3 Self-Hosted Dropbox Alternatives, Tested

Dropbox is a great service, no doubt about that. It’s the original cloud syncing and backup tool, that will make all of your data available anywhere, while keeping it safe. But what if you’re worried about your privacy while online? What can you do to ensure that your data is backed up, yet your privacy remains intact? Simple — host your own alternative to Dropbox.

Although privacy is important, this isn’t the only advantage of hosting your own alternative Dropbox. Having your own syncing service means that the only limit on the amount of data you sync, is what your hard drive can handle, and all of the options we look at here are free, so there’s no monthly, or annual fee’s to worry about either.

However, it’s not all happiness and roses when hosting your own backup and syncing service; there are negatives as well. Ultimately you’re responsible for the system that holds it all together, although, it is easier than you think. So let’s jump right in and take a look at some of the awesome self-hosted alternatives to Dropbox.

Option One: ownCloud

ownCloud works in very similarly to Dropbox. An application on your machine syncs your files to the cloud. Then, other devices you have connected to ownCloud, also sync to the cloud. The difference here is that unlike Dropbox, you own “the cloud”.

OwnCloud Home   3 Self Hosted Dropbox Alternatives, Tested

I’ve used ownCloud personally for months, till I bought a Google Chromebook, and decided to move to Google Drive (by the way, Chromebooks are a great alternative to a “normal” laptop).

ownCloud isn’t just for files, it’s designed to be a one-stop-shop cloud service, which means that ownCloud has a number of features that can be used, over and above what Dropbox has to offer.

  • Android and iPhone apps available (although they cost $0.99).
  • Desktop clients for Windows, Mac, and Linux.
  • Syncing of contacts & calendars between devices, and too the cloud.
  • Play music, and view images from within your browser.
  • Full featured text editor that allows you to create and edit a variety of text based files (think Notepad++ in the cloud).
  • Manage multiple users — set up a cloud for your whole family. You can also set up quota’s for these accounts.
  • Share files/folders publicly, or password protect them.

ownCloud music   3 Self Hosted Dropbox Alternatives, Tested

This all sounds great right? So you might be thinking that there’s a catch, because there’s always a catch. Well, unfortunately there is a catch — setting up ownCloud properly. It could be a bit difficult for beginners, and you need to take things such as SSL certificates into consideration to ensure that you have an encrypted connection at all times.

I did actually write a pretty comprehensive ownCloud set up guide on my personal blog, which should be enough for many people to get going with ownCloud. But if you want to give it a try before committing, you could always try their online demo.

Option Two: BitTorrent Sync

I’m going to start out by saying that I am biased towards BitTorrent, as I have totally fallen in love with it since James’ guide on building your own cloud with BitTorrent Sync and a Raspberry Pi. However, I will try to remain impartial.

BitTorrent Sync is awesome! Ok, the impartial thing didn’t last very long. But it really is awesome. The beauty of BitTorrent Sync, is that it’s so easy to setup, as there are no servers involved, and your devices talk to each other directly, in a very secure manner.

BitTorrentSync 01   3 Self Hosted Dropbox Alternatives, Tested

Shh, It’s A Secret!

BitTorrent does only one thing, but it does that one thing incredibly well — sync files. With BitTorrent sync, you get no bells and whistles, just a very easy to use, and secure way of syncing your data across devices.

You can add any folder to BitTorrent sync, this folder is then given a secret, which you will need in order to sync this folder to other machines. A folder secret is very long, and difficult to guess, for example AN6YK6EV4FW7WZ3GCCGZJZEPPUVWQXEYK. This means that BitTorrent Sync is extremely secure, and your data is always synced on a 1:1 basis — so, no server is sitting in the middle to manage the process.

To add a folder to another machine, simply pick any folder from the drive on that machine, paste the secret in from the original machine, and hey presto! Your data will start syncing. If one of the machines is offline when you are working on a file, BitTorrent sync will simply sync the latest version of that file.

You can also sync folders to your mobile devices, don’t worry though, you don’t have to type in that hefty secret for a mobile device, you simply scan a QR code.

