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

Erez Zukerman 07-05-2013

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 What Is Dropbox? The Unofficial Dropbox User Guide What is Dropbox and how do you use it? Our Dropbox user guide will explain everything you need to know to get started. Read More (and hope there isn’t another authentication bug), or Drive Access, Create, and Share Your Google Drive Documents On the iPad [iOS] Google Drive is similar to the popularly used cloud storage service, Dropbox, but Drive includes built-in document creation features that are missing in Dropbox. And though Dropbox integrates with dozens of third-party applications, Google Drive... Read More (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 How To Get The Most Free Space On Dropbox, Box, SkyDrive & More - The Complete Guide Cloud storage services offer a minimum amount of free space to everyone who signs up, but you can often get more. You can upgrade your cloud drive with gigabytes and gigabytes of free space in... Read More , 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:

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!

Related topics: BitTorrent, Cloud Storage, Dropbox, File Sharing.

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  1. vinny
    March 28, 2017 at 5:47 pm

    Is BitTorrent Sync no longer, or just rebranded to this?

  2. Michael Scott
    January 5, 2017 at 10:59 pm

    I'm still thinking this sounds an awful lot like "Ordinary", Microsoft file sharing.

    As for "not having to create user accounts"....most people in a household already HAVE user accounts: that's how they sign in to their/others' computers.

    As for "Advanced Secret Tactics"........woo, hoo! It's called Read/Write permissions and it's a standard part "Ordinary" file sharing where you set the share folders up for who can read 'em, who can write 'em by simply ticking the box, or not!

    Am I missing something?

    I may be wrong (I was twice before, but, once was when I just THOUGHT I was wrong, but I was actually right!)......but this BitTorrent Sync just looks like the re-invention of the wheel.

  3. Anonymous
    July 10, 2016 at 1:48 pm

    Bittorrent rocks...

  4. Rajdeepak Singh
    May 27, 2013 at 7:28 am

    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.

  5. Bobert
    May 22, 2013 at 5:13 pm

    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. :(

  6. Alan Babcock
    May 10, 2013 at 10:53 am

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

  7. Stephanie Staker
    May 10, 2013 at 7:52 am

    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. :)

    • Erez Zukerman
      May 10, 2013 at 11:00 am

      Sure thing, Stephanie!

  8. Ben Wilson
    May 9, 2013 at 5:03 am

    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
      May 9, 2013 at 11:20 am

      Brilliant! :) Glad I could help.

      • Ben Wilson
        May 9, 2013 at 2:16 pm

        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
          May 9, 2013 at 7:01 pm

          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
          May 9, 2013 at 10:27 pm

          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.

  9. Klinger N
    May 8, 2013 at 11:42 pm

    Looks a very interesting alternative to the "standard" options. I hope all torrent communnity get aware of it.

  10. Larry Campbell
    May 8, 2013 at 9:57 pm

    Sounds very interesting, but I need something to free up hard drive space. Syncing files means I can't delete anything.

    • Lisa Santika Onggrid
      May 9, 2013 at 6:59 pm

      How about getting yourself a cloud storage (Like Box) instead of syncing services? The line is getting more blurred each day though. You can set a folder to be 'cloud-only' in SugarSync, for example.

  11. molly_dog
    May 8, 2013 at 7:46 pm

    At first blush, this sounds like the solution to my irritation. Maybe I'm not using SkyDrive correctly but I can never get my desktop and my laptop on the same page. On either machine, if I update a file, it shows that SkyDrive is uploading the changes. But when I go to the other machine, unless I log into SD and specifically download that file, it will not update. That's a major PITA for me.

    I hope BTS solves my dilemma. I'll let you know.

    • Erez Zukerman
      May 9, 2013 at 11:20 am

      I know just what you mean! Cloud sync services seem so simple on the surface, but it's really frustrating when they don't work right... Did BTS solve the problem?

  12. jay
    May 8, 2013 at 5:10 pm

    In the Bittorrent Sync article neither the Facebook nor Twitter button worked correctly, I suspect someone hadn't had enough coffee before they tried to work.

    • Klinger N
      May 8, 2013 at 11:35 pm

      With me the Facebook button never works, at least on article received by e-mail. Here, so far so good.

    • Erez Zukerman
      May 9, 2013 at 11:19 am

      Jay, you mean in this post right here, or on the newsletter?

  13. JC
    May 8, 2013 at 4:57 pm

    Hi Erez,

    Very interesting indeed and this immediatly raised the question about NAS in my current quest for NAS content consolidation into a single data repository, backedup, etc......

