Many things that used to be physical items are now being stored digitally. From pictures and videos to your tax returns and will. Paper and video tape items are becoming less and less common as the digital world continues to grow. Many people have all their memories (baby pictures, kid videos, marriage videos, etc) stored as digital files on their computers. Shockingly, a very large number of people do not back up their files in any way. This means that one failed hard drive or lightning strike can completely wipe out all traces of those important files.
There are many ways of backing up your files. One of the most popular methods is to use “The Cloud”. You can sign up for a service that you set up and then forget it’s there. Any time you modify or add a new file, it automatically gets uploaded for safe keeping. There is generally a monthly or yearly fee that is based on the amount of data and the number of computers you are backing up. Two popular services like this are Crashplan and BackBlaze. You can read a review/comparison of those at Lickerhacker.com.
However, for frugal people who don’t mind a DIY solution, you should definitely check out Bittorent’s Sync program.
Sync is a free program that transfers new or updated files between computers automatically once you have them linked up. You can sync your data between two computers in your house or a computer that is off-site. If you are only concerned with a hardware failure, backing data up within your house is just fine. However, for a catastrophic event (fire, flood, etc) you should have your data backed up to an off-site location. Sync can handle this as well.
The only equipment required is:
- Source Computer(s)
- This is your main computer you use every day. Could be a desktop or laptop. Whatever computer you keep your files on is what I will refer to as the Source Computer
- Backup Computer
- This is the secondary computer that your data will get backed up to. It could be a spare computer that sits in a basement or closet. It could be another computer used by someone else in your house. It could be a computer you stash at a friend or family member’s house for safe keeping. The only requirement is that it has enough hard drive space to hold all the files. If you want to backup multiple Source Computers to one Backup Computer, you simply need to install a large enough (or multiple) hard drives to hold all the data. Maybe you have an older desktop computer laying around that you don’t use. Install a couple big hard drives in it and you’re up and running.
- All the data is backed up over your home network or the internet. The faster the internet speed on both ends, the quicker new/updated files will be copied over.
Step 1: What to Backup?
Before you start installing software, you need to decide what data you want to back up. Windows computers generally store files in folders such as Documents, Downloads, Pictures, and Videos. You need to decide which folders have important data in them and which have files you don’t need to save. Files in the Downloads folder can generally be redownloaded so you might not want to take up the time and space of backing them up. In the end, it’s up to you what you want to save and what you don’t.
Step 2: Installing Sync
Head over to www.getsync.com and download the Free version of the program. Install it like you would any other program and choose whichever options you want. You definitely want to have it run every time Windows starts or it won’t back up your data.
Install Sync on both your Source Computer(s) and the Backup Computer in the same way.
Step 3: Share Some Folders
When the Sync program opens, you will see a mostly blank screen. Click the Add Folder button and navigate to a folder you want to back up. Once you select the folder you will be presented with some options.
- Read Only
- Setting up a Sync share as Read Only means that any new or changed files on the Source computer will be automatically copied to the Backup computer. However, any changes to files made on the backup computer will NOT be copied back to the Source computer. If the Backup computer is only used for the Sync backups, a Read Only share is perfect
- Read & Write
- A Read & Write share means that any files added or changed on either computer will get synced over to the other side. If you use Sync to share a folder between two computer so different people can work on the same files, you would want to choose this type of share.
If you leave the Peers must be Approved box checked, when your Backup computer tries to start syncing, you will have to approve the first connection. You can leave this unchecked if you are simply setting up a sync between two of your own computers. If you are sharing a link with someone else to share a folder, you should leave the box checked to make sure the Sync link gets to the correct person
The other check-boxes should be self explanatory.
Finally, you can choose a few ways to create the connection. The easiest way is to use Email but you can use a Key or QR code as well. I prefer to simply email myself the link and then check my email on the other computer to complete the setup. To do so, click the Email button and it will open a pre-composed email that you can send to whomever you’d like. Alternatively you can click the Copy button and then paste the link into an email manually.
Step 4: Start Syncing
Assuming you completed Step 3 for one or more folders, you should now have one or more links waiting in your email. Check your email on the Backup computer and click one of the links. You should be presented with a website with buttons to click depending on if you have already installed Sync or not. Click the appropriate button and then choose to launch the Sync program. It will prompt you to select a folder to put the files that sync across the connection.
If you are going to be syncing multiple Source computers to one Backup computer, I recommend you create a folder for each computer and then let Sync create sub-folders for the actual data. For example:
Sync will automatically add the folder name onto whatever folder you choose so you would only have to choose the Computer1 folder and Sync will append Documents (or Pictures, Videos, etc) to the end.
Once you confirm the folder, the syncing should start. You can repeat Step 4 for any other folders you are syncing.
Step 5: Finishing Up
By default, Sync only shows you a few columns in the main window. Right-click on the header bar and you can turn on other columns such as Receiving, Sending, Progress, etc. You will then be able to see the speed the transfers are working as well as an estimate of how long it will take to complete.
If you are setting up a computer that you are going to keep at an off-site location, I recommend configuring it and letting the initial sync take places while the computers are on the same network as it will be much faster. When the initial sync is done, then take the Backup computer to its final home and it will only have to sync any new or updated files.
I have been using sync for years and it works great. Originally I only used it to sync pictures I downloaded from our camera between my laptop and my wife’s laptop so we always had all our pictures. Now I use it in the following ways:
- Syncing the pictures from our digital camera between my laptop, my wife’s laptop, a media computer in the basement, and an off-site computer for safe keeping
- Syncing my Documents folder to the media computer and the off-site computer
- Syncing my wife’s Documents folder to the media computer and the off-site computer
- Syncing other files from the Media computer to a secondary Media computer
Sync is a very powerful program and works very well. You can read about how other companies and organizations use Sync on the Sync Blog.