- To sync files you aren’t comfortable keeping in the cloud (for security or other reasons)
- To sync files that are too large for individual upload limits or that would put you over your account storage limits.
- To avoid bandwidth related issues (poor connection speeds, data plan or other usage limits, etc.)
- Because you are not allowed to use such services at work or campus due to IT restrictions.
- Because of poor support across different operating systems you may use.
- The need to be selective about which files are reproduced on each device.
Four Recommend Programs
Below, I offer a comprehensive list of programs to choose from, but if you just want a short list to investigate, here are four I recommend.
- For simple syncing with scheduling on PCs, choose Create Synchronicity.
- For the option to not delete files permanently, choose Toucan or FreeFileSync.
- To use disk names instead of drive letters (e.g.,
My Hard Drive:\Foldervs.
F:\Folder), choose either Create Synchronicity or FreeFileSync.
- To sync multiple folder pairs in one job, choose FreeFileSync.
- For the ability to run multiple sync jobs together, choose SyncToy.
- For the ability to backup incrementally (similar to a sync) with password protected zip file output, choose Toucan.
Create Synchronicity is a small, portable Windows-only program available in many languages that supports three synchronization methods: one-way mirror (make right match left), one-way incremental (one-way copy, no deletes) and two-way incremental (two-way copy, no deletes). It has a slick and intuitive interface and you can reference drive names rather than letters. You can create multiple profiles, though you can only run one at a time. You can also choose which sub-folders to include or exclude or use regular expressions to more finely control which files are excluded. Create Synchronicity also allows for scheduling and generates readable and detailed logs after every synchronization. One minor inconvenience exists when selecting source and destination directories, namely that the libraries aren’t shown directly; instead, you must find them inside the Users folder, but since you’ll only do this once when creating a job it isn’t too bad.
FreeFileSync is my personal choice. It is a popular free program for Windows or Linux that also supports three synchronization methods: Mirror (make right match left), Update (one-way copy, no deletes) and Automatic (two-way copy, no deletes). It can copy locked files, detect conflicts and propagate deletions, support symbolic links, create batch files which you can schedule to run via the built in Windows Task Scheduler or cron for Linux (so, not as straightforward as with Create Synchronicity, but not difficult), process multiple folder pairs, copy extended attributes and security permissions, access variable drive letters by volume name, and use basic filters to include/exclude file types. FreeFileSync also lets you decide how to handle any necessary file deletions, deleting them permanently, moving them to the recycle bin, or keeping a user-defined number of versions in a dedicated directory. Finally, you can install FreeFileSync either locally or as a portable installation.
Depending upon your computer abilities, you might be intimidated by the interface, but FreeFileSync is easier to use than it looks and the built-in help files are good as well. For an overview and basic tutorial, see this TechRepublic article.
There are a few reasons you might wish to choose FreeFileSync over the others listed here. First, it is the only one of the four that can include multiple folder pairs in one sync job, which can be very convenient, especially if you want to sync nested folders separately but at the same time. Second, it is the only program that offers a versioning feature. Third, some find the file comparison results to be more straightforward with FreeFileSync, though I think Create Synchronicity is quite good as well.
Warning: make sure you don’t install the accompanying “monetization” software that comes embedded in the download package. Read the install wizard carefully to make sure you avoid this—you’ll need to decline rather than just uncheck an option to install.
SyncToy is a free and easy-to-use program from Microsoft that also offers three syncing options: Contribute (one-way copy, no deletes), Echo (one-way mirroring), and Synchronize (two-way copy, no deletes). You can’t exclude sub-folders but you can create a filter to exclude certain types of files. SyncToy doesn’t have scheduling built in, but you can use Windows Task Scheduler to run it on a schedule (there’s even a tutorial on setting it up in the Help menu). One advantage of SyncToy over the others in this list is that you can run some or all jobs simultaneously. Unfortunately, in my tests, some deleted files weren’t recognized in an Echo job I created and I don’t know why.
Toucan has the ugliest and least intuitive user interface and experience of the programs listed here, but it is a portable program, and unlike the others, it can do sync, backup and encryption, so you don’t need to use different tools for each of those needs. The encryption feature is quite nice as it encrypts at the file level. In addition to the three standard sync modes (called Copy, Mirror, and Equalise), Toucan offers two more: Move (copy every file in the source that is not already in the destination, and delete it from the source directory), and Clean (delete from the destination directory every file or folder that is not in the source directory). It is also offers the ability to move deleted files to the Recycle Bin instead of deleting them permanently.
