Is FreeFileSync Better Sync Software Than Microsoft SyncToy? [Windows]

freefilesync synctoy intro image   Is FreeFileSync Better Sync Software Than Microsoft SyncToy? [Windows]Sync programs make local backups a snap by copying only changed files. Dropbox and other cloud storage systems are great, but they aren’t as fast as a USB flash drive or removable hard drive to back up a large amount of files. Microsoft SyncToy is one of the most popular, but FreeFileSync gives it a run for its money.

We have SyncToy listed on our Best Windows Software page – it’s popular and it works. FreeFileSync, a free and open-source sync program, isn’t as well-known, but it has SyncToy beat. As a longtime SyncToy user, I was impressed by FreeFileSync’s performance, support for locked files, features and portability.

How They Work

FreeFileSync and SyncToy both perform the same functions. Specify a pair of folders, usually on different storage devices, and the application will synchronize files between them. You can configure either application to sync changes in both directions or in only one direction. Both applications can use a database to detect deleted files so they’re deleted in both folders and not automatically recreated.

screenshot 031   Is FreeFileSync Better Sync Software Than Microsoft SyncToy? [Windows]

Each application has customizable options, so you can add exceptions to prevent certain files in these folders from being copied. Each application can check whether files have changed by examining their date (faster) or by their contents (slower, but can be more accurate).

screenshot 10   Is FreeFileSync Better Sync Software Than Microsoft SyncToy? [Windows]

Performance

In my completely non-scientific tests, FreeFileSync had a consistent edge when it came to performance. I had both programs synchronize the same folder, containing about 1.7 GB of data, both large and small files, to different folders on another hard drive. Microsoft’s SyncToy came in around 60 seconds to complete the process, while FreeFileSync took around 50 seconds.

screenshot 12   Is FreeFileSync Better Sync Software Than Microsoft SyncToy? [Windows]

With larger amounts of data, FreeFileSync’s edge should be even more noticable.

screenshot 14   Is FreeFileSync Better Sync Software Than Microsoft SyncToy? [Windows]

Copying Locked Files

If you’ve been using SyncToy for a while, you’ve probably encountered one of its most annoying limitations: it can’t copy locked files. If your web browser is open, you won’t be able to synchronize your browser data. To take a full backup of your application data, it’s best to close every program and let SyncToy run – but who has time for that?

screenshot 06   Is FreeFileSync Better Sync Software Than Microsoft SyncToy? [Windows]

FreeFileSync uses the Windows Volume Shadow Copy service to read locked files and synchronize them. You’d think an official Microsoft program would better use the operating system’s features, but you’d be wrong.

screenshot 051   Is FreeFileSync Better Sync Software Than Microsoft SyncToy? [Windows]

More Features

FreeFileSync isn’t completely bloated with unnecessary options, but it offers more features than SyncToy. While it offers three synchronization modes, FreeFileSync offers the same three – and also allows you to create a customized synchronization mode with your own rules.

screenshot 08   Is FreeFileSync Better Sync Software Than Microsoft SyncToy? [Windows]

Both applications offer a batch mode so synchronization can be scheduled and run automatically, but only FreeFileSync exposes and explains batch mode in its interface. You’ll have to dig into SyncToy’s help file to learn its batch mode.

screenshot 09   Is FreeFileSync Better Sync Software Than Microsoft SyncToy? [Windows]

FreeFileSync can also automatically shut down your computer or perform other actions when a sync completes.

screenshot 13   Is FreeFileSync Better Sync Software Than Microsoft SyncToy? [Windows]

Portability

Unlike SyncToy, FreeFileSync can be installed as a portable app. You could install FreeFileSync on your removable storage device and use it anywhere without installing it on each system.

screenshot 011   Is FreeFileSync Better Sync Software Than Microsoft SyncToy? [Windows]

SyncToy also requires you to recreate your folder pairs on each computer you use, while FreeFileSync has the ability to export your configuration and import it on other systems.

screenshot 071   Is FreeFileSync Better Sync Software Than Microsoft SyncToy? [Windows]

The Verdict

FreeFileSync trumps SyncToy on all fronts. Perhaps it’s not surprising, given that SyncToy isn’t something Microsoft is focusing on – it hasn’t been updated since 2009. Maybe it’s time to take it off our Best Of page and add FreeFileSync? I can’t see a reason to use it over FreeFileSync.

