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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Comments

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.

The link for FreeFileSync (both the homepage and download page) I think is dead.

Freefilesynch installs much more ... then you think

Please remove this program from this forum..

This program installs:

c:\program files(x86)\security Update Services\search_checker(as a service)
c:\program files(x86)\security Update Services\winupdsvc.exe
setup_ez_Youtube_Videodownloader_v1.1.5.exe

and tries to install a virus detected by the virusscanner in the file pcspeedup.tmp .

Please remove the link to freefilesynch from your forum

Pieter van Ooijen 13-4-2014

No idea where you got your version from, but it's done no such thing for me.

The portable edition from portableapps-dot-com is also excellent. This freeware is very good imo.

FreeFileSync contains OpenCandy, and therefore, it will show third party software recommendation during installation. Were you careful to avoid that? It can be easily opted out. I have been using FreeFileSync for a long time now. It's an excellent software. However, you need to just take care during installation to avoid the third party product that is suggested. If you get past that, it installs without trouble. I don't have the folders or files that you have written about.
Agreed these additional items can only be acquired if users just click through the install process. PC Speed Up is a common candidate among these bundles. MC - Site Manager. http://malwaretips.com/blogs/pc-speed-up-virus/
It's opening fine for me.

> Very few filter options, no ftp, no auto sync, very sparse help

The filter is actually pretty cool: include/exclude by path supporting wildcards, setting a time span, setting a range of file sizes. These features probably weren't includeded yet when the review was made, so this might need some updating.
It also includes a tool called RealtimeSync which is probably what you mean with "auto sync". The help file has also grown lately and is very useful.

FreeFileSync contains Opencandy now.

5.23 did contain OpenCandy with no visible opt out. However, this has now changed and an obvious click off pops up for Bejewelled Blitz. Open Candy did not appear to install, as it did not appear in Programs and Features, and was easily removed with Malwarebytes.

Thank you. The product details have now been updated. MC - Site Manager.

Not a deal breaker, but be careful to "unlock" your bitlocker drive if you use this built in encryption on Windows Vista, 7, 8, 8.1.

Spaced on this while using this on two computers and frustrated myself.

Probably not a big deal for most people, but this seems to only be installable on the C: drive.

I use a multiple drive system, with a solid state drive for the initial windows load. Thus, my C: drive has very little spare capacity and I TRY and avoid installing on it (rather I put most on the D:\Program Files (x86) or D:\Program Files

Not a huge deal, but something to be aware of.

>ALLWAY Sync was exactly what I needed for the the job I had.

I work for a non-profit organization who has several independent people working for them with their own personal computers. <

But doesn't the "private use only" EULA disallow that?

This is from the ALLWAY SYNC web site: LICENSE FOR FREE VERSION OF ALLWAY SYNC (ALLWAY SYNC FREE) "Non-Profit Customers (but not other Customers) are allowed to use Allway Sync for free, subject to limitations as described below. All other Customers are allowed to use Allway Sync Free for thirty days for evaluation purposes only." "Non-Profit Customer is defined as a customer who uses Allway Sync in a non-commercial environment for non-profit activity. All Customers who use Allway Sync in a commercial, business or government setting, or in a military institution, or when engaged in profitable activity at home are not Non-Profit Customers for the purposes of this agreement. Customers who are students of accredited universities and high schools are classified as Non-profit Customers even if their school or university is owned and operated by a government." Since this freeware is designed to be accessed from different devices and different locations, as long as Alway Sync is not being used for profit, it can be freely distributed. http://allwaysync.com/license.html

> A portable version of this product is available but not from the developer.

The portable installation is in fact already possible with the official FreeFileSync release: There's a checkbox in the installer to do that.

Thank you. The product details have now been amended. MC - Site Manager.

Re: by Geekout on 6. February 2013 - 8:26 (105130)

" Best way to avoid OpenCandy is to block access to their website by
adding it to your hosts file .... and AV/FW blacklists "

This seems like great advice (haven't yet tried it). Should it be posted as an article in a more prominent place?

Hi Shawnz. Adding information to articles is always considered. Since this catagory has no Editor at this time, how would you like to join our group? You could start the process here. :-)

I installed version 5.16 (easily without any unwanted extra software)

The BIG plus I found on this software is that you can ask for the deleted files (the older version of the updated files) to be sent to a specific folder instead of the bin.
That way you can track older versions of a file. For example if I have edited a big Excel file I have been working on for several days, I can roll back to yesterday's version, or the day before or any previous version until the day where the file was created - as far as the "back up" files are kept.

The files are simply copied, so you can access them quite normally from Windows Explorer or whatever file manager or from any machine if they are on a portable device.

I am using it for my work and hold an average of 40 days of work archived (including Outlook's pst file).

Also you can chose to sync as many files/repertories/hard drives as you wish.
You can have several scenarios: i.e. I am saving work files everyday and personal/family files every week-end, I just need to choose which scenario I want to apply in one click.

The choice is now given:
- you can delete old files
- keep them with a date added to the name
- put them somewhere else, without altering the name, in date folders.

That 3d option is my choice, so convenient :)
Thee software is fast, simple, reliable
Just perfect for what I am asking for

Hello.

Can any CVS software (kind of Git, Bazaar, CVS...) be used for the same?

I've being trying all the applications you say in the article and I prefer Alway sync, though is not perfect, I don't like the double scrolling system.

They are not intelligent enough.
I would like some app that show everything as a tree and able to detect not only that something exist in the other folder but also able to detect that a whole subtree/branch/folder with subfolders has been moved to a different place.
Instead of that this applications tell you that something is missing from one place and something is new in some other place but you have to figure out the relations.

regards

FreeFileSync does modify file names when copying files, for example '-' and German Umlaute such as 'ä', 'ü', 'ö'.

Which Free Folder Synchronization Utility maintains the original file names?

You could use SyncFolders from http://www.syncfolders.elementfx.com.

I have installed FreeFileSync (without Open Candy at the time) and I am using it for daily updates of my documents on an external HDD.

The BIG plus I found on this software is that you can ask for the deleted files (the older version of the updated files) to be sent to a specific folder instead of the bin.
That way you can track older versions of a file. For example if I have edited a big Excel file I have been working on for several days, I can roll back to yesterday's version, or the day before or any previous version until the day where the file was created - as far as the "back up" files are kept.

The files are simply copied, so you can access them quite normally from Windows Explorer or whatever file manager or from any machine if they are on a portable device.

I am using it for my work and hold an average of 40 days of work archived (including Outlook's pst file).

Also you can chose to sync as many files/repertories/hard drives as you wish.
You can have several scenarios: i.e. I am saving work files everyday and personal/family files every week-end, I just need to choose which scenario I want to apply in one click.

First tuning is a bit demanding but then it's a dream!
I never faced any problem on recovery.
I am using it on Win7-64.

Thanks to Gizmo for pointing out this software

UPDATE: this was true until 5.3 version.
Now you have to edit the default setting if you want to keep more than 1 version of the old files
The older files are now renamed with date and time of deletion added at the end
AND they are now spread everywhere, instead of being sent unchanged into 1 folder/day as before.
I reversed to 5.3 version
-------------------------------------
I have to update my comment again
I installed version 5.16 (easily without any unwanted extra software)

The choice is now given:
- you can delete old files
- keep them with a date added to the name
- put them else where, without altering the name, in date folders.

That 3d option is my choice, so convenient :)
Thee software is fast, simple, reliable
Just perfect for what I am asking for

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