There are some minor things I don’t like about Toucan: the lack of a progress bar while sync jobs are running; that you cannot run more than one job at a time; the very complicated method required to do file exclusion; and the lack of a scheduling function.
If you choose Toucan, I offer the following usage recommendations: Select File size and Modified time in the File Checks column (and/or choose Short Comparison) and select everything in the Other column. To see the actual changes that will be or were made, you will need to expand the folders listed on the left and right panels. Also, note that the help file is quite good but is only available online and the button to access it is not intuitively located. Find it in the Settings tab.
AeroFS is like a magic folder, though technically it is a “peer-to-peer file system,” where all the devices you install it on are automatically synced. As a peer-to-peer system, AeroFS is NOT like Dropbox and similar services because there are no centralized AeroFS servers where copies of your files will be stored. Anything you store in your AeroFS folder is, by default, private, but you can share your folders with anyone who has an e-mail address (by creating shared folders within your main AeroFS folder). You can also view and modify files together, in real-time. This is a great way to do syncing without using a cloud and without having to worry about paying for storage plans. The main downside is that using one “magic” folder limits your flexibility and ability to selectively choose what to sync. For example, what if you want to sync two folders on the same computer (e.g., one being an external drive)? No luck, since you obviously can’t put both in your one magic AeroFS folder.
Allway Sync is a nice alternative with one major drawback: the free version has a file operation limit of 40,000 files in any 30 day period.
Backup Folder Sync is a Windows-only backup and restore program for mirroring folders. It offers the ability to include/exclude files and only files that have changed since the last backup are copied. The backup produces a report that details each file or folder that has been copied or deleted. You can backup to a local folder, external drive, USB stick, network share or mapped drive & restore to the original or alternate folder. Backups can be scheduled. See the AddictiveTips Backup Folder tutorial for a walk-through.
BitTorrent Sync is a peer-to-peer file syncing client that relies on “secrets,” which are 32-character long passcodes that you can set up to connect multiple computers and sync files between them—no link sharing or account sign up with any web service needed. Folder syncing, by default, is two way, but you can share a folder as read-only, which effectively makes syncing one-way. The biggest benefit of a service like BitTorrent Sync is that there are no limits on file size or total space (other than the total space on the connected devices) and the biggest drawback is that you don’t get to have your files saved on the cloud for access from any computer or smartphone. BitTorrent Sync is available for Mac, Windows, and Linux. See more at the AddictiveTips review.
Bvckup is a very small, real-time folder cloning utility. It only offers cloning (one-way mirroring). Because of this and its use of delta copying (copying only changed parts of each modified file), Bvckup is very fast. It also can handle locked and open files. Note that all development effort has now re-focused on version 2 which I believe will be a commercial product but the current version will remain perpetually available under the free beta license.
Folder Replica is a Windows-only utility that lets you create a list of sync jobs for different folders and locations and process them in one go. There are four sync options: Backup (Advanced) A to B, Folder Sync – Union of A and B, Copy Missing – from A to B, and Delete Duplicates in B. The user interface presents two panes, representing folders A and B, respectively. According to the AddictiveTips Folder Replica tutorial, you can preview sync job results before actually executing them, though from the screenshot it doesn’t seem obvious how (I think it is via the Analyze/Synchronize Now button). The program also supports scheduling jobs and enables logging to see problems that may occur while running.
I include GoodSync in this list because it is well-known, but I won’t bother to discuss its features because the free version of GoodSync only allows for syncing 100 files and 3 sync jobs. Use one of the other options on the list if you want a free solution.
Karen’s Replicator is one of the older programs out there but one that has a very loyal following. Source and Destination folders can reside anywhere on your network and you can select which files to exclude. You can also set a flexible schedule for running jobs. It hasn’t been updated since 2009 and I am sure it is lacking some of the features available on some of the newer programs, but if you are looking for an old, reliable option it might be worth checking out.
