Disaster Recovery

Review: SyncToy 2.1 file synchronization

If you are looking for a simple, straightforward, reliable backup tool, then SyncToy might be the best solution for you.

When was the last time you backed up your system? I hope it was recently, because you know it is inevitable that someday your system is going to come crashing down. Without a backup of your data you are lost in the woods.

Naturally there are tons of options available. Some of them are very costly and some of them are free. Some of the free options are fairly good while some of them make you wonder why anyone would bother paying for a full-priced application. SyncToy is one such tool. And because SyncToy is designed built by Microsoft, you know it shouldn't have any issues working with Windows.

Requirements

Who's it for?

Because SyncToy does not have a built-in scheduler component, I have a hard time recommending this tool for larger businesses. Although you can, with the help of the Microsoft Task Scheduler, set up a scheduled backup with SyncToy, for Enterprise users who require a dependable, regular backup scheme I would look for another option. For those that do not mind using an external application to handle the scheduling of SyncToy this application is outstanding. Not only is it easy to use, it is reliable.

What problem does it solve?

SyncToy solves the issue of having reliable backups (to either a local folder, connected drive, or network location). And, with the help of a very user-friendly interface anyone can have backups running smoothly.

Standout features

  • Dynamic drive letter assignment
  • True Folder Sync
  • File exclusion based on exact or fuzzy name
  • File/folder filtering based on attributes
  • Command line usage
  • 64-bit support
  • Easy to use interface
  • Small footprint, fast

What's wrong?

As previously stated, SyncToy does not include a built-in scheduler. Because of this, some users will be hesitant to take advantage of this well done, free tool. If Microsoft would build in a scheduler for SyncToy, larger businesses or even Enterprise users might take advantage of this application.

Competitive products

Bottom line for business

If you are looking for a backup tool, and the idea of using a third-party scheduling solution doesn't bother you, then SyncToy might be the best solution for you. And don't let the price tag fool you, this "toy" will get the job done and do it well. It's not as feature-rich as some of its costlier brethren, but SyncToy performs and will keep your data backed up.

User rating

Have you encountered or used SyncToy? If so, what do you think? Rate your experience and compare the results to what other TechRepublic members think. Give your own personal review in the TechRepublic Community Forums or let us know if you think we left anything out in our review.

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About

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website getjackd.net.

32 comments
danbromberg
danbromberg

How does SyncToy know what to do in the RIGHT folder when I rename a file in the LEFT folder (or vice versa) ? Thanks, Dan

snchunduru
snchunduru

Synctoy not copying new and updated files from left (laptop) to right being Home PC where both are on Windows 7. Can some one suggest any fixes?

rob.g.davis
rob.g.davis

The version of synctoy that I tried had a big flaw - it sent the log, which details every file syncronised, to the event log. Each event log entry has a limited maximum size and so if backing up lots of files then synctoy fails when the event log runs out of room. I met this problem which was compounded by a lack of error message. I use Syncbak in preference to this product.

NexS
NexS

I've recently used this as a replacement for Windows Offline Files as I have experienced no end to the complications and road blocks with using offline files. There was a batch file I've plugged into the Startup folder in a user's profile which runs a specified folder pair. Sure, it's a little messy, but not as messy as changing group policies to allow scheduled tasks. So in one respect, no good for business users that want a complete package, but hey! It's a pretty good freebee!

john3347
john3347

I have 4 desktop computers (downstairs, upstairs, garage, workshop) that are perpetually connected to a Windows Home Server and have two laptops that are connected sporadically. I have been using SyncToy since version 1.4 to sync connector computers to the Windows Home Server. During this time, I have been searching for a better product that will sync, not only to a central storage, but to each other. If I am in the shop and make a change to a drawing, I want that change to immediately be applied to all computers on the network automatically when I close the application. If I add some pictures to the "Pictures" sub-folder in "All Documents" from the downstairs computer, I want those pictures to automatically be sent to all the other computers on the network immediately after I close that application. WHS, would need to be included in this sync process, but would not have to be. Can anyone recommend a sync program that can perform this task? edit: grammar

billfranke
billfranke

I used to use SyncToy on my notebook to sync my work files on my notebook and desktop PCs, but it frankly created more problems than it solved. It wouldn't always copy all the files -- work files, not hidden files or system files or .db or .ini files -- and all too often, I would have recreate the sync jobs, so I now use the paid versions of AllWay Sync (http://allwaysync.com/)and GoodSync (http://www.goodsync.com/). They're only US$20 and they do a much better job. They also both offer free upgrades forever. While the USB drive I use for syncing the files serves as a partial backup of the important work files that I sync, I have a separate backup USB HDD that automatically does its thing about 5 times a day.

