From Pirate Darling To Dropbox Alternative: BitTorrent Sync Lets You Keep Your Files Synchronized Across Machines

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bittorrent syncThe days of having to shuttle files between machines on USB sticks seem like a distant memory from a simpler time. Today, it’s all about the cloud. Want to access your files from more than one machine? Nothing could be simpler: Just stick them in Dropbox (and hope there isn’t another authentication bug), or Drive (courtesy of our corporate overlords at Google), or SkyDrive (developed by the benevolent behemoth that is Microsoft). To put it differently, cloud-based file sync services are easy to use and work well, but your privacy may or may not be their first priority. Not to mention the fact that these services always come with a storage quota. You can try to maximize the free storage space, but a quota is a quota. If you’re longing for an alternative, you should check out BitTorrent Sync.

This new service from BitTorrent harnesses the power of the distributed file-sharing network to keep your own private files in sync. It’s not like torrenting your files, though: BitTorrent Sync works with secret keys that let you selectively choose what to share with whom, and even supports expiring, temporary keys. Let’s walk through installing the service and sharing a folder.

Installation: Next. Next, Done!

Installation couldn’t be simpler. It’s not even a next-next-next affair, really, as it only has two steps. Two things are worth noting: BitTorrent Sync is utterly clean of any ads or any other dubious content (and it does not come with a BitTorrent client), and the only sort of special treatment it asks for is making a hole in the Windows firewall:

bittorrent sync

Initial Configuration

Once installed, run BitTorrent sync to begin the configuration process:

bittorrent sync review

We’ll get to secrets in a moment. For now, pick Standard Setup (the default), and click Next. BitTorrent Sync will then ask you for a folder to sync:

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bittorrent sync review

It’s worth noting that you can use BitTorrent Sync to synchronize any folder, not just its own special folder.

Once you pick a folder, BitTorrent Sync will produce a secret for it:

bittorrent sync review

This is a long string of characters which you can then use to connect to this folder from any other device. This is a key difference between BitTorrent Sync and other file-sync solutions: There are no user accounts, and you won’t be asked to create a password for yourself at any point in the process. Rather, each folder has one or more secrets, and that’s what you use to connect to it.

The Tour

Once you pick your first folder to sync and get a password, BitTorrent Sync will show a quick three-step tour:

bittorrent syncapp

The first step of the tour shows the control panel, while the next explains you can sync an unlimited number of folders, and files of any size. Finally, BitTorrent Sync shows how you can quickly copy the secret for any shared folder, to share it with family or friends:

bittorrent syncapp

Once you finish the tour, you’ll find yourself in the BitTorrent Sync interface proper.

Adding Folders For Sharing

One of BitTorrent Sync’s cool features is that you can add new folders from anywhere on your computer. The Shared Folders tab has an Add button which you can click for this dialog:

bittorrent syncapp

Once you add a folder that already contains files, BitTorrent Sync will take a few moments to index its contents. You will already be able to copy its secret and share it with other BitTorrent Sync users. Once I entered the secret for this folder on another computer running BitTorrent Sync, the other computer’s name showed up in the BitTorrent Sync window, and files started going through instantly (they were on the same LAN, but this should work over the Internet as well, assuming you’ve let the installer configure your Windows firewall).

Your Secret: It Really Is a Secret

One thing really bears another mention here: When BitTorrent Sync gives you a secret, it means it. It is a secret. Anyone who possesses this magic string of letters will be able to gain access to the folder you’ve shared, no questions asked. Yes, you will see an unexpected device name in the Devices tab, but that will be too late: By then, the hostile party may already be in possession of your files.

Advanced Secret Tactics

What if you want to allow access to a folder, but not risk anyone deleting or modifying its contents? And what if you only want to share a folder for a limited time? BitTorrent Sync has you covered: Double-click the folder, switch to the Advanced tab, and you’ll get the following:

bittorrent sync

Here you can see the folder’s existing secret, its read-only secret (for allowing permanent read-only access), and generate one-time secrets. A one-time secret can only be used once, and expires after 24 hours. That’s pretty awesome.