Is there a reason either one is better? Let us know in the comments.

The comments were closed because the article is more than 180 days old.

If you have any questions related to what's mentioned in the article or need help with any computer issue, ask it on MakeUseOf Answers—We and our community will be more than happy to help.

62 Comments -

N60storm4

Synx is much better then SyncToy but about equal with FreeFileSync

Chris Hoffman

Looks like Synx is for Android syncing. I use this to sync to an external hard drive, so it probably wouldn’t work for me.

Thanks for your comment, though! I had never heard of Synx.

bobconstans

What about issues related to switching? I’ve been using SyncToy for backing up several TBs of data over several (mostly external) HDs. If I switch to using freefilesync, am I going to be starting from scratch time-spent-analysing-wise?

Chris Hoffman

That’s a good question. I personally started over from scratch to make sure it worked properly.

At the very least, FreeFileSync would have to re-analyze, since each program stores information in its own database format. That seems like it would take a while — I’m not sure switching would be worth the effort, in this case.

Adrienne

Thanks Jim .. current ckbaup saved me when my XP system hard drive failed I was up and running in about an hour.I use SIW to record the license information for my downloaded software. Just write the information to my thumb driveBonnie

Vaibhav

FreeFileSync quite simply rocks!!!!

Chris Hoffman

I thought so too!

Dude

it looks great but has zillion functions, whistles , bells and even charts,  im not sure if I need all that. Good  for geeks probably .

Chris Hoffman

True. The interface is a bit overcomplicated. But then, SyncToy’s interface is a bit unusual too.

Chris Hoffman

Interesting! Never heard of that one.

Very barebones interface — which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Chris Hoffman

Neat. It even has encryption and compression — looks more advanced.

Here’s a direct link, for anyone that’s interested: http://portableapps.com/apps/utilities/toucan

Dr. Z

 Synctoy 2.1 hangs every time i tried on my W7 PC’s.  It worked fine with XP, though.  That left me with FreeFileSync for W7’s.

Chris Hoffman

Weird. SyncToy has been stable for me on multiple Windows 7 PCs. Thanks for sharing your experience.

SJOSSIE

I’ve been using FFS for a while but recently noticed that while it appears to do a good job between folders on the same computer C: D: partitioned drives, when I synced to an external drive it was seemingly missing (using microsoft “properties” to count folders/properties) 20 folders and around 500 files of a total of 45,568 files and 3,286 folders (8.7GB). Have you come across this? Just tried using SyncToy and it stalled like one of your other commentators mentioned. Any other suggestions as to other “good” synchronisation tools ?

Chris Hoffman

I haven’t come across this, and I use FFS to sync to an external drive. You might try checking to see if some files are being filtered out (maybe ones in the recycle bin?)

For more ideas, you might try asking on MakeUseOf Answers. You’ll get more responses: http://www.makeuseof.com/answers/

SJOSSIE

Actually found out that it was a problem with Microsoft explorer. The latter does not always count the number of files and folders correctly. In fact I could open a folder with 30 files in it and using properties it would actually tell me there were zero files !!! Eventually found a programme (Treesize Free) that counted correctly and showed that all files had been synced correctly using FFS. I’m happy now that it works fine.

Chris Hoffman

Ah, that actually makes a lot of sense. Thanks for updating us!

Chin

It could hang due to long file names.

Help!I’mSyncing!

Just tried it. Not able to select/deselect items. Not even one at a time let alone multiple items. Absolutely no user control in the filelists whatsoever. No context menu in filelists. VERY, very basic program.

Chris Hoffman

Too bad, that one looked reasonably promising.

Help!I’mSyncing!

Just tried it. Not able to select/deselect items. Not even one at a time let alone multiple items. Absolutely no user control in the filelists whatsoever. No context menu in filelists. It’s all or nothing. VERY, very basic program.