BitTorrentSync QR   3 Self Hosted Dropbox Alternatives, Tested

This method of syncing makes BitTorrent Sync very versatile. For example, you could sync your pictures folder from your mobile phone, to your desktop pictures folder, so that any pictures you take on your phone will instantly be backed up.

BitTorrent Sync is simple to use, easy to setup, and extremely secure. If you don’t want the headaches of managing your own server, as in ownCloud, then BitTorrent Sync is for you.

Option Three: AeroFS

AeroFS is kind of like a mixture between both ownCloud, and BitTorrent Sync. One the one hand, you can add users to your “team”, and manage shared folder permissions from the AeroFS website. But on the other hand, the service syncs on a peer-to-peer basis, like BitTorrent Sync. So you get some of the security advantages of BitTorrent Sync, but you also get a usable web interface for managing you shared folders and additional users, like ownCloud.

AeroFS also has a free Android app, to allow you to sync files with your mobile device, however, there is currently no iPhone app available.

AeroFS WebGUI   3 Self Hosted Dropbox Alternatives, Tested

As with the other two services, AeroFS is only limited by the amount of space that you have on your hard drive. With the free account, you can have two other team members and one collaborator i.e. you can have up to four people (yourself, two other team members, and one external collaborator), but there are paid options that allow you to add more team members if you wish.

This may sound quite limiting, but if you’re going to be using AeroFS as a private cloud, then you will only need a free account.

AeroFS Share   3 Self Hosted Dropbox Alternatives, Tested

I found AeroFS to be quite limiting in what you could do with it. I can only share folders with a limited amount of people, and there was no way to publicly share links to files from within my AeroFS.

This is something that I use, a lot. So not having this feature is a deal breaker for me. BitTorrent also doesn’t allow users to send public links to files, however, there are no limits to the number of people and/or machines I can share folders with, so it’s less of an issue.

Conclusion

As you can see, there are a number of alternatives to Dropbox that you can host yourself. You don’t have to pay monthly fees for a set amount or storage, and you don’t have to worry about your privacy, as you control the whole service, end to end. You don’t even need to worry about managing a complicated server if you don’t want to!

Do you have another self-hosted alternative to Dropbox that you use? If so, please feel free to make your recommendations in the comments section below.

Image Credit: ilamont.com via Compfight cc

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60 Comments -

Karthik C

Then i guess the DigitalOcean VPS offering is ideal for this kind of setup.

Kev Q

Definitely, I personally use DigitalOcean for my hosting. Excellent service.

JOnm

Owncloud doesn’t have a mobile layout and the addon mobile script is horrible. BT Sync is great. I havent tried AeroFS

Kev Q

True, but why does ownCloud need a mobile layout, when it has a mobile app?

JOnm

Wheres the Windows Phone app then?

Kev Q

With the market share of Windows Phone being so low, I suppose the developers decided that is wasn’t worth their time to create a Windows Phone app.

You could always ask on the ownCloud forums to see if there is one in the pipeline.

Mihir Patkar

Great article, Kev!

For me, the big pull of Dropbox is that a lot of friends and family use it, so it’s easier to share folders and files. Do any of the above have a cross-platform kind of usage, where I can use these while others are using Dropbox, and still share files seamlessly?

My guess would be no, but no harm in checking :)

Kev Q

Thanks Mihir!

Unfortunately there isn’t an app that does this as such, but there is a workaround. What you could do is simply sync your Dropbox folder with any of these services.

Unlike Dropbox, all of these services allow you to sync any folder from your hard drive. So you could have a “go-between” folder that’s synced into both Dropbox, and these services.

Mihir Patkar

So wait, do you mean I can ask one of these services to sync my Dropbox folder on my hard drive directly with the service, so it’s a service(web)-service(local)-dropbox(local)-dropbox(web) link?

Let’s say I do that and my computer is shut down. If I upload a file on service(web), it won’t get synced with my dropbox(web) till I switch on my computer, right?

