I am using a dropbox api and building a code writing app for iPhone (so my space is very limited). When the user opens a file, Dropbox gets notified. If the file gets opened in another location (like on a computer) and saved, then by the time the user saves the originally opened file they may be overwriting already existing changes. I want to basically say "Hey! The file you are trying to save, has already been modified elsewhere..." They then have two choices... To create a new file out of the changes they made, or to discard their changes. Those buttons can really only be 2 very short words, but one word each button works best. "Accept changes" barely fits.

What short phrase can I use to say what I mean, and should I write on the buttons to say "create new file from changes" or "discard your file"?

3 Answers 3


You can't, but there's a better way

Sometimes, concepts are too complicated to communicate in a few words. This is especially true when the consequences of miscommunication are large, such as overwriting a file.

The best practice here would be to notify the user as soon as you know that there is a conflict (that might be while the user is editing, or during save). A non-blocking notification like a toast can be useful for this.

If this happens during the save process, I would not try to communicate this in a few words. A conventional approach would be to pop up an informative dialog box with an explanation of the conflict, and buttons for the user to take action, e.g.:

  • This file has been modified elsewhere by [John Smith]. Would you like to overwrite it, or save it as a different filename?
  • Buttons: Overwrite Save as
  • obviously amazing! Should one of these buttons be a "danger" (red button) Or should they both be primary, or white buttons?
    – Johnston
    Commented Apr 1, 2015 at 12:18

A similar scenario I have come across is with Prezi.com where you can make slides/presentation online. When you already have a presentation open in a tab and you open the same presentation again in a new tab, a message pops up stating, "You are already working on this file in another tab. Please continue there"

The above scenario and your case fall under error detection and diagnosis. There can be a better solution. As per Jacob Nielsen's heuristics, error prevention is ranked higher than error diagnosis and results in a better UX.

In your case, the person who opens the file first is the master. The person who opens it next, could have a status that indicates the file is already opened somewhere else, and prompts him to either save a new copy or wait until the first person finishes. This way, the first person need not discard his changes. That will just be a waste of time and effort on his end.

I don't know the technical feasibility. I might be wrong. Please let me know.


Window title: External changes detected

Message: Unsaved changes to this file will be lost. What to do with these changes?

Buttons: [Save] [Skip]

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