OneSync is a free, no frills, Windows-only file synchronization tool that is different than any other I have seen. Basically, it uses what it calls Half Way Sync. Instead of doing synchronization directly between two PCs, there is an intermediate storage that plays an important role during the sync process. When you sync a folder, you must first choose the location of the intermediate storage, which can be a folder in a portable drive, a Windows Shared Folder or a Dropbox local folder. After syncing on one PC, files will be sent to the intermediate storage. After that, you must do the sync again on your other computer in order to download the files from the intermediate storage and complete the sync process. The big question I still can’t answer is why anyone would ever want to do this…
PureSync is a Windows program to synchronize files and folders, and to do backups automatically in the background. It can handle multiple folders and filter files for inclusion/exclusion, and it offers one of the most complete scheduling features I have seen (schedule, on connecting a drive, on modification of files, at startup or shutdown, when computer becomes idle for n seconds, when a program exits, etc.). You must pay for the Pro version to get some additional features like copying open/locked files, backing up to a FTP server, compression and encryption.
QtdSync is a portable Windows or Linux application with scheduling options to backup data to a local or remote location. It is actually a GUI for rsync which functions in two modes: Differentiell (which only backs up changes) and Synchronize Only (which saves the backup folder with updates of the newest version only). Exclusion filtering is also supported. On the Windows version you get additional features like folder binding, configuration of multiple virtual folders, and drag/drop support. See AddictiveTips for a basic tutorial on QtdSync.
SyncBack is the program I used to use. There is a free version as well as two paid versions. If you are looking for a program with tons of options and abilities, one of the paid versions might be worth checking out. The free program is also a fine option for basic backup and syncing and it offers scheduling, email or HTML logging, the ability to filter what to include or exclude, and settings for programs to run before or after your sync jobs. There is also a portable, no install version available.
If you are looking for basic and simple syncing you might find the SyncBack user interface a bit cluttered and there can be a bit of a learning curve to get the program running as you desire. This is probably because of the huge number of options available in their paid versions. Still, it isn’t very difficult to use and it will get the job done. If FreeFileSync or another of my recommendations can’t do everything you need, Syncback probably can.
Synchredible is from the makers of the popular Backup Maker program. Whereas Backup Maker is focused on producing zipped backup archive files, Synchredible is more a syncing program. It supports synchronizations in one and two directions and includes network support to function over LANs. Synchredible recognizes any changes automatically and can be scheduled to run according to your preferences.
SYNCING.NET (Windows) syncs folders across computers on a network, including across users. The free version is limited to 3GB of data sync between a maximum of 5 PCs. The main site states that the software is no longer under development but I believe you can still download a copy.
Windows Sync Center (with Offline Files)
Windows comes pre-installed with Microsoft’s Sync Center, which works in conjunction with the Offline Files feature to allow you to work offline with network folders. When you connect to the network again, it will automatically sync the files you have modified. In older versions of Windows you could sync your computer with local devices but that is no longer the case.
Here’s a usage scenario. Say your main computer is a desktop but you occasionally use a laptop, especially for your travel, and you keep them networked together. If you enable offline files on your laptop and create what Microsoft calls a partnership (a pairing) with a desktop folder then whenever the two are powered on at the same time they will be synced. Now, you take off to travel with the laptop and work on all the files. When you get back and re-connect to your network all your changes will get synced again.
7 Tutorials offers a pretty good Sync Center overview but essentially you just create a mapped network drive to the “server” computer that holds the files you want available offline. Next, on the client computer (e.g., laptop) make sure Offline Files are enabled (the default in Windows 7) and then right-click on the folder(s) that you want synced with the server PC from the mapped drive location and choose Make Available Offline. When it’s done, disconnect your client computer from the network, and you will notice that the mapped network drive is still available in your File Explorer. You can open that mapped drive and see the folders/files that you marked for availability offline.
Windows File Replicator is a simple, free backup tool for Windows that replicates changes in a source folder with a destination folder in real time. It is capable of monitoring multiple source folders and automatically makes those changes to multiple backup locations. You can set the application to replicate data when it is renamed, created, changed or deleted in source folders. Windows File Replicator monitors all the errors, warnings and messages, and allows you to export a list of alerts in an Excel file. The interface of Windows File Replicator has three tabs: File Replication Tasks (to start and edit replication settings), File Replication Alerts (to view errors, warnings and messages) and File Replication Log File (to view exceptions).
Note that there are some drawbacks to this software. First, it doesn’t currently support networked drives. Second, and perhaps most important, it isn’t a true syncing program but rather more of a file event monitor. As a commenter pointed out in the AddictiveTips review, “it’s an important distinction. Here’s the scenario: I have a laptop and an external hard drive at home. I set the source folder
Documents, which has a test file in it already, and the destination to
G:\DocBackup, which I just created.
