You hear a lot about file synchronization tools, but why might you want to sync your files? There are many reasons, but two are particularly useful – backing up files and making it easier to move files between computers using a removable UBS drive.
Manually syncing files can be a nightmare, especially if you are working on more than one computer. FreeFileSync does all of the hard work for you, so you can quickly compare the contents of two folders and copy files in either direction to ensure they are identical.
The program helps to automate the entire process, so you can always be sure that the latest version of a file has been copied to the folder you are going to be working from.
Getting Set Up
The first thing to do is to head over to the FreeFileSync web site and grab yourself a copy of the free, open source tool. Click the Download link to the left of the page to be taken to the latest version and then run through the installation.
The program is only 6.4MB in size, so you can be up and running very quickly; the only choice you have to make is whether to install the software normally or as a portable app. We’re going to take a look at the regular usage of the program, and it’s worth pointing out that the installer will also try to add the AOL Search Bar to your computer, so take care to deselect this unless you are interested in it.
The interface is divided into three sections – the overview pane followed by a pane for both your source and target folders. Click the Browse button in the central pane and select the folder you’d like to use as the source (i.e. the folder containing the files you’d like to backup) and then select the destination folder in the right hand pane. To save time you can also drag folders from Explorer onto the program interface.
You have just created your first folder pairing, but you can add more pairs to a synchronization job so you can sync multiple locations at one. Click the green + button and repeat the process of adding a source and destination folder. This can be done as many times as you like so you can set up quite complex backup and sync routines that take care of many folders simultaneously.
Setting Sync Options
FreeFileSync offers a number of different methods of synchronization and which one you choose will depend on the type of files you are working with and how you want to deal with them. To start configuring the options you’d like to use, click the green cog button to the upper right of the program window. There are four different sync settings to choose from, but for most cases you should find that Automatic does the job perfectly – this allows you to work with files in both the source and destination folder and any changes will be reflected in the other locations
However, the Mirror and Update options are also useful for backup purposes. Mirroring ensures that the destination folder is an exact copy of the source – although any changes you make to the destination will not be reflected in the source – with Updating will only copy new or updated files from source to destination, but will not delete files that are removed.
You can also use the Custom setting to tailor things to your precise needs. With this option activated, you can use the icons in the Configuration area to the right to choose how files should be dealt with. Hover the mouse over each icon in the Category column to see what each represent – from a scenario in which a file exist in the source, or left, folder but not the destination, or right, one, to a conflict rising. You can then cycle through options in the action column by clicking the icon that appears to the right to choose between copying in either direction, deleting files, overwriting files, doing nothing, or generating an error.
In this way it is possible to build up very complex rules, and in the ‘Deletion handling’ seciotn below you can choose how to deal with files that have been deleted. For safety, you can choose to move deleted files to the Recycle Bin, but there is also a very handy versioning option that moves deleted or overwritten files to a subfolder so you can track changes that are made. Alternatively, you can opt to have deleted files permanently removed.
With the essential settings in place, you can start synchronizing your files. Click the Compare button to the upper left of the program window and you’ll be presented with an overview of what is going to happen when you run the sync job for real. If you’re happy to proceed, click the Synchronise button to the upper right.
Once your sync job has been created, you can save it as a batch file so you can run through the whole procedure more quickly in future. From the Advanced menu, select the ‘Create batch job’ option and check that the settings displayed are correct. Click Save As and enter a name before saving the files which you can then double click to run the batch job in future. Also FreeFileSync does not include a scheduling option of its own, there is nothing to stop you from creating an automated task with Windows’ Task Schduler.
Versatility is an attribute that is attached to many applications, but it is certainly applicable here. There are numerous uses for syncing files in different locations, but many synchronization tools lack the range of options that are found in FreeFileSync.
Flexibility is the order of the day, and this is tool that can turn its hand to all manner of file copying and backup scenarios. Try it out for yourself and you’re sure to be impressed.