Dropbox & Anvil, Quick and Easy Web Server for the Mac


While faculty and staff at the UW have always had access to personal web servers, I have often found the process quite unpleasant to manage when doing active web development. More specifically, if you are having to work on multiple projects and rely solely on FTP to edit and transfer files. This was solved with Apple’s “Web Sharing” feature – until it was removed from the latest Mountain Lion operating system.

Out of all the hacks, tips, and tricks on getting the feature re-enabled, I found Anvil’s solution to be the most elegant. The more I used it, it dawned on me to start pointing my projects to my Dropbox folder. Follow along and see how I use the combination of both applications to get web project instances up and running in practically minutes.

Download and Install

Dropbox for Mac: https://www.dropbox.com/downloading?os=mac
Anvil for Mac: http://anvilformac.com


Dropbox is a great cloud-based file storage system. It creates a folder on your computer and you can access and store files in it – like you would normally on your computer. For my Dropbox web development setup, I created a folder called “Anvil” which I use to store all my development projects. You can call yours whatever you like.

  1. Create a new folder that corresponds to your new project. For this example, we’ll create a project called “test”.



Anvil is a good alternative to running and administering Apache on your computer – instead relying on a local Pow web server. It also manages custom local domains so you don’t have to do any domain configuration whatsoever.

  1. Find the Anvil icon in the OS X task bar and click on the “+” icon to add a new project.


  1. Navigate to your Dropbox folder and select the previously created folder called “test”.
  2. Anvil will detect that your folder is empty and give you the option to add an “index.html” page. Click on “Add index.html”.


  1. Anvil will now serve your project site locally using a Pow.cx server. You should now be able to visit http://test.dev in your browser.


That’s it! Fire up your preferred editor of choice and start coding! No more server setup or running Apache! I run this same setup on multiple computers – allowing me to keep projects in sync in case I have to work on something remotely.


One of the major drawbacks is that the URL will only work on your local computer. You will not be able to share the URL to collaborators. One possible work-around might be to create a “shared” folder amongst collaborators within Dropbox. Multiple people could run identical Dropbox/Anvil environments and collaborate that way. The latest version of Anvil suggests that it now features a way to share URLs across your local network. I will have to try this out and report back. Feel free to give this tip a try and comment back your experience.

Charlon Palacay

Charlon is a member of the ACA UX team.