Best Free Folder Synchronization Utility

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Introduction

File synchronization utilities help you keep updated copies of files or folders in two or more locations, such as different computers, network drives, USB drives, or online storage. While a file sync utility could be used as a simple backup tool (called one-way syncing), its real power lies in keeping an identical set of working files in two or more locations.

An example of this would be keeping current versions of the same data files on both your home computer and office computer (two-way syncing). File sync utilities keep track of which files you create or change, or even delete in one location, and can create, change and delete those same files in the other location.

Criteria for the Evaluating a Synchronization Utility:

A good synchronization utility would have most or all the following features.

  • Should support two-way synchronization of files.
  • Should be able to replicate any source folder even if the files are in use.
  • Should detect conflicts or file collisions. These occur when a file has changed in both locations since the last sync operation. This requires that a database or journal be kept by the utility.
  • Should propagate deletions and detect file renames. This also requires a log file of previous operations.
  • Should support filters and rules for fine tuning what files are, or are not included in the sync operations.
  • Should show a preview of what is going to take place during a sync operation, and allow the user to easily over-ride any actions desired.
  • Should have a job scheduler and the ability to automatically detect and launch sync operations when a destination becomes active. (Such as plugging in a USB drive)
  • Should support syncing to both local and network locations.

There are are a lot of contenders in this category, but based on the criteria above, three stand out.

 
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Discussion

FreeFileSyncFreeFileSync is a solid contender here. The thing I like the best with this utility is its very clear and informative interface.

The preview is very easy to understand, and file collisions and deletions are more readily recognizable than many other sync programs. If you require a sync program that can copy files that are in use or locked, FreeFileSync has you covered there too!

Unfortunately it only has very basic filters, no auto sync feature, and no direct support for FTP. My final complaint would be that its help file is a little sparse. Those few flaws aside, I found it to be well designed and easy to use.

Caution! FreeFileSync is bundled with unwanted components. Users are advised to take special notice of the options available during install to avoid these extras. See our general advisory page for more information.

 

Allway SyncAllway Sync is my second recommendation. It is a very well rounded product with loads of features. It has a very robust filter and rule set and definitely has the edge here over the other reviewed products.

It also offers support for FTP, scheduling, and auto syncing. It has a very thorough help file which can be of great benefit especially to those who are new to synchronization programs.

One draw back I found is that while it does detect file collisions and deletions, it is not very clear how to choose which versions of conflicting files to keep and which to overwrite. You should also be aware that in the free version of Allway Sync, there is a file operation limit of 40,000 files in any 30 day period. So if you have a large amount of files to synchronize on a daily basis you might need to look at a different choice. Also note that it does not support copying locked files as the developers feel it could compromise data integrity.

Honourable Mentions:

  • SyncBack: supports file compression and can verify file integrity after job completion.
  • Synkron: had a lot of votes for this one in the comments section.
  • File Synchronizer is good if you are looking for a minimalistic or simplistic utility.
 
Related Products and Links

You might want to check out these articles too:

 
Quick Selection Guide

FreeFileSync

4
 
Runs as a stand-alone program on a user's computer
Very easy to understand and use "straight out of the box."
Very few filter options, no ftp, no auto sync, very sparse help. Now bundled with unwanted components (OpenCandy).
6.5
10.6 MB --> Win32.exe
32 and 64 bit versions available
Unrestricted freeware
A portable version of this product is available from the developer.

Allway Sync

4
 
Runs as a stand-alone program on a user's computer
Very robust set of filters and rules, support for FTP
Monthly file copy limit of 40,000 files, no support for copying locked files
14.1.7
7.1 MB
32 bit but 64 bit compatible
Free for private use only
A portable version of this product is available from the developer.
Other languages available
 
Editor

This software review is copy-edited by Ian Richards. Please help edit and improve this article by clicking here.

 
Tags

free, sync, folder, synchronization, utility, tool

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Average: 4.1 (126 votes)

Comments

I've tried FreeFileSync and it works well. Easy to uncheck the extras during install if you're careful. I used it to replace the abandoned MS SyncToy.

One gotcha - Save your sync folders before you run a sync or it drops them when done.

It now also includes a second tool called RealTimeSync - this checks at the set interval for changes in a folder and if it picks up on something, it runs a quick sync. A few keys though - you have to set the watched set in FFS first, as a batch file to avoid the gui. And then you have to set a command line in the new tool to FFS and the batch file. And then you have to actually start the program to have it running. You can set a shortcut into Windows Startup but it's a little cludgy as yet.

