How-To Geek

What You Said: How Do You Sync Your Files Between Your Devices?

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Earlier this week we asked you to share your tricks and techniques for keeping files synced between your different devices. Now we’re back to highlight how you do it.

Overwhelmingly, you do it with Dropbox. Despite the proliferation of different platforms there has been little inroads made into any sort of universal syncing. We heard from quite a few different readers and by far the most popular option was to use Dropbox to ensure that you could get the music and documents you wanted whether you were on your desktop, laptop, netbook, iPhone, or Android device.

In the same breath however, nearly all of your added on an additional service. The real message, it would seem, is that there simply isn’t a service good enough to meet all of the needs most users have, all of the time. The most common response to our Ask the Readers question was “Dropbox and…”; this pattern is illustrated nicely in the following quotes. Kim writes:

Dropbox for all kinds of things. (Would also use Sugarsync, but it doesn’t support Linux.)
Lastpass for passwords.
Xmarks for bookmarks, although I’m going to try Firefox Sync soon.
Evernote for things like shell commands I might want someday.
Google Beta for music, once I get it uploaded. I have an Amazon account too, but Google gives you more space.

Michael finds himself in a similar situation and writes:

My devices – Home Desktop, Work Destop, Notebook, Netbook, Android Phone-Droid X, iPad

Mail/Contacts/Calendar/Music – Google
Files – Dropbox
Photographs – Flickr
Browsers – both Chrome and Firefox Sync
Bookmarks – Delicious,Trunkly, and Pinboard
Evernote – Notes

I have been experimenting with Tonido but haven’t got it running the way I want just yet.

Jon writes:

Dropbox for the small files
Thunderbird and lightning for emails and calendars (+ google calendar to sync it with my CRAPberry)
Microsoft’s Home Group for the printers (+ hamachi if I am outside of home)
Skype for small files and pictures
The Tornado for big files

It would seem that the state of file syncing and inter-device communication is still a frontier of sorts and the only way you’re going to get things exactly the way you want is to cobble together a set of tools that reaches all your devices in all the formats you need. Hit up the original comment thread here to see all the different ways your fellow readers are slinging their files about.

Jason Fitzpatrick is a warranty-voiding DIYer who spends his days cracking opening cases and wrestling with code so you don't have to. If it can be modded, optimized, repurposed, or torn apart for fun he's interested (and probably already at the workbench taking it apart). You can follow him on if you'd like.

  • Published 06/17/11

Comments (24)

  1. Hatryst

    iCloud, when it comes out :)

  2. phillytim

    iCloud, like ^ said, will make things so much easier! It’s just gonna work.

  3. Biojellywobbles

    My FreeNAS server

  4. xcrashcontrolx

    iCloud, it’s just going to work… on mac. And unless all your music is bought with iTunes, you are only going to have five gigs, although that is more than dropbox…

  5. @RomelSan

    Online Storage!!! no way!!! if hackers get your passwords then you will suffer… ex:
    LastPass master passwords would open all your accounts for them.
    DropBox would give your private documents, unless u use encryptation.
    and now you have to protect your smartphones because they are now more valuable than your wallet.

    It is best to use a home synology server to manually sync all your devices, and for passwords use Keepass in a PC (virus free)

    Dont trust online (Online gets hacked with time) :p

  6. SDreamer

    @ @RomelSan

    Exactly why I still use Synctoy 2.1, not to mention sometimes bandwidth is an issue, I always want an offline copy on my devices. I don’t do it as secure, but I do it over wifi on my home network. Syncs everything. For contacts, calendars, and stuff I use Windows Live, but I don’t put all the info on contacts, just what I need like a cell number or something. I’d rather not, but a calendar is pretty efficient.

  7. Neildo

    My free dropbox account for sharing almost anything with friends and family (or anyone who is not too savvy with the techno – I love the direct links feature). Personally, I use my Linux box everywhere else. Comcast, honestly, has a pretty decent up/down speed if you don’t get the cheapest plan but I know how everyone hates them. I can do anything I want with Putty and WinSCP and I’m no Linux pro!

  8. TheMrBugz

    i think once icloud comes out ill use that with dropbox

  9. cactusdr

    The beautiful thing is that we are all different. Otherwise how much fun would it be if we only had one thing to choose from?
    I happen to agree with RomelSan. I’m an extremest when it comes to safety and truly believe that one of these days some massive database breach will occur (Facebook, etc.) and I just don’t want to be a casualty of something that I could have prevented. Yep, I got hacked once and it will never happen again. Hackers are too smart for me (and for the majority of computer users).

  10. Saptashwa

    Dropbox for small files. Skydrive for huge storage/Office Live files.
    Evernote for note-taking.
    Xmarks and Lastpasss are invaluable to me.
    I don’t prefer Firefox Sync or Google sync as it doesn’t do it for cross-browser needs. I like to use FF4 for my important needs with Opera minding the less-than-important tabs. I’d like to access my email accounts once in a while in Opera too.
    I usually download all my applications (both Windows 7 and Snow Leopard) using Windows. I download everything to a External HDD which serves as my “Time-Machine”. I have a tiny 10GB FAT32 partition named Share Space which I use to “sync” between Mac and Windows 7. Also have MacDrive installed, so that once-in-a-while, I can take a file or 2 from the Mac OS X Journaled Partition without booting into SL, and then copying it into Share Space. Wish Windows had basic built-in support for at least reading Mac drives.
    PS – I have SL and W7 installed on the same drive. So the External HDD’s Share Space is invaluable.

