, reach out to Invent Programs to safe supported configuration alternatives.

Attempting out

All exams needs to be written with react-attempting out-library.

This library is geared in direction of purposeful attempting out as a replace of exams around dom output.

Don’t use enzyme

Enzyme is semi-deprecated and has unfortunate strengthen for hooks

Steer sure of Duplicating Take a look at Coverage

If an aspect is successfully tested by the exams of its subcomponents, don’t reimplement those exams. As an illustration attempting out that a modal opens/closes when it uses the underlying DIG modal

Never use a className for something else assorted than css

Use data-testid to procure parts. Attain not use classNames or or textual boom material interior an aspect

Inform Administration

Trace: we ended up reverting these selections concerning disclose management. Leer the above piece Shipping Our Team’s Coding Standards for added petite print.

Steer sure of Redux For API Inform

API integration needs to be done thru API-QL, a setup diff can be coming

Place in mind taking out Redux entirely

Put facet or UI disclose in both context or a hook.


Put logs at the bottom of the file

There are factual so. many. logging. statements. We do i18n and logging at the bottom of the file so we can prick noise while studying industry good judgment.

As an quite quite a lot of of this

  const onInviteModalSend = () => {
      eventAction: AnalyticsEventAction.SELECT,
      eventObject: AnalyticsEventObject.SEND_CONTACT,
      actionSurface: AnalyticsEventActionSurface.VAULT_SETTINGS,

Attain this

const onInviteModalSend = () => {

const loggingFuncs = {
  logInviteModalSend: () => {
      eventAction: AnalyticsEventAction.SELECT,
      eventObject: AnalyticsEventObject.SEND_CONTACT,
      actionSurface: AnalyticsEventActionSurface.VAULT_SETTINGS,

In Tests

import loggingFuncs from 'facet-file';
spyOn(loggingFuncs, 'logButtonClicked')

Code Isolation – Future proofing for code sharing

Steer sure of importing from elsewhere within the server repo.

  • If it be foremost to import something from outside of modules/ravishing/react/vault or the vault facet library stare into dependency injection.
  • We can likely take care of these on a case by case basis.
  • We can likely use React context to contend with these.


Steer sure of developed SCSS

Form your classnames easy to grep for.

Attain This

.vault-link {
  // kinds
.vault-link:wing {
.vault-link-fearless {

Don’t attain this

These classes are laborious to plan inspire to parts from code.

.vault-link {
  // kinds
  &-fearless {
  &:wing {

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