Dear Lifehacker, I need a solution to share and sync a read-only folder to multiple users on different computers and networks. I want the users down the line to be able to see and open the contents of the folder, but not make any changes as to the contents.
My love for Dropbox made me immediately think something like this had to be possible through a shared folder, but I don't see a way to prevent the share-ees from changing what I put in the folder. I'm open to any solution, even if I have to shell out some $, but obviously easy and free is ideal. Do you have any advice? Sincerely, Share Deprived
Dear Share Deprived,
We understand your need. Access rights on shared folders is pretty important for teams, otherwise people can just be changing and deleting and causing all sorts of headaches with your files.
Unfortunately, as much as we love Dropbox too, setting folder permissions isn't possible on that service yet. It is one of the top-requested features in Dropbox Votebox, where users can vote for features Dropbox will work on next, right after syncing other folders besides the Dropbox folder.
Dropbox has sharable link and public link features where you can create links to files/folders, but these aren't recommended for anything you'd want to keep private—the links are shareable by others and can be made publicly available.
But, never fear. There are several, free alternatives (a couple were mentioned in our guide to using multiple online cloud storage services for free and organised backup). Here's a description of a few of them:
- SugarSync: gives you 5GB of free storage and works pretty much like Dropbox, except for a few differences, including setting read-only permissions and the ability to sync any folder you want on your computer. You can also set a shared folder to require a password, so users will need both the link and the password to open.
- Box.net: Like SugarSync, Box.net gives users 5GB of free personal web storage and can sync to the desktop. All users have to permission levels available: read/write access (Editor) and full read access (Viewer). The Viewer access allows users to download items, share, and comment on them—but not upload or edit items in the folder. There are more permissions levels available in the Business and Enterprise versions of Box.net, which seems more suited for collaboration than many other file syncing/storage tools.
- Windows Live Mesh is another option that works with both Windows and Mac. You can sync folders to Microsoft's SkyDrive web storage service (up to 5 GB of space) or directly between PCs by installing the Live Mesh software.
Otherwise, you can look at collaboration tools that are more like online workspaces; they don't all offer syncing, but can have finer permissions control. We have a Hive Five for Best Collaboration Tools a little while ago.
Enjoy sharing and syncing!
P.S. Know of any other good resources for sharing and syncing read-only folders? Let us know in the comments.
Photo remixed from an original by malkowitch