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If you have tried online cloud storage solutions before and found that you’d prefer a self-hosted file sharing solution, it’s time to check out Seafile. With Seafile, you can run your own private server to share documents with groups of colleagues or friends.
What is Seafile?
Seafile have created a completely open-source private cloud-sharing system designed for use by groups collaborating on projects. It’s absolutely ideal for small business purposes, as you have the flexibility of group sharing and multiple projects, without necessarily using a public server like you do with the big cloud storage companies. And as you will soon see, they are really flexible.
First Impressions of Seafile
My first impression of Seafile was that they were a well-organised bunch of people who have built a great product. Looking at the downloads page, you can see that they really care about compatibility with as many devices and operating systems as possible, even if you’re using older hardware. This is absolutely crucial when you’re talking about software for sharing files with multiple people.
As people who have collaborated on projects before well know, if even one key person can’t use the software, the whole group of collaborators need to find a different product. Seafile have done a great job of ensuring this won’t happen to your group.
I also contacted support with a minor query and got a lightning-fast reply, so I have no doubt at all that Seafile care a great deal about their customer support.
Private Seafile Servers
One of the most important things to remember about Seafile is that you can choose to host your data in the cloud, or you can choose to run your own Seafile server. The latter option is usually preferred by businesses concerned with data privacy and trade secrets, so this is a very important distinction to make when comparing Seafile to other cloud sharing.
However, if you want to jump straight in and try Seafile, you can do so immediately using their Seacloud web service. You can connect to Seacloud storage using a desktop or mobile device, too. There is no need to run your own server – it’s an option.
The Seafile Windows server 2.0.x has just been released, so it’s a great time to give it a try. The Windows server 1.x requires Python to be installed first, then the server software. It’s actually not at all complicated to do, and there is great documentation about the process on the Seafile website.
Seafile is available to download in a variety of formats for many different devices and operating systems. Windows, Mac OS, Linux, Android, iOS, and a generic terminal client are all supported for the desktop client, while the server side is available for Windows, Linux and Raspberry Pi. Full details of version 1.0 for server and desktop client are also listed in case you have an older machine to work on.
How Do You Use Seafile?
When you upload your documents using Seafile, you can organise them into libraries of content. You can then choose to share either individual documents or entire libraries of files with your friends or colleagues, as you wish.
You can create groups of people in Seafile with which to work on projects. Group discussions about files or libraries of files can take place within Seafile, which makes it easy to trace why certain changes were made.
Documents can be edited within Seafile itself, so you don’t need to keep track of file versions. It also makes Seafile a great alternative to Google Drive, as all of the collaborative tools and editing tools are built in. Files will be synchronised to all of your devices automatically.
Creating & Sharing Seafile Libraries & Documents
When you first create a library in Seafile, you can choose to encrypt it with a password. This is a very valuable added security feature, especially when you consider that your colleagues may leave their phone apps logged in. At least you know whenever anyone accesses any of these documents, they’ll need to re-enter the password.
Documents can also be encrypted individually, but obviously if you have encrypted the library itself you may instead decide this is enough security.
When you share a library or individual file, you can choose whether to grant read-write access to the files or to limit your share to read-only access. This is absolutely fantastic news if you want to share read-write access with the team who need to have access, then offer only a read-only view for other stakeholders, such as your boss and other project teams who need information.
The Shares tab is a quick way to see which of your files are shared with other users, but it doesn’t show files that have been shared with you. When you share a single document with another Seafile user, it will show up under “Private Shares”. You can also share a public link to an individual file, which will show under “Links”. Shared libraries are listed under libraries.
Under My Home, you can see tabs for libraries of yours, libraries shared with you and your favourite, starred files.
Using Seafile Groups
To make sharing easier, it is recommended that you create groups of people you will share files with. For the most part, you will probably have a whole library of files to share with a corresponding set of people, such as your family, colleagues working on Project X with you, or friends who share a hobby with you. Whether you’re sharing the files individually or as a library, having the groups set up is far easier than sharing to each and every person individually.
Private Server Deployment Options
Currently, deploying your very own self-hosted server with the Community Edition of Seafile is completely for free for anyone to try. Again, it’s open source software. For businesses, there’s a paid option, which includes more features (scalability, AWS S3 backend support) and priority support (you can ask Seafile staff to log in and debug your private server if there are any issues). Take a look and the differences between the Community and Business Editions of Seafile. Also note that only one user needs to pay for the account. Other users can be connected to the shared library.
Seacloud Web Service Prices
If you don’t have the means to manage your own Seafile private server, there’s always the hosted version, Seacloud. The free Seacloud accounts come with 1 GB of storage and 5 GB/month traffic on shared links. For $10/month you can bump that up to a whopping 100 GB of storage and 50 GB traffic, or for $50/month you can get the large business plan of 500 GB storage and 250 GB of traffic. This includes unlimited libraries, unlimited groups, unlimited members in each of your groups.
Using The Web Client, Mac Client And Android Client
I happen to be a Mac user with an Android phone, so I can give first-hand accounts of the way these three clients work and interact with each other.
If you begin by using Seafile’s web service, it may not be entirely clear which service to use when you start the Android and Mac applications. Choose SeaCloud.cc and enter in your login details, then you’ll see your libraries. For Mac, this means typing in https://seacloud.cc/ as your server, then using the web login details.
At any stage, you can add more Seafile accounts from private web servers. It’s quite easy to then switch between the accounts as you require.
When you log into Seacloud on the web, you can see a tab with a list of clients. This should show details IP addresses of any client devices connected to your account, such as Mac, Windows, Android and iOS clients.
Why Choose Seafile?
After many years of using a variety of cloud storage offerings, I can wholeheartedly say that Seafile does offer something a little different. The security and sharing options available on Seafile documents are better than many others, and the ability to run your own Seafile server for free is absolutely the most important thing to note.
If you are concerned with data privacy, security and want fine-tuned sharing options, Seafile is for you. If you have a small to medium sized team and associated storage needs, you’ll also find that the Seacloud pricing system is very modestly priced.