Sync Files Across Multiple Computers With BitTorrent

Earlier this year Microsoft broke my heart by doing away with Live Mesh, a part of what was once known as the Windows Live Essentials suite of apps. In recent times the company has scaled back the service and also taken the Live out of the name, making it simply Windows Essentials.

There are a number of ways to replace Live Mesh — Microsoft would prefer for you to move on to SkyDrive, but the functionality is different, as the cloud serves as an intermediary and if you are syncing more than 7 GB of files then this will cost you. Microsoft also still makes SyncToy available for free, which is the Live Mesh predecessor. I have also used SyncBack SE and can attest that this app is an excellent replacement.

BitTorrent, a legitimate service that has largely been pigeonholed as an illegal file-sharing service, has been producing apps recently that are geared towards helping users with both video streaming and file synchronization, among other things.

BitTorrent Sync debuted back in January in private alpha testing, a test I was fortunate enough to be involved with. Now the app, although still considered alpha, is available to the general public.

New Features:

  • One-way synchronization – You can now sync to a read-only file. This allows for your team, or family, to receive updates from you without them having the ability to edit or accidentally delete the source material.
  • One-time secrets – As a refresh, “secrets” are the keys that allow you to share and access folders over Sync. One Time Secrets is a security feature for instances when you do not want a master key and need a use-once solution. It will expire the Secret after 24 hours.
  • Option to Exclude Files/Directories – if you’re syncing all your docs, but wanted to exclude one due to privacy, version control, or any other reason, this feature allows you to do so.

Download and Setup

The app is now at version 1.0.116 and you can grab the file from the BitTorrent Labs. The program is a minuscule 610 KB download and installs rather quickly, with only a few options that you will need to choose from during the process.

Setup is handled from the “Shared Folders” tab. Here you will find two simple options — Add and Remove. Click on the Add button and browse to the folder you wish to sync, click on it and the app will begin scanning all files within the folder.

Getting Started

Now that you have the app setup and a folder to sync you can begin getting things situated in the way you want them. Sticking with the Shared Folders tab, you can right-click on the file your shared to view a context menu of options.

  • Open Folder
  • Copy Secret
  • Show folder preferences

Copy Secret will automatically copy the 24-hour code that you can then use on another system in order to set up sync between the two computers. Just remember to use the code within that time or you will need to generate a new one.

Folder Preferences has a number of options contained within two tabs — General and Advanced. General contains several options that you are unlikel to have any need to mess with. However, Advanced contains something you will need. Remember that “secret” code mentioned earlier? This is where you will find it. In fact, there are two versions — one for full access and one for “Read only”. YOu can also generate a new one from here if you so choose.

History

History, as the name implies, will display a chronological list of files that have been synced. This includes that date, time and the file path.

Preferences

By default all of the options on the Preferences tab are enabled. This includes your Device Name, the Listening Port, and several check boxes.

  • Show notifications for completed downloads
  • Start BitTorrent Sync when Windows starts
  • Use NAT UPnP port mapping
  • Check for updates automatically

There is also an “Advanced” option which will pop up a small box that displays several values — there were four in my case with two set to “True” and two to “False”. If you wish to change these settings then click on any value to highlight it and then choose between the true and false radio buttons at the bottom of the window.

The Other Computer

Now that you have everything set up it is time to move on to point of all of this — the computer you wish to sync files with. You will need to download BitTorrent Sync to this next computer as well. However, set is just a bit different.

During setup you will need to choose the option to enter in a “Secret” code. The option is available in setup, but don’t worry if you miss it — you can always do this later.

The Verdict

I have been in the market for a replacement to Microsoft Live Mesh ever since the company unceremoniously killed it. SyncToy works well, but feels a bit dated and SyncBack SE is nice but is unnecessarily complicated. BitTorrent Sync, even though it is still in alpha and has a few bugs, could well be the clean, simple solution I am looking for.

As for the bugs, the app seems solid, but has proven difficult to find certain options. For instance, while you can asily find the “Secret” code and generate a new one, finding where to enter one from another device can be difficult and I am yet to find the option for excluding certain files and folders.

In the end, while a couple of options seem to be missing, I think this could very well be the solution that replaces Live Mesh in my home.


Summary

Sync files across multiple computers.

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