A Very Promising Start

BitTorrent Sync gets a lot of the basics right. Setup is a snap; you can share any folder; you don’t have to create user accounts; and the underlying file-transfer technology is, shall we say, extensively field-tested and proven. Whether or not it catches on as a mainstream means of synchronizing files — only time will tell. But this initial test shows that there’s a lot going for it.

Will you be trying BitTorrent Sync yourself? Let me know how it went in the comments!

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Comments (40)
  • Rajdeepak Singh

    cloud based sharing completely as a replacement for usb drive is still a dream.Nothing compare 10MB/s to 200KB/s – 1.5Mb/s at internet.How many people doyou think own a very fast internet connection let say to compete with 10 MB/s that translates into 100Mb/s internet speed with unlimited bandwidth,I say ISP well none in my city though.Bittorrent sharing is also very creative concept but it also means you will use a lot more bandwidth than usual.It is only usefull to sync document and small to medium size file but big files are problem.A lot to think about.

  • Bobert

    Not as good as cubby direct sync, yet. Previous versions of files in sycned folders on windows 7 and Vista disappeared when I tested BTSync but are in both synced folders on the same machines when I used Cubby Direct. :(

  • Alan Babcock

    Great site and content, I have been registered for several years and constantly surprised by the new content. Thank you

  • Stephanie Staker

    Wow, who knew Bit Torrent would get a better reputation? Not sure if you heard this, but Yahoo! has now added Dropbox to their line of “features” in Yahoo! Mail. That is pretty cool too. Thanks for the info and instructions here. Without this, I doubt I would have quite figured out the “secret” thing. :)

  • Ben Wilson

    As someone who syncs 95% of my files on cloud across my desktop and school netbook (aside from space-hogs like movies and music), but as someone who doesn’t like paying for things, I’ve been using the free versions of Google Drive, SkyDrive, Box, Dropbox AND SugarSync simultaneously.
    They’ve drastically impact my boot time, take up a lot more resources than necessary, and are still limited in space (24 GB).

    As soon as I read this article, I practically freaked out, since it solved several issues I had, or was going to eventually run into. In a sense I’d still like my things backed up on a distant server, far away from my home in case of fire or burglary, but after doing a couple tests and playing around with it, I’m certain this will take over as my one-and-only sync program.

    • Erez Zukerman

      Brilliant! :) Glad I could help.

    • Ben Wilson

      Yeah, it’s already working great! After generating the secrets, I simply emailed them to myself, then copy-pasted them into BTS on my netbook.
      Both computers were hooked into the same repeater via ethernet cable, and I saw my desktop have a peak of 6.7 MB/s upload rate over LAN – which is incredibly fast compared to uploading to a remote server, then for the other computer to download it from said remote server.

      In all, it only took a few hours to sync 24 GB across both systems, rather than a day or two. It also cut boot time by about 2 minutes, and now it isn’t much longer than a fresh W8 install.
      To solve the “distant server” issue, I may plug in a small, spare HDD into my parent’s computer at their place, and use this to replace their cloud storage program. I’d add my secrets to the program, and create a 3rd, remote backup on that spare HDD.

    • Lisa Santika Onggrid

      I suggest you to delete emails containing your ‘secrets’. It wouldn’t be pretty if someone hacks your email and read them. Why not write it down by hand and shred the paper after you’re done?

    • Ben Wilson

      It’s simply a .txt file that says,
      “Music: **************************
      Pictures: **************************
      Docs: **************************
      Vids: **************************”

      You’d have to know what you’re looking at to make any sense of it. Though I at least attached it as a password-protected .zip file, which does add a small layer of additional security.

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This review may contain affiliate links, which pays us a small compensation if you do decide to make a purchase based on our recommendation. Our judgement is in no way biased, and our recommendations are always based on the merits of the items.

For more details, please read our disclosure.
Affiliate Disclamer

This review may contain affiliate links, which pays us a small compensation if you do decide to make a purchase based on our recommendation. Our judgement is in no way biased, and our recommendations are always based on the merits of the items.

For more details, please read our disclosure.