Test.txt does not get copied to
G:\DocBackup. I copy the file over myself and then make
test2.txt. That copies over immediately. I unplug my laptop and take it to work. I create files
test4.txt. I bring my laptop back home and plug my external backup drive in. I create
test5.txt is copied to
Areca Backup is a Windows or Linux program designed to be as simple as possible to set up. You can choose where and how (simple file copy, zip archive, etc.) backups will be stored, and configure post-backup actions (like sending backup reports by email or launching custom shell scripts). It supports incremental, differential, full and delta backups; file filters; encryption; and versioning. I don’t believe it can handle locked files.
Backup Maker is an easy-to-use, feature-rich backup solution. It has a good user interface and offers a setup wizard to step through the job creation process. The free version of Backup Maker offers all the features of the paid commercial version, including: a variety of backup methods including incremental and differential zip archives; filters to include or exclude certain file types, or files with a maximum file size; a powerful scheduler that also offers the choice to execute backup jobs at start up, shutdown, or upon insertion of a USB volume (if a job time is missed it can automatically be rescheduled); the ability to run before and after job tasks (e.g., mounting/dismounting a network drive, shutting down or rebooting the computer, sending an email report, or starting a subsequent backup job); backing up to any local, network, or online storage that supports FTP (SSL included) and built in support for burning files directly to CD/DVD; restore a whole backup or just a single file; and optional archive encryption to prevent foreign access to your backup.
Backup Maker gets Gizmo’s Freeware’s top recommendation but it does have a couple of negatives. First, it tries to install crapware on install and then during use it has a popup nag screen that informs the user that the free version is for personal use only, and that the nag will be removed if you register it for commercial use. It also can’t back up open or locked files. Finally, and most importantly for me, it doesn’t seem to have an option to not backup zipped archives, thus it isn’t a good program choice to do a basic native file backup/sync which is what many like me want.
Cobian Backup is a popular free program to backup files and directories to other directories/drives on the same computer or other computer(s) in your network. FTP backup is also supported in both directions (download and upload). It only copies to another destination, so Cobian Backup can be better described as a “scheduler for security copies” rather than a syncing program. It supports scheduled backups and several methods of compression and strong encryption. I haven’t used this program but I did read that it can be a bit difficult for the “average” user to use.
Comodo Backup offers a streamlined design making it easy to create, run and restore the first backup job in a matter of minutes. You can backup entire drives, individual files or folders to your local computer, network drive, FTP server or Comodo’s online server (if using Comodo Cloud). Other features include full scheduling, password protection, a backup integrity checker and a range of preset backup jobs that allow you to quickly create copies of important data sets such as the Windows Registry, mail accounts and user settings. Comodo Backup is also seamlessly integrated to Windows Explorer so that you can just select the folders or files you want to back up, right click on them and quick start the Back Up wizard. Comodo Backup requires registration and is intended to work with their cloud storage but that is not required.
CrashPlan lets you back up to your other computers, external hard drives and to computers that belong to friends and family, all for free. Backing up on friends’ computers is done by giving each other short authorization codes. All files are stored in encrypted form so they remain private. And, each person can choose a limit for the amount of space he or she is willing to share. The default configuration is for CrashPlan to run at startup, always be monitoring for changes and performing differential backups (only changes) every 15 minutes, though you have complete control over what you backup and how often. Restoring from CrashPlan is really easy and flexible. You can pick and choose what to restore (even a single file) and where to restore it. If you upgrade your computer, CrashPlan offers a solution it calls “Adopting another computer” option so you won’t have to do a full initial backup again. But, that assumes you keep the same computer username and file paths. Note that configuring multiple backup sets is only possible with the paid version.
If you want to back up online, you can purchase a CrashPlan+ subscription for home use. Pricing is among the most competitive in the market with an unlimited plan going for as little as $4.00 per month with a multi-year purchase ($6 per month with no long-term commitment). Only the Family Unlimited plan allows for multiple computers to backup online.
Finally, one small thing I really like about CrashPlan is that you can get reports summarizing your backups and warning when no backup has been performed recently (via email or Twitter), which is great for keeping the idea of backing up your system regularly top-of-mind.