Kev Q

It depends. For example, if you were using ownCloud, and you used the mobile app, your Dropbox folder and your ownCloud folder would be one and the same. So, if you added a file to your Dropbox folder using either app, it would be synced simultaneously to both ownCloud and Dropbox.

On the other hand, if you did the same thing, but substituted ownCloud for BitTorrent, then they would still both sync, as Dropbox and BitTorrent are again sharing the same folder. So the file you add would be synced to Dropbox, and and BT devices you have turned on. When you turn your machine back on, the file will obviously sync.

EL

If BitTorrentSync would let me sync subfolders to different computers, I’d drop everything else and use it for everything.
Example: If I have my entire Documents folder synced between my 2 computers, I can’t sync a folder that’s within Documents with a colleague.

Johny Woller Skovdal

Have you tried using Directory junctions (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NTFS_symbolic_link – with the /J flag)? I think that would work. Create a folder in your root called e.g. “MySharedSyncFolders”, and inside simply create directory junctions to all the folders you would like to be able to share individually, and then add those folders to BitTorrentSync. Again, I do not know the service, so it might not work, but worth a shot.

Kev Q

BitTorrent Sync will let you sync any folder on your hard drive. So you should be able to sync sub-folders as well as top level folders. The screen shot in the article shows that I am syncing “Documents” from within my Google Drive Folder.

EL

@Kev: the problem is when I am syncing the top level folder as well. When I try to add the subfolder, it tells me “This folder cannot be added to BitTorrent Sync. It is a part of a folder that is already syncing.”

@Johny Woller: I didn’t think of symlinks. I think I’ll try it.

Kev Q

Ahhh ok, I’m following you now. So, for example, you have Documents and Documents/Pictures. So you’re syncing Documents, and you want to Sync /Pictures separately so that it’s accessible to others, without making the root Documents folder available. Do I have that right?

If that’s the case, then, as Johny said, Sym Links should definitely work.

Prasad H

What about koding .com ?

Daniel

try abelhas.pt

Humphrey V

Kev Q

Synology are amazing pieces of kit, I was strongly considering using Cloud Station instead of AeroFS, but the large cost of a Synology NAS would put a lot of people off I think.

Joe W

I’m on Synology as well. Unless you are buying a business class, you can get the setups for a decent price. I think my 4TB ds412+ setup cost less than a Grand. Wouldn’t suggest it unless you really want the many other features as well though.

Kev Q

A grand is a hell of a lot of money, especially when you consider someone could run up a hosted VPS, and install ownCloud for as little as $5 a month.

Even I wouldn’t pay that kind of money for a NAS.

Humphrey V

A grand?! A single disk entry level version gives you all the same functions, will be more in the sub $300 region.

Kev Q

Synology are great, they’re so much more than a NAS, they’re basically a mini server. However, $300 is still a lot more than what most people are willing to pay, especially when they can get Dropbox for a lot less. Nevermind all the awesome wasted features they would be missing out on with Synology.

Shawn D

I don’t see how OwnCloud and AeroFS are protecting your privacy. Granted you are not storing your content on their servers as in Dropbox but your content is still being synced through their service. So they could theoretically monitor and see any and all content you are syncing. The only true way to avoid this is to set up your own personal cloud device at home, connected to your network that you can store your content on. A simple example is the POGO plug devices. Not talking about the service you can buy from Pogo plug but just the device. A friend of mine has one and has external hard drives connected to it and then it is connected to his network. He has multiple folders set up so that his smartphone content is synced to his folder and his family members smartphone content is synced to their folders. You can set up permissions to multiple folders and it is all local. No go between at all. If you are truly concerned about privacy, this eliminates that concern altogether. Unless I am missing something with the other two services you mentioned.

Kev Q

With ownCloud and AeroFS, you data is not going through their service. ownCloud is seflf-hosted, so you manage the whole process, end-to-end. At no point does your data hit their servers, the only server is hits, is yours. ownCloud is also open source, so we know there is nothing funny going on behind the scenes.

With regards to AeroFS, that syncs in a very similar way as BitTorrent Sync, whilst you can manage folder permissions from their WebGUI, you cannot see the contents of these folders, that’s because the data does not go through their servers – it’s synced on a peer-to-peer basis.

