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Because we have to. In this age of instant communications and instant access availability to our digitized life, no one can risk having an updated file in his/her home computer and an outdated file in the work computer. No one can risk losing all contact details when his/her cell phone is broken. Digital life has some shortcomings: the data can easily be lost, corrupted, or outdated. For lost and corrupted files, you should back up. To keep up with the recent files you should sync.
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Synctoy is Microsoft's solution to the syncing issue. I have to admit that they have touched the right point: we have our cell phones, PDAs, laptop computers, netbooks, USB sticks, external hard drives, and personal spaces on the Internet. How could we track which one has the most recent version of this particular file?
I will assume a case where you have an portable disk connected to your Windows computer. Habitually every day, when you finish your work, you copy your data to your disk and remove it. When you get back home, you find out that you forgot to copy your files to your portable disk. Let's make sure that you will not face a situation from now on.
We go to the Synctoy 2.0's download page and click the download button. Synctoy requires .NET Framework to run, so I recommend you to upgrade to the latest .NET version on your computer, although version 2.0 is fine with Synctoy. The installation does not require a reboot.
When you open the Synctoy, you will see a very simple window. Before getting our hands dirty, let me explain the logic of Synctoy. To be able to synchronize something, you need to have a main file/folder that you are working on and a place that you want to have them synchronized. In our example, suppose that you have your working files in My Documents\Work\Reports folder and you want them to be synchronized to \Work\Reports folder in your portable disk. In Synctoy's usage, the left folder is the main folder and the right folder is the folder where you will synchronize. In our example, the left folder is My Documents\Work\Reports and right folder is \Work\Reports.
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There are three synchronization options: Synchronize, Echo, and Contribute. The default actions for these options are as follows:
- Synchronize: New and updated files are copied to both left and right folders. So, in our example, no matter where you make the change, in My Documents or in the portable disk, both folders will have the same files. If you rename or delete a file, the action will be repeated for the left and right folders.
- Echo: When you make any changes (new files, updated files, renames, deletions) the changes are only applied from left to right. So, any changes you make in your portable drive will not be reflected to your My Documents folder.
- Contribute: New and updated files and renames on the left are copied to the right. The deletions on the left are not applied to the right.
You can choose one of the three options to set as a basis for your synchronization. Then carry on with the wizard, choose your left and right folders and finish the wizard. To fine tune the synchronization options, choose “Change options” under the “Options for this folder pair” menu in the main window.
After you set all your options, you can just click “Run” on the lower right section of the Synctoy window to have your folders synchronized. That's all!
For the curious, I would like to tell one thing about removable drive letter assigning in Windows. We all know that we plug in our USB stick and sometimes Windows assigns -say- letter G: and other times it assignes letter H:. Synctoy does not get confused with the drive letters, and whatever letter is assigned by Windows, it handles the folders without intervention.
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I had a couple of questions before using SyncToy. After I began to use it, I figured out Microsoft followed the right way to go with this kind of simple tool. There are no fancy interfaces, no detailed menus, no detailed configuration windows, no wizards, and no clutter. It was just simple: set two folders to synchronize, choose how you want them to be synchronized and go; at this point I would recommend the Redmond people to keep this program as simple as possible.
From a user's perspective, I found Synctoy incredibly helpful. With a couple of tricks you can squeeze the most out of it, but this will be the topic for another article.