[edit: commercial reference removed as the vendor no longer provides a free version]

Like many other freeware nowadays, FreeFileSync comes bundled with OpenCandy since a long time now. It shows the bundled software during installation, which can be easily opted out, if you are careful enough. I have been using FreeFileSync since a long time now, and never had any problem.
FreeFileSync contains unwanted components as is made clear in both the review text and product details. MC - Site Manager.

Non-geek as i am, it's not easy to understand all the "warning signs"!

So, if i ignore all the various dubious things it wants to install, i'm safe?

Staying "safe" is not just a one stop ride. It requires users to develop a safety first state of mind when surfing the web and installing programs. Unfortunately, very few are prepared to do this and then complain to us when they get burned. Others rely on their antivirus for protection because the ad on the vendors site promises to do just that and they too often end up in the same state. If you take the time to read the advisory article linked from the review page, it will guide you towards an appropriate strategy, including the use of virtualization software so you can test out new programs without risking the contents on a live system until you are certain nothing malicious is present. MC - Site Manager.

I tried Allway Sync a few years ago and found that it strewed database files all over my hard disk. As a means of keeping track of files in each folder and helping to manage collisions etc it creates a database of all the files, dates etc and stores this database file in each folder.

At the time I decided I didn't want that so I didn't use the software. I am interested to know if it still works in this way.

When I installed FFS 6.12 a few days ago, a large screen offered to install myPCbackup. Very obvious and easy to click off. Sorry SourceForge won't allow me to post a screenshot. No-one can object to that type of splash screen. If all the OpenCandy offerings were as obvious as that, FFS would not merit a single complaint over malware installation.

I downloaded from Fosshub, since both for 6.12 and 6.11, on my system, the SF download link would not work, either in Firefox or IE. Not sure what can be blocking it. Ideas welcome.

I've just installed FFS 6.13 and I'm happy to report that no additional software was offered or installed. Great!

Update Feb. 2015: Another download and install. Sadly the "additional software offer" is back. In this case I had to click "Advanced Options" to then uncheck the installation of the unwanted software. How sad :-((

As far as I can tell, the latest FreeFileSync (6.12) has dropped Open Candy and now just offers to install Opera.

Beware FreeFileSync!!! Still loads malware. I declined additional software at installation but it still loaded different files - Smartbar, Vosteram, Getnow, Snapdo, Quickshare, changed all browser settings and registry. Took several reboots to finally clean up. Not tested FreeFileSync yet. It may be "free" but comes at a price and a mega nuisance to clean up!!!

Just installed the new version of FreeFileSync, version 6.12, released today. Have been using and installing FreeFileSync for a long time now. Never been infected, including today. There was an option to opt-out of the bundled software. Yes, they have changed the screen for that a bit, which I will have to test more. However, I was able to opt-out of the bundled software without problems. No extra software/malware installed on my system, like always. If you are careful enough, the extra software can be avoided easily.

I saw your comment after posting above.

I just ran the installer (portable version) and got no notification (from Comodo CIS) of Open Candy trying to connect to the web.

I also unpacked the installer and found no OC dll inside and lastly checked the installer with MBAM which reported no PUPs. (The Freefilesync installer was always picked up by MBAM previously.)

The installer and the portable version are both included in an installer version. While installing, it asks you which version you want to install it as. I use the installer version, so cannot say about the portable version, as I have never installed it. If no adware is in that, that's good. However, I can say for sure that adware is indeed included in the installer version. Now, whether it's OC or not, I don't know. But, bundleware is there definitely.
I'm also thinking that our desire to be specific regarding OC, tool bar types and other stuff isn't perhaps as helpful as we would like it to be. Developers are very smart. They stuff with one product and then change when the flak for it gets too heavy. They also vary the way in which the opt-in and/or opt-out items are presented during the install process. Having specified the nature of the bundle in our review(s), it then becomes quite a challenge to keep up with these changes. I'm more leaning towards a general advisory stating that a product is, or has been, bundled with PUP's and that users should take extra care during the installation. A general warning about all freeware products is a valid argument but IMO too much of a cop-out. Certain products though do have a history with grey additions and it is right that we highlight these in our reviews. MC - Site Manager.
I definitely agree with what you wrote MC, and also the approach.