Chris Hoffman

It sounds awesome, but running the jobs in parallel is a dealbreaker for me.

Thanks for sharing your experience!

The_guest

[quote]FreeFileSync lacks 2 which is a dealbreaker for me.[/quote]
It doesn’t lack this feature, it is less visible: You can select multiple jobs via mouse and merge them on the fly. The result is a single configuration that is the same as if you’d run all the configurations in sequence.

Aibek

thanks for the input

Matt Struemph

Nice. I will have to give this one a shot.

My favorite right now happens to be PureSync. http://www.jumpingbytes.com/en/puresync.html

Chris Hoffman

Thanks for sharing! Never heard of that one.

Evelin

Nice tip. I don’t use Lightroom but am thinking about it. Can you store the otaalcg file and images on a network drive (say in a small studio environment), each with a copy of lightroom installed locally, and all access and use the same otaalcg?

Jimbo

SyncToy 2,1 was missing files on my Win 7 pc.
Reliability is everything is sync software for me.
FreeFileSync did my jobs perfect, missing nothing.
I’m excited about it, even I didn’t try all the options yet.
Looks Great !

Chris Hoffman

I’ve never noticed SyncToy missing files — but then, I’ve never looked too closely either. Yikes!

Chin

SyncToy does miss files, those with long file names or when the total path is too long.

Chris Hoffman

Wow, I’ve never run into that — good thing i switched to FreeFileSync. Thanks for confirming that.

tekequip

sync toy now has a x64 version. does ffs work ok in win 7 x64?

Chris Hoffman

Yup, I use it on Win7 x64 myself.

I don’t think there’s a separate 64-bit version, looks like it’s 32-bit — but lots of software is, and it works fine.

tekequip

Hi Chris,

Well I have started using FFS on my new win7x63 machine and like it but I noticed that when I run the created batch files in the task scheduler that there is something that concerns me. The “Last Run Result” field in the task scheduler window says, “%1 is not a valid Win32 application (0x800700C1)”. The batch file seems to run fine when manually invoked and also seems to run OK in the task scheduler but just has that strange message.

Also when syncing a folder from an XP machine to my Win7 machine the “comparison” feature says that the two folders agree and at the same time the Win7 explorer shows a significant difference in file size between the two. Not sure why they don’t agree but so far I can’t find a difference between them during browsing both folders even though there are way too many files to manually look at them all.

Miguel Angel Rabago

Did you find a solution to your bug @tekequip?
I found a 440gb transfer to be 4 gigabytes bigger in the destination drive. They are supposedly sync’d in mirror but the destination drive is occupying 4 gigabytes more than the files in the original drive.
I searched in the bug page, but I seem to be unable to use the correct search words (implying there IS a solution to this bug)
I have already checked the recycle bin invisible folder of each drive and both are in ZEROS.

Miguel Angel Rabago

I just realized I did a faulty reading of Microsoft’s Explorer information regarding my drives. The FFS works seamlessly. A very reliable and fast software I must say.

Chris Hoffman

Ah, that explains it — Thanks for updating us!

Haroon Ghaus

With Windows Vista upwards it’s not sufficient anymore to specify the *.ffs_batch file only. The task scheduler command must start with an .exe:

“C:\Program Files\FreeFileSync\FreeFileSync.exe” C:\Sync.ffs_batch

Informator

It ships with both 32 and 64 bit versions and selects the right one via a launcher on startup:
bin\FreeFileSync_Win32.exe
bin\FreeFileSync_x64.exe

Chris Hoffman

Smart design!

Chris Hoffman

Smart design!

JK from the UK

I loved Synctoy. It was so simple and straightforward.
Alas I moved to a W7 machine and it is not only missing files it is deleting them too. I almost had a heart attack as it moved a whole series of files (and a few folders) to the recycle bin and it was only by chance that i noticed that the bin had got oddly bloated so I checked. I just cant trust it. I know some people say that it appears to work well on W7 but that has not been my experience. Thing is how often does anyone check that its worked? I may have done originally but not after it worked flawlessly every 2 weeks. So I dont know what I have lost. Maybe it doesnt make that much difference as clearly I haven’t lost a file I needed …yet but I am not about to experience that.