  11. Saptashwa

    @cactusdr If you are really worried, you should learn ethical hacking, as I am doing. It helps you to adopt a “hacker” mentality, and makes you aware of the facts that could be exploited. Actually, if you know a little Java or PHP along with HTML (I know a bit of Java and HTML), you could even develop exploits. Hacking is pretty easy if you get to the right resources. It just needs to be utilized for the right purposes, like protecting yourself from hackers. You could even take up Ethical Hacking as a profession. They are high in demand and short in supply.

  12. Patrick

    Wouldn’t it be nice if you could just transfer copy folders to an external hard drive & windows just asks you if you want to keep the latest version when it finds a duplicate and on decision keeps copying

  13. ed

    What Patrick say’s…

  14. john3347

    It would be so easy for a young developer to get rich by just developing a program that sends a file to a central storage location (external network harddrive) immediately as a program is closed. At a time the user specifies (probably during the night) every networked computer would then sync with that NAS device so when you get up in the morning every networked computer has exactly the same file in the same location on each computer. This capability could be programmed into an add-on for a Windows Home Server. Does this problem have such a simple solution that everyone is overlooking it, trying to create a difficult and complicated solution to a simple problem? SyncToy could do this in conjunction with some automatic scheduling, but I do not have the expertise to do the configuration.

    I, for one, have network computers in 3 different locations separated by enough distance that a natural firebreak is provided. This separation also decreases an already small risk of theft by a factor of three. I don’t need to rent 250 GB of online storage for a few hundred dollars a month; I only need software to sync all my network computers.

    Come-on developers, this is an easy one. The easy ones need solutions, too.

  15. Shane

    I recently upgraded to Dropbox 50gig and use that primarily for my file syncing. I encrypt my data so if someone really wants it they’ll have to work very, very hard to get it. I used to rsync all my PCs and tunnel in remotely but with online storage/sync capabilities I don’t see the sense in doing that. If you’re really nervous just encrypt all your data and that should ease any anxiety you may have about using online resources. This from a person who believed in the local sync with remote access via SSH or VPN only for years. My two cents.

  16. fengshaun

    Sorry I’m late, but I have an external HDD attached to my router which is able to share the HDD using a public url. I have all of my files on that HDD which is itself encrypted.

  17. miki

    none use live mesh? (sky drive) . It’s perfect to sink file between pc.

  18. john3347

    @ miki

    Live Mesh only works on Windows Vista and Widows 7. I am currently attempting to “mesh” my “Documents” folders among 3 Windows 7 machines (of 6 total including also XP and W2K). It has been running now for three days and has completed 6 of 28149 files. Of course, one of those days was spent prepping and not actually transferring files. Do you now understand why nobody uses Live Mesh?

    While SkyDrive offers 25 MB online storage per email address, it is not an adequate AUTOMATIC sync application.

  19. Aaron

    I dont really sync any thing, I just like files I choose to be available. For this I mix and match:
    UbuntuOne _ for random larger files.
    Google _ for docs music etc. I also do ubuntu one music. _ to avoid hassle of larger files transfers to people. I just put larger files one box a.d. share by mail link.

    IfI just want a quick files I scp down from my box.

    This has been working for me.


  20. Gv 3f

    Buying a 500 to 1000 dollar computer so you can use a 49 dollar phone is so last century. But don’t think the cloud is some panacea. Especially with verizons data caps of 3gb for $35 a month. Even at 10gb for a contracted $80 a month is an American disgrace.
    At any given second Netflix is using 22% of all the bandwidth on the entire planet serving up over-bitrated sd and hd video, prompting isp’s to cap consumers who have zero choice in how they receive content.
    Not only is this costly in receiving data, it’s ungreen,needlessly using millions of watts of electricity.
    Transcoding “on the fly” at whatever is deemed acceptable to the consumer is a better solution.
    Let the market decide is no longer in the equation. All decisions are in the hands of the content maker and the isp. Not a good situation when they own
    each other or parts of each other.
    Storing video in multi-bitrate versions is not an answer either due to costs.
    Stop bringing down the economy with high pass along costs. Just bring down tbe bitrates for those willing to save.
    Angel investors where are you with transcoding servers?

  21. Joum is awesome

  22. CustomEarphones

    Is there a way to do any of this without having to upload your files to some “cloud” service? I do not trust anyone with my data, sorry. Too many screw-ups with people’s information to make it worth any level of convenience… just my opinion…

  23. Ozk4r


    I use Dropbox (2.25GB) for tech docs that I need always. (no sensitive information).

  24. Elizabeth

    I never worried about safe keeping my personal information because I have never put out my personal
    information :)

    I use Dropbox for my music and wall paper so whomever hacks my account can listen to my awesome
    music playlist, view my awesome HD wallpaper while he/she hacks away lollll

    Reading some of the comments has made me wonder ” how do you sleep ? ”
    Whatever floats your boat so long as you are happy :-)

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