    Before anyone else asks, the answer is here : [Broken URL Removed] Not sure it fits all scenarios but it surely breaks another barrier down. And I may be wrong in my understanding and/or appraisal but if it proves to be true and delivering accordingly, it's pure vanilla...

    Thanks for sharing this with us (as well as the rest by the way through your periodic contribs).



    • Erez Zukerman
      May 9, 2013 at 11:19 am

      Sure thing, JC, and thank you for the NAS link!

  14. Onaje Asheber
    May 8, 2013 at 4:55 pm

    Thanks for a heads up on BitTorrent Sync. I will start using it from now on.

  15. null
    May 8, 2013 at 4:43 pm

    Is this just windows based or will it be available to use across linux, android, osx etc?

    • Jeff Schallenberg
      May 8, 2013 at 6:43 pm

      It's available for Windows and OSx.

      • Jeff Schallenberg
        May 8, 2013 at 7:59 pm

        AND Linux!

  16. hartvix
    May 8, 2013 at 4:10 pm

    If I'm not missing some vital point, this system has no "intermediate storage" anywhere, so it must mean that to sync files and folders between two computers, they both have to be online at the same time?
    Other than this (major) drawback, this sounds very interesting, and I'm sure I will test it out.

    • Erez Zukerman
      May 9, 2013 at 11:18 am

      Yes, that's correct as far as I understand: Both PCs have to be on for sync to work.

      • Lisa Santika Onggrid
        May 9, 2013 at 6:56 pm

        It sounds pretty similar to AeroFS. Can you tell me the differences?

        • Erez Zukerman
          May 10, 2013 at 10:59 am

          I believe the main differences are in underlying technology. I reviewed AeroFS at the time, but it didn't work very well for me. It might have improved since. The core concept is indeed similar, so I guess any differences are in the way it works internally.

  17. Borut
    May 8, 2013 at 3:25 pm

    I miss a BitTorrent sync for Android because my 50% of my computer usage is on Android.

    • Jeff Schallenberg
      May 8, 2013 at 6:41 pm

      I too wish it wasn't limited to Windows and OSx. What? No Linux version?

      At least Dropbox and Google Drive are platform-independent.

      • Jeff Schallenberg
        May 8, 2013 at 7:59 pm

        I spoke too fast. There are several Linux versions, and I just installed the X386 version on my eeePC netbook.

    • Erez Zukerman
      May 9, 2013 at 11:17 am

      That's very true... I wish they came out with an Android version already.

  18. macwitty
    May 8, 2013 at 2:53 pm

    First, it seems to be a very promising program. Personally, I am a bit ambivalent. It would be good to be the only one who has the files. On the other hand, there are advantages of "intermediate" storage in the cloud where you can go back to earlier versions.

  19. Steve S
    May 8, 2013 at 8:29 am

    Where are the folders located on the computer(s) that you share to? And, how are duplicate folder names handled? For example, in the example given above, folders name C:\Music are being shared from 6 other devices; where are they located on the target computer and how are they named?

    • Erez Zukerman
      May 8, 2013 at 9:00 am

      You get to set the destination location and name when you "adopt" the folder on the other computer. (Adopt is not really the right term here, but hopefully it's close enough ;) )

      • Steve S
        May 8, 2013 at 9:04 am

        Looks good, I'm going to try it out this weekend. Thanks for the review.

  20. havem
    May 8, 2013 at 4:46 am

    I recently installed BTSync on two computers and one laptop. It's FAST.

  21. Ronny
    May 8, 2013 at 12:20 am

    Hi Erez,
    I Sync files between my home computer and my work computer and I believe many users who sync files are using it for the same purpose. However my work place has an "anti-bittorent" policy meaning any file sharing via bittornet will appear on their "radar" and will lead to warning and termination of web connection, and I presume some other corporates have similar policy. Is this product has similar technology that can get me into trouble with my work place organization?

    • Erez Zukerman
      May 8, 2013 at 6:34 am

      Hey Ronny,

      That's actually an excellent question! The underlying technology is indeed BitTorrent, so my initial thought would be "yes," this is something that could land you in trouble if you do it without coordination.

      I think the best course of action would be to talk to your IT guy, send them the link, and explain exactly what you're trying to do. If you convince them, they will be able to easily whitelist your computer in any firewalls they use and let BitTorrent traffic through.

    • James H
      May 8, 2013 at 11:39 am

      We have BT throttled where I work, but sync seems to work ... for now at least. It's easy enough to test out and see if it works with a test folder since setup is so easy.