Yes :-)

I was only posting to the effect that FreeFileSync seem to have ended their relationship with Open Candy, which makes the review in this article somewhat misleading. Unless OC themselves have changed the way that they operate, which is something I need to look into properly.

Unpacking the FreeFileSync installer exec shows that OCSetupHlp.dll is not included in this release, along with the other indicators that I mentioned, so I'm reasonably confident in saying that OC isn't bundled with this version.

I didn't intend for a moment though to suggest though that FreeFileSync no longer bundles offers with their installer.

I think MC has a very good point ... even if OC has (apparently) been dumped with respect to v6.12 of FreeFileSync, that's no guarantee that it won't be back in v6.13. Or indeed that OC themselves haven't changed the way they work. As MC says, keeping up with such changes would be a time-consuming activity and even impossible if vendors are looking at ways of tricking users who know how to look for, and avoid, bundling such as Open Candy.

Conversely, inaccurately stating that FreeFileSync bundles Open Candy is imv something that might possibly impact negatively on this excellent website. So perhaps a less specific warning to users is a better way forward? A "more general advisory" could warn users against those vendors who practise bundling while avoiding the need to update articles with every release of a software version, except perhaps in the case of important changes.

Curiously though I did run the "normal" (i.e. non-portable) installation just now (CIS sandboxed) and it gave me no offers at all, which has given me pause for thought as to whether the installer has registered my previous selections. I don't think it can have as I "approve" each registry edit on a case-by-case basis, but I'll have to investigate this in more detail later.

Lastly, I'm at a loss as regards previous posters. I've used the SourceForge installer since FFS moved there and have never experienced anything like that described re; the "crapware" that's mentioned, even on a raw and unprotected O/S. I've never found FreeFileSync to install anything that I didn't want, as long as I pay attention during the install process. I do know though that some alternative download sites are somewhat less than transparent, so I wonder if these comments come from people who get the software from other sites.

It's a difficult call ... I mean FreeFileSync is undoubtedly the best in its class imo and I can hardly blame them if they want to make some income from it.

Bundling seems to be a fact of life these days with a lot of freeware, and personally I don't have any problem with it. As long as people stick to well-known and reputable sites and practise "safe computing" - i.e. system back-ups (especially drive imaging - http://www.techsupportalert.com/best-free-drive-imaging-program.htm) and careful installations etc - then I don't think we really have a lot to worry about for now.

Thanks for the explanation :). I agree that if FreeFileSync is not being bundled with OC, then we should update the article. But, yes, that also means that we have to be sure that FreeFileSync is not being bundled with OC. As you say, they might not be bundling OC anymore, or, OC might have changed how they work... don't know. Looking at this, MC's approach seems more logical, to just generically give a warning rather than a specific one. Also, when an article does not have an editor, like this one, the updating of the information too is difficult. With reviews maintained by editors, they take care of the updating, but with such reviews, it's difficult to update the information. You are right, bundling software with freeware is increasingly becoming a trend, but yes, unless an opt-out is provided, I do not have any problem. I too did not have any problem with FreeFileSync till now, of having unwanted software on my computer. I guess that either the users who are complaining downloaded the software from some other place, or, the likely possibility is that they were somehow not entirely careful during the install process. Cannot blame them fully, because the software vendors keep changing tactics on the opt-out screens, to make the opt-out process really tricky, to lure users. Have to be really careful.
Have now amended the wording of the cautionary notice. MC - Site Manager.

Yes, it is sad that FFS feels it has to bundle crapware, as the program itself is six star (IMO). Apart from clicking off the installer, my solution to the risk is to take a restore point before installing to be able to remove unwanted software and register entries if necessary. Malwarebytes may also be effective in preventing installation.

FreeFileSync is bundled with Malware!

For FFS there exist two "installers":
This one: http://www.fosshub.com/FreeFileSync.html (11.1) MB
and this one:
https://sourceforge.net/projects/freefilesync/files/FreeFileSync/6.11/

The latter is not the 11.1 MB installer, but some 773 KB helper program. This helper program installs - if you are not very careful and read the fine print - Optimizer Pro and other things. It also downloads the 11.1 MB "real" installer.

Late one night I didn't pay attention and accidentally installed Optimizer Pro and two other unwanted items, one of which was Astromenda, a browser hijacker. It placed itself in about 170 registry entries and was a real pain to remove.

