Dear Lifehacker, I keep hearing people talk about BitTorrent Sync, but I'm not sure why I should care about it. Isn't it just another file-syncing service? Why would I use it instead of something like Dropbox? Sincerely, Split Torrent
You're right, the usefulness of BitTorrent Sync isn't immediately evident. While it might look like a Dropbox replacement on the surface, that's not exactly how it works. So, let's talk about what it is and how it works before we go on to some of the uses for it.
What BitTorrent Sync Does (and Doesn't) Do
At a glance, BitTorrent Sync looks a lot like Dropbox, but that's not exactly the case. It is a file-syncing service where you can sync files and directories across computers, but you don't have access to those files online like you do with Dropbox... and in some cases, that's a good thing.
BitTorrent Sync uses peer-to-peer file sharing to synchronise your files between computers. When you point the BitTorrent Sync app at a directory on your computer, you share those files with any other computer that you give a secret passcode to. The data only lives on your computer and the computers you share it with (or mobile phones). It's never uploaded to a third-party server like other file-syncing programs. Since you data is never uploaded to a server, your storage capacity is only limited to your own hard drive, and no one else has access to your files.
The downside to BitTorrent Sync is that your home computer must be on at all times if you want access to files. This is great as a security measure because your private data is never on a server, but it does make accessing files a bit of a pain.
Likewise, sharing is a bit more complicated with BitTorrent Sync than it is with most file syncing services. If you want to share files with other people, they'll need BitTorrent Sync software installed as well as a secret code you generate and send to them.
When You'd Want to Use BitTorrent Sync
BitTorrent Sync isn't quite as easy to use as something like Dropbox for everyday file backups, but it's still a solid option for file syncing. Most importantly, BitTorrent Sync is one of the most secure ways to sync files because your data never goes to a server. That means that nobody can peek in on your private files. As Wired recently pointed out, this is a key feature:
For the past 15 years, our software and data have steadily moved into the cloud, bringing massive gains in convenience. The cloud makes it easier not only to share data, among other things. But in some ways, it has also eroded our privacy. The NSA, it seems, has been tapping major cloud services in order to spy on users, and the revelations highlighted the dangers of using a file-sharing service like Dropbox. Indeed, some of the leaked NSA documents indicated that Dropbox had been specifically targeted.
But in a departure from Dropbox, Sync doesn't store data in one central repository that can be tapped by the NSA and others. It connects machines via peer-to-peer networking, meaning they can sync without storing data on any server. That means an interloper can't access data without tapping each individual machine.
Besides the security, BitTorrent Sync is also great because it isn't limited by space -- you don't need to worry about cloud storage limits, since the only limits are your own hard drives (which are likely much bigger than Dropbox's 2GB of space, or even Box's 50GB of space).
In addition, it's also one of the best ways to share a massive amount of files with someone. Since BitTorrent Sync is free it's easy to share project files with coworkers, large videos with friends, or any other massive folder you need to share. As long as they also have BitTorrent Sync, of course.
For example, if you're working on a movie with a partner, you probably have a folder with a couple hundred GB of video in it. With Dropbox, this would be expensive to store and share with your partner, but BitTorrent Sync keeps your computers in sync with each for free. Any time you need to send a massive file to someone, BitTorrent Sync will prove helpful.
Other Uses For BitTorrent Sync
Of course, like other file sharing services, BitTorrent sync can go beyond just syncing files. Most of our top 10 uses for Dropbox also apply to BitTorrent sync, and there are al of other BitTorrent Sync-specific projects you can do too:
- Make your own Dropbox clone with a Raspberry Pi and BitTorrent Sync
- Set up BitTorrent Sync on Your FreeNAS box (if you need help setting up FreeNAS our guide should get you there)
- Use BitTorrent Sync to access your music from anywhere
- Use Git with BitTorrent Sync
- Generate easily shareable links to files with BitBox
- Create a Private Dropbox-style server
BitTorrent Sync is still in beta, but it's worth downloading and messing around with if you're ever sharing large files or you're just worried about security. If nothing else, it's useful at least a few times a year when you need to share massive amounts of data with someone.
Got your own question you want to put to Lifehacker? Send it using our contact form.