I have been a long-time user of Dropbox. It synchronises important files across computers, provides offsite backup and remote access to these files. But it does have its limitations.
A free Dropbox accounts gets you 2 gigabytes of storage (although persuading friends to sign up can earn you an an increase in this limit). If you need more space, paid plans start at $10 per month.
I have found a new solution for file synchronisation without the size limits. BitTorrent Sync is still in its beta stage of development, but so far I have found it works very well. It is fast, efficient and does exactly what I want it to do.
BitTorrent Sync is not a cloud storage system, so it does not offer all of the features of DropBox. But anyone with with more than one computer, or anyone who wants to regularly share files with a friend or colleague will quickly find BitTorrent Sync an invaluable tool.
So what exactly does BitTorrent Sync do, and what doesn’t it do?
Two-Way Synchronisation – YES
BitTorrent sync really does one thing and one thing well: synchronisation. Install BitTorrent on two computers, point it at a folder on each computer and it will ensure that the contents of the two folders stay in sync. Change a file on one computer and it will change on the other. Add a new file and it will quickly appear on the other computer.
I have a desktop machine and a laptop. They both have Dropbox installed, so I usually save documents in my Dropbox folder to ensure I have access from both machines. But my Dropbox account is getting full, so if I am working with a large dataset or large image files, I keep them out of Dropbox. I then inevitably find I need to use those files on a different machine. BitTorrent Sync has solved that problem for me.
Synchronisation works like a rocket on a local network, but will also work over the internet. As the name suggests, BitTorrent Sync makes use of the same technology use in BitTorrent and is extremely efficient when it comes to dealing with very large files. Synchronisation over the internet when users at each end are behind their own routers works well, thanks to similar “NAT traversal” techniques to those used by Skype. All file transfers, whether local or over the internet, are encrypted. As long as you keep your secret safe, your data is safe.
Setting up synchronisation is straightforward. When you first point BitTorrent Sync at a folder, a “secret” is generated. Secrets are strings of numbers and letters, like this: WBUAH4P6P41KAPJ7ERSAWXY5RB2BCT28. Then, when setting up other machines to share the same folder, all you need to do is enter the secret from the first computer. Multiple machines can share the same folder with the same secret and BitTorrent Sync can also manage multiple folders with different secrets.
One-Way (Read Only) Synchronisation – YES
While Two-Way synchronisation works well for sharing files with family and friends. Sometimes you will want to give others read access to files without allowing them to delete or edit the files. This is where one-way synchronisation comes in. Each synchronised folder has a “read only secret” in addition to the main secret. Give this read only secret to your mother and she can see all of your family photos and you need not worry that she will accidentally delete any of them*.
As far as I know, Dropbox does not offer one-way synchronisation.
Mobile Access – NOT YET
Dropbox offers apps for iPhone, iPad and Android devices which allow you to access files on the go. Mobile apps for BitTorrent Sync are not yet available, but they are under development.
Cloud Backup – NO
BitTorrent Sync directly syncs content machine to machine. Dropbox, on the other hand, syncs each machine with the Dropbox’s own servers. If all of your computers suffer catastrophic failure, you can still recover your data from Dropbox. BitTorrent Sync does not provide any cloud backup. Of course, you could always set up a Rackspace server and install BitTorrent Sync there…
Web Access – NO
With all of your files on their servers, Dropbox can easily provide web access to your files. BitTorrent Sync cannot. The files will only be available on machines with BitTorrent Sync installed.
Version Control – NO
Another useful feature offered by Dropbox is version control. If you make some drastic edits to your latest presentation, which you later regret, Dropbox allows you to recover previously saved versions. BitTorrent Sync will not help you with version control.
BitTorrent Sync does not do as much as Dropbox and other cloud backup services. But what it does do, it does very well. I expect to get a lot of use out of it.
* Two-way synchronisation does provide protection against accidental deletion: when a file is deleted on one machine, copies on other machines are moved to a hidden folder rather than deleted, so they can be recovered later.
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Be careful with BitTorrent Sync as it may be in conflict with Picasa, i.e., Picasa may not be able to scan new or multiple folders while BTSync is running. I don’t know if it is a problem with Picasa or BTSync but I have to “Exit” BTSync, run Picasa, then restart BTSync. (Picasa 3.9, BitTorrent Sync 1.0.134, Windows 7 (64)).
Thanks for the tip Roy. I’m not a Picasa user myself, so wouldn’t have picked it up.
Mobile access – yes
Version Control – yes
Mobile: for Android – yes, for iOS – not yet!