Steve

Which service would be best for public sharing of music files? (without making others sign up to listen)? I know its possible to use Jotform or EntourageBox to invite people to upload TO my DropBox. Just wondering about the best option to make mp3 or wavs public from there. Would OwnCloud work for that?

Vyk

to Steve: I am using soundcloud.com. You have a big soundcloud-community and different options to share your files: on facebook, twitter, (etc.) AND via mail / link. It is very easy to keep (privat or public) or share files.

Steve

By “public” I mean a simple web address – not requiring people to type in passwords or install plugins or players. Kind of like a youtube playlist player for audio files.

Kev Q

I don’t think you could do that with any of these systems Steve, as that’s not what they’re designed for.

What you could do with ownCloud, is create an account with a simple username and password, and give that out to the people you want to share it with.

Having a public music player brings with it all sorts of legal and licensing requirements, so I really wouldn’t recommend doing this.

Vyk

to Steve: I am using soundcloud.com. You have a big soundcloud-community and different options to share your files: on facebook, twitter, (etc.) AND via mail / link. It is very easy to keep (privit or public) or share files.

Yutao T

I wish there would be more articles like this one. Fascinating!

Kev Q

Thanks Yutao, I appreciate the kind words. But to be fair, there are a tonne of amazing articles, from some of the best writers I have ever had the pleasure to work with here on MUO.

Arpit G

Instead of these..Cloud storage services like Copy, SkyDrive, MediaFire, Box are a great alternative to DropBox. And combined they offer a hell lot of space.

Then why should one add one of these?

It’s just a doubt that popped in. A brief explanation would be great.
Maybe i am not able to differentiate .

Kev Q

The point of this article Arpit, is to look at alternatives to Dropbox that you can host yourself. So if you’re worried about the privacy of your files when syncing then to Dropbox, you can control the whole process from end-to-end, so you know exactly what’s happening to your data, and where it’s going.

The services you mention above are not self-hosted service, so, although they’re great alternatives to Dropbox (especially Copy where I actually have over 750GB of free storage from referrals), they’re not applicable to the point of this article.

Hopefully this has cleared things up for you. :-)

Arpit G

Thank Kev!

I wasn’t able to differentiate between Self-hosted and services like copy. It’s clear to me now.

Igor Ivankovic

Great article, I really love the cloud service, but Dropbox is my prefered choice for I don’t have so much images. Maybe in the future I’ll go for ownCloud.

Patti H

Wow, great info all. Thx

Dr Evan Mitchell Stark PhD

@Kev: Good article. It never occurred to me that I could do this; I didn’t know the tools available. Thanks Kev.

Kev Q

No problem at all Evan, I’m glad you enjoyed the article. :-)

Rich

Own Cloud is a massive resource hog. Setup, contrary to your article, is really not that hard at all IMO, but it’s seriously inefficient at dealing with lots of files. e.g. upload 4.7Mb in a few hundred files ACCROSS A LAN, on a descent machine took 20mins! Ruled it out for me.

Aero very interesting offering.

Going to try BitSync, though, thanks!

ebricca

I was also searching a bit a while ago ..

for decentralized certainly btsync is great (also git might be abused)

for centralized i found
seafile which seems to be great and evolving

ajaxplorer was actually the one i took as it had tagging of files etc

Josh Henry

I’m curious about using BitTorrent with a hosted folder on the web. I have an open source ticketing system, OSTicket, where I currently have clients sending us questions etc. One thing they can do is upload files that we need to receive. (for security, I only allow .pdf files).

I’d like a good way to “share” that hosted upload folder with the PCs on our network in the office so we can access those reports easier than logging in and downloading.

Your thoughts?

Kev Q

Hey Josh,

In theory, there’s no reason why you can’t do that., depending on what OS your server is using. However, if you’re using shared hosting, and have no root SSH access, then you won’t be able to do this – you would need to have full control over the OS on the server.

