Dropbox (and similar cloud services) are awesome, but they don’t give you that much control, security or privacy over your files. If you want to take control into your own hands without losing the features of cloud syncing services, BitTorrent Sync is the service for you. Here’s how to use it.
Picture: Tina Mailhot-Roberge
Why Use BitTorrent Sync Over Dropbox
We love Dropbox (and other file syncing services), but they tend to be rather expensive if you need more than a few gigs of space. There’s also an inherent security flaw in storing your files on a third-party server, and while most cloud storage services offer two-factor authentication, there’s always the possibility those servers could get hacked at some point. Conversely, private cloud services like OwnCloud are awesome, but you’ll need your own server to use them.
BitTorrent Sync solves for both of those problems. Your files are never stored on a server. They’re only on your computers, and the data is transferred between them using peer-to-peer file sharing. BitTorrent Sync is also completely free, and you can transfer files of any size you want, which makes it great for projects with large file sizes (like video). The storage capacity is only limited to your own hard drive, not how much space you’re paying for. Let’s take a quick look at the advantages and disadvantages of BitTorrent Sync compared to other file syncing services.
Advantages of BitTorrent Sync Over Dropbox
- Storage is only limited by how much space is on your hard drive
- Your files are never uploaded to a third-party server
- Fast transfer speeds that are only limited by the internet connection speed on your devices
- Server downtime doesn’t affect you since your files are never uploaded to another server
- Sync any folder or file you want from anywhere on your hard drive
- You can install it on your own NAS so it works almost identically to Dropbox
Disadvantages of BitTorrent Sync Over Dropbox
- At least one of your computers needs to be on perform syncing
- People you share folders and files with need BitTorrent Sync installed, there’s no web app to access your files
- You have to share folders, and can’t share individual files (a Pro tier is expected that will offer this feature though)
- Doesn’t have collaboration and built-in file editing features like other services
- Doesn’t work as well as a cloud backup since it only syncs between computers
For most of us, BitTorrent Sync isn’t a good replacement for Dropbox if your primary use is backups, but for sharing and syncing files it’s awesome. That said, running BitTorrent Sync on a NAS makes it work similar to Dropbox and OwnCloud but with higher speeds and no software overhead to worry about. You don’t need to set up a server, so BitTorrent Sync also tends to be incredibly secure since you’re the only who who has the keys to access your files.
How to Set Up BitTorrent Sync
In order to use BitTorrent Sync, you’ll need to set up a few different things. Throughout this guide, we’ll be using the newest beta for BitTorrent Sync, 2.0, which should be officially launching soon. That said, the process is the same with older versions of the app as well.
- Download BitTorrent Sync for your operating system
- Open up the app
- Pick the folders you want to sync across computers. Click the “+” button and pick your folder. Those folders are now ready for sharing
- Click the gear icon and select “Link Device”
- Click “Link a Desktop Device Manually,” you’ll get a 35 digit code
- Head to another computer and repeat steps 1 and 2.
- On the second computer, click the gear icon > Link Device > Link Device Manually > Enter Key and enter the 35 digit code from step 5
Now, every folder you select to share syncs across the two computers. You can repeat this process across every computer you own. You can also set up syncing on mobile. The process is pretty similar:
- Download the mobile app for Android, iOS, or Windows Phone
- On your desktop, click the gear icon > Link Device to get a QR code
- Back on your mobile device, click “Add Folder” and use your phone to scan the QR code on your computer
One thing to note: right now, the mobile apps aren’t set up to work with BitTorrent Sync 2.0, so for now, you’ll want to use version 1.4 if you need access on mobile.
That’s it for setting up standard sync. From here on out, your files sync between all the computers and devices you have BitTorrent Sync installed on as long as at least of those devices is online.
How to Send Folders to Other People
Syncing between your devices is just part of using BitTorrent Sync though. The most useful feature is sharing folders with other people. There is no limit on the file size here, so you can share pretty much anything you want. Here’s how it works:
- Highlight the folder you want to share and click the “Share” button
- Select the permissions you want to give to the recipient (read only or read & write)
- Select the security level you want to grant (“peers I invite must be approved on this device” makes it so you have to approve them before they can use the link, “Link will expire in x days” grants access for a set amount of days, and “Link can be use x times” sets a limit on the amount of clicks a link can get)
- Select how you want to share the link (via email, copy it to your clipboard, or generate a QR code)
That’s it. Send that link to whoever you want, and they will be able to access the folder from their version of BitTorrent Sync. You can also use this method to share only select folders with your other computers, which is handy if you have a laptop without a lot of hard drive space.
Bonus Features: Set Up Version Control and Automatic Camera Roll Backup
Aside from the normal syncing and sharing that comes with BitTorrent Sync, it also has a couple features we’re used to seeing in file syncing services: versioning and automatic camera roll backup. Both are easy to set up, but it’s also easy to miss the fact that both even exist in the first place.
Check Out Earlier Versions of Files
Like Dropbox, BitTorrent Sync keeps snapshots of every change you make to a file over the course of 30 days. This is handy when you mess something up and need to roll back to an earlier version. Here’s how to access those files:
- Click the three dot icon next to the Share button on the folder you want to see an older version of
- Select “Open Archive” to open up the folder in File Explorer or Finder
- The files here are hidden, so you’ll need to enable Hidden Items for your operating system (Windows/Mac)
- You’ll see a folder called .SyncArchive, inside you’ll see a collection of older versions of files (this can take up a lot of space if you’re working with a lot of large files)
That’s it. If you need to, BitTorrent Sync also has a guide for changing the default behaviour of versioning so you can customise it to your needs.
Turn on Camera Roll Backups on Mobile
Like most file syncing services, BitTorrent Sync also has an automatic camera roll upload option for its mobile apps. Once it’s enabled, everything on your camera roll gets backed up on your computer. The process here is very simple.
- In the mobile app, tap “Camera Roll Backup”
- You get the option to copy or email the link. If you click email, email it to yourself so you can access it on your home computer
- Head to a computer with BitTorrent Sync installed
- Click the link and select a folder to sync your photos with. This adds your camera roll photos to BitTorrent Sync
Now, all you phone’s photos automatically get sent over to any computers you have BitTorrent Sync running on.
BitTorrent Sync might not be the perfect replacement to Dropbox for everyone, but it does just about anything Dropbox can do provided you don’t need the cloud storage. If you’re sick of spending a bunch of cash or you’re just looking for a little extra privacy, it works incredibly well.