SyncToy: Microsoft’s Simple Backup & Synchronization Solution [Windows]

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microsoft synctoyIf you have files on your computer, you need to backup. Plain and simple. Many of us are familiar with backing up and there are lots of methods and programs to use. Another aspect that is somewhat different from backing up is synchronizing files. This means that you are duplicating files from one folder to another and vice versa.

SyncToy, which has been previously covered on MakeUseOf once before, is from Microsoft and is a free program that allows you to do just that, along with a couple other options as well. It’s simple and doesn’t take a lot of time to set up or learn how to use.

Download & Microsoft SyncToy Installation

First you need to download SyncToy from the Microsoft Download Center. You will see options to download. Sadly, Microsoft doesn’t do a very good job of explaining the difference between the two. The files are designated towards both the 32-bit or 64-bit operating systems. If you’re not sure which one you have or what the differences is, this MakeUseOf article can help. The top option, which ends in “x64.exe” is for 64-bit operating systems and the bottom one is for 32-bit.

Once you’ve downloaded and opened the installation file, go through the process of installing it. Once you’ve installed it and opened SyncToy, you’ll be prompted whether to share anonymous information about how you use it or not. I’ll leave you to decide what to do. Personally, I usually opt out of these.

Start Synchronizing

microsoft synctoy

To start pairing folders, click “Create New Folder Pair”. You will then be prompted to enter two folder directories. These can be any sources which you prefer.

microsoft synctoy review

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If you want to have both folders from your computer, you can do that. Most likely though, you’ll be selecting one folder from your computer and another on a different hard drive (internal or external).

microsoft synctoy review

After you have chosen the two folders to use, you are given three options in which Microsoft SyncToy will interact with the folders:

  • Synchronize
  • Echo
  • Contribute

Synchronize means that new and updated files will be copied to both folders. If a file is renamed or deleted in one folder, that change is synced across to the other folder where that same file will be renamed or deleted.

microsoft synctoy review

Echo is different from Synchronize in that instead of being a 2-way process where either folder is changed by the other, it is a 1-way process from left to right. That is, the folder that you chose to go on the left is the primary folder which sends the changes to the folder on the right. Renaming or deleting a file in the left will affect changes in the right folder, but not vice versa.

synctoy backup

Contribute, like Echo is a method of backup that works from left to right, however it is different in that there are no deletions. Instead, if you deleted a file in the left folder, it would not be deleted in the right. Renames are repeated, but again, only from left to right.

synctoy backup

What you decide to use depends entirely on your situation. If you want to have several versions of the same file, you probably shouldn’t choose Synchronize or Echo. Contribute would be your best selection for that purpose.

If you don’t want to worry about changing the primary folder (left) if changes are made in the secondary folder (right), Echo would be your weapon of choice.

If you want the same changes spread across both folders no matter what, then choose Synchronize.

Lastly, just name the folder pairing process.

And you’re finished. Now you can repeat the process depending on how many folders you’d like to sync. If you ever want to change the actions that is done (Sync, Echo or Contribute) you can by clicking “Change action.” Of course you can always delete or rename any folder pair as well.

Additional Options

To access more options, make sure you’ve selected the folder pair which you wish to change (for the example mine is called “Sample Folder Sync”) and click “Change Options” under the available options for the folder pair.

synctoy backup

From here you can choose whether to include or exclude any files that you’d like manually or a specific kind by checking one of the boxes. You can also choose whether to save overwritten files to the Recycle Bin (a nice feature in case you make a mistake and want to restore the file).

There is also an option to include or exclude subfolders within the folder pair.

Schedule SyncToy

By now you might be wondering “Do I have to run this manually every time if I want to pair these folders on a regular basis?” Well, yes if you don’t set up a task in Task Scheduler. If you click “Help” in SyncToy and open “Learn How to Schedule SyncToy…” you will be taken to a help window where you are walked through the process step by step.

I will go through the same process now with screenshots, but if you feel you can do it on your own, you can skip on to the next part.

  • First open the Task Scheduler by going to the Windows Start button and searching for “Task Scheduler.”

  • On the right column click “Create Basic Task…” and name it.

Next choose when you want the task to start. You can choose by time such as daily or weekly, or by action such as when the computer starts or when you log on.

Let’s say you chose daily, next you will need to choose what day to start the first scheduled task and how often the task should recur.

Then you need to choose the action you want the task to perform. For this you want to start a program (SyncToy).

You will then need to search for that program which is “SyncToyCmd.exe.” If you know exactly what folder it is in, click browse, locate the folder and select the program. If you don’t know where the program is located, I recommend using a third-party search program to quickly find it.

After you have located and added the appropriate file, you need to type “-R” in the Arguments textbox. By itself, “-R” will run all folder pairs on this same schedule. If you want to designate a specific folder pair to this schedule add “-R [the name of your folder pair]”

Also note that if the name of your folder pair contains a space between words (like mine: “Sample Folder Sync”), you will need to include quotes around the entire name.

To edit the task any time after creating it, simply right click on it and choose Properties.

Getting Help On Forums

I will be honest, there isn’t a lot of online help available for SyncToy. Of course there’s the help menu on SyncToy itself, but if you want to find answers to a problem, you would have some trouble. In fact, the very forum link in SyncToy points to a page that is no longer in existence.

microsoft synctoy

I did find another Microsoft forum for SyncToy, but there doesn’t seem to be much current participation. Of course, that’s not a problem if you find a solution to your problem there, but if you still can’t find a solution to your problem I suggest a website such as SevenForums or even our very own MakeUseOf Answers.

Conclusion

There are certainly many methods to backup and sync your files and folders. SyncToy is only one of the options, but a good option at that. If you’d like more information on proper backup techniques be sure to check out the MakeUseOf Guide “Stuff Happens: The Backup & Restore Guide.”

Have you been looking for a solution like SyncToy? Do you already use it? Perhaps you use something else. If so, would you try Microsoft SyncToy? Share your thoughts and experiences with us!

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Comments (18)
  • L.Fitch

    i keep on getting an error”failed to create the provider” what does that mean?

    • Aaron Couch

      Try this:

      Go to “Configuration Panel” -> “Install / Remove Programs” -> “Microsoft Sync Framework 2.0 Core Components” -> “Modify” -> “Repair”

      Hope this helped! Let me know if it did.

  • Pierse Herrod

    Flip’n ‘eck

  • Ronald Smith

    Microsoft definitely needs this stuff in Windows 7, and the upcoming 8.

  • Kelly Buchanan

    Great tool! SyncBack by 2BrightiSparks also works well.

  • Guilherme

    i gave up on synctoy a while ago. I’ve used it for a few years, but came across something better a while ago, called Syncback, which is much easier to use, and has a lot more functions. besides being very light.
    http://www.2brightsparks.com/freeware/freeware-hub.html
    If you guys want to check it out.

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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.
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.