DIY: Try SpiderOak, a first-rate cloud sync tool

Jack Wallen ranks SpiderOak as the best cloud-based sync tools he has used. He explains what's special about SpiderOak and describes how to use it.

I have come to depend on cloud-based storage and sync -- Ubuntu One and Dropbox are two of my go-to tools. Another lesser known but powerful and flexible cloud-sync tool that available is SpiderOak. Its feature set alone makes this tool a standout:

  • Access all your data in one de-duplicated location
  • Configurable multi-platform synchronization
  • Preserve all historical versions and deleted files
  • Share folders instantly in web ShareRooms w/RSS
  • Retrieve files from any Internet-connected device
  • Comprehensive 'zero-knowledge' data encryption
  • 2 GBs Free / $10 per 100 GBs / Unlimited devices

What's unique about SpiderOak?

In SpiderOak, the backup and sync are considered two functions; therefore, you can take a very granular approach to what you back up or sync. With Dropbox, you are pretty limited to one folder and its contents. With SpiderOak, you can specify any folder(s) on the file structure to back up and/or sync. This makes SpiderOak a much more flexible cloud sync system than any of its competitors; it also means that it's not as easy to use as Dropbox or Ubuntu One. Fear not... I walk through the steps of creating a sync pair in order to keep folders on two (or more) machines in sync.

Installing SpiderOak

SpiderOak is available for numerous platforms and works the same on each platform. Download the installer for the platform needed. Windows and Mac installations are straight-forward, but how you install on Linux will depend on your platform. For example, if you install SpiderOak on Ubuntu, you can click the download file and let gdebi install the package for you, or you can download the file and issue the command: sudo dpkg -i SpiderOak_XXX.deb (XXX is the release number).

Once the client is installed, start SpiderOak to begin the process of activating an account and setting up the backup/sync. A free account will get you 2 GB of space -- you can always upgrade later.

On first run, you will get a link to the SpiderOak signup page, where you will create an account. After you activate the account (via an email sent to you from SpiderOak), enter the login credentials the client presents. After a successful authentication, you will see the SpiderOak main window (Figure A). Figure A

The backup process in action

You cannot set up a sync until you've set up a backup; this must be done on all machines that are to be sync'd. To set up a backup, follow these steps:

  1. Open SpiderOak.
  2. Click the Back Up tab (Figure B).
  3. Expand the directory hierarchy and select the folders you want to back up.
  4. Click the Save button.
Figure B

You can select as many folders as you need -- just be careful not to exceed your limit.

Your first machine is ready to back up. Once you click Save, the backup will begin immediately. You should do this on at least two machines you have connected to your SpiderOak account, and then you can set up a sync.

Setting up a sync

You need to set up a sync because all the backups do is back up the folder to your account; these folders will be listed on a per-machine basis, so even though the folders might have the same name, they are not directly connected and thus cannot sync. In order to set folder pairs on different machines to sync, follow these steps:

  1. Open SpiderOak.
  2. Click the Sync tab.
  3. Click the New button.
  4. In the Sync Setup tab, give the sync a name and a description (Figure C). (The description is optional, but a it's good piece of information to include for clarity.)
  5. Click Next.
  6. Click the Browse button in the Selection window and then navigate to the target folder on the first machine to be sync'd.
  7. Highlight the target folder and click Select (Figure D). (You can set up more folders by clicking the "+" sign to add more.)
  8. Click the second Browse button and locate the same target folder on the second machine.
  9. Click Next.
  10. If you want to exclude files, add the exclusions (using wildcards) and click Next.
  11. In the final screen, click Start Sync, and the sync will begin.
Figure C

Name and describe the sync
Figure D

Set up more folders by clicking the "+" sign to add more.

If you need different folders to be in sync, you can set up more folder sync pairs by completing the above process and then repeating the steps for the new folder pairs.


SpiderOak offers more features, but once you understand the backup/sync process, it will be easy to figure out the other options. Of all the cloud-based sync tools I've used, SpiderOak ranks at the top. The fact that SpiderOak is so flexible and offers numerous features adds up to you being able to do more with this tool than any of its competitors.