So FFS is great software, but the bundling with malware is unethical.

Thanks for the link. I used the fosshub link. It warned to watch for extras. For 6.14 it asked for approval for Tune utilities i also saw with something else. Nothing else installed.

I notice it now also comes with a Realtime Sync tool. Thats great - this can cover 2 tools I used to use.

FFS WatchOut!
an update FreeFileSync is now OFF my machine for good - installed FFS 4.11 today (from SourceForge source) hoping it would fix 4.10. Again being careful to uncheck any boxes as I installed. This time it installed without error but the program fails to sync with any folders or do the job I need it too. It has also hijacked my browsers with some rubbish called Lasaoren and installed some other rubbish called PC Optimser. FFS and Optismer Programs easy to remove, Lasaoren is proving harder

I think you meant 6.11, since that's the latest version which became available for download today. I installed FreeFileSync 6.11 on my computer today, and it installed without problems. I was successfully able to avoid the bundled extra that was shown during installation. No extras or unwanted program were installed on my computer. And I just synced a pen drive containing my software collection with the one on the computer, and again, I had no problems. So, seems that the problem is local to you. Have you tried uninstalling the software completely, and reinstalling? While installation, were you careful to avoid the extra software that is offered? It's easy to opt out of.

thanks Anupam, yes 6.11 (doh!)

still not sure how all this rubbish got on my machine, Malwarebytes is still running and has listed 9 suspicious items including OpenCandy too so I clearly messed up somewhere. Given I have Win 7 Pro OS my next step will be to see what sync stuff it can do

Yes I have uninstalled but wary of reinstall, really busy today and don't need the hassle of fixing stuff like this

FreeFileSync has been my "goto" for ages, use it daily to keep my pen drives current. Updated to 6.10 today and Avast reported suspicious adware files and blocked some .exe file writes. Now FFS is broken - running Win 7 Pro and Firefox, anyone else had issues? To be clear, afaik I unticked all the unwanted install boxes at every stage

This site is my first stop when looking for software, I have been helped so many times, and decided to give something back by throwing in my 'two penny worth' I was sorry to learn that Allways Sync now ceases to work after 30 days, unless you buy a license. I never install software bundled with junk, so had to pass on FreeFile sync,and I have forgotten why I passed on the other two on the list. My wish list for a file synch application was very similiar to Gizmo's so I fished around, and found a couple of others that seemed to have good user reviews, and no complaints. One was SyncFolders, the other Dsynchronize. both are free.
I tried SyncFolders first,and found that it does everything on the list, except I don't have a network to try it on...maybe someone else can. It has 3 synch functions - Synch (2 way), copy, or back up. Manual or auto - I could just choose in the settings. I could choose a different function for each folder if I wanted, and several options for each folder to synch however best suits me. Also, there are several choices related to deletions, including transfer of a deleted file or folder.to a history folder if I like.Also, options for what I want to happen in 2 way synch if a file has changed in both source and destination folder. There are versioning choices too.
It transferred 15.8Gb to my usb 3 HDD in 9.26 minutes. I don't know how to check for system resources it uses, but I could still use the computer without it slowing down.
I can set it to run as often as I like, 'forever' if I like.
Only thing that is missing for me as a home user, is the option for it to Synch only when I make a change, rather than at set intervals. I've set it for every 10 minutes, because sometimes I can add a lot of files in half an hour, yet sometimes I may not add any for a day or three. Auto is better for me, as I am forgetful. I haven't got around to the other two, because a) I ran out of puff. and b) I would only change now if either of the other two were able to auto synch only when a change occurs. I will see if I can contact the developer of Dsynchronize and ask if it has this option.
Or maybe someone else might have the motivation to check out Dsynchronize before I get around to it.

Based on trying them both with sync'ing 500GB of data between two NAS drives via a Win8.1u PC, SyncBackFree V6 seems a lot faster than FreeFileSync (and SyncBackFree doesn't include Open Candy, either).

I installed FreeFileSync 6.5 on a Windows 7 64-bit Professional system,
opting out of the adware.

After one try I rejected (i.e. uninstalled) it because it took so long
to complete a comparison of two 64GB flash drives. I did not time it,
however, I'm sure it was still working after 5-10 minutes. Back to
FreeFileSync 3.1, which completed the comparison in seconds.

No more will I blindly update a program.

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