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Synchronize Folders Between Computers and Drives with SyncToy 2.1

If you have a few different computers and drives, it can be annoying making sure the same data is each one you need. Today we take a look at making folder and data synchronization easier with the Microsoft SyncToy 2.1 utility.

You might have a flash drive that you use to carry files and documents from the workplace to your home office and vice versa. Sometimes though, you might forget to copy the files you need over to the drive. With Microsoft’s SyncToy it allows you to easily make sure the data between drives and folders is synchronized everyday. There are a lot of reasons you might want to synchronize folders. For example, maybe you want to sync your My Pictures folder with the one at work, or sync your music at home with music on another computer. This is a free tool from Microsoft that was once part of the XP Power Toys but has continued to grow and improve.

Installing SyncToy

When you install SyncToy it also installs Microsoft Sync Framework 2.0 Core Components, which is their sync platform that enables offline access to apps, services and devices.

1sync

On our Windows 7 (32-bit) system there wasn’t an option to create a shortcut for the desktop or Quick Launch Bar, but you’ll see it in the Start Menu and create a shortcut from there if you want.

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When first launching SyncToy, there is an option to participate in the Customer Experience Improvement Program. This is up to the user and participation is not necessary to use it.

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Using SyncToy

When you begin using SyncToy, you’ll need to create a new folder pair to sync your data. You can choose a pair of folders on the same machine, external drives, or over a network.

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Browse to the location of each of the folders you want to keep synced. In this example we’re syncing the contents of my home office folder and work files folder to an external flash drive.

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In the next step choose the actions you want to take place between the two folders. Synchronize is checked by default and should be fine for most users. According to the SyncToy help file, these are the differences between each action:

  • Synchronize: Updates files both ways…keeping changes like renames, deletions and edits to either folder contents the same between the two.
  • Echo: New and updated files are copied left to right. Renames and deletes on the left are repeated on the right.
  • Contribute: New and updated files are copied left to right. Renames on the left are repeated on the right. No deletions.

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Now type in a name for the synced folders and click Finish.

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A sync job has been successfully created. You’re shown the details of the job including options which you can change if you want. The job hasn’t been run yet so you can preview it or if everything looks correct click on the Run button.

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If you preview the job first it shows the files being synced and from there you might want to exclude certain ones.

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If everything goes right you’ll get a screen telling you the sync was successful.

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Here is an example of a non-successful synchronization where you can go in and see what errors had occurred.

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Also notice from the main GUI you can rename a folder pair, create a new pair, or delete a pair.

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Schedule SyncToy Tasks

While setting up the folder pairs and syncing them up manually is a great start, what you really want to do is schedule this to run automatically. Here we’ll take a look at how to schedule it to run automatically in Vista or Windows 7. We need to use Windows Task Scheduler, so click on the Start Menu and type task scheduler into the search box.

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When Task Scheduler opens click on Create Basic Task under the Action pane.

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Next type in a name and description of the task.

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Select how often you want the Synchronization to occur. This is entirely up to you…but to be sure it’s done and files in both folders are ready when you need them, go for Daily.

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Choose the date and time for it to start and keep 1 entered if you want it to occur everyday.

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Next make sure Start a program is selected.

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Finally browse to the location of SyncToy.exe where in this example it’s in C:\Program Files\SyncToy2.1\SyncToy.exe Then in the Add arguments field enter in –R by which by itself will run all folder pairs you have set up to be synced.

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You will be given an overview of how the task will run and if everything looks correct click finish.

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There are a couple of ways you can verify the synchronization task was successful. You can go into Task Scheduler and under Task Status see the last time it was executed and if it was successful.

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Or you can just look in the lower left corner of the SyncToy GUI and see when it was last run.

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Conclusion

You can create basically any amount of folder pairs you need to be synchronized. It will allows you to synchronize 2 folders across a network, on the same PC, or to USB flash or external drives. It works on XP, Vista and Windows 7 where there is a separate version for 32 & 64-bit versions. If you’re looking for a free and effective way to synchronize data between two folders on different devices, SyncToy 2.1 will get the job done.

Download SyncToy 2.1

Lowell Heddings, better known online as the How-To Geek, spends all his free time bringing you fresh geekery on a daily basis. You can follow him on if you'd like.

  • Published 12/14/09

Comments (13)

  1. Tom

    I agree about the convenience of SyncToy — I’ve been using it for a few years. But I run into a problem when I want to synchronize at the college where I teach — the systems are locked down so we can’t install software. So there I use Toucan instead (available from portableapps.,com) — since it doesn’t touch the Registry, it’s no problem running it. At least for my purposes, Toucan does essentially the same things as SyncToy,

  2. David Levine

    I briefly tried using SyncToy 2.1 a couple of weeks ago and ran into something strange. I setup a folder pair to synchronize. The right folder was my “My Documents” folder and the left folder was a folder on an external hard drive.

    When I performed the sync, files that were not in sub-folders within my “My Documents” folder were deleted. Thankfully they were placed in the Recycle Bin so nothing was lost. The folder on the external hard drive was empty, so I’m not sure why anything was deleted.

  3. InDiSent

    Been Using SyncToy since XP. Love it. I use it to sync my VMs, Wallpapers, music etc. etc. between my laptop and Desktop. Definitely a must have for anyone who uses more than one computer.

  4. jfjb

    why don’t you give a try, or a look, at SyncBack?
    They have a freeware version, if that makes you feel better.

    http://www.2brightsparks.com/

  5. Doug Barense

    I appreciate this article! This article has given me a good free alternative! I’ve been using WMatch for a while but it seems to have an issue with syncing files over a network or from a USB drive.

    I did not however get the SyncToys.exe with -R option to work. I checked the help file included in SyncToys 2.1 and it states:
    “SyncToy can be run from the command line to provide support for scheduling or automating folder pair execution. The command line executable by default is located at: [System Drive]\Program Files\SyncToy 2.1\SyncToyCmd.exe.”

    Once I changed my Scheduled Tasks to utilize “SyncToyCmd.exe.” instead of “SyncToy.exe.” it worked great.

  6. JWoolley

    I found it helpful to run SyncToy as an administrator. Right-click SyncToy.exe and select Properties, Compatibility, Privilege Level.

  7. John Mack

    I recommend a freeware synchronization program called SyncEXP (latest version: 1.92) It’s powerful, fast, and clear in how to set the parameters of a synchronization. You’ll be pleasantly surprised how something that looks so simple does so much. It’s available at softpedia.com

  8. Jeremy

    Is there a task scheduler for the Windows 7 version? I can’t seem to find it on mine.

  9. bob

    I have been using filesync by Fileware for over 12 years. In my opinion, it is the most reliable, easy to use software on the market. I have recently purchased a new computer with Windows 7 64-bit. Unfortunately, Filesync does not work in that environment.

  10. Jason

    I have this all set up as per the article. However, an annoying command prompt opens up in front of whatever I’m doing when Windows Scheduler kicks off SyncToy.

    Is there any way to prevent this???

  11. A-zone

    A very basic question – (you can probably sense my computer literacy level here) – but how do you sync the laptop with the desktop? Will it be through a portable hard drive or a flash drive acting as an intermediary? or is there a more direct connection possible?

  12. Ahmad

    Nice software.
    A-zone you can use a direct connection if both of your computers are connected on the same network then you can sync them.

  13. 2H

    This is my problem, I want to select certain folders in the My Documents of the source, on the preview you can do that, BUT I also want to pick certain files, no files are displayed only folders, any advice?

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