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”.
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.
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 online demo.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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.