DataSafe Backup is a free Windows program that offers full, incremental, differential and mirror backups via FTP or to local, networked or CD (not DVD) drives. You can create include/exclude filters and backup open or locked files. It supports compression as well as password protection and encryption and you can schedule your jobs. One fairly unique feature offered is the ability to use hard links with mirror style backups to help eliminate data duplication
Dmailer works for both Windows and Macs. Its features include continuous and automatic backups, versioning, multiple profiles, encryption and support for 18 languages. Note that there used to be a Dmailer Sync program which I think then became Dmailer Online. Both of those appear to be discontinued products though the main page still references getting 2GB online space for free. It seems that may still be true, albeit via a partnership with YuuWaa. I believe you don’t have to use it but I am not certain.
FBackup is a free, Windows-only backup program with a simple interface and a friendly wizard that guides you through the process of defining a backup job. You can choose to compress the backups and you can run the jobs manually or on a schedule. FBackup can easily back up sources from local drives (including USB connected drives) to destinations such as USB/Firewire connected devices or mapped network locations. For each backup job, you can define an action to execute before or after the backup. The software can also backup open/locked files.
One area in which FBackup differentiates itself is the ability to use plugins for backing up or restoring specific program settings or other custom data (like browser settings, iTunes, game saves, email data, etc.).
One big drawback of using FBackup is that the freeware version doesn’t include incremental or differential backups, so each time you run it you will be doing a potentially slow full backup.
Genie Timeline is a basic, free Windows program that performs native file (e.g., not compressed) backups. Setup is a simple two-step setup process, during which the program will scan your hard drives and auto select a large variety of common program data and files for you. Once setup, your files are continuously monitored and backed up every 8 hours without any further user intervention. In the free version, Genie Timeline does not delete older files; therefore, you may quickly find yourself filling up your external drive. Overall, this seems like a program designed for the truly tech-phobic, lacking much power or flexibility. If that is you, go for it; otherwise, choose one of the many other good options listed here.
According to the Downloadcrew GFI Backup 2011 review (which also offers a direct download link vs. the need to register if downloading from the official site), the 2011 version of this formerly very popular program is completely different and far inferior to the 2009 Home Edition, which you can still get from CNET. Note that I have read in a few places that the scheduling feature for this software is buggy.
Leo Backup a backup and restore program for local and network drives. It also supports backups to Amazon S3, which differentiates it from other similar programs. Leo Backup uses incremental backups and you can encrypt and compress your files as well as schedule the backups. You are always notified of the backup results by e-mail message. Moreover, you can receive the detailed log about the performed operation.
Ocster Backup is a free Windows-only program that lets you create incremental backups to your computer, or external drives. The program creates compressed, encrypted, and password protected backups and jobs can be performed automatically at scheduled times. Backups can also be paused and resumed in the middle, should you need to shutdown your computer. Unlike some competing programs, Ocster allows you to backup multiple, separate files and folders to one location. For screen shots, see AddictiveTips review.
Windows Backup and Restore (called “Windows 7 File Recovery” in Windows 8)
Windows 7 includes a backup utility. Just search for backup from the startup menu. 7 Tutorials offers a good overview, but note that the ability to backup to networked drives is available only on the Professional or Ultimate editions of Windows 7. Other useful features, like the ability to filter files for inclusion and backing up via FTP, are missing as well but one nice thing about Windows Backup is that it can do both a backup of your files as well as a full system image for restoring your system in case of an emergency.
Windows File History (similar to “Previous Versions” in Windows 7)
Windows 8 includes a new backup feature called File History, which works like Apple’s very well-regarded Time Machine. It automatically backs up files (in the background). You can then restore them from a simple, time-based interface. Note that Windows Backup still exists in Windows 8, but it has been renamed Windows 7 File Recovery. File History doesn’t back up your whole system (use File Recovery for that). Instead, it only backs up the files in your Libraries—your personal documents, files, and media. And, rather than run large backups on a schedule, it takes a snapshot of your files every hour, so you can have much finer control over how you restore your files. You can choose whether to use File History or File Recovery, but you cannot use them both at the same time.
Yadis Backup is a free Windows program that creates full, one-to-one backups of your important personal data, settings, and documents that you can access normally, without having to restore them or unpack them through Yadis. It has a simple interface with two modes, novice and expert and offers wizards to make things easier. Note that a common complaint is poor documentation and I noticed the main Yadis page is weak on listing features as well, so perhaps that is valid. One nice thing about Yadis is that it backs up whenever a file is changed, thus no need to set a schedule.