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

Aaron Couch 11-09-2012

microsoft synctoyIf you have files on your computer, you need to backup 5 Signs Your Hard Drive Is Failing (And What to Do) Since a majority of people today own laptops and external hard drives, which get dragged around quite a bit, a realistic hard drive lifetime is probably around 3 - 5 years. This is an extremely... Read More . Plain and simple. Many of us are familiar with backing up and there are lots of methods What Is The Best Backup Solution? [Geeks Weigh In] Ten years ago an external hard drive – or even a physical disc such as a CD-ROM – was the only practical way to back up files. Consumer-grade network storage solutions were primitive, expensive and... Read More  and programs Top 10 Backup Software Apps For Your PC Read More 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 How To Create A Data Backup Tool With SyncToy & VB Script We've covered a lot of backup solutions here at MUO, and all of these solutions are great, but if you're working in an environment that is wary about free 3rd party software packages, or companies... Read More , 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 How to Choose Between 32-Bit and 64-Bit Windows Operating Systems Should you download 32-bit or 64-bit Windows? Here are the differences between 32-bit and 64-bit installations to help you decide. Read More . 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

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.

SyncToy: Microsoft's Simple Backup & Synchronization Solution [Windows] Create Folder Pair 3 of 3

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.

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

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.

SyncToy: Microsoft's Simple Backup & Synchronization Solution [Windows] Change Options Select Subfolders

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.

SyncToy: Microsoft's Simple Backup & Synchronization Solution [Windows] SyncToy Help Schedule

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.”

SyncToy: Microsoft's Simple Backup & Synchronization Solution [Windows] Task Scheduler

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

SyncToy: Microsoft's Simple Backup & Synchronization Solution [Windows] Task Scheduler Create Basic Task Name

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.

SyncToy: Microsoft's Simple Backup & Synchronization Solution [Windows] Task Scheduler Create Basic Task Trigger

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.

SyncToy: Microsoft's Simple Backup & Synchronization Solution [Windows] Task Scheduler Create Basic Task Trigger Daily

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

SyncToy: Microsoft's Simple Backup & Synchronization Solution [Windows] Task Scheduler Create Basic Task Action

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 6 Awesome Alternatives to Windows Search Does a Windows system search take you longer to find things than a manual search? You're not alone. Let us show you more efficient Windows search tools. Read More to quickly find it.

SyncToy: Microsoft's Simple Backup & Synchronization Solution [Windows] Used Everything To Find Folder Location

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]”

SyncToy: Microsoft's Simple Backup & Synchronization Solution [Windows] Task Scheduler Create Basic Task Action Start Program Locate Folder

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.

SyncToy: Microsoft's Simple Backup & Synchronization Solution [Windows] Note quotes

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.


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 The Windows Backup and Restore Guide Disasters happen. Unless you're willing to lose your data, you need a good Windows backup routine. We'll show you how to prepare backups and restore them. Read More .”

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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  1. Alex
    September 22, 2016 at 6:15 pm

    Hey, all this looks a bit complicated. If you need just to lock an entire external hard drive than the easiest way is Lockngo. No installation or configuration. You place it to a drive and lock / unlock it on any platform.

  2. Miss Behave
    January 7, 2016 at 2:35 pm

    I guess they switched the order of the options...the top one has x86.exe as the last part of the file name...just fyi

  3. L.Fitch
    January 2, 2015 at 9:44 pm

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

    • Aaron Couch
      January 3, 2015 at 12:14 am

      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.

  4. Pierse Herrod
    September 16, 2012 at 8:21 pm

    Flip'n 'eck

  5. Ronald Smith
    September 13, 2012 at 1:31 pm

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

  6. Kelly Buchanan
    September 12, 2012 at 6:20 am

    Great tool! SyncBack by 2BrightiSparks also works well.

  7. Guilherme
    September 11, 2012 at 9:02 pm

    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.
    If you guys want to check it out.

  8. Diego Cogo
    September 11, 2012 at 5:00 pm

    The only downside is the SQL Express installed with it. But all the rest is very good.

  9. Kao Vang
    September 11, 2012 at 4:18 pm

    I love SyncToy. Easy to set up. Reliable. I use it to backup all the user's inconsistent backups. In fact I just installed and used it on a user's PC this morning.

  10. John Rogers
    September 11, 2012 at 4:12 pm

    SyncToy is a simple and straightforward backup utlity that is easy to use and just plain works.

  11. Gerhard Tinned
    September 11, 2012 at 3:10 pm

    Sounds like a similar tool like DSynchronize which is not the most beatyful tool but it is fast and reliable!!! ;-)

  12. Scott MacDonald
    September 11, 2012 at 2:05 pm

    Synctoy has always worked very well for me in the past.

  13. Vampie C.
    September 11, 2012 at 1:31 pm

    I use allway sync.

    Looks like it works the same.
    One of the cool things is that it can trigger the sync when the usb gets inserted. :-)

  14. Flladi
    September 11, 2012 at 1:05 pm

    I am using Sync Toy for quite some months now and it is really easy to work with.
    It is intuitive and I had no problem whatsoever so far.
    It is free and does pretty much everything those paid applications do.

  15. Richard Borkovec
    September 11, 2012 at 10:08 am

    Ubuntu and OS X have built-in backup tools, I don't understand why MS doesn't include this by default. Of all the PC's I've bought, none of them have had a backup tool installed with all the other crapware that's been installed. This would be great!

    • michel
      September 11, 2012 at 12:43 pm

      It's called Backup and Restore, it's included with windows.

  16. HannibalCat
    September 11, 2012 at 9:30 am

    Thanks for the info - I've installed and set up syncs already. I'll use it alongside the Paragon Backup you gave out for points collected.

  17. João Brito
    September 11, 2012 at 4:39 am

    Tks a lot, I was curious about Synctoy but too lazy to try. I used syncback for a long time, but the free version doesn't do versioning. So I've tried Areca, but It takes ages to rebuild a whole backup. Synctoy does the job and contribute feature gives me "kind of" versioning.

  18. Ahmed Khalil
    September 11, 2012 at 4:19 am

    SyncToy is a great too, how it is not famous till now! it should be part of microsoft operating system official tools