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Posted November 2, 2009

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Backing-up and Synchronizing Files with SyncToy

SyncToy vrs. Windows Live Sync

Posted by Scoroncocolo November 2, 2009

Synchronizing Files with SyncToySynctoy can move folders full of files from one location to another and then keep those folders perfectly synchronized.

Awhile back I wrote about Windows live Sync, a free Microsoft Cloud-based file synchronization service. As most TechPage readers know, a cloud-based service or utility is one that resides on the Internet and you interface with it using a web browser like Microsoft's Internet Explorer. And Live Sync is a good way to synchronize files across different computers. However it does have its limitations. You're allowed to sychronize only 20 folders containing files no larger than 4 GB in size. So if you're wanting to synchronize large amounts of data with computers that are connected together in a LAN (local area network) Microsoft's Powertoy called SyncToy may be a better option for you. And SyncToy is an excellent tool for backing-up and syncing your folders and files onto external hard drives, large thumb drives or a second hard drive on your computer. SyncToy is free and can be downloaded from the Microsoft Download Center. Unlike Windows Live Sync, SyncToy is not cloud-based software. It's a stand-alone utility that resides on your hard drive. In other words, it's just another program that you access from your Start Menu. But even though SyncToy is able to synchronize vastly larger amounts of data than Windows live Syn, it lacks one of Windows live Syn's most convenient features. Live Sync works automatically keeping the data you've configured it to synchronize perfectly mirrored in real-time. Synctoy, on the other hand, must be run manually.

Spyware Infested Websites

Spyware Infested Websites

But Microsoft's SyncToy can do a whole host of things that Live Sync can't do, or can't do very easily. SyncToy can work with entire folders and even folders within folders. Live Sync can only deal with individual files within a specific folder. SyncToy can move multiple folders and files from one location to another and then once they are moved, SyncToy can be configured to keep those files and folders synchronized. With Live Sync you can synchronize files from one computer to another via the Internet and that's very cool. SyncToy allows you to move and then sync whole folders worth of files to any location your computer can see. I have a second hard drive on my main desktop and I regularly use SyncToy to copy my entire My Documents folder on to this spare hard drive in case my main hard drive suddenly dies. When that happens, and it will eventually because the lives of todays hard drives are measured in dog-years or less, all of the contents of my My Documents folder will be stored on this separate hard drive. So moving and then synchronizing data locally, i.e. to a flash drive, external hard drive or a second hard drive, is something that SyncToy can easily do that Windows Live Sync cannot.

How to Configure and Use SyncToy

You can download SyncToy from Microsoft Download Center but it's much easier to download SyncToy from Cnet. Once you install it and open it up for the first time SyncToy will help you find the two folders you want to keep in sync.

Spyware Infested Websites

Spyware Infested Websites

Let's say that the job you want SyncToy to do is to synchronize your My Pictures folder inside the My Documents folder of your desktop computer running XP with the Public Pictures folder inside the Public folder on a laptop running Vista or Win 7. The two computers must be networked together. Open SyncToy on your desktop computer. You'll see the SyncToy main page. It will look like the image in the text box above this one. Click the button near the bottom that reads Create New Folder Pair and you will be present with another smaller page that looks like the one just above this text. Here is where we pair up the folders we want SyncToy to synchronize. So click the Browse button beside the Left Folder and browse down until you find your My Pictures folder. Click it to highlight it and then click O.K.. Now click the Browse button near the Right Folder and find the Pictures Folder in the Public folder of the other computer. Naturally, you'll want to begin your search for this folder by clicking the little + sign beside My Network Places.

Once both Folder Pair boxes have the correct addresses in them you'll want to click Next and choose what exactly you want SyncToy to do. You can instruct SyncToy to perform any of the following tasks:

  • Synchornize  New and updated files are copied both ways. Renames and deletes in one folder are repeated in the other.

  • Echo  New and updated files will be copied left to Right and Renames and deletes are repeated on the right.

  • Subscribe  Files that have been changed (updated) on the Right are copied on the Left if the file name already exists on the left.

  • Contribute  The same as Echo except there are no deletions.

  • Combine  New and updated files are copied both ways. Renamed and deleted files are ignored.

Having so many ways to configure SyncToy might seem confusing at first glance. But if you read through the options carefully you'll see that each function would come in handy in various situations. When I performed this particular operation I'm describing, I used the Echo command. That way SyncToy didn't have to check for any files that needed to be synced. All it had to do was move the files from My Pictures on the XP machine to the Public folder on the Vista. The only photos in the Public folder on the Vista computer were sample pictures that were pre-installed from the factory. Now that the files have been successfully moved, I have edited the folder pair so that instead of Echo I'll use the command Synchronize. That way the next time I run that Folder Pair, any file I've moved into either of the two folders will be duplicated in the other folder.

More on Configuring and Using SyncToy

After choosing which backup or synchronization strategy you want to use, you click Next and type a name for your Folder Pair. In the operation I'm describing, I called my Folder Pair PublicPictures. This reminds me of what the files are (photos) and where they are located or were backed-up to (Public Folder on the Vista computer). You can create as many Folder Pairs as you like. If you'll look at the first illustration at the top of the page you'll see the Folder Pairs I have created in SyncToy. (Right-click the image in Firefox and click Zoom for a better look. In IE 7 and 8 use Ctrl plus the plus key to zoom for a better look and then ctrl plus the hyphen key to zoom back to normal) All of these Folder Pairs are ready to run. I simply highlight one of them and click Run and the operation begins. Looking closely at the image at the top of this page you may have noticed that at the bottom of all of the Folder Pair options that you can run you can choose the Run All option. This will run all the above options one at a time from top to bottom.

So after you have named your Folder Pair, click Finish and you'll be presented with a page that looks similar to the one at the top of this page. You can then click Preview to preview the operation that is highlighted. Or you can click Run and SyncToy will perform the operation you have highlighted. You can also choose to create more Folder Pairs at this time. If you choose to run the highlighted operation, Synctoy will run the operation and then present you with a page that will show you how many files were backed-up or successfully synchronized and how many, if any, failed.

In this demonstration, we made a copy of everything in the My Pictures folder located in My Documents on an XP machine onto the Pictures folder located in the Public folder on a Vista computer that was networked to the XP. You can use SyncToy to backup and Sync to thumb drives, external hard drives or any other device that your computer can see. You may have wondered why I chose to use the Public folder on my Vista for the Right Folder Pair rather than some other destination. Vista doesn't share well, even when told to do so. However you won't have any problems if you use Vista's Public folder. Once the files are in that folder, it's a simple matter to copy or move them anywhere else within Vista you want. And yes, SyncToy does work with Windows 7.

Microsoft's SyncToy is powerful and very useful software. It's also absolutely free.

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