If you’re running Ubuntu on your server (like me) then it’s extremely easy, here’s a link that should help:

http://blog.bittorrent.com/2013/09/17/sync-hacks-how-to-set-up-bittorrent-sync-on-ubuntu-server-13-04/

Andrew Belt

rsync has been around since 1996, so I don’t see why these other overly-complicated systems are taking any market share.

Acho Arnold

Is there a means to sync my files offline??
I want to sync files between two Computers which are not connected to the internet

Kev Q

All of these tools provide offline capabilities. When you’re offline, simply edit any files you want, and when you re-connect, the latest version will be synced.

This can cause problems if you are editing the same document from two locations, at the same time, whilst both are offline – but like I said, they will simply sync the version with the newest time stamp.

Kev Q

If you want to sync between two machine that will never be connected to the internet, then you can use BitTorrent Sync to sync data over your LAN. The two machines need to be on the same network for this to work though.

Acho Arnold

@KevQ Bittorrent sync requires you to connect to the internet before it can start the sync
I have a linux laptop and a windows 8 pc but when I am offline, I get the message
“no-connected devices”
if I am not connected to the internet

Bastiaan

I believe you could use Tonido to send out acces links for separate files. Although at that moment you are opening your data to a third party.

Sajesh

One of the best Dropbox alternative for businesses is Vembu File Sharing which is designed from the ground up to serve the needs of businesses and comes with both Self-hosted and Cloud option. Businesses can choose their deployment option based on their requirement. It has a good blend of being simple and easy-to-use for users and at the same time provides the right level of control and visibility with security for the IT.

Source with three essential reasons to choose Vembu File Sharing over Dropbox: http://bit.ly/1jb9rbX

James Stapleton

I have used OwnCloud on a debian server with a self generated cert and the IO performance was very slow.

I currently use Seafile which performs better.

Mohamed

Ownclouds is not that good. it has a major problem of deleting your files alone!

Adam

The problem with most of these alternatives is you still have to sync files/folders into the cloud. For those not really wanting to do that there is a new alternative just released that I have used/reviewed and find to be quite revolutionary. A resource sharing application where you don’t have to sync anything into the cloud and still receive access to your documents through the cloud. Amazing. It’s over at http://www.getitremote.com

Richard

What about the Transporter (by Connected Data) which is your own hard drive that syncs to all devices and you can share files like dropbox. You connect it to a portable hard disk via USB and hard wire to your wifi.

Anybody used it? I’m using dropbox for my small business now but running out of space

Adam

@Richard,

I think that is the beauty of GetIt Remote. You don’t have to worry about storage limits any longer. You choose which folders you want shared from your local box or network and then boom, you can access them through the web or their iPhone/ipad app from anywhere in the world. So in essence you become a local cloud without any additional hardware. It’s quite revolutionary in my mind’s eye.

Simon

Bitrix24 is probably the best free Dropbox alternative that has both cloud and self-hosted editions. Teamlab is decent too, but it’s only has paid plans

hgw

I’ve had good luck with ownCloud, I’ve been using version 5.x for almost a year on my own DO VPS (as suggested above). No problems. For those not interested in the technical work or maintenance of having your own VPS for ownCloud, there are services available to host an ownCloud instance for you (e.g., http://www.xcapsa.com – owncloud and email, encrypted, monthly fee).

Reasons I like owncloud, especially as compared to some of the other services referenced above: open source, open protocols (e.g., webDAV, CardDAV, CalDAV) and no reliance on a central/shared “coordination” server.

Dhruv

I would like to recommend a file sync service “Conduit” for Linux users (unfortunately there is no such service that I know of on windows :( ) as this is one of the best that is available to sync data across multiple services like Facebook, Picasa, Flickr, Box.net, Local Folders and custom services too. Check it our at https://wiki.gnome.org/action/show/Projects/Conduit?action=show&redirect=Conduit and screenshots at https://wiki.gnome.org/Projects/Conduit/Screenshots.

kevin

Tonido FileCloud (http://www.getfilecloud) is another great choice for businesses. It is self-hosted and offers not only sync but also endpoint backup, mobile device management and others.