Chris Hoffman

It’s worked fine on W7 for me, but I suppose problems don’t surprise me. The SyncToy project definitely isn’t a priority for Microsoft. The last release was over 2 and a half years ago.

Chin

FreeFileSync has another advangtage over SyncToy – long file names. I have had sync exceptions for SyncToy due to long file names. The same files does not post a problem for FreeFileSync.

These same files had a problem with Window’s native copy capability too. In this case, I use Terracopy and these files copied over without any problems.

Note: I use Windows 7.

Chris Hoffman

Thanks for sharing your experience. SyncToy does seem all-around less stable than FreeFileSync from everything I’ve seen — not a surprise, SyncToy development seems halted.

Tony

Hi, I move some panels around and now I lost “compressed view” pane. How can I get that back? Thanks

Chris Hoffman

I thought this would be easy to get back but it isn’t — I was stunned to see there there doesn’t seem to be a way to get this back from teh default interface.

What you’ll have to do is close FreeFileSync, plug this into your Windows Explorer address bar:

%appdata%\freefilesync

And then delete the GlobalSettings.xml file. HOWEVER, this will also delete other settings, so you’ll have to change them again.

Tony

Thanks for the reply Chris,
It’s good…, I am officially OK, because I thought something is wrong with me when I could not figure out how to get back that panel. The app should have a function to get back to default layout.
Thanks for the suggestion about Global settings.xml file
Tony

Chris Hoffman

It’s sadly pretty typical for open source software — the program is reliable and works well, but its interface is pretty horrible — just really rough around the edges.

Informator

You can simply right-click somewhere on the main dialog and click “default view”.
This is also where you get panels back you have accidentally closed.

Chris Hoffman

Wow, thanks! I didn’t even think to do that — I suppose it makes some sense, although that really should be in its File/Edit/View menus too.

Miguel

SyncToy detects moved files so that it doesn’t do a delete and copy unnecessarily–something very few free sync/backup programs do.

This is not an advertised feature. But it does it.

Chris Hoffman

Wow, I had no idea — they should advertise it. Unfortunately, several readers experience other problems with SyncToy — it doesn’t look supported anymore. Too bad; it was really solid.

Philippe

A question.

It is possible to run this program in hidden mode? Lets me explain more:

I already made a task on task manager. Also did a batch job. When it runs in the scheduled time, it opens the programs and close if automatically. It is possible to setup it in order the user cant see when the task begin like I did whe I was using Synctoy?

Thanks

Philippe

Ok, I solved it. Inside FreeFileSync batch window: uncheck the dialog progress and select ignore errors. Save it before close.

Thats all.

Regards.

Chris Hoffman

Thanks for figuring out the answer and sharing it with everyone! I’m sure your solution will help someone else.

Help!I’mSyncing!

This is not about FreeFileSync but I will be trying that program shortly.
Can someone tell me if it is possible to select/deselect multiple items in Synctoy’s sim/run window? With 10’s of thousands of items on display before a sync it’s ridiculous if you want to uncheck a few hundred or so and have to do that one by one. I can’t find a way to select multiple items.

Help!I’mSyncing!

OK. I just gave FreeFileSync a shot and it satisfies my criteria of being able to select/deselect multiple items before transfer. Yay! I’ve been using SyncToy which ridiculously cannot do this. I was using SyncBack Pro until the trial ran out and their free version is so seriously knobbled as to be utterly useless (filelist rendered as multiple pages).
I tried Toucan which is mentioned here but there is absolutely no user control available for the filelist in that very basic program.
So thanks for the headsup on FreeFileSync. It’s usable and going in my toolkit.

Chris Hoffman

You can also set up filters which will automatically deselect items for you, saving you time. If you find yourself deselecting something every time, create a filter and you’ll save lots of time. I believe you can do the same in SyncToy.