SolutionBase: Keep multiple computers in sync with SyncToy

The SyncToy interface is surprisingly user friendly for such a complex tool

This gallery is also available as a TechRepublic article.

System requirements

To begin with, you should note that SyncToy works with both Windows XP Professional and Windows XP Home Edition. However, Microsoft strongly suggests that you install all critical and recommended Windows Updates prior to installing SyncToy. In fact, SyncToy requires that you upgrade Windows XP to SP2. In addition to the SP2 requirement, SyncToy requires that you have Microsoft .NET Framework version 1.1 installed.

In the hardware department, the minimum requirements for installing SyncToy are:

  • 1GHz Intel P3 processor or equivalent
  • 256MB RAM, 512MB RAM recommended
  • 20MB free disk space

To determine if you already have the .NET Framework installed, begin by clicking Start button, selecting Control Panel, and then double-clicking the Add or Remove Programs icon. When you see the Add or Remove Programs window, scroll through the Currently Installed Programs list and look for Microsoft .NET Framework 1.1.

If you see it listed, make sure that you also have Microsoft .NET Framework 1.1 Hotfix listed. If you don't see the Hotfix listed, follow the instructions below for installing Microsoft .NET Framework 1.1 Service Pack 1.

If you don't see Microsoft .NET Framework 1.1 in the Currently Installed Programs list, point Internet Explorer to the Windows Update site (, select the Custom button, select the optional software category, and look for Microsoft .NET Framework. When you do so, you'll find two versions of Microsoft .NET Framework--1.1 and 2.0. Since SyncToy specifically requires 1.1, you must download and install it. (If you bypass 1.1 and go straight to 2.0, SyncToy will not install.)

In addition to .NET Framework 1.1, you need to install Microsoft .NET Framework 1.1 Service Pack 1. To do so, point Internet Explorer to the Windows Update site (, select the Express button and allow Windows Update to scan your system. Because you have Microsoft .NET Framework 1.1 installed, Windows Update will recommend Microsoft .NET Framework 1.1 Service Pack 1 in the High Priority Updates section. Just follow the online instructions to download and install it.

Downloading and installing SyncToy

SyncToy is available as a free download from the Microsoft Download Center. However, keep in mind that while Microsoft ensures that SyncToy, or any of the other PowerToys for that matter, will work as described, they stop short of guaranteeing them. Furthermore, they're not officially supported by Microsoft, which means that Microsoft Technical Support will not answer questions on problems with SyncToy. Nevertheless, I've been using this tool quite extensively for some time now and haven't encountered any major problems.

When you arrive at the SyncToy download page, just follow the onscreen instructions for the Genuine Windows Validation procedure and begin the download. Once you've downloaded the Setup.msi file, just double-click the file to launch the SyncToy Setup Wizard. Then, follow along to install SyncToy. When the installation is complete, you'll find the SyncToy shortcut on the All Programs menu.

Getting started with SyncToy

The first time that you run SyncToy, you'll find that it sports a very straight forward interface. As you can see above, the opening screen prompts you to select a pair of folders that you want to keep in sync. As you can see, for simplicity the folders are designated as the Left Folder and the Right Folder. More about these folders in a moment.

By Greg Shultz

Greg Shultz is a freelance Technical Writer. Previously, he has worked as Documentation Specialist in the software industry, a Technical Support Specialist in educational industry, and a Technical Journalist in the computer publishing industry.