XnavyDK
XnavyDK

I use it to sync folders from user pc's as a cheapo method of backing up certain files. Like the back end of our payroll program that resides on ONE machine that is critical to our business that one Moro... user that couldn't find their way out of a paper... wont let the back up program run like its supposed to because they keep shutting the computer off no matter how many *(&^%$ times i tell her not to. yes I use it and like it, it does schedule sort of.

jkiernan
jkiernan

All current versions of Windows include a task scheduler, so I don't see that as an issue. Here's a bigger problem. Synctoy does not work properly when synchronizing to multiple USB drives. I have 5 external drives, one labeled for each day of the week, that I connect on the proper day. Synctoy is unable to function correctly in this scenario. I've been using XXCopy and Karen's PowerTools' Replicator depending upon my specific need.

Marty-7
Marty-7

As has been posted before on Tech Republic, read Help | Learn how to schedule Synctoy. Not a gazillion options, but you get what you pay for.

dev
dev

Like someone else mentioned, I use it to synchronize files between a desktop and laptop computer before and after a trip. But I also use virtual machines for testing and have a VPN connection to a company's corporate network, so this tool has come to be very useful. Its command-line parameter support is not difficult, so scheduling a task for automated file-level backups is quite straight-forward.

jgurtz
jgurtz

We are an enterprise but don't use this for backup. What we use it for is a one-way sync from a central server to some laptops (large quantities of photos). We do use the task scheduler with a wrapper batch file, which I've pasted below. The task sched. is ideal for us because it means there is no service or app always running in the background sucking up resources or threatening the stability of the machine. The main pain-point for us is management and reporting. We do have a reporting script that attempts to keep track of which laptops have synchronized and it works well enough. Currently we're enhancing the reporting by putting it in MS SQL Reporting services. Would be great to have a way to adjust settings or force syncs in a centralized way... Wrapper Script (needs powershell too): @ECHO off SET SyncToy="C:\Program Files\SyncToy 2.1\SyncToyCmd.exe" SET Name= SET EchoCmd=%SyncToy% -R %Name% ::Sync %Name% with network connectivity error handling ECHO.Attempting to sync %Name%... net use x: /del /y 2>&1>NUL net use x: \\path\to\sourceShare 2>&1>NUL IF NOT ERRORLEVEL 1 GOTO Sync1 ECHO.Network Unavailable, Aborting... GOTO End :Sync1 %EchoCmd% ::Zero means success, so also gather date info and log to :: clientstatus folder. Reporting script reads from there... :: If not success, delete x: drive and finish w/o logging IF NOT %ERRORLEVEL%==0 GOTO :Del_net_use ::Put year, month, day, hour, and minute into vars SET PS=powershell -command "& {get-date -uformat '%%m/%%d/%%Y %%H:%%M'}" FOR /F "usebackq tokens=1-6 delims=/: " %%g IN (`%PS%`) DO ( SET mo=%%g SET dd=%%h SET yy=%%i SET hh=%%j SET mm=%%k ) SET DestFile=X:\path\to\ClientStatus\%COMPUTERNAME%.txt ECHO.LastSync: %yy%%mo%%dd%-%hh%%mm% > %DestFile% ECHO.ExitCode: %ERRORLEVEL% >> %DestFile% :Del_net_use net use x: /del /y 2>&1>NUL :End ECHO.Done

Slayer_
Slayer_

Any folders in the Left will get hidden synctoy files added. Very bad for source control. I've always hated the SourceSave does this, but Synctoy does as well, and they seemingly have no purpose. SyncToy_2d1ce2a3-e60e-407f-94aa-53dff10f2626.dat Otherwise, I do use this tool for updating my Laptop before business trips with the latest copies of our development system and installation packages.

Mark W. Kaelin
Mark W. Kaelin

What do you use to backup your workstations? Do you require more than SyncToy has to offer?

jeffer3
jeffer3

Thank you for the link to run scheduler in Vista and XP. At the risk of sounding foolish, are the steps the same for Win 7? I am running Win 7 at home (as I am able) to try and migrate work programs, test them for bugs, and setup a home/small business network with backup. I read these articles and appreciate the positive input and technical expertise of the writers. It is like having a dedicated R&D panel for my small business. Kudos gentlemen!

jddbusiness
jddbusiness

Have you considered google docs to do what you want so that every computer would have immediate access to the revised drawing??

jkiernan
jkiernan

If all the devices are online, try Dropbox.

peter
peter

it's kind of funny you edited your post for grammar, then misspelled it.

jgurtz
jgurtz

These are annoying, but I believe they save state so that it's quick to only sync the deltas of changes. If you're using a version control system you might want to think about migrating to one which uses the distributed model. Hg (Mercurial) or Git are two fine examples. On Windows, just install the Tortoise Hg client and play about with it for an easy gui version. There's a nice tutorial here: http://hginit.com/

cellnucleous
cellnucleous

I've been using this for a while http://www.educ.umu.se/~cobian/cobianbackup.htm it's free. But you can donate if you like, I'm not affiliated. From the site:"Cobian Backup is not an usual backup application: it only copies your files and folders in original or compressed mode to other destination, creating a security copy as a result. So Cobian Backup can be better described as a "Scheduler for security copies". Cobian Backup supports several methods of compression and strong encryption."

Da Saint
Da Saint

Any backup is better than not having one at all and SyncToy is simple enough to use that I've set it up for both friends and customers of mine. I'll take a backup from a hard drive to an external USB over any tape backup solution out there.

wellcraft19
wellcraft19

I like SyncToy, it is fast, relatively "smart", low on system resources, and very easy to use (needed for wife). But, there are some issues that not even Microsoft has been able to figure out, and those put the true reliability of the backup jobs into question. I have two directories (music) that are essentially identical; file names, file attributes, change/access/modify dates are the identical for both left and right folders. SyncToy still wants to copy ALL files from left to right - not only the few added or changed files. Been asking MSFT for a long time about this, a lot of back and forth, but still no answer as to why ST behaves in this manner. It sort of defeates the purpose if there are only two files that are to be copied, but SyncToy wants to copy over 8,000 files...

TheOnlyRick
TheOnlyRick

SyncToy ignores thumbs.db or dekstop.ini files (and other system files?). Not a problem in itself, but annoying if you're manually checking whether the sync procedure was successful, and the two meant-to-be identical folders don't match. R.

JCP6
JCP6

For Servers I use the inbuilt Win 2008 Backup by for workstations I'm using Oops!Backup. What's great is that it's all automatic, backs up changes only and fantastically easy to use - so easy that my users can restore themselves without involving me. A hidden gem. Oh .. the company is called Altaro - http://www.altaro.com

jeb.hoge
jeb.hoge

I use a cloud-based service to back up my primary PC (laptop), but I use SyncToy to crossload my MP3 library to my second PC (Ubuntu). It works pretty well, although I usually need to authenticate through network before SyncToy will work. But it beats the heck out of doing it manually.

dev
dev

The steps in the article for Vista are basically the same as they are for Win 7.

dbielaski
dbielaski

I, too, have been using Cobian Backup for our home systems, and would highly recommend it. It's easy to configure, can run as a Windows service, and allows for backup tasks to be scheduled / automated. I have 2 main jobs: 1 that backs up to an external USB HDD, and 1 that connects via FTP to our web site and backs up there. You can also control the number of historical backups to keep around, as well as configure Cobian to send an E-mail notification with the job log info. For a free program, it is very robust and offers an impressive amount of functionality. I haven't tried using SyncToy in a while, but never had much luck with it......

NexS
NexS

It has to index everything first to find which changes need to be done... I've not seen it act in the way you've described. I've got it in place to backup a manager's "My Documents" to a network drive from a laptop. No hassles with it at all...

jeffer3
jeffer3

I was hesitant to start following the instructions without an idea if it would be a much different process. I believe a lot of users will face the same hurdle. They adopted Vista, ran into problems, and reverted back to XP. Now they face a jump from XP to Win 7. I personally like Win 7, but have not made the transition for business.

NexS
NexS

Then make the way! I guess, you could just use Windows' auto-backup doover thingy to set up a scheduled backup to an external disk. Either way works, I guess. Though, personally, I don't back up at all... I know, I'm an Idiot!

wellcraft19
wellcraft19

Thanks NexS, I started with that long time ago (indexing from scratch) and it was running perfectly for "years". This "problem" just happened one day w/o any other changes to the system, and massive amounts of data was indicated to be overwritten. Just weird. With storage prices going down on a dayly basis, maybe it is time to abandon SyncToy and just do a large amount of "full" multiple incremental copies...

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